Here’s a two-part storyline which wasn’t advertised and isn’t mentioned on the covers. Hurray! Charles Soule takes on a Wonder Woman storyline which tags into a Wonder Woman/Superman team-up, as the characters fight a villain I’d never heard of before and take several unexpected and unnecessary detours along the way.
DC’s refusal to use a recap page certainly doesn’t help. Let’s start with Wonder Woman first.
Wonder Woman has had an identity problem since the New 52 began – one which she hasn’t had before. This time round she’s been so well-defined by mainstay creative team Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang and Matt Wilson that every other take on her (which has followed the age-old tradition of ‘ignoring all prior characterisation) has suffered as a result. Unless the core creative team are at the wheel for this take on Wonder Woman, it seems, DC flounder with the character. So it is again here, with Charles Soule jettisoning the current storylines for the character in order to take her in a completely different trajectory.
Five years into her future, she’s teamed up with a load of dead soldiers in order to fight off some shadow demon things which are taking over the world. As the shadow demon things can cause doubt and manipulation in the living, her tactic has been to plunder Hades’ army, and use them to wage war instead.
Rags Morales comes onboard so readers can play another enjoyable game of “guess how many pages Rags Morales can draw before he runs out of time”, and benefits hugely from colourist Andrew Dalhouse’s pastel-heavy work. Dalhouse creates an effect on the page which mutes everything, giving it a slight sense of sepia and enhancing the feel that this is a mythological, classically-focused comic. Morales, in turn, offers several strong sequences in a row before vanishing halfway through the book. This is the strongest half of the issue as a whole, actually, as the story heads off in a single solid direction.
However, the back half of the book quickly starts to throw in extra ideas which throw the reader off-track, and Soule loses sense of the pacing. Having effectively established a siege situation for Wonder Woman and random members of her supporting cast, she eventually just jumps off the top of her besieged battlement and charges at her enemies for no particularly understandable reason. But, no sooner than she does so, guest star Superman shows up to stop things. It’s a hasty, ineffective sequence, which seems put in place purely so there’s some sense of structure to the cliffhanger hitting the reader.
It’s a rather messy way to tell a story, especially as the final page is the only page of the issue which lets readers know that this is a two-part storyline. Wonder Woman seems to be heading in a certain particular direction from Soule before quickly turning abruptly into something entirely different, and the character seriously suffers as a result. Here is a character being pulled along by the requirements of an overly-mechanical script, which crushes any ability she has to be dynamic or unexpected in her own right.
It’s better than the second part of the story, however, as I’d go so far as to say that Superman/Wonder Woman is a complete mess.
Bart Sears handles this story, bringing a scrappy style similar to something you’d see from Howard Porter. It’s house style, with everybody having rippling muscles and dead eyes. Sears does have a fun sense of storytelling, and puts together some interesting and impressive action sequences and poses throughout the issue – but the characters themselves are over-drawn, I suppose you could say. Superman in particular looks to have a doughy, inexpressive face, whilst his body is filled with so many creepy-looking muscles that it’s an effort just to look at him. The storytelling is strong – the actual character work is poor.
But then, the issue doesn’t give much definition to the characters either. Soule makes a lot of really strange choices here which dilute the story for no understandable reason. It’s an aimless, difficult to piece together story, which suggests that the whole of the Wonder Woman issue may not actually have taken place. The villain – whom we never see at any point, I don’t believe – now has reality warping powers, and apparently used them to make Wonder Woman walk into a labyrinth and get lost. Superman goes in to get her out. Something like that? I’ve read it a few times, but the exposition places emphasis on all the wrong points, so the reader remains fairly lost by what’s going on.
With a stronger artist, readers could probably wave off some of the leaps in logic which take place, but Sears’ character design is leaden from the start. As a result, focus heads towards Soule’s script, which weaves a decent handful of reasonable ideas into a convoluted mess of a narrative. The storyline jumps around in consistency, with the characters looking about as lost as the reader surely will be.
Two poor issues, then, although I should mention that Soule at least provides a nice capper to the piece. His take on Wonder Woman doesn’t bear much resemblance to the one readers have seen over the last few years – but seasoned Wonder Woman fans are probably used to that by now, as no writer ever seems to have any idea how to write her consistently to the writers before. Overall – skip this one. It’s messy, scrappy storytelling, with no internal continuity as a narrative.