Review: Wonder Woman: Evolution hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Ordinarily I’m relative sanguine about bad portrayals of the world’s greatest superheroes. Batman acts the fool under one writer’s pen, there’s surely another story on the way that’ll rectify it, and no doubt the character can withstand it in popular culture anyway.

But Stephanie Phillips' Wonder Woman: Evolution feels like a particularly egregious missed opportunity. Given DC’s glut of miniseries lately, and particularly Black Label miniseries, I continue to think Wonder Woman offers potential for lots of light- to no-continuity offerings — superheroic, mythological, horror, and so on. Evolution is an eight-issue swing-and-a-miss, and with Wonder Woman, one always has to be concerned that that’ll make DC less likely to try again.

I wasn’t too keen on Phillips' first Harley Quinn outing, and with Evolution, I’m getting the sense maybe my tastes and the author just don’t mesh. But further, given where this book begins and where it ends and all that’s in between, that no one among the book’s four editors thought to themselves that Evolution might be ill-advised or represent a less than stellar DC product is disheartening indeed.

[Review contains spoilers]

With Daniel Warren Johnson’s quite enjoyable Wonder Woman: Dead Earth in mind (and Dead Earth’s flaws are entirely forgiven in the face of Evolution), I was intrigued by Evolution’s original premise. Dead Earth saw Wonder Woman Diana waking up a stranger in a strange apocalyptic future replete with monsters and horrific challenges; Evolution, seeing Diana “whisked away from Earth by a distant cosmic entity” to complete challenges for the fate of humanity, felt like a good follow-up, action-packed and dramatic — and eight issues, to boot.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

At the start, I was not wholly impressed, though not as dismayed as I ended up. Phillips begins with Diana vs. the Vanessa Kapatelis Silver Swan — not Phillips' fault, but Vanessa as the Swan felt cynical to begin with and worse in James Robinson’s version that took much of the characters' shared history away.

This moves into one of those conversations between Diana and another character (here, Superman), where someone has to explain humanity to outsider Diana. Among my favorite Wonder Woman depictions, Greg Rucka’s Diana wrote a book about social issues — she wasn’t “other” than humanity and she didn’t need humanity’s drive and passion explained to her. But to an extent I’ve seen this so often with authors writing Wonder Woman for the first time — Diana doesn’t understand humanity, Diana is confused by modern conveniences, etc. — that the foible is almost expected.

After an issue of set-up, an issue where Diana fights a fake Steve Trevor as lead-in to the revelation of the aliens, and an issue where Diana as Golden Age Wonder Woman (clearly seeing visions) fights in World War II, we’re then into another dream sequence in the fourth chapter where Diana has to fight the Justice League, and here things really begin to go wrong. This is at least the third false reality of the story, and the conflict is contrived — no moral dilemma so much as the Justice League acting out of character for the needs of the story so Diana has someone to hit. At this point I’m bored — there’s nothing at stake philosophically and nothing at stake plot-wise such to make contrived battle after battle engaging.

And here, carelessness and bad judgment come in. Already artist Mike Hawthorne has had trouble with overwrought expressions or facial expressions that don’t match the dialogue’s tone, but in drawing the League he presents an inexplicably off-model Batman (see chin guard) with a weirdly minimalist, even lazy bat-symbol on his chest. The aliens have previously called Wonder Woman “Diana Prince,” a name I don’t think has any relevance in this continuity; now too a woman that Diana identifies as Donna Troy shows up, though I’m not sure if anyone would clock this as Donna if the story didn’t tell us so.

It is more than problematic when Diana herself, inside the story, calls the whole thing ridiculous; though I don’t think Phillips intended it, the audience can’t help but agree. It feels as though Phillips takes what she knows about Wonder Woman and throws it all together, whether or not applicable or sensible, like a game of “telephone” with Wonder Woman knowledge. Between art and story, surely an editor could have tweaked here or tightened there — given imaginary battles with Steve Trevor, the Nazis, the Justice League, and the Amazons — and that’s all before Diana stops the sun from exploding by … taking a piece out of it? and then everything in the past six issues is further revealed as a ruse.

Because, it actually turns out that all this time Diana has been imprisoned by a generic mad scientist with generic plans to help humanity evolve. Diana fights the Swan again, defeating her in the span of the page simply by surrendering to Vanessa and letting her kill Diana if she must — by, in a sense, refusing to equate evolution with conquest. But the swiftness with which this totally disarms the Swan is laughable, and then, three pages from the end, Diana is saved from the ordeal by Superman, with no indication whatsoever how it was Superman even found her.



And so it is that Wonder Woman: Evolution is a majority of issues of Diana tilting at windmills, not really fighting for humanity so much as just fighting, with an end that does little to make the issues that came before worthwile. In the third chapter, these ultimately imaginary aliens argue that humanity is the only species in the entire galaxy who seek out war and murder for enjoyment rather than necessity, a statement just preposterous for anyone who knows the DC Universe. It is Evolution in a nutshell, a story that just throws whatever it likes on to the page. Wonder Woman deserves better.

[Includes original and variant cover thumbnails]


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