In June 2016, DC Comics kicked off the start of its Rebirth initiative. After a wave of criticism surrounding the way they have treated their characters’ rich histories since 2011’s New 52 relaunch, DC has decided to rebrand. They hope that by restoring their characters’ pasts, they will restore readers’ faith in them as well. Do they succeed? That’s what the Comics Beat managing editor Alex Lu and entertainment editor Kyle Pinion are here to discuss. Book by book. Panel by panel.
This week: It’s the dreaded “skip week”, and as such, Kyle is going to take a quick dive into this week’s annuals: Wonder Woman and Trinity (and an even quicker pop-in with the finale for “The Lazarus Contract”)
Note: the reviews below contain **spoilers**. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.
Wonder Woman Annual #1
Writers: Greg Rucka, Vita Ayala, Michael Moreci, Collin Kelly & Jackson Lanzing
Artists: Nicola Scott, Claire Roe, Stephanie Hans, David LaFuente
Colorist: Romulo Fajardo Jr., Jordie Bellaire, John Rauch
Letterer: Jodi Wynne, Josh Reed, Dave Sharpe
I got that fifth week blues. You know how this one goes: your favorite publisher usually only produces enough material for four weeks worth of comics, but has to turn around to put something out on the fifth week anyway. This was a concept I had to learn about all too well in the 90’s as a youngin’, when I got introduced to titles like Superman: The Man of Tomorrow, where inventory stories were the norm, and whatever pitch had been occupying an editor’s desk ends up finally seeing the light of day. That’s not always the case, of course. Sometimes these titles are used to finish off a crossover (or, in one example this week, pick up the threads of a completely different filler story). The funny bit about this week’s releases is that all three offerings from DC this go-round fit each of those bills.
I don’t want to spend a tremendous amount of time trying to break down each issue into component parts this week, since each has a fairly overwhelming amount of info. But I’ll aim to hit the high points and you can decide for yourself if you want to pay the extra couple of dollars to nab these. With Wonder Woman, we’re discussing a character that’s obviously on everyone’s lips, given tomorrow huge release (it’s her first solo big screen adventure, for crying out loud, this is a big moment!). Alex covered the current run’s most recent issue pretty succinctly last week, and Hannah gave a nice glimpse into the film’s significant strengths and glaring shortcomings yesterday. It’s hard for me to say a whole lot else beyond that, so I’ll just dive into this issue, which is composed of:
- A Greg Rucka/Nicola Scott collaboration that details the first time Batman and Superman meet Wonder Woman
- Vita Ayala and Claire Roe spinning a tale of Wonder Woman stopping a foreign execution of an American metahuman criminal in King Shark.
- Wonder Woman volunteering to lift an ancient curse that has afflicted a Japanese village, and one embattled warrior in particular, by Michael Moreci and Stephanie Hans
- And lastly, Wonder Woman meeting a Pacific Rim-style Kaiju by Colin Kelly, Jackson Lanzing, and David LaFuente.
One area of note that makes this collection of stories particularly appealing is the large visual differentiation between each of them. Obviously we have an entire trade worth of Nicola Scott Wonder Woman that just hit the shelves in time for Free Comic Book Day, but it’s always welcome to get another glimpse at how she brings this younger, less tried iteration of Diana to life. In a way, you can sort of look at this short as a bit of a deleted scene or maybe more accurately, an epilogue to the run that she and Rucka paired up on in the earlier issues of this volume. It’s an enjoyable little story that highlights the positivist and caring nature that Diana brings to the Trinity. While I don’t think this story, which is all of about nine pages, is worth the cost of admission on its own, it’s nice to have the first meeting between all of these characters established in a way that focuses on their budding friendship and mutual admiration, rather than what was offered to readers almost six years ago when the Johns/Lee Justice League launched. Rucka, as always, has a tremendous handle on all three characters. Scott’s rendering of Superman is basically peak perfect-man, and the humorous back and forths between all three got a nice chuckle out of me. It also ends on a note perfect line that basically defines the running thesis of the entire 40 page effort: Wonder Woman is a hero defined by her heart, and driven by love and compassion.
The stories that follow are all perfectly readable, and fit into this overall read on the character quite nicely. These different takes on Wonder Woman are, more or less, on-brand. Admittedly, I may have some quibbles with Moreci and Hans’ version of the character flinging a sword around, and defaulting perhaps just a tad into the more generic warrior woman trope – a trap I think far too many creators fall into when crafting narratives around Diana (this goes for the movie as well). This Annual is a healthy reminder of that; Diana’s weapon isn’t a sword and shield, but a lasso that instead of killing her foes or those that would do other’s harm, instead seeks their peaceful submission. The Ayala-Roe and Kelley/Lanzing-Lafuente shorts do a bit better job with this, in that they both posit situations where Diana has to stand up for a misunderstood creature and provide a new home for them. Thematically, these are both appropriate to that core ideal that should be striven for when crafting a Wonder Woman tale, but it’s also hard not to shake the fact that they’re basically telling the exact same story. Diana has to get in the way of the military industrial complex to save a creature from execution and then send it off to live in an exotic land where it might make a better way. That is basically a broad beat for beat recap that could apply to either story. It’s also kind of a cop out, really. Wonder Woman’s more tender qualities are certainly easier to apply towards non-human characters because it avoids any political stance for the character if we’re dealing with a foreign adversary, and it also dodges the S&M qualities that are intrinsic to the character – as it’s a whole lot easier for audiences to wrap their heads around “loving submission” if it’s happening to a giant monster. The Morrison-Paquette Wonder Woman: Earth One wasn’t a flawless work, but it grasped this essential element in an admirably unflinching manner. (Rucka, for his part, has also returned to the Marston source text in less overt ways in his time with the character.)
But really, either story would have been fine if they had just gone with one of them instead of both. There has to be a Cheetah or Dr. Psycho story pitch sitting in a filing cabinet somewhere, right?
Story selection quibbles aside, there’s some very nice artwork to look at here. Claire Roe, with this effort, has maybe turned me around a bit on her work. Perhaps a bit ill-suited for the confines for Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, her take on Diana is tremendously athletic. The supporting color work by Jordie Bellaire evokes the warlike atmosphere of the given setting, producing a Wonder Woman art team that I would definitely be on board with whenever the new long-term team is decided upon. LaFuente’s pencils in the Kaiju story have a fun vibe that would have been right at home in much-missed Sensation Comics anthology.
Despite some punch-pulling in the later stories, I think a particularly strong first effort is backed by some interesting and eye-catching art work that at least makes this a worthwhile flip-through at the store. And a nice enough supplement for anyone looking to read some Wonder Woman after catching the film.
Trinity Annual #1
Script: Rob Williams
Artist: Guillem March
Colorist: Tomeu Morey
Letterer: Carlos M. Mangual
Here’s a weird one. Rob Williams jumps in to continue a fill-in story-line kicked off by Cullen Bunn a few months ago in Trinity #7, which was quickly abandoned by Bunn himself for a “Superman Reborn” tie-in, and then never acknowledged by Francis Manapul when he returned to the title with issue #9. It’s a curious choice, but it does provide another example of how Annuals are often used to complete storylines that are abandoned in the regular title (Geoff Johns’ “Last Son” arc in Action Comics comes to mind, or perhaps even more immediately, Allan Heinberg’s “Who Is Wonder Woman?”). Thankfully, readers didn’t have to wait too long to see what was coming next in the machinations of this evil trinity that’s formed between Circe, Ra’s Al Ghul and Lex Luthor.
Well, at least two of them anyway, since Lex Luthor is seen flying off almost immediately. But Circle and The Demon’s Head continue on unabated with their vague prophetic destruction of the Trinity, that somehow dovetails in with these Pandora Pits. It’s all a bit vague really, evil people are doing evil things, but there’s at least a fun sort of vibe to it all that drowns out the ongoing dull relationship drama that seems to never end with the regular title. Though we get a little bit of that too, with Bruce, Diana and Clark having *another* dinner, out of costume – in order to remind them of their human connection. It’s not a bad idea and posited as a regular hangout, it would be fine. But since it’s taken as out of character occurrence I feel like I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that this trio did that very thing when the title kicked off. It’s a weird bit of repetition that I wouldn’t mind so much if it didn’t provide the entire underpinning for issue’s conclusion.
On a more exciting front, we get the first Rebirth appearance of The Demon, in full rhyme-scheme dialogue and all. Jason Blood ends up stumbling upon the catacombs where Circe and Ra’s are doing their evil bidding, and after dispatching with some random League of Assassin mooks, he gets sucked into the Pandora pit causing all hell to break loose, literally. The Demon separates from Blood and it’s up Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman to save the day.
As threats go, it isn’t a bad one. One of the things I somewhat bemoaned about this most recent issue of Trinity is that it puts these three heroes against a fairly anonymous alien threat, the very same thing Bryan Hitch’s Justice League issues continue to do. Those kind of things work in The Authority or some other Warren Ellis type arc every once in a while, but I come to superhero comics looking for good guys fighting identifiable and colorful bad guys most of the time, or in this case, the bad guys accidentally setting a REALLY bad one loose. On that front, this is an issue that delivers on a fun adventure and gives Guillem March an opportunity to play with perspective a bit, especially given the giant form that Etrigan takes once separated from Blood.
Again, it’s a filler storyline, and it won’t be touched again until presumably Manapul needs another breather on the schedule (it currently looks like August’s issue #12 will be that point). But there’s something cute about the actual title playing into a story like this, and it looks like we’ll have more than two trinities to deal with (as many as four if that solicit holds). I also thing having an ongoing fill-in storyline for when your regular writer/artist/colorist needs to recoup is a novel approach. Again, not essential, but solid. I’d down for more of Rob Williams working on these characters in particular.
Not much of a round-up this week, but what’s left is pretty good stuff! I was struggling mightily with the first two chapters of the Teen Titans-Titans-Deathstroke crossover “The Lazarus Contract”, which seemed to stop the momentum of all three books cold. And unfortunately it didn’t seem like Abnett or Percy had a great handle on how to deal with Slade’s brand of nuanced villainy. Thank goodness for Priest, who, as I hoped, would turn this storyline around with his multi-faceted take on the character now granted Speed Force powers and turn back time to save his son, Grant, from certain death.
This Special picks right back up from that issue, with Priest, thankfully, still on scripting duties. And to be perfectly clear, I was impressed by how much action and eventfulness was packed into these 38 pages. You get some time-travel hi-jinx with Slade and Grant Wilson, the ongoing feud between Robin and Kid Flash reaching a boiling point, the continued growth of Jackson as a character, and a whole new status quo for older Wally West due to the actions of Damian that were a necessary evil in order to save the day. I’m beyond impressed with how well Priest has a pulse on the internal dynamics and voices of each of these characters, not that I should find it all that terribly surprising for a writer of his caliber. On top of that, you get a nice oversized helping of Paul Pelletier art, who I’m glad to finally see divorced, if even for the briefest of moments, from the ongoing Cyborg comic. I probably should have just made a third review of this one, but I had a great time with this issue. So I’ll break with tradition just this once and throw another verdict down:
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Entertainment Editor for The Beat covering film, television and the occasional comic book. His work can also be found at GeekRex.com and can be heard on the GeekRex podcast. Also, your go-to Grant Morrison/Love & Rockets/Hellboy/Legion of Super-Heroes expert.