Sunday, January 11, 2009

Jodi Picoult's Wonder Woman

I’ve never really gotten Wonder Woman. Maybe it is because I am a man, but I think it has more to do with the fact that there isn’t really a part of the character to identify with. For example, take iconic Superman. Clark Kent is an established person, the real identity, and I get that. But Wonder Woman is the real identity, and that just reminds me of all the terrible interpretations of superheroes from the past.

But when DC relaunched Wonder Woman around the time of Infinite Crisis, I picked up the first few issues. They didn’t do a lot for me, and I quit buying individual issues about that time, so I had little idea what was ha
ppening with the character to this point. Just after I left the recruited bestselling novelist Jodi Picoult to do a five issue arc, and I picked it up over the weekend.

A warning: I am going to spoil this book. After the events of Infinite Crisis, somewhere
around the point where WW kills Max Lord and video of the execution gets out, she takes on a role at the Metahuman Affairs Office working for the government. Her partner is Nemesis, a guy I sort of remember from some esoteric comic, but essentially he’s a guy who can change his appearance at will ala Iman in Star Trek VI. He also is an asshole in these comics, making jokes that aren’t so much chauvinistic as sophomoric.

Former villain Circe shows up and starts playing havoc with Wonder Woman, impersonating her in abducting Nemesis. This might have worked great, but I didn’t get any sense of who the hell Circe is in the greater WW mythos, so it didn’t work for me. I’m sure that all the ladies picking up this comic based on Picoult’s name would be a bit aggravated too.

Eventually Nemesis is rescued, and Circe goes back to Paradise Island and brings Wonder Woman’s mother Hippolyta back from the dead. Showing that her daughter is imprisoned by the feds, for the very crime Circe impersonated her to commit, Hippolyta declares war on humans and ends up wrecking a lot of Washington, DC. Superman, Batman, and for some reason Black Canary all show up to try and stave off the attack.

One place Picoult really does do a good job is in the light tone. The Amazonians destroy the Washington Monument because it is a symbol of male prowess; there is commentary about how someone really shouldn’t be able to both fight crime and stay inside a bustier. Bt her overall story arc is where the reader really suffers.

Fighting her mother for control, Wonder Woman finally comes out on top and has a dagger held up to her mother’s throat. She says that all she has to do to end the war is kill Hippolyta and then order the war to cease as the Amazonians new queen. Wonder Woman says that she is willing to die for the humans she protects, but that her mother has been asking the wrong question. It’s not about what Wonder Woman stands to lose, but whether or not her mother would kill her to win. She gives Hippolyta the dagger and holds it up to her own throat. End of book.

I don’t have to read the next issue to know what doesn’t happen. Are we supposed to believe that in the lauded relaunch of the series, DC was going to off her in issue 10? But it fails to work on a more fundamental level. Picoult’s name was always going to be used to heavily market the collection in bookstores, just as has been the case recently with a dozen prominent prose authors. While leaving a cliffhanger might work in a regular monthly issue, it irreparably harms Picoult’s collected work. To attract the readers DC was attempting with the big name, an effort to tell an accessible, complete story should have been imperative. Instead, it’s not really even considered.

I understand that Picoult has done some good work in prose, though I have yet to sample any of it. But skip this collection; a sub par effort makes for a sub par product.

4 comments:

Allyn said...

Picoult’s name was always going to be used to heavily market the collection in bookstores, just as has been the case recently with a dozen prominent prose authors. While leaving a cliffhanger might work in a regular monthly issue, it irreparably harms Picoult’s collected work. To attract the readers DC was attempting with the big name, an effort to tell an accessible, complete story should have been imperative. Instead, it’s not really even considered.

At a guess, there were probably two marketing imperatives at play.

One the one hand, DC had a marketable author whose name they could throw on the front cover that would excite readers. (And it has. The one time I've really noticed someone else looking at the graphic novel section was when a young twentysomething in Borders said to her boyfriend, "Oh, look, Jodi Picoult wrote Wonder Woman!" and was quite excited by that.)

On the other hand, DC limits the size of their collections these days to about 120 pages. Something like Batman: The Long Halloween would probably not be published in a single volume today; instead, they would get three (or, shudder, four) hardcovers out of it, followed by the same number of trades. So it doesn't matter if the story has come to an end (or not); if DC is at that page mark, this book is over, and there's another collection to sell.

The latter, apparently, outweighs the former. Nickel-and-diming consumers on collections these days is the DC modus operandi.

Jon Polk said...

So it doesn't matter if the story has come to an end (or not); if DC is at that page mark, this book is over, and there's another collection to sell.

While aware of this practice, your comment seems to miss my major complaint. Picoult should have written an accessible, contained story during her run. Whether DC to split it into separate volumes isn't the issue; I would welcome another collection by the author following up on this. The problem is that there isn't one, or rather that there is but it's written by some guy.

The young woman you cite probably would look at another volume by Picoult but not one by someone else. They hooked her w/ the name, then served up an incomplete product. Who's going to bet she'll be back when another of her favorite authors scripts a series?

Allyn said...

I didn't realize Picoult didn't do the follow-up; I just assumed, based largely on DC's recent trend toward splitting storylines across multiple collections, that the volume ended on a cliffhanger because the story wasn't, logically, supposed to break there.

Except for a few brief moments in the 90s, I didn't follow Wonder Woman comics or their creative teams. (Except for the recent run that Terry Dodson worked on was marred by major delays.)

Levi said...

Meh, I thought Picoult's run was pretty good. I guess reading it as a graphic novel would be pretty frustrating, but it's got so many wonderful little moments. Oh well.