I had planned to write this week’s column just on Gail Simone’s first issue of Wonder Woman, but then a couple of other debuts caught my eye.
[SPOILERS FOLLOW for Wonder Woman #14, Batman and the Outsiders #1, and the Titans East Special.]
I had forgotten, until reading Ms. Simone’s Newsarama interview, that she was announced as the next regular Wonder Woman writer back in April. Yikes. Seven months, almost to the day, is a long time to wait. (Insert shipping-schedule joke here.)
More than that, though, the Simone announcement preceded Amazons Attack (written by Will Pfeifer) and came in the middle of novelist Jodi Picoult’s star-crossed WW stint. If Wonder Woman fans were Republicans — and wouldn’t that be a fascinating case study? — Simone must have seemed like Fred Thompson.
I’ll admit, I’ve been looking forward to Ms. Simone’s debut on this book for as long as everyone else has. I thought Wonder Woman 3.0 began with a lot of promise, but those delays, a Picoult story that felt too much like Heinberg’s, and the intrusion of Amazons Attack, all combined to derail whatever momentum the title tried to build. After all of that, I — and probably many other readers — expected Simone to clean house. Wonder Woman #14 would be version 3.1, at least.
However, it doesn’t feel like a first issue. Much of it involves Wonder Woman fighting intelligent gorillas (juvenile delinquents, really) who may be the vanguard of a new Secret Society of Super-Villains. (The fight, by the way, is choreographed in excellent fashion by returning artists Terry and Rachel Dodson.) A prologue on Themyscira hints that Diana, instead of being the Messiah, may actually be the Amazons’ Anti-Christ. A few pages with Diana’s secret-agent coworkers reaffirms the 3.0 status quo. The balance of the issue follows up on the new Secret Society subplot, with a cliffhanger that hints at tying everything together. (No, that wasn’t meant as a bondage joke.)
It’s all really good, too. Simone shows Diana in multiple roles, sometimes simultaneously. With the apes she’s a warrior and diplomat; on Themyscira, she’s a princess; in her secret identity, she’s a government agent; and overall she’s a superhero. If Simone has discarded anything from the Heinberg and Picoult arcs, it’s Diana’s questioning of herself. Not only is she confident about her place in the grand scheme of things, she’s in full command of her various roles.
Simone also introduces what I take to be a new character, or at least a new take on a venerable WW cast member; namely, Lt. Col. Candy, brought in by Sarge Steel as a fresh set of eyes investigating Wonder Woman. She doesn’t get a first name, so if she’s supposed to be the all-new Etta Candy — and sorry, I am not entirely up on my Etta lore — she looks younger than the post-Crisis version introduced ‘way back in the George Pérez days. Honestly, I can’t remember who used Etta last, whether it was Phil Jiminez or Greg Rucka, but she seems to have come a fur piece in the meantime. I don’t remember Etta being quite the detective this person is. Anyway, she looks to be an intriguing character, and I’m glad Simone’s expanding the supporting cast.
Ultimately, this was a fine start to what will hopefully be a long and happy run. Ms. Simone isn’t rebuilding the Wonder Woman engine, just giving it a tuneup, and so far it’s running very well.
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Next up is Batman and the Outsiders vol. 2 #1, a book I wasn’t planning on getting. I liked Tony Bedard’s perspective on the team, so the news that Chuck Dixon was replacing him as writer even before the series started made the book seem more conventional by comparison. Still, as with Simone and Wonder Woman, many fans consider Dixon an excellent Batman writer. Indeed, while BATO2 #1 is a well-made superhero comic book — lavishly illustrated by penciller Julian Lopez, inker Bit, and colorist Marta Martinez — it does seem pretty conventional, at least initially. Basically, Batman coordinates the Outsiders’ raid on an evil manufacturer’s facility. This offers an opportunity to introduce readers to the new team, most of whom need little introduction. I suppose if I’d read more of this title’s predecessor than just the Checkmate crossover issues, I’d be examining it to see how Batman, Catwoman, and J’Onn J’Onzz interact with the other members.
As it stands, this issue kicks off what looks to be a “caper” plot, with each character being introduced relative to his or her role in the caper. Like WW #14, it ends on a cliffhanger, promising more action next issue. I don’t know if I’ll be back, though. It’s not that I didn’t like it, particularly; but I get the feeling that it’s loaded with more innuendo than what I’m able to detect. Put another way: why’s Batman leading this eclectic group? What about the Justice League? What’s up with him and Catwoman? Why’s J’Onn look like that?
While all of these questions are answerable with a quick trip to the Internet, let’s say I want to be ornery and judge the book on what’s between its covers. Is “well-made caper story” by itself enough to warrant another $2.99 in two weeks?
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Finally, I couldn’t help but chuckle morbidly at the cover of the Titans East Special #1 (oh, like there’ll be a #2). “Who Will DIE?” Wow. I really hope DC had the Doom Force Special in mind when they decided on that particular caption. The only thing missing was an arrow … or several….
The “dark secret” of the book hasn’t really been hard to figure out for a while. It’s a bait-and-switch designed both as a character-building element for Cyborg and a motivation for the old team to reunite. Accordingly, here it’s almost an exercise in cruelty, with a couple of casual-sex jokes thrown in. When the book’s prologue features the original New Teen Titans lineup, and goes on for sixteen of its thirty-eight pages, that tends to devalue the new team even more.
Still, reading the book cold, it works acceptably as a first issue. It’s virtually the opposite of BATO #1: the art (pencilled by Ian Churchill, inked by Norm Rapmund and Andy Lanning) is a lot busier, and the new team members — the epitome of “lovable losers,” as tragic as that sounds in hindsight — need a lot more introducing. Unlike Dixon on BATO, writer Judd Winick orients Titans East both to its predecessor group(s) and to the larger DC Universe. Again, being D-listers, they need it; but it kinda pays off. Part of me would have enjoyed, say, a four-issue miniseries for this group to find its own equilibrium.
Instead, a much more cynical part of me sees this as another wholesale slaughter of characters no one would miss, in service to another exercise in nostalgia and/or fan entitlement. I do feel compelled to note that Steel and Vibe were killed pretty dead to make way for Justice League International, but at least they had a couple of years as JLAers.
And the worst thing about it is, I’m still interested in a New Teen Titans reunion title, even if it’s written by Winick with as much corn as he plants in this book’s prologue. I just get the feeling that DC didn’t want to take the chance that no one would buy a Titans East special, and dropped any pretense that it would stand on its own. It’s not exactly cannibalism, but it’s not too far away either.
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… My, “cannibalism” is a strong word, isn’t it? Probably too strong.
Anyway, it’s appropriate to contrast Titans East, which deliberately introduces ostensibly objectionable elements only to summarily dispose of them, with Wonder Woman‘s attempts to make everything work together. Wonder Woman succeeds at juggling mythology with office politics and straight-up superheroics, but Titans East’s cynicism sucks away any of the fun of its “new” team. Meanwhile, BATO #1 is a solid, well-executed superhero team title which doesn’t do much more to distinguish itself.
Of course, none of these issues stand entirely on their own. Each is dependent to some extent on a larger body of work — that’s what you get in with serialized superhero shared-universe storytelling. Still, the creative teams behind both Wonder Woman and BATO are secure enough in their storytelling abilities to plop readers into their stories without much preamble. Titans East doesn’t share that confidence, and its new team suffers (as it were) for it.