The High Five Episode 8 – Quick Hit Intros To Wonder Woman

Happy Women’s Month everyone! To celebrate, I’m reflecting on one of my all-time favorite comic characters Wonder Woman! In this episode, I offer up a handful of quick hit Wonder Woman comics and graphic novels meant to usher any and all curious about the character into the wonderful world of comics!

I mentioned a few things I’ve written in the episode as well. If you’re curious, here’s the link for the Fandom Wonder Woman 1984 piece I worked on as well as the Colleen Doran CBR interview I did with her about A Distant Soil back in 2013. Oh and in the gallery above you can see the Mike Deodato Artemis sketch I mentioned!

Gail Simone Trade Post: Wonder Woman Contagion & Secret Six Danse Macabre

WONDER WOMAN: CONTAGION (DC)
Written by Gail Simone, drawn by Nicola Scott, Aaron Lopresti, Chris Batista, Fernando Dagnino & Travis Moore
Collects Wonder Woman #40-44
Post Infinite Crisis, Wonder Woman was one of the books that made me leery. I didn’t really care about Wonder Woman taking on the Diana Prince persona and becoming a government agent. Generally, I find the drive by some creators to go back the Silver Age, incomprehensible. The lateness of the book didn’t help either. But, I later went back and read those early Alan Heinberg issues in trade format and wound up really digging them. I would go on to enjoy Gail Simone’s run on the book as well though I’ve only posted about Rise Of The Olympians for some reason. Well, once news hit that JMS was taking over Wonder Woman, I was bummed because I thought DC had a good thing and might have been getting rid of Simone’s longterm plans for a story and costume that were immediately panned. I read the first few issues of that run and actually enjoyed them, but I got the feeling after reading Contagion, Simone’s last volume of WW (for now at least), that she was cut off a bit early.

This book feels a little all over the place. You’ve got elements from the previous volume, which I believe I’ve read, but didn’t blog about it and if I kept the trade it’s buried in a longbox in the closet because my shelf is full. So, I’m a bit lost as to what happened, why Etta Candy is in the hospital and what happened between Rise and this volume that they still haven’t found Genocide’s body (there’s a pretty big issue gap there). Those are just bits and pieces of the story though. The first two issues feature a giant snake god and bunch of little kids who have the ability to drive people crazy, including Power Girl who winds up throwing down with Diana. After that’s all figured out, a race of woman taken from various planets called The Citizenry has come to Earth to absorb its resources and take the 100 best and brightest women. Wonder Woman gets to show her stuff and, with the help of her allies, holds them back just in time for a nice group shot panel to end the book. In the end, the last issue felt like the end of an arc, not a run. Adding to that, the kind of Galactus and Storm Vs. Callisto for control of the Morlocks elements mean this one doesn’t feel like a swan song. Making matters worse, some of the artwork in the last few issues looks really bad. I’m not sure whose it is because there’s two or more artists working on the pages, but it seems like the pencils were rushed through to color without being inked. The result is some really unfinished pages that hold up like a kindergartner’s artwork compared to pros like Scott and Lopresti.

As a fan of the book, it’s a bittersweet collection because it completes my collection of this volume of Wonder Woman, but it’s not one that really wowed me or felt like a good conclusion. It’s not in Ex Machina territory where I’m still wondering whether I want to keep the entire series or not. Instead of feeling like a creator failing at the end, this one feels like the creator was not given the proper chance to close out a book she had been working on for quite a while.

SECRET SIX: DANSE MACABRE (DC)
Written by Gail Simone & John Ostrander, drawn by Jim Calafiore & Peter Nguyen
Collects Secret Six #15-18, Suicide Squad #67
After reading Simone’s last volume of Wonder Woman, I remembered I had a Secret Six trade in the to-read pile and figured they’d make a good pair for today’s Trade Post. Danse Macabre is an interesting collection because the first story was written by Ostrander and features Deadshot dealing with the death of Batman. It’s a great call-back issue to the writer’s run on Suicide Squad, which heavily featured Deadshot, but still fits pretty seamlessly into the world of Secret Six. From there the book has more of an 80s feel in that, while there is a definite arc collected, the elements flow into one another in a way that reminds me of Iron Man and Secret Six comics from back in the day. Black Alice, a magic-based character Simone created in her first run on Birds Of Prey, makes it known that she wants to join the team. Then we’re right into Blackest Night territory.

As regular readers will remember, I just finished reading the three main Blackest Night volumes, so the story is all pretty fresh in my mind. Partway through that series, DC announced an interesting idea: bringing some canceled series’ back from the dead. One of those was Suicide Squad and that issue is collected here because it’s less a one-shot for Suicide Squad fans or people super-into Blackest Night and more of a part of the regular Secret Six story. Seriously, Black Lanterns only appear in the beginning and very end of the issue. I can’t imagine how frustrated people must have been who were concerned about staying caught up on BN and got something that doesn’t really add to anything in that vein. It DOES add to the Secret Six story and is thus necessary to include in this volume.

Okay, back to the story. I think Simone did a pretty good job of including Blackest Night elements in her story. It really makes sense for this group to interact with dead heroes and villains because they’ve put more in the ground than anyone else. It’s also nice to see the Suicide Squad connection that’s running through the book as Amanda Waller sends them on a mission to distract the Six so she can attack Scandal back at the base. The story would be interesting on it’s own, but then you’ve got the looming threat of the Black Lanterns which adds another level of conflict and winds up throwing the Six and the Squad together at least for a bit. I even liked how Waller had an ace in the hole that wound up getting rid of the immediate threat of the Black Lanterns. Most of the tie-in books had something similar, but they usually relied on existing characters with light powers that wound up having no bearing on the larger story. Instead, Waller uses hers like a weapon, points it and blasts them to hell.

One problem I had with this book, and it has nothing to do with the story itself, is that I am completely confused about the Suicide Squad’s recent history. I dug Ostrander’s mini from a few years back and Waller’s appearances in Checkmate, but ever since Salvation Run, It’s been fuzzy in my mind (mostly because I didn’t read that book). I know Bane was on the team for a while as was Deadshot, but then they left or got thrown into that prison planet? It makes me want to go back and read Secret Six again going back to Villains United. Maybe it’ll be a project read down the road.

Trade Post: Gen 13 Road Trip, Space Usagi & JLA/Avengers

GEN 13 VOLUME 2: ROAD TRIP (WildStorm)
Written by Gail Simone, drawn by Alvin Lee, Carlo Barberi, Sunny Lee and Kevin West
Collects Gen 13 (current series) #7-13
I’ve had a long and tumultuous history with Gen 13. I first read about them in Wizard in the 90s and got very interested. I picked up an issue at the shop which immediately hooked me and I set out to collect every Gen13 appearance from there on out. This might sound odd to some people, but Gen 13 was basically my Teen Titans or New X-Men because they were young, fresh characters who also happened to be super powered beings with what seemed like the whole world against them. What teenager couldn’t relate? Anyway, I read that book through it’s pretty terrible completion and then the completely awful Chris Claremont relaunch. So, when the whole WorldStorm thing happened in the WildStorm universe, I was curious but cautious to see what Simone’s plans were for Gen13. Then the book hit and I was disappointed once again. The kids were some kind of super powered sex proxies. Or something. I read one issue and was out.

But, I’m one for second chances, so when I saw the potential to read this second volume, I figured what the heck. Road Trip jumps around showing the kids still getting to know each other while facing bad guys and what not. Many of the previous plot points are retread like Sarah Rainmaker being a lesbian and Cat being a nerd who now has a hot body. Eventually it’s explained that the Gen13 kids are anomalies in the universe because of Captain Atom Armageddon and WorldStorm. In the end, as a fan, I appreciate that explanation for why they seem so vastly different compared to say the Authority whose history seemed exactly the same before and after, but in the end there wasn’t enough of interest here to keep me really interested. It’s not a bad book if you’re new to Gen 13, but if you’re a fan I would imagine it’s like watching a remake which just keeps reminding you how much you want to go back and rewatch the original. Maybe when I go home in a few weeks, I’ll bring a stack of Gen 13 comics back with me.

SPACE USAGI (Dark Horse)
Written and drawn by Stan Sakai
Collects Space Usagi: Warrior #1-3, Space Usagi: Death And Honor #1-3, Space Usagi: White Star Rising #1-3, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #47 and Usagi Yojimbo Color Special #3
I’ve never read an Usagi Yojimbo comic before. Not that I haven’t wanted to, it just seems like a difficult comic to just jump into, even though I’ve heard good things. My biggest exposure to the character was the highly coveted Usagi figure in the Ninja Turtles toy line that I didn’t get my hands on until last summer’s yard sale season kicked off. I figured this far-flung future sci-fi comic would be a pretty easy entry so gave it a shot.

Overall, it’s a pretty good book. The first story follows Usagi as his king is killed and he has to keep the prince safe while fighting all kinds of baddies. The second story is the weakest because it’s got way too many Star Wars references. Now, I know that chunks of Star Wars were taken from the classic hero story, but you’ve got the good guys teaming up with a smuggler in a crummy ship who then infiltrate the bad guy’s headquarters. There’s even a scene with the whole group in a room trying to get information until they’re surprised by relief. The third story was also pretty good and threw a good number of curveballs that I wasn’t expecting. My favorite story is the one which brings the original Usagi to the far future for a few minutes. It’s just a fun little thing that put a smile on my face.

Aside from the Star Wars riffs, I found these stories to be of a pretty great quality that kept my interested throughout. Sakai’s art looks deceptively simple at times, but turns out to be really intricate. He’s go a great mix of cartooning and comic art that makes every panel fun to stare at. Anyone know a good place to start with the regular Usagi book aside from the beginning, of course?

JLA/AVENGERS (DC & Marvel)
Written by Kurt Busiek, drawn by George Perez
Collects JLA/Avengers #1-4
It’s kind of crazy to think about how much DC and Marvel played together throughout the 90s. There was DC vs. Marvel, Amalgam, All Access and then a series of one- and two-shots bringing Captain America and Batman, Green Lantern and Silver Surfer and Darkseid and Galactus together. There’s been a pretty long dry spell lately, but the last great meeting of the two gigantic comic book minds was the long-awaited and highly anticipated JLA/Avengers from 2003 and 2004. But when it hit, I was definitely one of the people with a huge question mark hanging over my head. At the time, I was in college and only read comics whenever I went home which was about every 3 or 4 months. I think this book ended up coming out late which meant that I was reading them even further apart.

But, sitting down and reading it all in a few sittings was a joy. Yes, it’s a complex story. There’s big cosmic people playing games that effect both universes and even combine them for a time. As someone who reads through trades and comics pretty quickly, I felt like this book really gave me my money’s worth both in terms of the epic story and also in Perez’s artwork which is fantastic. I think he’s one of the few (only?) classic artists who keeps getting better. I loved his stuff in Legion Of Three Worlds last year.

Anyway, Busiek’s able to combine huge, sweeping and well choreographed fight scenes with smaller geek out moments like The Thing showing up in the Batcave or the Captain Marvels fighting alongside each other. If you’ve got a favorite Avenger or Leaguer they most likely show up in the book either throughout or during the crazy time warping battle at the end (what up Guy Gardner Warrior?!). While reading through that last issue I was struck by how complicated the script must have been and how easy Perez made it seem. I don’t remember a single time when I couldn’t keep up with what was happening on the page (at least visually, like I said, the story gets pretty dense). There’s also some fun stuff in the third issue in which the two teams seem to have been having a JLA/JSA Earth-1/Earth-2 relationship with the Avengers since the beginning. Of course, something’s not right. JLA/Avengers isn’t just for diehard fans of either series, but I wouldn’t recommend if for a complete newbie. Getting some of the history under your belt might be a good idea before diving into this bad boy, which makes sense considering how long it took to get from the page to the fans’ hands.

Trade Post: Spider-Man Noir, Wonder Woman: Rise Of The Olympian & Astro City: The Tarnished Angel

SPIDER-MAN NOIR (Marvel)
Written by David Hine & Fabrice Sapolsky, drawn by Carmine di Giandomenico
Spider-Man is one of those characters whose regular comics I find generally indecipherable. I know it’s because I’m just not all the familiar or interested in his comic book adventures. I was a DC kid growing up and everything I heard about Spidey’s books while coming up just didn’t sound that interesting. Aside from burning through the first 100 or so issues of Ultimate Spider-Man (which I found super boring and over-written) I don’t think I’ve ever even read a full Spider-Man trade. People say the same thing about Superman and that’s cool, it’s just how things is. But, I am a sucker for alternate universe stories featuring familiar characters and I do like Spidey in every other medium (cartoons, video games, one movie), plus I like the idea of noir superheroes. And, for the most port, I liked it. It’s way less jokey than the Spidey you probably know and love, but it’s still a fairly quick moving story that kept me interested and art that moved the story. It’s not a life-changing story, but a good read. I tried reading the X-Men one and just couldn’t get into it. I do think it’s interesting that Marvel made this and the other Noir trades a little bit smaller than a regular trades. It’s not quite digest size, closer to a Mome I guess. Anyone know what the reason for this is? For what it’s worth, I’ve got a great idea for a Thor Noir, if anyone’s interested.

WONDER WOMAN: RISE OF THE OLYMPIANS (DC)
Written by Gail Simone, drawn by Aaron Lopresti & Bernard Chang
It’s kind of funny for me to think of myself as a Wonder Woman fan. I read John Byrne’s run on the book and didn’t really like it (why I didn’t drop the book is beyond me), I’ve enjoyed the first two volumes of the retro Diana Prince: Wonder Woman (check out reviews here and here) and I’ve mentioned how much I like Gail Simone’s run on the book before, so I guess I am a fan. It’s too bad such a big time character doesn’t have more epic stories to point to, but I feel like Simone’s run might be one of the best. This trade (which collected Wonder Woman #26-33 and a segment from DC Universe #0) shows Wondy throwing down with a god called Genocide created by a group of mad scientists while Zeus resurrects a group of dead men to become the new Amazons. There’s all kinds of fighting and drama, but what I like most about this particular volume is that it changes the WW status quo by adding men into the Amazon picture. Sure, there’s all kinds of conspiracies and what not going on, but it seems like an at least fairly permanent change (you know, as much as you can have one of those in a comic). Lopresti’s art is sick as always and I hope this book starts getting some more attention soon. I will say that Rise isn’t a great jumping on point for new readers. I highly recommend going back and checking out all of Simone’s run and, if you like that, it might be worth it to check out the first trade of this series which sets the stage for everything going on here (like why Diana has an alter ego and all that stuff that wasn’t around before the relaunch).

ASTRO CITY: THE TARNISHED ANGEL (WildStorm/DC)
Written by Kurt Busiek, drawn by Brent Anderson
Astro City’s one of those books like Hellboy, Sin City and Jack Staff where I really fell in love with the universe along with the characters. I first heard about it from reading Wizard back in the day and then finding them at the library while visiting my grandma in Cleveland. I read them out of order and lost track until I started at Wizard when I was able to get caught up. Kinda. I’m way behind on all the newer stuff. Anyway, one of the more revered of the Astro City books is Tarnished Angel (along with Confessions), which collects Astro City Vol. II #14-20. The story follows Steeljack, a super criminal who gets out of jail only to go back to his same old crummy neighborhood where everyone’s either a henchman or related to one. Turns out someone’s killing these black masks and the neighborhood hires Steeljack to find the killer. Not being much of a detective, Steeljack has to rely on some hints along the way and dogged determination. Busiek has become known for stories like these that take a look at the world superheroes live in from the ground up, zoomed way in on a particular character or group and this is a prime example of that. You really feel for this mook who’s just trying to make things right. The story might be a bit long (note that this collection also includes a one-off story about a guy called the Mock Turtle that ties back in, but isn’t SUPER relevant), but overall I think it’s a well told tale. The one thing that I don’t necesarily like and the element that has turned a lot of people off to the Astro City comics is Anderson’s artwork. It’s kind of muddy and maybe over-inked. Overall it’s fairly inconsistent, at times it’s spot on and works really well and at others it looks pretty bad. Not being a super-art oriented comic reader, this doesn’t bother me as much. I really urge you to push through and give it a shot anyway. Also, as I’m sure you know, Alex Ross did all the covers in this volume and they’re top notch, from when he was really on top of his game. Now I just need to get my hands on Confessions, Local Heroes and everything after the first Dark Ages trade which I read and found to be way too slow and written just like the schlocky Superman/Batman issues where Jeph Loeb kept having Superman and Batman thinking about each other in nearly identical ways.