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!

My 12 Favorite Trade Reading Experiences Of 2012

I write about a lot of trades on this site, about two a week if I’m on my game. But, I actually read a lot more than that. So, this particular list is the 12 books or runs that I enjoyed the most reading or re-reading this year. Most of them have been covered on the site, but others have not. I’ll give the latter a few more words than the former, but hope you enjoy.
outsiders looking for trouble  I read all of Judd Winick’s run of Outsiders this year, but didn’t write about it? Why? Well, it was a pretty big reading project, something that makes it harder for me to write about as a whole. But, I still really enjoyed this reading experience. Winick brings a realness to superhero comics without letting it get too in the way (if that makes sense). I know a lot of people think he forces issues into books, but I think these are the kinds of things that should be talked about and seen. Anyway, this was a fun superhero reading experience that made me remember how fun the DCU was back when this book and Geoff Johns’ Teen Titans launched. Good times. starman-omnibus-vol-3I haven’t written about James Robinson’s Starman because I haven’t finished the last omnibus yet. I haven’t finished it because I kind of don’t want to finish it and I also need quiet time to really sit down and finish it. This series is up there with Preacher and Sandman for me in my list of all time favorites. It lives in my heart and I was elated to discover that I still like it. This is what shared universe superhero comics could and should be. legend of grimjack volume 1I know I just read the first two volumes of Grimjack, but the experience has stayed with me. I love that world and keep thinking of great ways it could be interpreted for different genres. Right now I’m thinking about a Crackdown/Amazing Spider-Man style video game set in Cynosure where you take on jobs or just spend your day drinking in Munden’s Bar. If you dig Hellboy, B.P.R.D. or 100 Bullets, I think you’ll enjoy Grimjack. Frankenstein Agent Of S.H.A.D.E. Volume 1 War of the MonstersI’ve had a lot of different feelings about DC’s New 52. At first I was upset that “my” versions of the characters would only survive in my trade shelves and long boxes. Then I realized that I don’t really read new issues anymore and I still have my collection (and books I’ve never read from that era) to enjoy. I also realized that I’m almost 30 and have better things to worry about. With that behind me, I was able to dive into various trades with a mostly clear head and enjoyed them for the most part. I appreciate how DC was attempting to hit all different kinds of genres and audiences, of course, not all of those attempts were successful. The least successful tries in my opinion, though, were the books that just failed to set up a basic reason why that book existed aside from “to make money.” I still have a pile of them to read and am getting a sense of the new U, which is kind of fun. secret avengers vol 1 mission to marsEven though I read the second arc of Ed Brubaker’s Secret Avengers first and the first second, I had a great time reading this “black ops” take on superheroes. Bru writing Captain America/Steve Rogers is always aces in my book, but throwing in a lot of other street level-esque characters was even cooler. I’ve only read these first two volumes, but was satisfied with Brubaker’s ability to create an enjoyable sci-fi/spy mash-up story that felt well contained while still making me want to read more. the return of king dougReturn of King Doug came out of left field for me. It was gifted to me by a pal and I knew nothing about it, but Greg Erb, Jason Oremland and Wook-Jin Clark reminded me so much of the kinds of stories I love from the 80s, but while also doing all kinds of new, funny things I enjoy. Read this now. bprd hell on earth 2 new world gods And MmonstersI’ve said this before, but one of the things I miss most about not working at Wizard anymore is access to all of the Hellboy and B.P.R.D. comics that came out. I’m super behind, but I did get my hands on some B.P.R.D. trades this year for a little catching up (Hell On Earth: New World and Gods And Monsters). That’s still the best damn comic series around and has been for a while. hulk red hulkI don’t mind playing catch-up on some books. I’ve been super happy re-reading things like World War Hulk and catching up on Hulk, Incredible Hulk and Red Hulk this year. Super fun, popcorn books mixed with well thought out ongoing superhero tales filled with monsters? Yeah, I’m all over that. izombie vol 2 uVAmpireI read the first iZombie trade in 2011, but was delighted to get my hands on the second and third volumes in 2012. I wrote about the second one here and have a post in mind talking about the third. Anyway, this series is the rare mix of intriguing characters, wacky situations, rock solid architecture and mythology I want to study PLUS one of the greatest artists the medium has ever seen. So, so, so good. american vampire volume 1I’m pretty surprised there are two Vertigo books on here. It seemed like for a while I was reading nothing from them. Now iZombie and American Vampire are two of my faves. Then again Chris Roberson and Scott Snyder are two of the best newcomer writers around, so that’s no surprise. In this case, Snyder takes two things that have become old and boring — vampires and American history — and makes them both super interesting and intense. Can’t wait to see where the rest of this series goes.batman knightfall volume 1Batman: Knightfall Volume 1 was pure, nostalgic joy. All of the Batman comics that got me into Batman in one place in one fat volume? Yes, yes and yes. I have the second and third volumes waiting to be read. Maybe next month after knocking off a smattering of random trades I want to check out. lost_dogs_cover_sm_lgI don’t remember exactly why I didn’t write about Jeff Lemire’s Lost Dogs. It’s one of the few books I’ve bought through Comixology for my Kindle Fire. The long and short of it is that this story about a simpleton trying to save his family. It’s raw and rough and hits you in the gut. I don’t know if I liked the experience of reading this story, but it was certainly powerful. I can’t remember if it made me cry or not, but it came close.

I’m certain I missed a few books that I didn’t write about, but this is a pretty solid list by all accounts. I should probably branch out into more diverse trades and graphic novels — and I plan to — but what can I say? I love me some superheroes. I also happen to love all kinds of other comics, so let’s continue to make and talk about awesome comics.

Steve Rogers Trade Post: Secret Avengers Volume 1 & Fallen Son

Secret Avengers Volume 1: Mission To Mars (Marvel)
Written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Mike Deodato, Will Conrad, David Aja, Michael Lark & Stefano Gaudiano
Collects Secret Avengers #1-5

After getting a good deal on the second volume of Secret Avengers from Thwipster, I was pretty excited to check out the first volume. So, right after finishing, I went on Sequential Swap and set up a trade for the book. When it came in the mail on Saturday, I read it pretty much immediately. This is basically the perfect team book for Ed Brubaker to write because it’s perfectly set in his wheelhouse. Not only does it star Steve Rogers, the character he revolutionized over in the excellent Captain America, but it’s all about the black ops side of the Marvel Universe and includes characters that fit in that world either obviously like Moon Knight, Sharon Jones, Black Widow and Ant-Man (the most recent one) in ways that make a lot of sense even if you didn’t think about it like Beast, War Machine, Valkyrie and Nova. The idea is for the team to be more pro-active, a buzz concept in comics that always sounds good on paper, but doesn’t always deliver because, how do you stop crime before it happens?

So, with that team and that idea in mind, Brubaker kicks the first adventure off with a trip to Mars! It’s the kind of story that might not seem he’s suited for, but it still deals with evil corporations, brainwashed henchmen, a secret organization and heroes fighting other brainwashed heroes. Here’s the actual story: Roxxon has a mining operation on Mars, but all the workers disappeared and Rogers thinks something’s up. He sends his space guy–Nova–to check it out and he finds a crown very similar to the Serpent Crown that instantly takes over Nova and results in the rest of the team–minus Sharon Jones who is back on earth getting ambushed–heading into space. It turns out that Roxxon made a deal with a Hydra-like organization called The Shadow Council to mine there, but they accidentally stumbled upon a prophecy or something that will lead to the end of the universe. So, it’s up to Commander Rogers (don’t think I’ll ever get used to that, not that I need to), Moon Knight, Valkyrie, Ant-Man, War Machine and Beast–all in pretty awesome looking space suits, by the way–to stop Nova and save the universe, which includes seeing Steve put on Nova’s helmet and get a Nova-based costume, which I dug. It sounds like a straight forward superhero story and it is, but it’s also got a lot of those awesome espionage flavored moments that signify a great Bru comic. That really gets focused on in the fifth issue that explains who the Nick Fury lookalike that’s working for the Shadow Council is. Really fun stuff.

I talked about Deodato’s art in the last post and I feel the same way with this earlier volume. I think he’s a great choice for this book if you want to get away from the Steve Epting style set up in Captain America, or the Michael Lark/David Aja look that is actually used in the fifth issue. He’s doing great on the big superhero stuff, but also–and this might be thanks to the inking or coloring–things look shadowy, which fits the theme of the book perfectly. At first it was a little distracting, but once I started thinking that way, I was in it all the way. It’s not noir by any means, but shadows are impotant for a black ops team.

Fallen Son: The Dead Of Captain America (Marvel)
Written by Jeph Loeb, drawn by John Cassaday, David Finch, Ed McGuinness, John Romita Jr. & Leinil Francis Yu
Collects Fallen Son: Wolverine, Avengers, Captain America, Spider-Man & Iron Man

I am a very big fan of Ed Brubaker’s Captain America. If you’re into espionage super hero comics, I don’t think you can find a better one than that. I was disappointed when Steve Rogers got killed off a few years back, but, I mean, it’s comics, so you know he’s going to come back, it’s just a matter of when and how. Plus, Bru did an excellent job making me care about Bucky Barnes just as much, so I was okay. But, when I heard that someone else was going to be writing a series of one-shots showing what Cap’s death meant to a variety of heroes in the Marvel U, I wasn’t super excited. I think I read the issues when they came out and I was working at Wizard, but didn’t remember much about them, so I was curious to see how they played out a few years later and with Steve Rogers back in the land of the living.

I gotta say, it’s a pretty melodramatic thing to read which feels somewhat unnecessary, especially considering the fact that Steve Rogers is back. I get the idea behind it, putting together one of the best selling writers in comics with a series of big time artists on the subject of the death of a popular characters. And, as a story, it’s interesting how the issues tie into one another (something I didn’t remember from the first read), and there are some cool moments and ideas like Hawkeye thinking about becoming the new Cap at Iron Man’s request and Spider-Man remembering how Cap helped him out, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t seem to carry any weight now. It also features at least one character issue actually saying “The death of Captain America,” out loud which just never sounds right.

However, if you are an art fan, this is a pretty fantastic book. I love Leinil Francis Yu, David Finch and Ed McGuinness and seeing them tackle a wide variety of characters is a lot of fun, especially since they’re one-shots and you don’t have to worry about them missing a future issue. I’m not the biggest John Romita Jr. or John Cassaday fan, but they turn it on full blast too.

KEEP OR DUMP? So, the big question every time I read a trade is: will I keep this book and I’m split on these two. I will definitely save both Secret Avengers trades because I think they’re great continuations of Brubaker’s run on Cap with a lot of fun other elements thrown in. On the other hand, cool art just isn’t enough to keep a book in my collection, with very few exceptions.

Trade Post: Secret Avengers Volume 2 Eyes Of The Dragon

Secret Avengers Volume 2: Eyes Of The Dragon (Marvel)
Written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Mike Deodato & Will Conrad
Collects Secret Avengers #6-12

I’m a big fan of Ed Brubaker’s run on Captain America. I’m way behind on what he’s doing on that book, but I’m always excited about the chance to catch up. I was also excited when it was announced that he would be writing Secret Avengers which would star Steve Rogers–no longer Captain America for the moment–as well as a ton of sorta random Marvel characters banded together under the auspices of being the “black ops” Avengers team. You’ve got Steve, his girl Sharon Carter, Beast, Black Widow, Moon Knight, the newest Ant-Man, Valkyrie, War Machine and whoever else Steve happens to call on to complete the mission. That last part is not only the beauty of the book as a general concept, but also finds itself as the basis of this arc’s plot and made the book a little bit difficult to get into.

Allow me to explain. Ever since I read the early issues of Justice League Task Force, I’ve been a big big fan of the idea of a superhero team that hand picks appropriate superheroes to take on specific threats. If you don’t need Aquaman, don’t call Aquaman, but if Black Manta’s on the lose, call him up on the fish phone! Considering Steve’s decades’ long history and the respect he’s built up with, well, every good guy and even some bad guys in the Marvel U, it makes perfect sense to have him lead this team. Need to call up Dog Brother Number One (from Bru’s run co-writing The Immortal Iron Fist) or convince Shang-Chi of a looming threat? Steve’s got it covered.

That lends itself to this story because it turns out that some group is trying to bring Shang-Chi’s dad back from that dead. Who is Shang’s dad? Well, Fu Manchu of course, but you won’t know that from reading the comic. See, Marvel licensed Fu back in the day, but wound up building their own character Shang-Chi, Master of Kung-Fu around the mythos. They still own Shang, but not Fu, so you get all this dancing around of who his dad is aside from the fact that he’s one bad dude.

The problem with the basic concept of this book at least how Bru handled this particular volume and especially if you haven’t read the first arc (which I haven’t, this one just came up for sale on Thwipster and I bought it), is that you’re left pretty much in the dark as to how the team actually works or even who is on the team. Don’t really know who Dog Brother Number 1 is? Tough luck, that doesn’t get explained. Heck they call him by his civilian name of John for most of the book. Don’t know that War Machine or Moon Knight are on the team? Well, I guess you will when they each briefly pop up a few issues into this collection. Now, it’s very possible that Marvel had recap pages before each issue or something along those lines and I just checked and there is a “Previously” page in the beginning of this book, but shouldn’t there be something in the story itself that tells readers what’s going on? It didn’t throw me a lot and I could keep up with the story (again, Steve can call on anyone, so it makes sense that anyone will be in the book), but there wasn’t a real sense of a team dynamic found in the book. Though, maybe that is the dynamic of a team that the former Captain America leads: do what Cap asks because you trust him. Hmm, that’s something to ponder.

Okay, even with the above complaint, I actually really dug this book. Like many of Bru’s Cap arcs, this one doesn’t just focus on one story–though there aren’t Busiek-level back stories going on by any means–as the Shang-Chi story directly moves into one from Steve’s past with another fellow super soldier. I like that flow and overall, I like this book. I know Brubaker didn’t stay on the book for long, but I’d gladly pick up the first volume and then whatever comes out after this one. Oh, also, I was worried about Mike Deodato Jr.’s artwork because I haven’t been much of a fan of his lately. I dug him back in the Wonder Woman days even if it was very Image-y, but he seemed to have gotten really sketchy lately. Well, this was definitely a step up for him, though I’ll be honest, I’m not exactly sure what was him and what was Will Conrad as they jammed on all these issues. Again, overall, this was a pretty fun little comic that I’ll be keeping on my shelf at least for the foreseeable future assuming the series stays solid.

Sketchbook Saturday: Batman by Norm Breyfogle & Wonder Woman by Mike Deodato Jr.

I fully intended to post a sketch from my books every week when I laid out my calendar earlier this month. When I was at Wizard some of us brought our sketchbooks in to get scanned for the website. They never saw the light of day, but I thought I still had the files. Turns out I don’t, so I need to go through and scan again. Anyway, I do have these two non-book sketches that I put into an Ikea frame, so I snapped a quick pic to get things started.

On the left you have the very first sketch I ever got. In 1994 I had only been collecting comics for a couple years. I was 11 and I was completely blown away that an honest to God comic book artist was going to be signing and sketching at JC’s Comic Stop in Toledo, Ohio! To be honest, though, I didn’t know who Norm Breyfogle was, but I picked up a few issues of Prime and found a Batman or Detective Comics issue and got those signed too. I remember standing in line with my dad. I’m sure he wasn’t super pleased because nothing at JC’s ever happened on time. I saw the guy in front of me getting a sketch of Batman and I don’t remember if I asked for one when it was my turn or if my dad did, but I was amazed at how quickly he composed this Batman. We’re talking a minute. It was amazing.

On the right is Artemis as Wonder Woman by Mike Deodato Jr.. I think this is from the very first Mid Ohio Con I ever went to in either ’94 or ’95. As I mentioned earlier this week, I was a big fan of Artemis as Wonder Woman so when I saw Deodato I asked him for a sketch and he said yes. I can’t remember if I paid for it or not, but I dug how it came out. Still do. It’s kind of a weird relic from a time in comics that most other people don’t care about, though sometimes I wish I wold have gotten him to draw Diana at the time in that crazy costume.

Wonder Woman Trade Post: The Contest & The Challenge Of Artemis

WONDER WOMAN: THE CONTEST (DC)
Written by William Messner-Loebs, drawn by Mike Deodato Jr.
Collects Wonder Woman Vol. II #0, 90-93
With all the talk about JMS changing Wonder Woman’s costume and status quo I figured it would be a good time to go back and check out another time Princess Diana’s world got shaken up pretty bad, questioned her origins and changed her costume. It was 1994 and change had been sweeping across the DCU for a while. Superman died a few years before, Batman’s back got snapped by Bane and Hal Jordan had gone insane, murdering most of the Green Lantern Corps. It was a bad time to be one of DC’s biggest heroes and Wonder Woman was no exception as she would go on to lose her mantle in these issues.

Here’s how it went down. Wonder Woman visits Paradise Island only to discover that her mother Hippolyta wants to have another contest to see if Diana is still fit to be Wonder Woman and show man’s world the error of its war-filled ways. As it turns out, a new tribe of Amazons have returned to the Island and the participate as well, which results in Diana losing the title to Artemis. But, as you might expect, something fishy seems to be going on during the contest with all kinds of monsters and other unforeseen pitfalls facing the contestants. Oh, Diana also starts questioning if Hercules is her father. Meanwhile, back in Boston–Wonder Woman’s base of operations at the time–a mob war involving high tech hitmen and magicians and demons continues to rage on just waiting for the new Wonder Woman and Diana–now decked out in bike shorts, a bra and a jacket–to come clean it up.

WONDER WOMAN: THE CHALLENGE OF ARTEMIS (DC)
Written by William Messner-Loebs, drawn by Mike Deodato Jr.
Collects Wonder Woman Vol. II #94-100
Because these two trades collect consecutive issues, it’s actually easier to talk about them together. In The Challenge Of Artemis, Diana tries to continue on with her work, going up against the aforementioned mob people while Artemis takes on a lot of steroid-ridden dudes with big guns that seem VERY 90s. But, again, fishiness ensues. The book still mainly focuses on Diana even though Artemis is technically the new WW.

I remember buying these issues as they came out. It was new and different and I was very curious about the whole thing, but I always wondered why Artemis didn’t get more pagetime. Hell, Diana had been around for years and was even starring in Justice League of America at the time, so I always wondered why the actual Wonder Woman didn’t get more coverage.

Well, what I didn’t realize is that it wasn’t meant to be. I guess these are SPOILERS, but I’m guessing you don’t care because these are 16 year old comics that no one but me seems to care about anymore. It turns out that Hippolyta had a vision that Wonder Woman was going to die, so she rigged the contest so that someone else would get the mantle, one of the newly returned Amazons who happened to be loyal to her sister. Meanwhile, Circe has been screwing with Diana for a while now and was so deep undercover that she didn’t even remember that she was masquerading as Diana’s friend Donna. It’s all kind of jumbled, but in the 100th issue (with a holofoil cover of course) we find out that Donna was Circe, but she helps Diana by sending her to help Artemis who’s facing these giant demons. Artemis died and Diana barely makes it out alive and that’s that.

Though the story holds a special place in my heart because it’s the first Wonder Woman I ever read, it doesn’t really hold up very well. I’m not a big fan of stories where it turns out that everything you’ve been reading has been a set-up and that happens to be the case not only with Artemis who’s being played but also Diana who got played by her mom. It’s a big much. Plus, even though the big over-the-top guys that Artemis faces turn out to be magically imbued actors for the most part, they’re still a bit on the ridiculous side, though Deodato draws them well. He’s great all around. Well, back then he was, I think he looks muddy now.

All in all, it’s a generally forgettable part of Wonder Woman’s history, but I like it. I love how DC was doing such crazy shit back then and I really like Artemis as a character. I haven’t read the Requiem mini where she fights her way out of hell, but I might keep my eyes peeled for it at my next con. I would go on to read all of John Byrne’s run even though I don’t remember liking it too much. For some reason it never crossed my mind that I could stop buying a comic. I know that sounds weird, but it’s true. In fact, it was the first book that I eventually dropped much later after Byrne left the book.