More on Trial of the Amazons

February 15, 2023

Continuing from the first part of my review of Trial of the Amazons ...

Trial of the Amazons works well enough as a Wonder Woman event, technicalities aside. This thin, nascent attempt at creating a universe of Wonder Woman characters is fun, even if its largely illusionary (the “crossover” made up of miniseries created largely for this very purpose). There’s strong support here, however, for an approach like Justice League: Endless Winter rather than Trial.

That is, whereas Endless was a filler story, it was written by just one team across a variety of series and specials instead of each title’s individual team, and it was better and more cohesive for it. Trial is clearly written by a committee that, while seemingly enthusiastic and dedicated to the Wonder Woman franchise, doesn’t always appear to be rowing the same direction with the characters. Again, in broad strokes I liked Trial of the Amazons, but it’s messy in the details.

I’m hard-pressed to say Trial is controversial; rather, perhaps the book’s sheer lack of controversy may ultimately be it’s downfall (or the downfall of this particular Wonder Woman run). But the authors do seem unafraid to write these characters with flaws, even to the point of discomfort. I admire that; there’s a complexity here that even feels as though it breaks some rules, but perhaps there’s wisdom therein.

[Review contains spoilers]

Really, while I continue to like this new “Wonder Woman family,” none of the characters quite make it out unscathed by the storyline. Former Wonder Girl Donna Troy’s heritage is a complete mystery — who knows if her New 52/Rebirth “clay golem with false memories” origin is still valid or if we’ve returned to some post-Crisis iteration — as is why she’s swiftly accepted by both the Esquecida and the Bana-Mighdall despite their otherwise mistrust of all things Themyscirian. Under Michael Conrad and Becky Cloonan’s pen, Donna has a couple of angry, overemotional responses to Diana and we’ve no idea the origins of this enmity, if the writers even do. At one point a supernatural being refers to Donna by two past continuity (?) names, “Troia, the Darkstar,” which Donna soundly rejects — again, who can say why?

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Cassie Sandmark, another Wonder Girl, has had an equally rough time around Trial. Wonder Girl: Homecoming miniseries writer Joelle Jones has consistently depicted Cassie as a fool, and overeager (in contrast to some of the character’s other, better portrayals), showing her boring those around her. Jones continues that in Trial, in a long detective reveal sequence (well-drawn by Jones nonetheless) where the Amazons quietly decry Cassie’s showboating as she talks.

Even new Themyscarian ruler Nubia doesn’t want to hear from her, a shift from — equally bizarre — when earlier under Stephanie Williams and Vita Ayala’s pen, Nubia starkly and unironically declares Cassie the best person to find Hippolyta’s murderer, despite no reason for that to be the case. Neither does Jones keep consistent, from issue to issue in Wonder Girl, how well Cassie and the Bana-Mighdall's Artemis do or don’t know each other. Here indeed one writing team in control of all of these characters' depictions might produce better result than the three different teams.

(To answer a hanging question from my Wonder Girl: Homecoming review, no better answers as to Yara Flor’s background, family life, interests, whether she’s ever checked in with her aunt and uncle, etc., are found in the two Wonder Girl issues collected here. I held out the possibility that what depth Homecoming lacked might simply be a foilble of how the issues were collected, but it’s not the case — Yara remains woefully underdeveloped for the amount of attention DC has paid to her. How, as of the Wonder Girl 2021 annual, Yara Flor is now known to the public as Wonder Girl, I couldn't tell you.)

A striking, and perhaps underexplored, element of Trial and these new Amazon adventures is what seems to be racism on the part of the Themyscirians. This is not new; though the Themyscirians are not uniformly white nor the African/Middle Eastern Bana-Mighdall uniformly Black, the presentation has always generally been such even since George Perez’s days — white Wonder Woman and her mother Hippolyta representing the proper, affluent Themyscirians, versus Black Bana-Mighdall like their queens Anahid and Faruka having to constantly fight for resources and recognition. And the gathered new Wonder Woman writers are not shying away, as when the fair-skinned, blond-haired Kalliope tries to deny the Bana-Mighdall entrance to Themyscira, calling them “filthy savages.”

It is hard to reconcile Wonder Woman Diana, portrayed as super-progressive by Greg Rucka and others, with what seems a penchant for prejudice among the Themyscirians. Even within Themyscira, we see bad behavior — toward the end of the Nubia and the Amazons miniseries, there’s two Themyscirians essentially bullying the island’s newest arrivals. Again, it feels antithetical that the mythological Amazonian society should contain prejudice or bullying, or be as flawed and corrupt as Gotham or Metropolis, but at the same time — particularly seeing the precedent — I’m content to lean in here. I’d rather see the writers struggle with something complicated than offer no nuance whatsoever.

I was particularly and pleasantly surprised to see Conrad and Cloonan bring in a storyline from their Wonder Woman Vol. 1: Afterworlds, when I’d otherwise dismissed that book as mostly filler. It is, though (keeping with the push and pull of elements in Trial), a bit strange — forced to choose one ancient god to condemn to damnation in order to free others, Diana chose Chaos, promising to return to free it.

But about 10 issues later, apparently Diana didn’t act quickly enough, because Chaos is behind some or all of the Amazons' problems. (Trial is nicely multi-faceted, but again going to either simple difficulty or the cadre of writers, the hows and whys are not always clear. Whether Chaos let loose Medusa in Nubia and whether the threats of Chaos and the alien Altuum were separate or related are both murky.) What we have here are problems somewhat of Diana’s own making, quite aside from the murder and the book’s central contest; again, kind of an unusual spot for Wonder Woman to be in, but I’m more pleased with the writers tying the problems to the characters' own choices than not.

Notable too is the fact that this “locked room” mystery never leaves Themyscira — in a refreshing change, the fate of the entire world is never quite at stake, nor are there the often requisite fights with the American military; indeed 99% of the entire cast is female. Trial of the Amazons really doesn’t live up to DC’s “first of its kind” claim, but surely this fraught, risky direction for the Wonder Woman franchise is auspicious, if only DC actually follows it up.

[Includes original and variant covers]

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