With issue #31, Wonder Woman starts a new chapter in both the literal and figurative sense. It is the first issue of “Children of the Gods”, a new story-arc after the conclusion of “Heart of the Amazon“, and also the first issue by new series writer James Robinson. Shea Fontana had been brought on as the writer for that lone six-issue run, and now James Robinson will settle in on an ongoing basis.
James Robinson has a distinctly hit-and-miss record when it comes to his work for DC, with some good stuff and some bad stuff (and some stuff that is infamously bad). With that uneven record, and considering just how easy it seems to be to get Wonder Woman wrong when you are unfamiliar with her character, a lot of the fandom was pretty uneasy when he was announced as the new writer. Especially given that DC had made such a big deal about Shea Fontana coming aboard and originally making it seem like she was a permanent fixture and not just a fill-in.
Still, he’s not an unequivocally bad writer, so let’s hope for the best and see what he managed to turn out.
The issue starts with an apparent flash-forward, with the first page showing Wonder Woman alone facing some off-panel lightning as she cries out for her brother to not do this. What ‘this’ is we don’t know, because we get no other information except for a caption box saying “This is how it ends”, and the next page is five weeks earlier labelled “It began like this”.
A Day in the Life of Paul
Mountain man Paul Jackson is heading into town for his monthly visit to pick up his supplies and vague necessities of life (Soap, coffee, and so on), and is apparently very popular with the townspeople. Everybody greets him warmly and the woman running the shop says that they would all like it if he visited town more frequently, but Paul says that he likes his isolation and the private life he has at his cabin. He gets his supplies, bids farewell and heads home…where he is attacked by a New God (That’s comics for you).
Grail, daughter of Darkseid, has come to kill “Paul”, who reveals that he is in fact Hercules (Son of Zeus and all that). They fight, with Hercules displaying his prodigious strength by using a felled tree as a bat, but Grail is ultimately victorious and kills him. She leaves via a Boom Tube, the transportation method of the New Gods, and is carrying Hercules’ life force with her as she does.
Wonder Woman vs. Giganta
The comic then jumps forward eleven days (If you’re counting, this means we’re now only twenty-four days from the ‘end’ at the start of the issue). Wonder Woman is fighting Giganta, who has apparently been on a crime spree of stealing artifacts from museums for an as-yet-unknown reason. Wonder Woman handily defeats Giganta, even making sure to catch her so that she doesn’t destroy any buildings as she falls, but before she and Steve Trevor can leave they are accosted by a strange man.
He informs Diana that he is a probate lawyer, and that he is handling the legal affairs from Hercules’s death. In fact, Diana is his sole heir, so she will inherit all of his fortune. We don’t get numbers, but presumably it’s a lot given the fact that it’s Hercules. As Diana and Steve stare in surprise, the comic does one last jump.
The Unholy Grail
Grail is giving the life force of Hercules to Darkseid, former ruler of Apokolips and vilest of all the New Gods. In The Darkseid War, a storyline from last year’s comics, Darkseid was killed and resurrected as a small child by Grail, and he is now a pre-teen boy. He uses the life force of Hercules to age himself up and help restore his power faster, but it’s not enough, and he is still far from his former deific status.
While Grail despairs at this failure, Darkseid instead points out the obvious: There are many children of Zeus out in the world (He was not a god known for his restraint and safe-sex practices), so all they have to do is kill more of them. That should get him back to tip-top shape in no time.
This comic, unfortunately, stumbles right out of the gate. The very first page gives us very little information, and instead of leaving us craving more, it just leaves us confused. Who is “brother”, and what the heck is going on here?
O Brother, where are thou?
I’ve read every single issue of the Rebirth Wonder Woman series so far, and I had absolutely no idea who that might refer to. I had to go on-line to dig into the background, and I learned that this is going to be Jason, Diana’s “twin” that was teased in the Darkseid War and DC Universe: Rebirth #1. Two comics which, I feel compelled to point out, aren’t this series.
While I’m always a fan of the larger universe being wound into and between individual comic series to create a unified story world, there needs to be enough self-contained information that reading other comics isn’t a requirement. If you can’t pull that off then you’re not writing Wonder Woman at all, you’re writing a tie-in to Darkseid War being published under a different title.
Paul Jackson’s Shopping Trip
Another problem with this story is that the introduction of “Paul” (Hercules) doesn’t allow us to figure out who he really is. Don’t get me wrong, it’s obvious that there is more to Paul than just some schmo getting his groceries, but there’s nothing to connect him with Hercules (Either the real myth or the comic character). I did some internet recon and “Paul Jackson” isn’t an alias that Hercules has used before, and even by digging into the etymology of both names I couldn’t find anything worth mentioning to hint or connect to Greek mythology. There’s no puns about how much Labor is waiting for him at home, or a reference to recently emigrating from Greece, or anything like that.
To compare, when Patrick Cleese was introduced in Gail Simone’s run on Wonder Woman it was easy for Achilles to quickly connect the name phonetically to ‘Patroclus’, but we’re not given anything similar to work with.
Because of this lack of information, several of the Moments in Paul’s story don’t connect. There’s a scene where he is dramatically framed getting out of his car, and it’s a full-body portrait that I could imagine being used as an article image on Wikipedia, but since we didn’t yet know who he was all I was thinking was “Who are you?”
The only interesting part of his story was when he actually transformed into Hercules, and it came with the logo of the old Hercules: Unbound series. Hercules: Unbound was a comic that began in 1975, and there have been numerous references and character reappearances since then, including much more recently in the DC Universe. This is an example of one of those bits where knowing about the history adds more flavor to the story, but it’s not a necessity. If you haven’t heard of the HU series, you still understand who Hercules is.
Why was Giganta here again?
When we got to Wonder Woman’s fight with Giganta I briefly had hope the issue would manage to save itself. Giganta is one of Wonder Woman’s longest-running foes, a character that has been reinterpreted many times over the years and appeared in several adaptations, and who has been used as a foil for both Diana and also other heroes (Most often the Atom). She’s intelligent and competent, and at times she and Diana have even been on friendly terms. The fight itself even opens dynamically, with a full-page panel of Wonder Woman clocking Giganta right across the jaw in the midst of their fight.
Unfortunately, Giganta doesn’t get a single line during this appearance…not even a groan as Wonder Woman knocks her out. Despite the dramatic imagery, it seems that we came in at the end of their fight, and for the rest of the issue Giganta is an afterthought. And as I wrote that line (Literally right now as I’m typing) I realize that that is why this issue doesn’t work: Wonder Woman herself is an afterthought in this issue.
The entirety of Wonder Woman’s participation in this issue is a single two-page fight scene with a villain who doesn’t speak, whose motivation is dismissed, and who is defeated almost as an afterthought. Afterwards, Blake Hooper the lawyer shows up to tell her that Hercules is dead, and he actually starts by first talking to Steve Trevor, not Diana. The entirety of the issue is about Hercules and his death, and then about setting up Darkseid’s actions for the rest of the arc. Diana’s only role is to hear about it, and even then Steve is the focal point of the conversation.
The comic is titled Wonder Woman, yet Wonder Woman herself is the least important character.
The Wider Issues
This is, sadly, a mess. It doesn’t work either as the start of a new arc, or as the introduction to a new author. Looking into interviews that James Robinson has given about taking over the comic, however, makes it even worse.
Apparently, despite all that Greg Rucka did trying to reinvent Diana after the tangled mess that was the New 52, after specifically trying to separate her from the storyline of being a daughter of Zeus, DC Editorial have decided to return to that line after all. Jason, Diana’s twin, is being reintroduced because he is also a child of Zeus and so Darkseid’s attempts to absorb godly power will now take him into fight’s against Diana’s “family”. This storyline is specifically about Diana getting to know her “family” and dealing with “family issues”, when everything that came before in this series has set up that Zeus and the other gods aren’t Diana’s family.
Rucka spent twenty-five issues explaining how all of the New 52 storyline about Diana dealing with the Olympians was falsehood, that the Amazons who raised her and the mother who loved her are her real family. Even if Zeus remains her biological father, they share no familial bonds and Diana doesn’t need a blood-brother to understand what family is “really” about.
Shea Fontana’s arc definitely had a distinct development than what Greg Rucka had gone for, and I freely admit that her story & villain petered out unsatisfactorily, but at least she kept the tone of Rucka’s run. She tried to continue the character that he had built, and didn’t try to reinvent Wonder Woman to fit her own idea of what the character should be. With more time to get a handle on the plot I think she would have done very well on the series.
This new direction under James Robinson’s pen is unnecessary for Diana’s character, and it’s a spit in the eye of the fandom that had spent five years asking DC to drop the Zeus aspect completely. After we finally got what we wanted (To great critical and financial success I might add), to have it just redone anyway is insulting.