Thursday, July 15, 2010

Wonder Woman #600

Wonder Woman #600 isn't an anniversary issue so much as it is a thick, padded-out digest. Placing any continuity-focused storytelling on hold, this commemorative edition instead spends its energy on a fistful of pinups, half a dozen short stories with sometimes-questionable ambitions, a vague, rambling preamble by Lynda Carter and an Action Comics sneak peek that somehow steals the show by shifting the focus to an entirely different cast of characters. It might make a fine coffee table book for more dedicated fans of the amazon princess, but an issue worthy of celebration it surely is not.

The special edition opens with a Gail Simone / George Perez yarn so ridiculously cheeseball it takes the proverbial cake from the Hostess promotional strips that filled out our comics in the bronze age. Seven pages of tiny panels jammed full of peripheral characters, word balloons, terribly puns and incredulous onlookers. It's less a tribute and more an unintentional parody that grows weirder by the panel. The only male presence in the story takes the shape of the United States Congress, brainwashed by an invading force of feminine robots dubbed, you guessed it, the Sirens. By the time Diana's army of lady superheroes had toppled the threat and surrounded her in pursuit of an autograph, I'd already seen enough.

At least Amanda Conner's contribution, concentrating on the aftermath of a throwdown between Chang Tzu (Egg-Fu) and a trio of DC's upper-level lady powerhouses, doesn't take itself too seriously. That may be why it's, hands down, the issue's most successful mini-adventure. Conner doesn't get caught up in the heavy handed "girl power" theme that runs throughout, she just gives us an informal chat between Wondy and Power Girl that's more telling in its mundane nature than any number of super-powered fights against robo-masculinity ever could.

Louise Simonson and Eduardo Pansica chime in with a terribly stereotypical account of Diana's team-up with Superman, as the two face off with the generic threats of Nikos Aegeus. Armed with Zeus's lightning, among other mythological weaponry, he's chosen to use his arsenal as a terrorist threat, demanding a hundred million dollars in exchange for a promise to quit wrecking Washington's more popular modes of public transit. Spoiler: the super-duo solve the problem via knockout punch. Every single line of this bit, both written and illustrated, is excruciatingly generic. I've read this story a thousand times before and I've never enjoyed it.

Geoff Johns and Scott Kolins provide the lightest chapter of the issue, six pages that read like one and a half. Their tale, which takes the shape of a dream, effortlessly leaping from past to present and back again, appears to be little more than a showcase for Kolins's digitally painted artwork. It has its moments, albeit more in terms of color than composition.

Finally, J. Michael Straczynski and Don Kramer polish off the issue with a proposed glimpse into the character's future with a prologue to their upcoming "Odyssey" storyline. Much to the chagrin of hardcore fans, the pair is pushing forward with a generic new outfit for the iconic figure, and if this slice of the pie is any indication, they're also giving her a grittier underground attitude. Neither makes for a good fit. Straczynski's promises to give Wonder Woman a concrete direction and a new big picture are betrayed by his immediate failures to make either click in this short preview.

This really isn't a must-have issue, particularly as milestone commemorative editions are concerned. Where most books try to build a major event to coincide with such issues, Wonder Woman #600 represents the pause in between major arcs. It's not the traditional path, but that isn't the problem here – it's the quality of work they chose to take its place. Of the cluster of short tales DC has gathered, only the Amanda Conner chapter has any sort of redeeming value, and even that would be better suited as a backup story. This anniversary is a disappointing one for the first lady of comics, and if the peek we've been granted into Straczynski's plan is any indication, her future may be even rockier. Skip it.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 2

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