Review: Wonder Woman Vol. 4: The Four Horsewomen trade paperback (DC Comics)

May 2, 2021

Steve Orlando's Wonder Woman Vol. 4: The Four Horsewomen has some important bits in common with Grant Morrison's recent Wonder Woman: Earth One Vol. 3. We have, to an extent, the fantasy (the "Elseworlds" Earth One) and the reality, the rather major changes that Orlando makes, or at least tries to make; how much of this will stand certainly remains to be seen.

Four Horsewomen is not great, and surely not as good as I wanted it to be given that I enjoyed Orlando's previous short go-round on Wonder Woman (not to mention Orlando's spectacular Martian Manhunter: Identity in the interim). There is, at least, a lot of it, 13 issues collected here including two extra-sized annuals. Where the book is good, it is good, often in Orlando's conception of Diana, her powers, and her place in the world.

But page to page, Four Horsewomen perhaps suffers from its own length, with storylines plodding along. A couple of one-off stories don't live up to their disconnectedness, and also the book is rife with errors, often at the hands of the book's 10 different artists. I don't know if Orlando's second run was always meant to be this short or if it was suddenly abbreviated (as was the previous run by G. Willow Wilson, which Orlando himself had to complete), but the annual bookends and army of artists does suggest something hurriedly put together, whether facing pressure from the Future State break or the second Wonder Woman movie being released or what have you.

[Review contains spoilers]

Among major events in Four Horsewomen is that the Amazons establish an official embassy on "Man's World," and also they discover the existence of a lost "third tribe" of Amazons (after the Themyscirans and the Bana-Mighdall). Though obviously there are many differences, Diana and the Amazons establishing a political foothold in the world, as well as the presence of longtime Wonder Woman foe Paula Von Gunther and some talk of "loving submission," all remind of Morrison's recent Wonder Woman: Earth One Vol. 3. Orlando even resurrects some of Diana's classic catchphrases as Morrison did, though perhaps without Earth One's vitality.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Still it's interesting that an Amazon influence on "our world" seemed too fanciful for a main continuity book just some weeks ago, but has now become a reality. Of course, we've seen Amazonian embassies and diplomats before, including during Greg Rucka's first run, but I was pleased that here in the wake of Wonder Woman #750, Orlando manages to make a change. What one hopes is that this doesn't go the way of Wonder Woman stories past (and Aquaman stories with Atlantean embassies, for that matter), where some simplistic misunderstanding or overwrought disagreement sends the Amazons packing. I'm far more interested in a book where the characters navigate political niceties than where a stereotype of warlike Amazons or jingoistic governments set to battle.

If, of course, any of it even lasts. The blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo of Diana's brother Jason from back in James Robinson's run, not seen or mentioned in 30 issues, is reminder enough how events from run to run get swept under the run (sometimes for the better). As part of the anniversary celebration, Orlando updates Wonder Woman's powers and weapons to be less focused on the gods and more on her Amazonian ancestors — perhaps less supernatural, more superheroic, which I like, though looking ahead to Future State, I think DC has other plans. So again, it remains to be seen how pervasive Orlando's changes actually are.

Along with Orlando's (relatively) more down-to-earth Wonder Woman, he also (re)sets his story in Boston, with which Diana has a long history. That's not wholly limited to George Perez's run, but the sense of Diana among the "normals" — partnering with Boston cop Nora Nunes ostensibly to fight crime with a street-level view — felt very Perez-esque. All of that — in terms of the conception of Wonder Woman, the tweaks to her abilities, the changes or additions in her supporting cast — is well-reasoned and auspicious.

Unfortunately, story to story the book doesn't hold up as well. A pitched battle between Wonder Woman, Cheetah, and "New Age of Heroes"'s Silencer ought be an opportunity for greatness, but Orlando writes Silencer as a common assassin with none of the character's nuance. Orlando resurrects 1980s DC character Valda, the Iron Maiden, but doesn't do more than a fight-and-team-up two-parter; equally it's good to see a version of the Superman character Maxima here, but Orlando's one-off slows rather than forwards the overall plot. The Phantom Stranger is quite bizarrely cast as a villain toward the end, and the book seems to stretch even mystic Amazonian believability when Diana literally has to argue with God for the fate of one of her enemies.

The art, as mentioned, also often struggles. For every Jesus Merino drawing the issue #750 sequence, there is Jheremy Raapack and Miguel Mendonca on a particularly rough issue where Diana, art-wise, throws Silencer to go do battle with Cheetah, but then story-wise immediately tries to stop their fighting. Another time Diana and Iron Maiden are battling right outside a bar, but in a cut scene Nora is outside the bar and the others aren't.

We're even shown an image of Wonder Woman kissing Superman in his New 52 costume, which I can't even begin to explain. Diana does a weird dance while speech-ifiying to the Amazons, courtesy Emanuela Lupacchino; overall I like Jack Herbert's work but at one point characters are talking to one another while looking away from each other.

2.0

Rating

I mean, Wonder Woman Vol. 4: The Four Horsewomen has Donna Troy, Artemis, even now-classic bad guys like Devastation and Genocide (from Wonder Woman: Rise of the Olympian by Gail Simone, one of my favorites ever), for gosh sake. That it isn't more exciting is troublesome, and I can only figure what went wrong as compared to Steve Orlando's excellent Wonder Woman Vol 9: The Enemy of Both Sides — there, Orlando had just five issues versus this book's 13; there, Orlando had a big contribution from dynamic artist Aco, versus the lack of artistic consistency here. More, of course, isn't always better, and this one proves the point. One more interstitial Wonder Woman volume to go, by Detective Comics' Mariko Tamaki, and then on to the new team post-Future State.

[Includes original and variant covers, character sketch section]

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