Review: Wonder Woman Vol. 1: Afterworlds trade paperback (DC Comics)

June 15, 2022

 ·  5 comments

I’ve commented before, there’s a thing writers sometimes do when they’ve just started writing a character and need to get acclimated, which is to take the character out of familiar elements and spin a story that may only have just tertiary ties to the character, for the purpose of getting “warmed up.” We’ve seen it with Superman before, to be sure, and we saw it most recently with Kelly Sue DeConnick’s inaugural “amnesia” story in Aquaman before that run settled in.

Indeed, Becky Cloonan and Michael W. Conrad’s Wonder Woman Vol. 1: Afterworlds has a lot in common with Aquaman: Unspoken Water — the hero, thought dead, but instead transported amnesic among a brand new supporting cast. All of whom, similar to the Aquaman story, seem to leave Wonder Woman Diana behind at the end of this book. So I’m left to wonder, what was the point of all of this? Are these all-important first 10 issues really what these writers see as their ultimate portrayal of a Wonder Woman adventure? Or is it that — for the purposes of Nubia, Wonder Girl, and Justice League — DC needed Diana out of the way for roughly 10 issues, and this is what the authors could come up with to do it?

There are actually bits and pieces of what I think is a really good portrayal of Wonder Woman in this book, and fun use of DC’s Infinite Frontier-era Multiverse, too. But I’m skeptical the way to get the Wonder Woman title to the top of the charts is by giving her a talking squirrel as a sidekick.

[Review contains spoilers]

Constant readers know my favorite Wonder Woman run is Greg Rucka’s — not devoid of ancient mythology by any stretch, but also a story set more among the political halls of Washington, D.C., than Mount Olympus. And so, in Cloonan and Conrad’s Afterworlds, four issues of Diana (who doesn’t remember she’s Diana) stumbling around Asgard, another two in the realms of Olympus, then a run-in with elves and fairies — seven of the 10 issues here — is a long Wonder Woman story not to my particular liking.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

And neither am I totally set against Diana in a swords and sorcery setting — Gail Simone’s great Wonder Woman run had some of that — nor Diana palling around with talking animals — take the minotaur1 Ferdinand from Rucka’s run, for instance. But again, it’s the sheer volume of all of it here, and also that it’s the writers' opening salvo — that their manner of attracting and keeping new readers is Diana and her horned squirrel companion climbing a giant Asgardian tree to steal an egg to feed to a mystical serpent to obtain a magic key, and so on. I grant there’s a place for this, and that Diana is the character among DC’s pantheon who lends herself to these type stories, but I’m not sure this is that place — a new creative team, and kicking off the Infinite Frontier-era launch.

It is not, by any stretch, all bad. The eighth chapter, assuredly the best, sees Diana land on Earth-11, home of the gender-swapped Justice Guild. Though nothing here is particularly consequential, it’s still an obvious and fun team-up given DC’s loosened multiversal barriers. (Travis Moore is the book’s primary artist, but Emanuela Lupacchino does nice work on that one.) So too Diana’s mini “DC realms” tour in the ninth chapter, including the Phantom Zone, the Fifth Dimension, Gemworld, and Skartaris. Which again, I recognize, speaks to my personal tastes — I’d rather see Diana against the background of the DCU than an elfin wonderland (even if, I grant, that chapter is drawn and colored exquisitely by another guest artist, Jill Thompson).

Also, Cloonan and Conrad introduce early on the Asgardian Siegfried, a hunky companion for Diana who is refreshingly without ego or possessiveness, unlike the whiny wet blanket Steve Trevor from G. Willow Wilson’s Wonder Woman Vol. 3: Loveless and so on. That, among other things, Diana and “Siggy” simply don’t sleep together and then do sleep together and then refer to each other as “friends” and then finally part without melodrama is far, far less angst-ridden than plenty of others have written Diana’s romantic entanglements. I’d be more than happy to see Siegfried appear here again as long as Cloonan and Conrad can keep things so mature (Ratatosk, the talking squirrel, can stay at home).

It almost makes up for a variety of reductive, if not outright regressive, character turns for Diana in Afterworlds. In the beginning, Cloonan and Conrad show Diana reveling in unrestrained violence on Asgard (everyone killed comes alive again), a take on the “fierce warrior” approach to Diana, but that the authors never quite make a judgment on either way. 

Often in the story Diana is not the arbiter of her own decisions, but needs the guidance of Deadman and others to know what to do next. And the end of the book sees Diana opining on not clinging to “how much safer the past is” nor “being defined by what has come before.” It’s a meta-argument that seems strangely after it’s time, more like what you’d hear when DC was trying to move solidly into the New 52 than now, when being defined by the past is almost DC’s entire paradigm. Again, it’s clear Cloonan and Conrad are trying to say something, but how in touch it is with Diana’s general present it is, I’m not sure. Their final statement that Diana will be “her own creator” now is admirable, but I’m not sure Diana lacked for self-actualization before as much as the story would like to suggest she did.

2.0

Rating

Wonder Woman doesn’t lack for doppelganger rogues, but still I found Wonder Woman Vol. 1: Afterworlds’s Janus compelling — the villain seemingly split from an ally, but then both Januses turn out to be suspect, a god-foe that I don’t think we’ve ever seen before. And now, Diana is back in the land of the living, and soon after this to be embroiled in “Trial of the Amazons.” Hopefully Becky Cloonan and Michael W. Conrad have all this myth-making out of their system and we can see a more earth-based Wonder Woman next time around.

[Includes original and variant covers, cover and character sketches]


  1. Excuse me, “kithotaur.”  ↩

Comments ( 5 )

  1. AnonymousJune 18, 2022

    Yeah, none of Diana's post-Greg Rucka runs over the last 5 years have really interested me. Rucka's encore was just so perfect and complete that I felt content not to pick up Wonder Woman again anytime soon.

    For me, Diana is one of those characters that..I like her, but I don't read her monthly book on a run-by-run basis. There needs to be a kickass creative team, or a kickass hook to bring me back to the island.

    Azzarello and Chiang's run's a great example. I hadn't read Wonder Woman since Rucka's original run in 2006 (I'd been too disgusted by the post-Infinite Crisis relaunch fiasco; I didn't even read Gail Simone's run until years later).

    But putting Azzarello on Diana? THAT got my attention and I was damm curious to see what he'd do. And indeed, for all its flaws and controversies, it WAS a memorable, fascinating run and I left with him (as I had not interest at all in the Finchs).

    So, same thing here. I only checked out Cloonan and Conrad's run, really, because I was curious during the lead-up to Trial of the Amazons.

    And...there are some things I like in this kickoff (despite, as you said, spinning their wheels until they could use Diana in the DCU again). Taking Diana out of Greek territory and her comfort zone was fun. And Terry Moore certainly draws a very pretty Sigurd!

    But...their run's been falling flat for me since Trial. For what's meant to be Diana's 80th anniversary run, it's just lacking the punch I was hoping for. I don't know how much longer I'm sticking with it.

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    Replies
    1. >> For what's meant to be Diana's 80th anniversary run, it's just lacking the punch I was hoping for.

      This! A big sacrifice in Death Metal, a much-hyped run-up to Trial of the Amazons, a variety of new Wonder Woman-adjacent series abounding, and it still never feels like DC quite knows what to do when the stars align.

      Delete
    2. AnonymousJune 27, 2022

      I know, right?

      And the frustrating part is that on paper (pun intended), everything SHOULD be firing on all cylinders.

      But it's just not and I'm unsure why. Honestly, I've been enjoying the NUBIA spinoffs more than the parent title.

      Delete
  2. I expected good things from this run after enjoying Cloonan and Conrad's work on the Future State books, but this overlong, boring and overly talky inaugural arc really tested my patience, and while the subsequent arcs have been shorter, they've still been a chore to read.

    For the first time in almost 20 years, I'm actually contemplating dropping this book, which is something even the Odyssey arc didn't get me to do. Does DC really think all this standing around and talking is what people want from the Wonder Woman books, which are somehow a bigger franchise than the Superman books right now?

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    Replies
    1. I liked the Odyssey arc, but I'm forgiving like that! 😀

      Delete

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