Issue number #35 of Wonder Woman is James Robinson’s fifth issue on the series, and that is a Significant number of issues in modern comics. Five issues is close to the standard length cap on an individual story-arc, and is also close to the collection size for a standard trade paperback (Those two points are not a coincidence). Because of those factors, five issues is often the length of breathing room a new author is given to find their “voice” on a series. It is long enough for them to have told a self-contained story and deal with whatever points were holding over from the previous author, and also for them to have set up whatever elements they plan to use for their ongoing adventures. What this means is that, generally speaking, after five issues you should be able to tell what an author is going to bring to a comic.
James Robinson’s first five issues tell us that the last thing he wants in the Wonder Woman series is Wonder Woman.
The issue starts out narrated by Glaucus, Jason’s guardian who sheltered and raised him after the Amazons sent him away from Themyscira. Like he said he would in the last issue, once Jason discovered his powers Glaucus told him everything about his heritage, including his parentage and the fact that he has a twin sister.
As Jason grows and becomes more powerful, Glaucus knows that he needs somebody to guide and mentor him in the use of his powers. Glaucus reaches out to Hercules, an old friend from their time sailing together on the Argo, who comes to train Jason in both the use of his powers, and also more general training in combat and weaponry. When pressed about why Hercules came to help train him, given that by his own admission Hercules prefers solitude and isolation, Hercules finally says that he did not come for Glaucus’ sake, but for Jason himself. He came to help his brother.
When he reaches near-adulthood Jason begins to take part in superheroics, but with his identity hidden (A simple ski-mask as we see, but frankly that’s a lot more effective than most of the costumes we see in comics). Glaucus is not happy about this, and tells him to not do any more superheroeing, while at the same time telling Jason that he is leaving. Like Hercules — who has been coming and going on a random basis since he began training Jason — sometimes Glaucus feels the need to voyage and roam randomly across the world. A legacy of his time as an Argonaut. Now that Jason is almost a man he feels that urge again, and he bids Jason farewell while gifting him with his own fishing boat so that he can have a job and keep his house and live a life with all the other normal people.
Jason takes over the narration of the comic after Glaucus leaves, and we close with a montage of him finishing growing up, fishing, going out nightclubbing, and watching news of Wonder Woman on TV. At the end of the comic, as he and his crew are out on the ocean, he senses something coming and urges his crew below deck as they are suddenly attacked by the Deep Six. Jason picks up a spear, lunges out at the foes, and the comic closes as he boastfully asks “Who’s first?”
I said in the introduction that these first five issues say that James Robinson doesn’t want to actually write a story about Wonder Woman, and I’m going to dig into that here.
This is now the second issue he’s written which features no appearances by Wonder Woman (The first was issue #33, which featured Grail’s backstory much as this one covers Jason’s). Two out of five issues — nearly half of his run — in which the title character is completely absent. In the other three issues where Diana at least shows up, two of them feature her only as a supporting character in somebody else’s story. Jason, a character that has never appeared before in comics except for a few oblique mentions, has appeared in four of the five issues, and has been a focal point in three of them. By any definition you want to use, whether it’s just number of appearances or story presence, Jason is the main character of this series.
Beyond the numbers, this issue — much like Grail’s own backstory issue — was unnecessary in and of itself. Visiting Hercules’ estate in issue #32 established that Hercules and Jason knew each other, and a single line in that issue could have established that “knew” included training Jason in use of his powers. Glaucus’ scenes in the last issue established that he was planning on telling Jason what he thought was appropriate when the time was right, and Jason himself confirmed that he had done so towards the middle of the issue. Jason had also explained that he had done some superheroics in Greece, but always with his identity hidden. With all that information already given to us, that means that we don’t learn anything new in this issue. Nothing at all. The only thing it gives us is Jason’s perspective as it all happens, and since we’re not getting Diana’s perspective on almost anything, that again comes back to this series being about him, not her.
What they should have done…
I said back in my first review of this arc that the inclusion of Diana’s brother was unnecessary to her character, and I still feel that way, but if they disagreed and felt that he needed to be here, it should have been handled much differently. If they were going to include Jason’s story, they should have…
- Given Jason a backup story independent from the Wonder Woman adventure. Remember backup stories? An additional few pages at the end of each issue to chronicle his growing up without replacing Diana in her own series. It would have been better business-sense as well, since they could have charged a few extra bucks for the comic as well since it now includes two stories. Or…
- Given Jason a sub-series. Wonder Woman is currently published on a bi-weekly schedule, which is very rapid and somewhat uncommon for a modern comic book. They could have switched the main Wonder Woman title to a standard once-a-month schedule and replaced the second printing each month with Wonder’s Brother as they follow his own adventures. Or…
- Given Jason a series of one-shots and special printings. These full-sized, Wonder Woman-titled issues could come out in the off-weeks on the current schedule with separate numbering from the main series, therefore allowing Diana’s own story to continue uninterrupted.
Any one of those options would have allowed Jason’s story to be told without overriding Diana’s, and could have assisted and supported the main story as well. By establishing Jason as his own character, we would have cared more when he and Diana came into conflict because we actually know who he is. It also would have given the writers time to explore and flesh out his history instead of trying to cram it in as fast as they can in the hopes of eliciting some emotion from the audience.
So much missed potential
The cover of this issue alone had lots of potential, with its presentation of both Jason and Diana at several different stages of life. In fact, the cover even gave me a little hope before I got into its meat.
What I thought we might get was a series of parallels, with each of the Wonder children dreaming about the kind of life that the other has. Diana’s wistful childhood has been long established in her history, with her growing up dreaming of the world beyond Themyscira’s borders. Building off of that, this issue could have done the mirror image with Jason: A child who has the rest of the world available to him, but dreaming of the family left behind on Themyscira, wondering about the mother and sister he never got to know. Maybe even resenting the rules that bar him from his rightful home, which could lead into his turn to badness that we’ll presumably be getting next issue.
That kind of story could have at least kept Diana present, even if she wasn’t actually a featured character, since at least we’re exploring thematic parallels and making connections between their characters. As it is…as it is, this issue is a literal waste of space, giving us no new information, no new emotional depth, and further supplanting the story and characters we’re supposed to be following.
This Jason storyline is killing this series.