James Robinson’s turn on Wonder Woman is grinding me down. With every issue it’s a new exploration of shoddy writing, horrible characterization, and bizarre self-contradictory story decisions. Due to a scheduling mix-up I thought that there would be a new issue last week, and when I arrived at my comic shop and saw that there wasn’t a new issue on the wall the sense of euphoria I felt was almost narcotic.
This series is such a trainwreck that simply not being forced to experience it gives me active pleasure.
Unfortunately, despite my reprieve last week I knew it would eventually return, and issue #40 (The conclusion to “Swan’s Song”) is exactly the kind of mess I expected it to be.
We pick up immediately after issue #39 left off, with Wonder Woman picking herself up after she, Jason, and Silver Swan all fell to ground at the conclusion of their flying battle. Wonder Woman is looking for Jason, whose throat had been cut during the fight, and she is relieved to find him likewise up and mobile, complaining more about the fact that fell into trash in an alley than he is about the potentially mortal wound. The cut is healing itself quickly, with the scar already almost faded, and Jason wonders if his and Wonder Woman’s advanced healing abilities are part of their legacy from Zeus. Since they are both now returned to fighting form they fly off to look for Silver Swan, but she is nowhere to be seen so they need to track her down. Wonder Woman laments that Steve Trevor isn’t here since she isn’t a planner like he is.
With that connection, the comic jumps to Steve Trevor and the Oddfellows fighting the Female Furies in Turkey. The Oddfellows are having a similar exchange, asking Steve if he was wishing Wonder Woman was there to help them out. At first he is evasive, but when Lashina leaps atop him he finally admits that yes, it would be better if Wonder Woman were there to lend a hand.
The comic cuts back to Wonder Woman and Jason, who are now at the hospital where Vanessa Kapatelis was being treated before she transformed into Silver Swan. The hospital is now a slaughter scene, as Vanessa had killed everybody — staff and patients alike — before leaving and going after Wonder Woman. Also before leaving she had cut herself and bled on the computer system, and the nanites in her blood allowed her to access computer systems all over the world and remove all information on the nanites that were used to treat her paralysis and which have now given her superpowers.
Realizing that nothing at the hospital is going to give them a clue where to find Vanessa next, Diana sends Jason home to shower and change clothes after his earlier fall into a pile of garbage. While at Diana’s beachfront home, he is attacked by the Silver Swan who is still trying to hurt Diana, and she realized that killing her brother would hurt her even more than physical pain. Wonder Woman, however, had expected this plan and arrives to attack Swan in turn. They fight, and Wonder Woman goads Swan into unleashing her sonic attack again, rationalizing that despite the nanite enhancements she is still basically human, and therefore still needs to breathe. When Swan’s sonic attack exhausts all the air in her lungs, Wonder Woman tackles her and drags her underwater before she can inhale again.
With the Swan smothered unconscious, Wonder Woman drags Vanessa out of the ocean and brings her to A.R.G.U.S. HQ for care. The doctors assure her that she is in no immediate life-threatening danger, but they will need to keep her there to treat her when she eventually wakes up, and also to study the nanites which cured her paralysis and turned her into the swan. Since she had deleted all the research on them earlier there is no longer any information on how they work, and if they are properly understood they would be remarkable cures for all sorts of disabilities. At the end of the scene Dr. Edward Carne is shown reflected in the glass of her stasis tube, and the reflected image appears to be recurring Wonder Woman foe Dr. Psycho.
The comic closes once again at Diana’s beach house, where Jason is writing her a farewell letter. Recognizing that he is not yet ready to be a superhero or worthy to be Diana’s brother, he is planning to leave and find his own way. However, before he can actually leave he is hit by some sort of cloudy, colorful energy effect and disappears. Diana returns home and finds his letter, but outside sees only a little bit of smoking dust where he had been.
Where do I even begin?
Leaving aside my ongoing complaints about how this series just doesn’t get Wonder Woman’s character, from a purely technical storycrafting perspective the opening completely undoes the cliffhanger of the previous issue. There’s no drama or fear in this issue as they deal with Jason’s deadly injury, they literally say it has been healed by magic and move on to the next pursuit of Silver Swan. Even though we-the-audience know this won’t be how Jason dies, since James Robinson’s run on the series opened with future events with Jason that still have not come to pass, they completely brush aside any fallout from the event or dealing with the psychological issues that might come from such a grievous wound.
On this same note, Wonder Woman doesn’t spend any time worrying that she might have accidentally killed Vanessa when she cut her wing and caused an explosion, or that there might be injured bystanders. She realizes immediately that the Swan must be okay and have fled, so she and Jason fly off right away. The last issue closed with a very dramatic, full-page set of panels showing the three characters plummeting to the ground, and in this issue the event is literally just brushed away as Jason knocks some trash off his clothing.
Now let’s get back to my complaints about how James Robinson doesn’t get Wonder Woman’s character: How dare he — how DARE he — have Wonder Woman say that she’s a brute-force fighter who needs Steve Trevor to help her figure out what to do? That is insulting, and frankly more than a little bit sexist as well. The idea that despite being a trained warrior and superhero and leader and activist and ambassador Diana actually needs Steve Trevor to tell her what to do is ridiculous. Especially when this is such a basic villain who Wonder Woman does easily outsmart later in the issue.
I love Steve Trevor, he is a great character who well belongs in Wonder Woman’s life and in her story, but you do not get to say that he is the brain behind what she accomplishes.
Speaking of Steve Trevor, let’s go over him and Oddfellows fighting the Female Furies, because that just doesn’t work. At all.
I went over this heavily in my review of the last issue where the fight began, but I’m going to hammer it again: The Female Furies have fought and defeated Superman. When Wonder Woman and Big Barda were working together it was still a fight-to-the-knife struggle to triumph over the Furies. The thought that six normal humans with normal guns — no superpowers or cyborg enhancements or laser weapons among them — could last even ten seconds in this fight is ridiculous. Let alone long enough for the Oddfellows to have witty banter amongst themselves.
Later in the issue, we get a full night/day switch after Wonder Woman defeats Silver Swan and brings her to A.R.G.U.S., but there’s no mention — none at all — of the Oddfellows and their fight with the Female Furies. Is that fight still going on, raging for hours without any sort of contact with A.R.G.U.S? Without any news reports coming out of Turkey about a guns vs. aliens battle in the middle of a museum? The Topkapı Palace is a major historic and tourism facility in Istanbul, hasn’t there been contact from the Turkish government about the American SpecOps team running around their territory? The literal radio silence makes no sense.
Moving beyond Steve Trevor, there’s the ever-more-bizarre story of Vanessa’s nanite medical treatment. They still haven’t explained how Vanessa completely recuperated and apparently mastered her shapeshifting abilities in the span of a few days, and now they’re adding on the also-unexplained technopath abilities that come from just connecting her nanites to a computer. It was explicitly stated that this treatment was based on the technology of the superhero Cyborg, but even he doesn’t have this kind of technological interface.
Speaking of Cyborg, several characters talk about how Vanessa deleted all research and information on her treatment and this means that nobody has any idea at all how any of it worked. Except Cyborg is still around, so they can just get the information from him. Logically speaking, it follows that the Justice League, Teen Titans, and several other superhero organizations that Cyborg has worked with would also have information on his technology. They should also have on-site backups and techno defenses that wouldn’t be affected by Vanessa hacking medical databases.
Getting back to the way this story just doesn’t fit in with Wonder Woman’s history, why does Diana turn Vanessa over to A.R.G.U.S. after she is defeated instead of to the Picket? The Picket is the government organization that Wonder Woman is actually working with currently, she’s only been cooperating with A.R.G.U.S. for the recent arc because they were dealing with Apokoliptian situations and that was A.R.G.U.S.’s bailiwick. Since Vanessa has nothing to do with Darkseid and the New Gods in any way, there’s no reason Diana would involve A.R.G.U.S. at all.
It’s been clear since James Robinson took over that he wants to make A.R.G.U.S the primary government agency involved in the story, just as he clearly hasn’t been wanting to write a Wonder Woman story at all, but now he’s not even offering a lip-service excuse. They’re just involved because…because.
I can’t even bring myself to continue discussing the end of the issue. The reveal that Dr. Psycho is somehow involved, and the kidnapping of Jason, are so abrupt and disconnected that they leave me feeling empty. Even the promise that we might be returning to classic Wonder Woman villains and removing of Jason from the story, which I’ve been begging for ever since James Robinson took over, aren’t able to compensate for the constant shoddy workmanship this comic gives us.