BookBin 2011: Wonder Woman: The Circle

Still not ready to go back to my abysmal anthology. Sorry. I’m sure I’ll get back to it, if only to finish it and have a guilt-free conscience regarding the possibility that I might have missed anything decent before donating it. However, this time I was lured away from my misery by nothing less than a goddess.

Anyone who knows me even in a limited way knows that I have quite a thing for Wonder Woman. How can you not? Strong-willed, majestic, powerful, intelligent…admittedly possessing a questionable fashion sense, but still beautiful. Plus, she was once portrayed by Lynda Carter, who I have yet to encounter during my perambulations through the D.C. area…but one day, denizens. One day.

Sadly, however, I do believe that Wonder Woman regularly misses out on most of the fun that her male counterparts seem to find coming their way in ample supply. Regardless of the fact that she is one of the originals from the pantheon of DC Comics superhero royalty, she doesn’t seem to get much respect for that fact. While Superman and Batman continue to be remixed, remade, and remodeled in the movie world, Wonder Woman has yet to get even one shot at the big screen. She gets quite shafted in comic book stories as well.

Wait. That came out completely wrong.

What I meant was that…well, Wonder Woman’s stories have been pretty much hit or miss. Mostly miss though. Even a writer as respected as J. Michael Straczynski seems to be botching things badly with the recent reboot of the Amazon princess’s story (admittedly, I only read the first two issues of his run, but they made me frown in ways that threatened to add lines to places on my face that I’m not yet ready to have them).

Then there’s Gail Simone. I’ve known about Simone for a while. she’s the one who coined the phrase “Women in Refrigerators Syndrome” as a delightfully macabre (yet depressingly astute) way of describing the fate of most women in the male-dominated world of comic book superheroes. However, I had never read any of Simone’s work in the comic industry. For whatever reasons, her stories always slipped under my radar, even though I noted each time one of her anthologies was released for purchase and even added a few to my wishlist.

This past Christmas, I finally ended up with my very own copy of The Circle, the collected story arc that marked the beginning of Simone’s time as the longest-running female writer of the Wonder Woman comics. Apparently, Simone was brought in to take over after a unilaterally panned run by Allan Heinberg (I know very little of Heinberg’s comic writing prowess, but seeing that he has written for shows like Sex and the City and Grey’s Anatomy gives me a horrible NO feeling when it comes to my beloved princess of Themyscira).

According to several reviews that I read of this collection, Simone had quite a lot to fix in regard to the Wonder Woman storyline, including repairs to her origin (I believe, however, that this damage/alteration came from another comic series, Infinite Crisis, rather than anything perpetrated by Heinberg). I’m completely in the dark regarding whatever took place prior to the beginning of “The Circle” (including those ape warriors that Wonder Woman is fighting at the beginning, which left me feeling decidedly WTFish, but not so much so that I wanted to read the preceding storyline to figure them out…at least not right now). However, I have to say that I very much enjoyed what Simone did with Wonder Woman, including her revised take on how she came to be.

What’s more, I love how…real Wonder Woman becomes through Simone’s writing. Yeah, I know. Wonder Woman isn’t real. I haven’t completely lost my grip on reality. That doesn’t come for a few more years at least. What I mean is that Simone doesn’t make her version of Wonder Woman impervious to those little things that make her approachable, likable, respectable. Real. Simone’s Wonder Woman has a strong sense of being and purpose, without being limited to just these goals. She’s complex and funny, bold and passionate, disciplined and loyal. She’s also a goddess and behaves accordingly.

Even better? I love Simone’s take on Etta Candy, the oftentimes silly/sometimes tragic gal pal who has been an off again/on again part of Wonder Woman’s universe since the beginning (she was even in the first season of the Lynda Carter television show, played by Beatrice Colen). Simone depicts Etta as smart, skilled, and funny (but not in a derogatory or Falstaffian way). She’s a great counterbalance to Wonder Woman without being unnecessary (which, admittedly, is how I have viewed this character in other iterations). I still hate her name though.

I wish I could continue my praise for this collection beyond “The Circle.” However, I was far less impressed by the follow-up story, “The Expatriate.” First was the noticeable change in artwork. The primary artists for “The Circle” were Terry and Rachel Dodson, a husband/wife artist/colorist team. True, the artwork from “The Circle” was rather par for the course (with a few brilliant exceptions…there are a couple of gorgeous depictions of Wonder Woman that more than make the price of admission worth it). At no point did I ever feel like gushing in the unrepentantly fangirlish way that I continue to gush over the amazing work that J.H. Williams, III did for the Batwoman collection, Elegy. It was pretty much standard comic book artwork. Not a whole lot of wow.

However, for “The Expatriate,” the Dodsons were replaced by artist Bernie Chang. No mincing words here: I hate how he drew Wonder Woman, especially at the beginning of the story arc. Not only was her face jarringly different in appearance from how she looked in “The Circle,” she also seemed utterly devoid of any semblance of stature or power. Chang’s Wonder Woman possessed a vulnerability that was in no way flattering or favorable. I grew used to his depiction of her after a while, but the very beginning of this story was highly disappointing from a visual perspective. Plus, the story itself was rather mediocre, especially in comparison with the high note of Simone’s beginning run at the Wonder Woman mythology.

All in all, though, I was pleased by this collection. It was indeed a strong start to Simone’s work with the Grand Dame of the DC Universe (even if her follow-up story was decidedly less than stellar). I’ve already started looking at other collections of Simone’s Wonder Woman stories…so don’t be too surprised if you see her name appearing here again sometime soon.

And of course you won’t be surprised if Wonder Woman appears again. And again. And again. What can I say? I’ve got a thing for Greek princesses with black hair and blue eyes…

Final Verdict: Keep. Duh.