Wonder Woman Volume 1: Blood

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Amidst DC’s relaunch with the New 52, every title in their collection was restarted at issue #1, with numerous changes to continuity being established and laid forth in the ensuing comics.  Some things have changed, many remain the same, and some characters and events are as yet unknown as to how they play into this new multiverse.

I’d already read the first three trades of the newest Superman, so I knew that even the most seminal of characters would be facing some changes.  That being said, reading this Wonder Woman trade has only further proven to me that there is an inherent flaw in the way writers choose to tell Diana’s story. There have been numerous continuity shifts throughout the run of DC comics, but for the pillar characters of Superman and Batman, much of their mythology remains unchanged.  Superman was sent to Earth from a dying Krypton by his parents; Batman watched his parents be gunned down in Crime Alley.  The minor details may shift over the years, but these basic tropes are kept in place.

…And then there’s Diana. Over the years her origin has been rewritten countless times. She was the shaped from clay, she was Hippolyta’s child brought forth by the Gods.  Now, it is revealed that she is the daughter of Hippolyta and Zeus.  These constant changes to the core being of a character as seminal as Wonder Woman have helped keep her from attaining the same mythological weight as her fellow heroes.   With so many changes, Diana’s history feels uncertain. Whereas Batman and Superman have certain facets of their history that remain unchanged, Diana’s is more blurry. Yes, she’s always an Amazon who travels to man’s world, but her motives and backstory vary enough to keep a clear image of her purpose from forming.  It leaves her character feeling uneven and ungrounded, something that is not true of the other key DC heroes. While Batman and Superman’s stories can generally be read as a single narrative despite the reboots and continuity shifts, Diana’s are often completely rewritten, making it difficult to align her stories into one cohesive history.

This leaves us with little choice but to approach each run on the title as self-contained. That being said, Brian Azzarello’s run so far has been quite well done. Wonder Woman, upon learning that Zeus is her father, strikes out on her own and attempts to defend a young girl (pregnant with Zeus’s child) from Hera’s wrath.  The goddess has vowed to destroy her husband’s mistress and unborn child (obnoxiously blaming the young girl who didn’t even know she was sleeping with a god rather than blame her philandering husband).  Diana does what she can to stop Hera, though facing off against numerous gods proves to be difficult.

I appreciate the fact that Azzarello enlists less common gods for his story. We get to see lesser names like Hermes and Strife, rather than solely focusing on the biggies like Ares and Zeus.  I enjoyed seeing Wonder Woman branch out within the mythology, acknowledging that there are more than just a small handful of gods to work with.  That being said, one minor issue I took with the story was the fact that Azzarello bounces back and forth between the Greek and Roman naming of the gods.  Within one scene, the same character refers to the king of the gods as both Zeus and Jupiter, and while both are technically the same name for one being, the inconsistency bothered me. Perhaps it was intentional to keep from locking in to a single mythology, pointing out that these are the gods of numerous civilizations. Nevertheless, it was a small detail that bugged me while reading, and took me out of the story a bit.

Overall Aazarello’s story was engaging and enjoyable, but at the same time I still can’t get over the fact that Diana’s story over the years is so disjointed. This is no fault of Azzarello’s, but rather the result of numerous writers reworking Diana’s origin, motives, and history.  Her story has a much less solid foundation than Superman or Batman’s, providing less for future writers to build upon.  Though one of the core three, Diana’s continues to remain the weakest of the three stories. It’s a shame, because it really feels like there is so much there to work with. No one can seem to agree on how she should be portrayed though: fierce warrior ready to fight at any given moment, proponent for peace who believes all life is sacred, or a combination of both?  Only when this motivation is worked out once and for all will her character be able to gain a more firm footing within the continuity.

-Jess

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Wonder Woman: Rise of the Olympian

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The general rule of thumb with a Wonder Woman comic is I read it, I rant about it, and nothing ever changes.  Color me surprised when I read this trade and actually liked it. More than that, it may be one of my favorite Wonder Woman trades thus far.  One of my biggest issues with Wonder Woman is that she always seemed to exist in a vacuum. The Gods-centric storylines always felt so removed from anything else happening in the DC universe. Furthermore, Diana herself always seemed like this otherworldly being, existing separate from the rest of humanity, and never really providing any relatable moments to help make her more accessible for the reader.

Gail Simone’s take on the character changes all that, with Wonder Woman finally being allowed to show her human side.One of the most surprising moments is when Diana, distraught over her dear friend Etta Candy’s life-threatening injuries, shows a moment of weakness. A sympathetic nurse offers her a shoulder to cry on, if needed:

 

Diana is a pillar of strength and resilience, so to see her break down, even for a moment, is surprising. In an odd way it’s reassuring to see Diana in this light; if Wonder Woman has moments of emotional weakness, while still being able to be a strong and fierce woman, surely we can all accept our own sensitive emotions?  It’s so rare that Diana is shown in this manner, and I found it to make her far more endearing than when she’s constantly shown to be calm and in control. Sure, those are key tenants of a hero, but they hardly make her relatable as a person.

Simone seems to have a really firm grasp on how to portray Wonder Woman. She’s a beacon of peace, and yet she’s also a warrior; she’s lived for thousands of years, yet she’s currently alive in a world of cutting edge technology.  Many writers fail in their attempts to unite these opposing characteristics, yet Gail Simone balances them exceedingly well.  Diana shows in this comic that not only is she aware of the goings-on in the world, but that she also acknowledges the importance of staying up to date on these matters.

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This is a minor detail, yet it speaks volumes to Diana’s character. She is a warrior, and as such she ought to make it her mission to study and learn all weaponry that may play a part in any given battle.  This emphasizes her intelligence and tactical-minded thinking, an element of her character that is sometimes overlooked.  These subtle variations in her persona help to create a more fully developed hero, rather than relegating her to the typical “beacon of peace and love” or “fierce warrior” that can often come across as one-dimensional.

What impressed me most of all about this comic was that although the Gods play a role, there is little interaction between them and Wonder Woman. When they do finally meet, Diana kills Ares, only to top that by completely renouncing all of the Gods.

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In doing so, she’s also forced to renounce her Amazonian status, and leave her home island to return to the world of men.  Diana and the Gods have squared off against one another before, with the Gods even leaving this plane of existence at once point. This is the first time (to my knowledge) that Diana openly renounces her faith in them, turning her back on those she has worshipped for centuries.  I’ve always found issue with the Gods-worshipping Diana, feeling that the stories feel too far removed from the rest of the world to be fully believable.  Diana’s renunciation fits a new model for the character, in which she fully embraces the world outside of Themyscira and finally breaks free from the controlling hand of Zeus and the other Olympians.  This makes Diana seem so much stronger than if she just continued to blindly follow these petty and obviously flawed Gods.  By separating herself from them, hopefully she will finally be able to come into her own as a hero, without the obnoxious interference from on high.

If I had one critique about this comic, it would be the artwork. To be fair, it’s not even really a criticism per se, but merely an observation on the way in which Diana is drawn.  I’m sure it’s an issue for many artists when they’re tasked with drawing this character, yet one image in particular stood out to me:

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As an Amazon, Diana is supposed to be an incredibly strong, powerful woman. To his credit, artist Aaron Lopresti does a fair job of representing that in his artwork.  Strong legs, arms, and abs grace the Amazonian princess, so that she more closely resembles a body builder than a supermodel. This I have no problem with; I’ve always thought Wonder Woman should be slightly bigger in stature due to her sheer strength. For the most part, this picture does the character justice. The one part that stands out though is her mid-section, specifically the bottom half of her outfit.  Her lower abdomen is so flat and one-dimensional here, which proves to be a stark contract from the rest of her body. To be fair, I understand the desire to NOT over-emphasize this part of the body, for fear of being attacked for making her overly sexualized or even borderline pornographic. Unfortunately, the image seems to err too far on the side of caution, creating a rather bland area of the panel.  In all fairness, this is likely not due to any failings on Lopresti’s part as an artist, but rather a statement to the larger issue at hand: people just don’t know how to draw the female body without it appearing overly-sexualized.  To combat any negative comments, they simply gloss over this area, even though given the rest of her physique, this portion of her body would no doubt be just as muscular.  Perhaps it’s a minor issue to be nit-picking, but it stood out to me enough that I stared at this picture for a solid minute, trying to figure out why it was drawn in such a way.

Although I’ve written a lot, I haven’t addressed the actual story at hand. Quite frankly, I’d recommend just going and reading it for yourself. It’s a really interesting story (and one I’m hoping continues in the right direction, instead of veering back into familiar, “safe” territory).  Wonder Woman’s humanization is what really stood out to me in this trade though. Gail Simone has helped renew my faith in the character; I can only hope future writers bring a similar insight to the character so as to allow Wonder Woman to finally realize her full potential, to exist simultaneously as a pillar of justice and peace while still being allowed to show a more humanistic side.

-Jess

Wonder Woman: Who is Wonder Woman?

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Do I expect way too much out of a Wonder Woman comic, or do I just not really love the character?  Wonder Woman is a fascinating idea for a character, and yet I feel like most writers fall short in their interpretations of her. Whether she comes across as one-dimensional or just plain boring, there’s something about most Wonder Woman comics that leaves me feeling unfulfilled. I had high hopes after Infinite Crisis.  So many other heroes seemed to be going through pretty major overhauls, so I thought maybe Diana would get similar treatment.  After reading her new introduction, it seems like writer Allan Heinberg at least tried to take her in a new direction, but ultimately she’s right back where she was.

The big twist at the beginning of the story is that Diana has given up the mantle of Wonder Woman.  Donna Troy has taken over that role, while Diana has adopted the secret identity of Diana Prince and taken a job at the Department of Metahuman affairs.  Okay, I can get behind this. I like the idea of Diana returning to her “secret identity” roots, allowing her to take some time out from being the Amazon Princess for a while.  So far, so good.

Unfortunately, that’s pretty much where the good ends. There’s a rather weak storyline involving Circe and Hercules, but to be quite honest I was never invested in that story.  The majority of the comic leads up to a massive fight, in which virtually every well-known hero joins Diana in fighting every one of her top villains.  It’s all supposed to lead up to answering the question, “Who is Wonder Woman?”.  Unfortunately, the answer isn’t exactly revealing:

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Diana has changed very little in these pages, with the exception that Circe grants her a “gift” of sorts: she is human when she is Diana Prince, and only becomes invulnerable when she turns into Wonder Woman.  I suppose I can see where Heinberg was trying to go with this change, giving Diana a human side and all that; still, it doesn’t feel very exciting. I’m hoping that the story continues in such a way that Diana finds herself in new, unique situations where she will find a new type of strength within herself, but within the pages of this comic that simply hasn’t happened yet.

On an unrelated (yet more frustrating) note, I have to address a certain…artistic choice noticed in this comic.  I don’t generally comment on small issues, or a single poorly drawn panel, but occasionally something stands out to me so much that I can’t help but comment.

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Can we talk about what, exactly, is going on with Wonder Woman’s butt?  I can’t tell if she’s meant to be leaning forward (which makes no sense in the scene) or if he butt is just suddenly incredibly bulbous.  Either way, it leapt out from the page and distracted me from the rest of what was going on in the comic.  Had it just been a single instance, I might have overlooked it. Nope, instead this disproportionately big butt pops up in the comic again and again. I get that artists emphasize certain parts of the female body for their male readers, but this is just ridiculous.

Overall I was unimpressed with Diana’s “new” direction. I’m hoping as her story unfolds new twists pop up to freshen her story, but right now there’s little to hold my interest. I don’t know what it is about her character that always leaves me feeling unsatisfied. Maybe I expect too much, but is that really so wrong? She’s been around almost as long as Batman and Superman, yet it feels like her history isn’t nearly as tightly written, and her legacy isn’t as strong.  I keep waiting for that to change, but maybe I’m waiting in vain.  I’m hoping the future comics on “the shelf” prove me wrong.

-Jess

Wonder Woman: Mission’s End

“Infinite Crisis Week” Day 3!!

When I began reading Greg Rucka’s run on Wonder Woman, I was less than pleased.  I felt like the title was little more than a placeholder for the character when she wasn’t being utilized in Justice League or some other DC series.  As I reach the end of Rucka’s run though, I’m happy to report that the series has grown on me a bit.  It’s still not my favorite, but the heightened drama is at least more interesting now than it was at the start.

Faced with the aftermath of killing Max Lord, Wonder Woman plans to turn herself into the authorities to be judged by our laws.   Before this can happen however, a series of OMACs attack the Themysciran Embassy, forcing Diana to intervene and try to save as many people as possible. The OMACs are a formidable opponent, but they don’t prove to be more powerful than Diana herself, who overpowers them with a glimmer of excitement in her eye.

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Wonder Woman may defeat the OMACs, but the battle isn’t over. She turns herself over to the authorities, vowing to remain in custody until a trial is set.  Unfortunately her promise proves to be short-lived, as she soon sees news footage of the OMACs attacking Themyscira and all of her sisters.  With no other choice, Diana flees and returns to her native home to help her sisters, knowing that Brother Eye is attacking them as retribution for what she did.

The battle is long-fought, and unfortunately the Amazons lose many.  They build a death ray that wipes out many of the OMACs, but it’s a serious price to pay: the OMACs were merely real people being controlled by Brother Eye, and didn’t deserve to see their lives ended this way.  The world’s fears of the Amazons are now realized, and Diana knows the world will never view them the same again.  She urges her sisters to leave this plane, fleeing Earth and retreating to their own private safety.  Diana insists on remaining behind though, a sacrifice that hurts her more than any death probably ever could.

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Utterly alone in this world now, Diana continues to fight Brother Eye, while also trying to be of some help to her former friends, the same friends who shunned her for what she did to Maxwell Lord.

As the comic closes, with Diana plunging back into battle to help save the world yet again, we’re given a glimpse of her preaching her message of hope yet again. Despite what she’s done, Diana remains a proponent of peace and helping those around her.

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She inspires those around her to be better people even as she flies off to fight in a battle most couldn’t hope to survive.

I almost wound up inadvertently skipping this trade while bouncing back and forth within the Infinite Crisis storyline.  Having read it, I’m really glad I didn’t miss it.  I was unsure of how to view Wonder Woman after what she did to Max Lord, but this trade helps shed a little more light on her character and how she feels about the ordeal.  I genuinely respect her more after having read this story, and it adds yet another layer to the already complex story that’s been unfolding before me.  Is this the best trade in the Infinite Crisis storyline so far?  No. It’s also not the weakest, either. It’s a great end to Greg Rucka’s run on the title, and a  fitting lead-in to the events of Infinite Crisis.  Truly alone on this world, left behind by her sisters and her gods, Diana is surely going to face her greatest trials yet.  For once, I’m actually curious to see how she handles it all.

-Jess

Wonder Woman: Land of the Dead

Oh Wonder Woman. I have such an up and down relationship with her.  I desperately want to love her, but her stories wind up feeling so uneven and unsure of just who Diana really is that I can’t help but get frustrated when I read her comics.  Wonder Woman: Land of the Dead is actually one of the better ones I’ve come across, and possibly my favorite from Greg Rucka’s run so far.  Athena charges Wonder Woman with traveling to Hades in order to rescue Hermes.  Accompanied by Cassie and Ferdinand, what transpires is a dark and interesting tale not just of Diana’s journey into Hades, but of her and her companions facing their fears.

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Seriously, this is so much darker than anything that happened in Wonder Woman: Down to EarthI don’t mean to imply that darker=better as far as comics are concerned, but it’s a nice change of pace to see Wonder Woman actually doing something for a change, and facing major challenges.

While Diana is traversing through Hades, we’re reminded of what’s going on in the real world in her absence.

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Martin is still a statue, and there seems to be no fix for this.  It’s a truly sad aspect of the story, but it also reminds us that Wonder Woman can’t always save everyone.  Still, who can help but to pity Martin’s father, having to face such a terrible loss at the hands of a mythological creature?

Diana succeeds in her mission, knowing that Athena will grant her greatest wish when she does so.  Cassie believes this wish to be her eyesight, but of course Diana is far more selfless than that.

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Diana’s wish was not to restore her sight, but to restore the life of the boy she could not save.  As the comic closes, we see Martin running towards his father, all smiles and seemingly good as new.

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Of course, Athena doesn’t overlook Diana’s selfless act, and so chooses to restore Diana’s vision as a gift.

So…the status quo has once again been restored.  Even so, I actually liked the overall feel of this comic.  It was dark at times, yet still had an uplifting ending.  Wonder Woman was actually engaging in some truly interesting battles, both physical and emotional, and it just felt like a more tightly written story than some of the earlier trades.  It’s still frustrating to me that Diana is a pawn of the gods, doing their bidding whenever they call, but I’m holding out hope that this might change at some point.  I’d rather see Diana be her own person and make her own decisions, rather than have such emphasis placed on her fighting on the gods’ behalf.  At least these Wonder Woman comics are slowly becoming more interesting.  The story is clearly not over, so maybe the content will continue to get better and Diana start to come into her own. It’s sad that even at this point she doesn’t feel like a fully developed character, but that’s just where we’re at.  I’m restraining myself from going off on another tangent about why Wonder Woman isn’t as fully realized of a character as other heroes; instead I’m choosing to focus on the positive and hope the comics continue to get better.  Fingers crossed.

-Jess

Wonder Woman: Eyes of the Gorgon

My relationship with Wonder Woman since beginning “the shelf” has always had its ups and downs (downs more than anything).  With Greg Rucka’s run on the title, I’ve faced plenty of peaks and valleys, with me tearing apart the story at first, then coming to appreciate it much more.  With this latest trade, I still view the series more favorably than at other times in the past, but my positive view of the character and the world she inhabits has been dimmed somewhat.

Picking up where Bitter Rivals left off, this story sees Wonder Woman contending with the reappearance of Medusa, who has decided to take out her anger at the Gods on Athena’s champion.  Medusa appears at a state function, turns a young boy to stone, and disappears before Diana can stop her.

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Later, Medusa invokes Ares to challenge Diana to a battle to the death, with the world watching on live television.  It’s a hard-fought battle, especially considering Wonder Woman can’t look directly at Medusa.  Diana’s losing badly, but she eventually makes a sacrifice to allow her to more affectively battle the Gorgon.

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Diana grabs one of Medusa’s severed snakes and squirts the venom into her eyes, blinding herself so that she no longer needs to fear a direct gaze.  Somehow this gives Diana an edge (I would think being blind would be a hindrance, but whatever) and she manages to behead Medusa, killing her once again.

Although exciting, this is only the first act.  The latter half of the story sees Diana pitted against Zeus’s hundred-armed guard, as Athena attempts to usurp the throne from her father.  Seemingly grudgingly, Diana battles the creature.  Even though she’s blind, she holds her own, and makes use of the Gorgon’s head in a well-planned attack.

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Zeus’s champion is turned to stone, and Athena ascends the throne as Olympus’s new ruler.  She offers Diana a reward, but the only thing Diana wants is to bring back the young boy who lost his life.  Athena cannot grant this wish, and so Diana leaves with nothing (though why she wouldn’t just ask for her sight to be restored is again, beyond me).

I enjoyed the first half of the comic, but the latter part felt a little hollow.  Wonder Woman is nothing more than a pawn in the battle of the Gods, and this is a common trope that I’m tired of reading about.  Diana’s one of the Trinity, and one of the longest-running superheros of all time, and yet she leads a much more subservient life than any of her compatriots.  Superman and Batman don’t repeatedly answer to a higher power; they are trusted to make their own decisions, and take responsibility for the world around them.  Diana merely followed Athena’s instructions, and I finished the comic feeling quite unsatisfied.

Whenever I read a Wonder Woman comic, I end up going off on a diatribe about the depiction of female superheroes in comics and how they tend to fall short of hteir male counterparts.  The idea of a champion serving the Greek Gods isn’t bad; on the contrary, there’s plenty there for interesting storylines.  It also doesn’t bother me that this main character is a female.  In my mind, the more female superheroes, the better.  What bothers me is that Wonder Woman is the most recognized female superhero, and one of the most enduring of all time.  Despite this, she still remains subservient to others.  Gods or not, why does the biggest female superhero role model have to answer to a higher power?  Her male counterparts don’t face such restrictions, and it manages to covertly suggest that Diana is weaker than those around her.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I really want to love Wonder Woman. I do.  I’m just finding it difficult based on some of her comics.  She’s too passive, too far removed from the world around her.  There are certain aspects of her personality that I find really appealing, but overall there’s just a solid sense of self missing, and it’s keeping me from truly becoming invested in her story.

-Jess

Wonder Woman: Bitter Rivals

I can’t say I was excited to read this trade.  After my little rant the last time I read a Wonder Woman comic, I steadied myself for much the same obnoxious nothingness.

Mercifully, it looks like Wonder Woman may finally be getting better… at least marginally.

This trade is a direct continuation of Wonder Woman: Down to Earth.  Unlike the beginning of the story though, there’s plenty going on within these pages.  Themyscira has just been struck down by an angry Hera, and now lies battered and broken off of the U.S. coastline.  Diana has just rescued Vanessa and is trying to save her life.  Circe has escaped her imprisonment on Paradise Island and was rescued by the Gorgons to bring Medusa back to life.  Plus, Diana is trying to solve the mystery of who murdered Darrel Keyes, a man who was loudly opposed to Diana’s message.

It’s definitely a lot going on, far moreso than in the first trade.

With all of this happening, one of the most fascinating storylines didn’t even directly involve Diana herself.  This comic provides further insight into Veronica Cale, the billionaire businesswoman who is hellbent on destroying Wonder Woman’s good image.  Here, we learn her entire backstory and why exactly she dislikes Diana so strongly.

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Veronica has a true rags to riches story.  She is the living embodiment of the American dream, and yet she’s not the woman everyone aspires to be like. No, that role has been filled by Wonder Woman, someone who, in Veronica’s mind, didn’t earn such esteem.  Furthermore, Veronica maintains that it’s wrong for people to idolize someone like Diana, because she is such an unrealistic, unattainable role model.  She can fly, she’s impossibly gorgeous, she can life incredible weights and charge into battle against the most dangerous of foes.

Veronica’s opinions are murderous and she certainly takes her dislike of Wonder Woman way too far, but the subtextual implications of her character were rather fascinating.  In many ways, Veronica represents the real public criticism  often thrown at Wonder Woman, concerns that she’s preaching immoral behavior or that she’s not the proper sort of role model for anyone.  This is perhaps the first time I’ve seen a Wonder Woman comic be so self-aware (at least since Marston’s initial run in the 40’s), and it was incredibly refreshing.  Veronica’s hatred of Diana was crafted so well that it feels organic, and reflective of what some people in the world might actually believe.  This made her a much better antagonist than most.

While Veronica stews over Wonder Woman’s success, Diana is busy trying to solve Keyes’s murder.  She eventually discovers who is responsible, and learns that many aspects of her life are starting to converge.

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A manhunt begins for Doctor Psycho but, being a master of transformation, he easily slips away.  I’m sure this isn’t the end of him though, and he will undoubtedly pop up again for a showdown with Diana.

The comic closes on a bit of a cliffhanger as Circe fulfills her promise to the Gorgons and brings Medusa back to life.  Medusa, angry at her fate, appears with a single goal in mind.

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This was a pretty great way to end the comic, and is no doubt setting up the main plot for the next storyline.  For once I’m actually interested to see where a Wonder Woman comic is going to take a story.

Overall I was very impressed with this comic.  Although I still believe there was a little too much going on in its pages (at times the multiple storylines were difficult to keep straight and became a bit convoluted) this was a major improvement over the last trade.  There was far more action and plot here, and I was actually beginning to care about the various characters.  I’m hoping that this is a turning point for the character, and that future Wonder Woman comics continue in this same vein.  If they do, I’ll be happy to read more.

-Jess