Review: Tales of the Amazons hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

March 1, 2023

I will admit to being such a cog in the comics solicitations machine — every month, a big list of comics appears on the internet, and that’s how I know what’s coming — that I hardly know how DC markets their comics to “regular people” any more, if at all. How the casual buyer who happens to find Trial of the Amazons on the Barnes & Noble shelves (because I still suspect this is how the majority of trades get bought) would ever know there’s a companion Tales of the Amazons volume out there, I have no idea. An advantage of trades is the lack of advertisements every other page, but I think the Trial of the Amazons collection would have benefitted from a house ad directing readers to all the related books — Wonder Woman, Wonder Girl, Nubia, and Tales.

Because Tales of the Amazons is not only quite good, but also hugely influential on one’s reading of Trial of the Amazons. I rather hope there was some hesitation about shunting these “tales” to their own volume. Otherwise to take the set-up for the Trial mystery and also the explanation of that mystery and separate them from Trial itself without it being absolutely necessary to do so seems in bad faith.

[Review contains spoilers]

I’ll amend that slightly. To read Trial of the Amazons without Tales of the Amazons is to experience Trial through Wonder Woman Diana’s eyes, or Nubia’s, or really anyone else’s except the culprit, Artemis. Arguably there’s some value in that — one experiences the murder of Hippolyta without the benefit of foreshadowing nor any hint of mitigation. That’s reasonable, though I’m unconvinced — by virture of the “Road to the Trial of the Amazons” stories being published prior to Trial itself, we have precedent for proper reading order and an indication no reader is meant to go into Trial without the mitigating factors already in mind.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Writer Vita Ayala and artist Skylar Patridge pen the “Road” stories as well as Artemis: Wanted; they’re a powerhouse team whose work makes up most of the book. “Road” is interesting, thoughtful, and — like Ayala’s “Wonder Woman: War of the Gods” story from Tales From the DC Dark Multiverse II — at times wonderfully, surprisingly violent. It starts broad with a Bana-Mighdall initiation ceremony (all the more interesting in comparison to the arrival of new Amazons to Themyscira in Nubia and the Amazons), to a bloody battle with a mythical being, to the conspiracy that underscores all of Trial.

Later, in Artemis: Wanted, Ayala not only returns the use of magic to the Amazons as described in-story, but also seems to understand and appreciate Artemis' long history — as the demon-hunting Amazon, as the Amazon who ought have magic powers, as the morally gray center of the Wonder Woman universe. I’d happily read an Artemis or Bana-Mighdall series from Ayala, and Patridge has the clear, steady lines that suggest “DC house style-plus,” akin to Jim Lee or Jason Fabok.

In my review of Trial of the Amazons, much as I enjoyed it, I knocked the central conceit for being silly, that — as I presumed, and as Artemis: Wanted explains — Hippolyta charged Artemis to hasten her death for the purpose of uniting the three Amazon tribes. It seemed to me that sensibly, taking comic book melodrama out of it, surely there was a way to bring the Amazons together that didn’t involve Hippolyta’s apparent murder and Artemis' criminalization, like Hippolyta simply providing strong leadership therein.

Insofar as comics logic goes, however, I was exceptionally impressed with how Wanted explains this away, that it was not just mortal challenges that threatened the Amazons, but immortal ones — that the Amazons needed a dedicated Olympian champion outside the pantheon, and so Hippolyta needed to die to become it. (Frankly, for all the trouble Diana has had with the gods, it’s amazing this solution has never been broached before.) Moreover, it would not simply be enough that Hippolyta happened to die, but the sacrifice, the controversy, and the mystery would all be necessary for Hippolyta to ascend to godhood on Olympus instead of spending eternity in Tartarus.

There’s some in-story rulemaking there (what’s to say Hippolyta, just by virtue of her long reign and deeds, wouldn’t automatically become a god?), but in all I was quite satisfied, my quibble about Trial solved. Ayala also pays nice deference to Wonder Girls Donna Troy and Cassie Sandsmark. The rageful Donna Troy in Wanted still boggles the mind (I remember red-suited Troia, kind heart of the New Titans), but that seems a strange characterization endemic to all the current Wonder Woman franchise writers, not just Ayala — however, I did appreciate Ayala and Patridge’s nod to events in Donna’s life across many continuities.

Stephanie Williams and Ayala’s Nubia: Coronation Special is another in their successful series of Nubia stories. I was most taken by the bit of retroactive continuity in which we see Nubia’s been traveling to Man’s World parallel to Diana, and moreover meets up with the Martian Manhunter. Williams and Ayala offer an honest discussion of race among two strangers in a strange land, and it’s precisely the kind of good work that a character like Nubia makes possible. I liked too the space-faring flash-forward; I found it overly complicated that the authors graft on to Nubia a past with another ancient mythical tribe in addition to her years as an Amazon, but this is a creative team that’s earned my trust to see how it goes.

The Wonder Woman team of Michael Conrad and Becky Cloonan write Olympus: Rebirth, with art by Caitlin Yarsky (there’s a running joke about the details of the late Hippolyta’s appearance that seems a self-reference to Hippolyta’s more Greek-presenting features under Yarsky’s pen). I’m still less enamored by toga-laden depictions of the Olympian gods in the comics than Greg Rucka or Brian Azzarello’s more modern conceptions, however the author’s Alice in Wonderland-esque Olympus where everyone’s mad is creepily enticing. As well, enough plot has been used from what seemed originally to be filler, Wonder Woman Vol. 1: Afterworlds, that I might have to go back and reread it. All of this, which has a lot to do with Diana, has been largely separate from the Wonder Woman title, and I’ll be interested to see them eventually bring it together.

3.0

Rating

I might have called this book Road to Trial of the Amazons, getting “Trial” in there, though I imagine there were fits around such given that Tales of the Amazons collects both “road to” and “road fromTrial stories. But that’s a semantic problem baked in; it’s altogether strange to have a collection of stories that are specifically the prologue and epilogue of another book, but there you go. Great work in here irrespective. Starting off Tales, by the way, is another of Jordie Bellaire’s “Young Diana” stories, spotlighting Diana’s friendship with Nubia; that’s relevant here, though I wish DC were more attentive to collecting these “Young Diana” stories all together and not piecemeal.

[Includes original and variant covers, character sketch]

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