“Keep me in your heart…” – A new god of war is crowned in the exceptional Wonder Woman #23

STK615965One of my first pop culture memories is watching the Lynda Carter “Wonder Woman” TV show while my mother did the ironing. I was obsessed with the show, even moreso than the episodes of Adam West’s “Batman” that were constantly on. I loved Wonder Woman, the way she fearlessly balanced her life, battling crime and always getting the answers she was looking for. I would make paper rings, color them gold and draw bright red crayon stars on them, stapling them around my wrists and pretend to deflect bullets and ninja stars my brother would attack me with. Wonder Woman was my hero, a woman who was powerful, fearless and utterly incapable of giving up or being stopped by any man she came across.

I’ve admitted many, many times that Wonder Woman is my favorite super hero and one of my favorite fictional characters. The problem, however, with being a fan of Diana is how poorly she’s been handled by DC. Yes, there are some great stories and she has such a fantastic history in the comic universe but DC has consistently tried to adapt the character to what the company believes are reader expectations. Is she a business woman, a freedom fighter, the Ally McBeal woman, a rage filled killer, or a woman of the people? The power of Wonder Woman is that she could be any of those people but the core of her character is being herself, facing anyone who would dare to challenge her and defending those she cares about.

ww23hairThe variety of ways to approach Wonder Woman are what demands that she not be approached like any other comic book character. A unique, creator controlled approach is needed for the character and Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang have been able to carve out a place for the character, a woman of myth and power who’s neither defined by her past or by the fates others have decided for her. Much like Matt Fraction’s “Hawkeye,” Azzarello and Chiang have focused on one aspect of Wonder Woman’s personality, her focus on family, and have nearly recreated the character around the idea. In Wonder Woman #23, the creators put an end to  two years in stories and create a new status quo for the heroine which brings her even closer to the series’ central tenet.

Wonder Woman’s assembled family of fallen gods, civillians and her siblings is a fantastic way to  drive home the idea that family are the ones we care about but bringing Diana’s former mentor, War, into the equation complicates things. In only 23 issues, Azzarello has established War as a unique being, a man worn out by slaughter, seemingly on an endless vacation of human misery, whiskey neats and dealing with his family’s issues. However, he sees Wonder Woman as a daughter, a would-be-killer of unparalleled skill. It’s clear before the blood hits the floor that passing his title to Diana was something he saw as inevitable and wanted. Their methods may differ as well as their levels of compassion for the fallen but both are focused on being able to fight for a cause.

ww23zolaThe issue of family and legacy hangs over Wonder Woman #23. From Hera trying to protect Zola, Hell preparing to take his brother to the afterlife, Apollo standing over the broken body of his half brother to the final beautiful boat ride, the history these characters have and the one’s they’ve created for themselves are the only thing that can save them from what they’ve lost. The issue almost feels like it could be an end to a series but the promise of what could come for Diana, the new god of war, is what continues to make this a series defined by the voices of creators who are willing to take a character in bold but thoughtful new directions.

Stray ObservationsoVbC8G3A couple of surprises this week and a couple of books that stayed great. Let’s do it.

  • This is the first issue of Superman Unchained which felt like Scott Snyder was trying to do anything unique with the character. This week’s #3 may be a nearly note for note redux of “Whatever Happened to Peace, Justice and the American Way” but at least it’s not Action Comics.
  • Ending Batman’s mourning over Damian was certain to make Batman and Nightwing #23 work better than the previous 6 issues of the series. Alfred’s mourning over his surrogate son’s death is a heartbreaking sequence.
  • A great issue of Daredevil isn’t a surprise anymore but a one and done Silver Surfer story in this week’s #30 is one of those great singles guaranteed to be remembered for years.
  • Jeff Lemire continues to go wonderfully horrific in Animal Man #23 and the reconstruction of the Red is a great mix of terror and whimsy.
  • X-Men Legacy continues to be the best series of Marvel Now with a tragic story of David’s sense of division between two worlds, his father’s and his mother’s. His conversation with Blindfold at issue #15’s end is going to lead to some truly bleak stuff. I’m excited.

“You need never pray again” – A god becomes so much more in Thor: God of Thunder #11

3240960-thor+-+god+of+thunder+011-009In terms of getting a character to connect to an audience, only Thor has a harder time than Superman. Thor’s near invulnerability, his many resurrections and his nearly unlimited fighting ability makes him a hard character to humanize and a difficult one to serialize and that’s ignoring the character’s godhood. The general way to connect Thor to readers have been to overplay his viking roots or to push him over the top in a way which often feels hacky. The best creators have realized that and refused to let the Odinson be a man. He’s an epic hero, one who is at his best when he’s doing the impossibly, becoming the legend he’s always wanted to be.

Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic have focused on that theme alone in the exceptional Thor: God of Thunder, teaming the hero with a past and future version of himself and facing him against Gorr, The God Butcher, a seemingly immortal killing machine focused on removing divinity from existence. Gorr has been around since the series’ first issue and Aaron has done the seemingly impossible, creating a new character I want to see become a permanent part of the Marvel Universe. He’s a driven, sinister villain, one who thinks he’s working for the greater good and he has the power to impose his will. His battles with the three Thors are the stuff that splash pages are made for and he earns every one of them.

thor_-_god_of_thunder_009-005Thor’s struggle against Gorr has allowed the sort of mythic storytelling the character deserves. Giving Thor an enemy he can’t possibly defeat, backing him into the corner and giving only the most dangerous out against the Godbomb lets the character go beyond being a God and an Avenger but gives the story an epic, mythic vibe so rarely seen in superhero comics.

In the final pages of the issue, the surviving gods return to Asgard, hoping to find a home now that worshippers and worlds have been destroyed but godhood isn’t what’s important anymore. As Thor returns to speak with a girl who once needed him, he gives her hope that people will always be looking over her, protecting the world from what’s coming. It’s a wonderfully understated moment, one which speaks to the power myths have over the way we view our lives. In the end, Thor is about inspiration, heroism and the way we define our lives with stories, whether they be holy or secular.

Stray ObservationsWOLVXMEN2011034-int-LR-2-8efa7This was a pretty anticipated week for comics fans with one of the best books on the market returning from hiatus and Marvel’s newest event starting up. Let’s jump in.

  • Jason Aaron’s other big book this week was Wolverine and the X-Men, my favorite Marvel book and maybe my favorite comic on shelves today. This week’s #34 is a hell of an issue, between Iceman as an anime inspired mecha, Doop’s home movies and Kade’s staunch refusal to accept defeat. It’s going to be interesting to see what the young king’s plans were in the Hellfire Saga’s final part at the end of the month.
  • In the hiatus, I’d forgotten how much I missed Saga but issue #13 reminded me instantly what makes this book so special. The ghostly return of The Stalk just helped matters.
  • I think I’ve been pretty clear about my dislike of Nick Spencer’s Secret Avengers but #7 finally used the series’ mind erasing premise to it’s advantage, with Maria Hill making a dangerous judgement call on AIM Island.
  • It’s been less than two months since Age of Ultron so I guess it’s high time for the next massive event. Despite much of Infinity #1 having already been revealed in previews, interviews and this year’s FCBD issue, it’s still a fun promising issue. I’m looking forward to what’s coming.
  • It took everything I had not to write about East of West again this week and #5 is really great. The revelation about The Message, Death and Xiaolian’s child and Chamberlain’s indifference to the oncoming Apocalypse cements why this is the best new series of the year.

“You’re a super-villain, right?” – Superior Spider-Man #15 gloriously reverses protagonists a second time

superiorspiderman15658-642x362 Responsibility looms over the Spider-Man franchise. It’s the key part in Uncle Ben’s most famous quote and it’s a theme that runs through everything from Spider-Man’s ethos, powers and his villains.

Dan Slott has played with the theme since he joined the franchise and never more so than in Superior Spider-Man. While he tried  the idea of Spider-Man’s powers being given to a man without Peter’s morality in the Spider-Island story-line, giving Doc Ock the classic costume and powers has expanded the mythos in ways that never would have been possible had Peter stayed alive. Ock’s one man war on New York City crime has been one of the standout parts of the book and his differing perspective on violence and crime has been fascinating.

gobfeatureSlott gave Doc Ock all the toys last issue as the villain returns to make war on Wilson Fisk and Shadowland. It was a violent issue and it showed the full lengths the anti-hero would go to for what he believes to be justice. While issue #14 was primarily a plot mover, this week’s #15 focused on his struggle against a single villain, Phil Urich’s Hobgoblin. Otto works best when Slott focuses on the competition between villains, namely the way these characters have dealt with each other for years.

Urich is an interesting case. A legacy villain with debts to other killers, Urich’s Hobgoblin has always been in an interesting spot and forcing him out from under the Kingpin’s thumb puts him on the run. I was struck during this issue by the way Slott wrote Urich as a murderous Peter Parker. Trying to get some cash together to pay the Tinkerer to repair his gear and needing to send a check to ex-Goblin Robert Kingsley, Urich is under pressure from all sides and is forced to do things he may not have expected. His crime spree at issue’s end reminds me of a Spider-Man on the ropes, struggling to make ends meet.

gob3It’s an interesting role reversal in a series all about that theme. Much like other series focusing on an antihero, namely Breaking Bad and the excellent American Vampire, viewers are meant to struggle with how much we want the protagonist to win. Do we really want Doc Ock to get away with it, to be Spider-Man forever or are we waiting for his comeuppance? Placing Urich so closely to Peter Parker, even drawing him similarly shows Slott’s willingness to make reader’s question what they want out of his elaborate game of cowboys and robbers.

I’ll admit, Humberto Ramos is probably my least favorite artist in Marvel’s stable. His chunky, straight edged characters feel out of place in a series about lithe, mid-air ballets and the fact that he was the beginning of the end for Runaways digs him deeper into a hole. He does a fine job here but Slott’s script is the real star, showing how far Doc Ock is willing to bring all his powers to bear to take down his enemies. It’s an issue all about desperation and last steps, with both Urich and Octavius playing trump cards and reaching deep as they struggle to get what they want.

gob2It’s only a matter of time until the Spidey-Ock era ends, pretty much the weeks before Amazing Spider-Man 2 comes out but Slott continues to push the limits of audience expectations with a protagonist whose struggle to be a hero is crushed by a lack of empathy and morality. It’s a story that shouldn’t, can’t possibly work in Spider-Man’s corner of the Marvel Universe but impossibly does, over and over again.

Stray ObservationsTrillium_1_PanelThis was a big, really great week for DC in particular so let’s dive into it.

  • Again, Jeff Lemire proves his place isn’t on a franchise book. While offering little more than promise of what the series will become, Trillium #1 shows an outsider’s perspective on a time travel/drug trip story-line and has the same inventive imagination Lemire shows on his other more offbeat books.
  • It’s definitely a weird wonderful finale for Dial H, a book which, clearly, never had a chance to grow into what China Mielville hoped for it but still a fitting finale for his heroes. Nelson’s twists on all the heroes he dialed previously is a great, nostalgic way to close the cult series.
  • Charles Soule is making a great name for himself at DC. His Swamp Thing #23 features the sort of nausea inducing darkness Alan Moore and Jamie Delano used so well and is a great, powerful mainstream horror issue.
  • As far as alternative horror, Ed Brubaker has that on lock. This week’s Fatale #16 shows the corruption Jo effortlessly brings with her and the darkness is starting to close around Lance’s house.
  • Billy Tan is definitely trying to combine his dull ’90s style with Doug Mahnke’s work in the new Green Lantern #23. It’s a better issue than what he’s done before but he needs to step it up very quickly to make this book shine.
  • Once again, Superior Foes of Spider-Man knocks it out of the park. This week’s #2 is another hysterically funny, very knowing look at the politics of villainy. Boomerang’s desperation as he faces pressure on all sides gives this book the drama that makes it a must pull.