Spotlight Sunday 10.1.17

Spotlight Sundays

In the time since I’ve started doing these Weigh In Wednesday/Spotlight Sunday posts, it’s been interesting to see how what gets voted for compares to what I would have been inclined to write about without the vote.

Of course, it would be even more interesting if there were more people voting, but in any case, I generally find that people are voting for something other than what I would have selected. It’s more proof, as if I actually needed any, that my finger is pretty far away from the pulse of the zeitgeist.

This time, though, there was no house favorite, though left to my own devices, I probably would have gone with Kamandi Challenge (which received no votes).

But without further pre-ramble, let’s get on with the actual rambling. Spoilers lie ahead for…

Wonder Woman #31
Writer: James Robinson
Artist: Carlo Pagulayan
Cover: Brian Hitch
Rated T

When this storyline was announced, following as it did on the heels of an arc by writer Shea Fontana, one of the shamefully-small number of women creators to helm Wonder Woman’s regular series in her 75-year history, and on the phenomenal success of the Wonder Woman movie, it caused a bit of a stir online.

The reason is that the story answers the question “Who is Wonder Woman’s brother?” Which is, apparently, something that people have been asking. At least, something that people who, unlike me, have been reading Justice League and learned that it was a question that should be asked during that book’s “Darkseid War” event.

The stir results from it being strange timing and more than a little tone-deaf to put out a storyline that is so focused on a man in Wonder Woman’s comic, given the character’s current position in popular culture. At best, it just seems like an odd choice.

Still, Robinson has a solid reputation as a writer, and, timing aside, it’s not the first time in the Amazing Amazon’s history that she’s had a male sibling.

In fact, in the Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang run on the book at the start of what was known as “the New 52,” she had several, as it was revealed, as in the movie, that Diana was not a being made out of clay and then brought to life by the gods. She was brought to life the old-fashioned way by one god: Zeus, who had a dalliance with Diana’s mother, Hippolyta.

That particular revelation was one I didn’t care for during the New 52, or in the movie, honestly, but it did make for some interesting stories as Diana interacted with some of her divine relatives. During the current “Rebirth” event, some of what happened during that run has been revealed to have, well, not happened, but evidently the daughter of Zeus part has remained true. It turns out, though, that Hippolyta gave birth not to one child, but two, with the second being the brother we’re, apparently, going to learn about.

The first page of this issue shows us how the story ends, with a full-page image of Diana surrounded by sparks of electricity and crying out “Brother! No. Please…don’t –“

Don’t what? Presumably, we’ll find out, but not on the next page in which we find ourselves five weeks in the past at the beginning of the story, in a small town in Oregon, where a large, bearded and be-flanneled man named Paul is being greeted by friendly townfolk who are pleased to see that he’s making one of his too-infrequent supply runs. (The lady running the store in which he’s picking up his supplies, who knows his buying habits well enough to not need to look at his list, seems to be particularly concerned that he doesn’t make his way into town often enough.)

Paul, however, insists that it’s nothing personal, but he needs his isolation – I know that feel, bro – and soon returns to his quiet little cabin.

Given that he is a big, burly, bearded lumberjack named Paul, the flirtatious shopkeep mentions the obvious nickname that he’s known by, and for a bit, particularly when we see him walk out into the woods and fell a huge tree with a single swing of a hatchet, I thought that he might be Paul Bunyan.

But no; it turns out that this is, in fact, Hercules, the son of Zeus, who is technically Diana’s brother (from another mother), but is clearly not the brother in question, as the child of another god entirely shows up and kills him.

The other godchild – wait, that’s not…ehh, it works – is someone named Grail, and she’s the daughter of Darkseid. After dispatching Hercules – by apparently draining the life out of him – she boom tubes away, and we skip forward eleven days and relocate to Los Angeles, where Wonder Woman, with Steve Trevor in tow, is fighting Giganta.

After the battle ends, with WW successful, of course, Diana muses to Steve that an old-fashioned brawl with a super-villain was fun, or at least a nice change of pace for someone who, as a result of the events of “Rebirth,”  recently learned that much of what she had experienced and believed for the past several years was actually a lie.

Their conversation is interrupted by a strange little man, who turns out to be a probate lawyer, representing the estate of the late Paul Jackson, lumberjack and son of Zeus. The lawyer further informs Diana that she is the heir to the Fortune of Hercules.

With that little reveal, we cut away to Grail, handing what looks like a Mother Box bursting with energy to…someone. The energy is the lifeforce of the aforementioned Paul Jackson, and the recipient is Grail’s dear, deadly daddy, Darkseid, who had apparently been reverted to infancy as a result of that JL story I haven’t read.

The boost of god-energy bumps li’l Darkseid up a few years, but he’s still no more than a literally crater-faced adolescent, despite the fact that Grail has been killing gods all over the place in an attempt to produce a divine growth spurt.

As the book reaches its end, Darkseid suggests a simple solution to this problem: start killing other gods faster.

While the mythological Hercules hasn’t had as much of a role in the DC Universe as he has over at Marvel, there have been various incarnations that have popped up over the years, and he’s played a pivotal role in Wonder Woman’s history. In the classic Pérez run on the book, in the distant past, Hercules, under the sway of Ares, had enslaved and abused the Amazons, particularly focusing his abuse on Hippolyta, their queen. With some assistance from Athena, Hippolyta eventually led the Amazons to freedom, and away from “man’s world,” settling for millennia on the hidden island of Themyscira, though they continued to wear the bracelets that had been used to chain them as a reminder of their enslavement and of their resolve to never be enslaved again.

Of course, in the Pérez run, he was known by his Greek name of Heracles. The mixing of Greek and Roman names has been a feature/bug of the Wonder Woman comics from the start – Diana is, after all, the Roman name of the goddess Artemis. (Pérez provided a reason for that in his run, but we won’t get into that.)

In the ‘70s, DC published a comic called Hercules Unbound, which found the man-god living in a post-apocalyptic future. I had a couple of issues of that series at one point, and I believe it was in one issue that I first laid eyes on the stunning artwork of the legendary Walter Simonson. In a nod to that largely-forgotten book, when “Paul” reveals his true self upon Grail’s arrival, he looks like that version of the character (albeit with a beard, whereas the character from the ‘70s was clean-shaven), and when he says, “Let me be Hercules Unbound,” the text is done in the form of the comic’s logo.

I thought that was a nice touch.

While he is a well-known and generally well-regarded writer, I honestly haven’t read that much by James Robinson. His highly-praised Starman hit the stands during a period in which I had stepped away from comics, and picking up the series is one of those things that I just haven’t gotten around to yet. I have enjoyed what I’ve read by him – mostly Earth 2 – and given his reputation, I can understand why DC opted to hand the writing chores on Wonder Woman to him. Going with a known, popular quantity makes sense.

But this is a unique time in Wonder Woman’s history, and I can’t help but think that it was the ideal time to avoid playing it safe, and to instead try taking some risks. One could argue that a story about a heretofore-unknown twin brother is a risk, but I was thinking something more along the lines of bringing on new and unknown creative talents, and, more to the point, women creators.

There is nothing wrong with a man writing Wonder Woman. After all, I mentioned George Pérez, whose run on the character many, myself included, consider definitive. If nothing else, Pérez created the baseline for the creators who followed, some of whom, like Greg Rucka, had runs that others justifiably consider definitive.

But the Wonder Woman movie represents something of a seismic shift in popular culture and the prevailing conventional wisdom, and its success was driven by women such as director Patty Jenkins, Wonder Woman herself, Gal Gadot, and the millions of women and girls who flocked to theaters and helped to ensure its success.

Bringing James Robinson on board at this point just strikes me as a missed opportunity, and with the recently-completed run that featured the return of fan-favorite Greg Rucka, DC has already played it safe, so it seems short-sighted to continue on that track. I’m not discounting the run by Shea Fontana that bridged the gap between Rucka and Robinson, but it was a very brief arc, and, not through any fault of Fontana’s storytelling, felt like filler, whereas what Robinson is doing is presented as an event.

In fairness, that may simply be the result of the disparity in name recognition and reputation, but the point is, more women should be working on Wonder Woman, DC, and they should be getting just as much support and publicity as their male counterparts.

As for the story Robinson has crafted, it’s a fine start to the arc, though the fact that Wonder Woman herself, despite what Giganta’s jaw might tell you, has so little impact adds to my misgivings about the current direction. Diana barely appears in the comic, with the bulk of the action involving Hercules and Grail.

One interesting scene finds Steve Trevor attempting to place himself between Diana and the weasely lawyer, with said lawyer pointing out that Diana has no need for Steve to protect her, or to speak for her, which is, you know, kind of the point I’ve been trying to make.

I’m not familiar with Carlo Pagulayan, but he does a fine job on the art chores, particularly in the fight between Grail and Hercules, and the image of Wonder Woman knocking Giganta on her oversized ass conveys a real sense of power that you can almost feel and hear.

She knows, Steve.

The visual flow is dynamic and lends real excitement to the action sequences, but also works well in the quieter moments.

Stylistically, his work reminds me a bit of cover artist Brian Hitch, and while I have no insight on the editorial decisions at DC, as is obvious, given my comments above, I suspect that’s not by accident.  Hitch would have been a great choice for the interiors on this storyline, but while he does great work, he most decidedly does not work quickly.

I don’t intend to dismiss Pagulayan as a consolation prize or anything of the sort, but while his style is very much his own, it remains evocative of Hitch’s work. The point is, whatever the reason he was chosen, he was a good choice for this.

Overall, it was a decent, action-packed story that was a bit thin in terms of narrative, but it does enough to hook me and encourage me to keep the book on my pull list. I particularly liked the nostalgic appeal of the largely-unknown Unbound version of Hercules, though his appearance is somewhat emblematic of a larger issue within the Wonder Woman series and the larger “Rebirth” brand.

That version of Hercules never properly fit within the larger continuity of the DC Universe, as he was part of a future that was not set to come to pass, and he was ultimately revealed, back in the early ‘80s, to be part of a simulated, virtual reality. As Diana notes in her conversation with Steve, there is an uncertainty as to what, within the framework of this fictional universe, is fact and what is fiction. As the “Rebirth” books continue to mingle elements of the pre-Flashpoint continuity with the “New 52” continuity, there has been no clarity about what has and has not happened in the shared reality of the current DC Universe. Given DC’s track record, it will likely be a long time – if ever – before it gets sorted out.

Recommended Reading:

The Starman Omnibus Vol. 1 – I haven’t read it, but everything I’ve read about it suggests that you – and I – should.

Wonder Woman by George Pérez Omnibus Vol. 1 – More than four decades after making her debut in ALL STAR COMICS #8, the World’s Greatest Heroine was comprehensively reimagined in 1986 by legendary comics creator George Pérez — and this new incarnation of DC Comics’ fabled Amazon Princess quickly rose to unprecedented levels of popular and critical acclaim.

Showcase Presents: The Great Disaster featuring the Atomic Knights – Collects stories from STRANGE ADVENTURES #117, 120, 123, 126, 129, 132, 135, 138, 141, 144, 147, 150, 153, 156 and 160, 1st ISSUE SPECIAL #1, HERCULES UNBOUND #1-10, KAMANDI #43-46, WEIRD WAR TALES #22, 23, 30, 32, 40, 42-44, 46-49, 51-53, 64, 68, 69 and 123, HOUSE OF MYSTERY #318, SUPERMAN #295, HOUSE OF SECRETS #86, 95 and 97, THE UNEXPECTED #215 and 221, and AMAZING WORLD OF DC COMICS #12.

That’s it for this Spotlight Sunday. Thanks to everyone who voted, and be sure to come back for the next Weigh In Wednesday.

Special thanks go out to Comic Logic Books & Artworkmy Local Comic Shop. Remember to support your LCS (find one here, if you don’t already have one).  And support OpenDoor Comics on Patreon!


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