Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Wonder Woman #54 Review and Spoilers

Preparing For War

Written by: Steve Orlando
Art by: Raul Allen and Patricia Martin
Colors by: Borja Pindado
Letters by: Saida Temafonte
Price: $3.99

Release Date: September 12, 2018
So, Wonder Woman, eh? I've been a Wonder Woman reader and fan for a lot of my life and it's always an honor and a privilege to read and review her adventures. The last couple of issues have seen Diana team up with Artemis and the new Aztek in order to free her aunt Atalanta from the clutches of Tezcatlipoca, the Shadow God and sworn enemy of Aztek and the now-defunct Q-Foundation. While the art for those two issues (by Aco) was astonishing and there were some rather nice ideas thrown into the mix, it's safe to say that the story's resolution, depending as it did on a somewhat hackneyed 'let's-all-band-together' Maguffin and a typically Orlando-esque quantity of technobabble ("I'm hacking a weapon from a higher plane of existence and hoping I don't lose my mind, okay?" – Hmmm. Passive-aggressive technobabble at that), left much to be desired. It's a good job, then, that this issue, the creative team lowers its sights a little and decides to tell us a tale that's more grounded in political reality.

Let's find out how they get on…

The issue opens with Diana, Artemis, and Atalanta flying in Diana's invisible jet to Qurac to drop Atalanta off with the offshoot tribe of Amazons of which she was originally a member before she went off on her missionary quest to man's world. (Sorry, 'patriarch's world' – an unfortunate reference to one of the more contentious tenets of third wave feminism, but never mind.) I usually give Orlando a hard time about his dialogue (and will later on in this review), but in this opening he does a decent job of depicting the characters of Artemis, Diana and Atalanta with the last in particular rather touchingly expressing her uncertainty about her place in the city of Bana-Mighdall after so long away. Artemis and Diana's relationship is friendly if a little spiky. Diana is all grace and understanding, while Artemis' dialogue is much more confrontational.

As the plane approaches Bana-Mighdall, Diana notices that its citizens are preparing for war and there is a full page of the plane flying over the city that is (reviewer cliché alert!) worth the price of the comic all on its own. Now is as good a place as any to talk about art. I don't know exactly how Orlando's done it, but, dammit, he's got some extraordinarily talented collaborators working with him on this title. Aco's work on the earlier Aztec-themed issues was phenomenal. This issue is the first glimpse I've had (I think) of Raul Allen and Patricia Martin's work. While the layouts may be just a little simpler and the art itself a little cleaner, it is nevertheless excellent and, in fact, reminds me more than a little of the work of John Davis-Hunt, which is, as any regular reader of my Wild Storm reviews will tell you, a compliment of the highest order. Faces are wonderfully expressive and that's important this issue because there is a lot of talking.

And that, of course, is a bit of a problem. With a comic like Wonder Woman and especially with a story arc dealing with Amazon history and larger than life characters discussing war and other life or death issues, Steve Orlando's penchant for somewhat stilted over-dramatic dialogue is not going to be quite as much of an issue as it is in, say, The Unexpected. But that isn't to say it's all fine and, my, there are a lot of words here. Those Amazons do like a bit of a natter and their dialogue is a tad grandiose at times. Add in Rustam to the mix and…

Hang on a minute. Rustam??? Yeah, I know he's on the cover but I'd kind of assumed he'd be the big bad guy of the issue and would be appearing later, but nope. There he is standing at Queen Faruka II's left hand looking, well, pretty much exactly as you'd expect. There are a number of things to say about this. Firstly, Orlando, Allen and Martin get Wonder Woman's reaction to his presence just right: controlled but grim, and a terse counterpoint to Faruka's more verbose introduction. But, then, Orlando does what Orlando often does and has Rustam explain in some detail (this is Orlando detail, though, which is somewhat elliptical and generally raises more questions than it answers) how he's been brought back to life. Which is the kind of thing that has to be addressed for those comic book readers who care about continuity (and it is, to be fair, nice that Orlando does at least seem to as well), but not, surely, in a full-page conversation with Diana? While it's fair to say that the issue hadn't exactly been nonsense-free at this point (why is the citizen of Bana-Mighdall praising an ancient Greek city (Phthia) on recognising Atalanta? Unless she meant Pythia who was, to be fair, an oracle of a god), the nonsense quotient spikes a bit here with references to "vitamin X-2" (I think you can get that in effervescent form now) and a "stolen psycho-redactor" (I know he's used that one before – it doesn't make it okay, though).

The rest of the issue pans out in an intriguing if a little predictable way: Wonder Woman smells a Rustam-shaped rat; Atalanta's not happy about Faruka's plans to settle down and form a Bana-Mighdall state on Quraci soil; Artemis protests Faruka's subsequent attack on Atalanta but apparently doesn't let her qualms affect her decision to fight alongside her sisters against the advancing Quraci army; Atalanta is imprisoned, battle lines are drawn and Wonder Woman has to pick a side. As the story is helpfully (and a little prosaically) called "The Enemy of Both Sides", it shouldn't come as any surprise whatsoever how the story ends.

On the whole, I thought this was an interesting issue. Orlando has set up a confrontation between the Bana-Mighdall Amazons and the Quraci military with Wonder Woman facing the difficult task of trying to defuse the situation and avoid unnecessary bloodshed. The addition of Rustam makes things trickier, of course, as does Artemis' more belligerent nature. The general shape of the story is clear and easy enough to follow. The devil, as always, is in the detail.

Orlando's dialogue is nowhere near as horrendous as it has been elsewhere but there are still issues. At one point, Faruka, talking about the just-incapacitated Atalanta, says, "One of our relics. We'll celebrate her as such in a gilded cell. Consign Atalanta until the fight is over…" The 'gilded cell' is awkward when the word most usually accompanying 'gilded' is 'cage'. The word 'consign' should be 'confine'. She later tells Artemis to "wield the glory you left us to search for," which is a little inelegant and could easily be tidied up by using the word 'find'. Nit-picks? Very possibly, but there are a lot of them and they add up over the course of an issue. (These three were all in the same half of a single page.)

While the dialogue is a bit ponderous at times, the same cannot be said of the art. My favorite moment is absolutely the sequence of panels in which Diana, having been struck by Rustam's sword and blown through the palace walls, dusts herself off and returns to the fray. The art is breathtaking and Diana is simply magnificent. In an issue somewhat overburdened with talking, it's a very effective reminder of Diana's sheer power.

Bits and Pieces:

Following on directly from the last issue, this story sees the title's focus shift to a more grounded world of politics, power, and tribal belonging. While Rustam may be a little underwhelming, he's used well enough here and, the occasional dialogue excess notwithstanding, Orlando has told an enjoyable and fairly intriguing story. The art, while not quite at the level of Aco's last issue, is nevertheless excellent. I'm cautiously optimistic about where this story's heading.



  1. Sorry Jeremy but I can not bring myself to see this issue in the same light as you. Steve Orlando is ruining Artemis Grace Character. She would never side with Rustum and Faruka the way she did this issue. Also she's not 100% confrontational with everyone she talks to. Huge Minus goes to this issue for the sheer fact of Rustum being in it. Steve Orlando NONSENSE!

    1. Anthony get a grip on yourself! The real Artemis is trapped with Bizarro in an Injustice universe. This Artemis is a paid cosplayer to aid Diana in her sales.

  2. No need to apologise. ☺️

    Artemis' characterisation is problematic in this issue. Now, I don't read Red Hood (I know, I know), but even in this issue her reaction to Atalanta being shot is decidedly muted and thus rather odd, especially given the hero worship given her in this issue and last. It's very much a case of Orlando wanting her on Faruka's side to force the confrontation we get at the end. He's had to shoehorn the character in there to make her fit.

    That said, I don't mind that quite so much, because Orlando's exploring issues of belonging, nationhood and tribalism that I find quite interesting and I'm intrigued to see how they'll develop.

    Rustam. Ah, Rustam. Again, I don't find him especially objectionable, but the way Orlando brings him back here is a wasted opportunity. His resurrection and brainwashing are glossed over in a page of explanatory dialogue. There was an opportunity for mystery here (and most writers would have taken it) that Orlando passes up. Which is a shame. But he's being used by Faruka as much as she's using him and I kind of like that.

    It's not an amazing issue by any means. The problems one customarily associates with an Orlando issue are still present, but not as prominent as they sometimes are. And I am genuinely interested in seeing where this is going.

    And I *do* like that art... 😊

    1. Like you I am cautiously optimistic and enjoyed the art style change in this issue despite it happening mid-arc, that single splash you mentioned in your review was gorgeous.

      You need to read Red Hood! It wouldn't be that hard to catch up since it has never a bi-monthly during Rebirth.