From the Mean Streets of Paradise Island


On Wednesdays I look at various chapters in Wonder Woman’s history. Click here for previous installments.

Hey, who the heck is that?

Wonder Woman: Odyssey vol. 1, DC Comics, 2011.

So, all right, fortified by my nostalgic foray into the mod ’60s high jinks of Wonder Woman, I now feel better mentally prepared to tackle Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski’s 2010 revamp of the Amazon warrior, in which her entire history was suddenly rewritten. Instead of being raised in the estrogen-rich paradise of the island Themyscira, Princess Diana now grew up on the run. Her home was destroyed and her mother was killed when she was just a Wonder Tot, and she’s earned an advanced degree from the school of hard knocks. She grew up on the mean streets of New York, where the Amazons are hiding out in the sewers, or at least that’s what we got from the introduction to the run that kicked off in Wonder Woman #600. That little snippet of story kicks off the trade collection as well, Wonder Woman: Odyssey vol. 1, although the rest of the anniversary issue remains unreprinted. So how well did that initial glimpse represent the story that was to come?  Well, let’s see.

Fallen, fallen is Themyscira the great.

Wonder Woman #601, DC Comics, September 2010.

The issue starts in flashback, as the Oracle shows Diana what happened when Paradise was destroyed. Of course, what she tells is pretty vague. Apparently Aphrodite removed her protection from the Amazons, but how, when or why she cannot say, and the island fell under attack from… somebody. Guys with machine guns, in that ninjalike full-body covering that gives you no hint what they look like.

Those Amazons, man. They’re hardcore.

We don’t even get to see their leader; the Amazons see him perfectly well, but we only see him in silhouette. Whoever these people are, they don’t seem much interested in conquest, or loot—they just want to wipe out the Amazons. Little Diana is spirited away during the attack, and her mother Hippolyta jumps into a fire rather than reveal to the bad guy where Diana’s been taken. And the guy walks off with the magic lasso of truth wrapped around his arm, still sizzling hot from the fire. I guess he’s some kind of badass, then.

So basically JMS has set up a new origin for Wonder Woman with elements of Superman’s—sent away as a baby to escape the destruction of her home. Of course, here the destruction of Paradise Island is very much intentional, but the interesting thing is that when Straczynski was given the task of rewriting Superman’s origin in Superman: Earth One, he added the new wrinkle that the death of planet Krypton wasn’t a natural catastrophe but genocide. It’s pretty much the same deal here.

Dark vengeance! And lazy composition!

The oracle, I should say, is now some punk rock chick in fishnets who lives under a bridge and is always asking if Diana’s got any gum. Otherwise she’s perfectly lucid in that mysterious mystic way, but the gum thing is, you know, her quirky character trait. I guess. Anyway, now that Diana’s heard her sad, sad tale, she vows vengeance. Of course, it’s not that she hasn’t grown up around these same Amazons and couldn’t have heard this story earlier if she really insisted, but you know, the time wasn’t right. Also, a couple hours ago she was actually the familiar Wonder Woman we all know and love in a completely different reality, so allowances must be made.

Meanwhile, goons are on the hunt for her. Why, we don’t know, but they really, really want to take her out. They’ve got surveillance units everywhere, cleverly concealed as clowns in ice cream vans. No, really.

I did warn you. That’s one grim and gritty clown.

And it’s not just her. They’re hunting down surviving Amazons wherever they can find them. In fact, they hear some are holed up in Turkey, and off they go to pick ’em off. And Wondy’s so hardcore that not only does she hitch a ride clinging to the back of the bad guys’ plane, but she falls asleep along the way, her fingers still digging into the metal, and she dreams of Wonder Woman—the old classic version that she doesn’t even remember. And she has no problem skydiving from the plane without a parachute either.

Oh, the smirk. Oh, the stretch pants.

Don Kramer’s art has a fairly strong, semirealistic style. He’s good at drawing pretty women, although he has a habit of sticking with one facial expression in a way that gets repetitive, and other expressions are just awkward. I dunno what the heck is up with the old Wonder Woman’s face in Diana’s dream sequence, for example. Kramer also does that thing of drawing the same pane over and over to indicate a long pause, which is such an overused trope in comics at this point that I can only think of it as a labor-saving device.

There’s a lot of prophetic talk from the burka-clad Amazons in the sewers. It’s unclear whether this is just how most Amazons are in New York or if they’re some special sect connected with the punky oracle. Whoever they are, they seem to know that Diana used to be able to fly, once upon a time, and tell her she’ll be able to again “when the rest of your powers come in full force.” So it seems like a lot of people know that Wonder Woman’s reality ain’t what it used to be, even if she doesn’t. Foreshadowy! Oh, and her job is apparently to track down other survivors, too, to save them and unite them and lead them in vengeance.

Normally I’d review more than one issue, especially when it’s one like this in which not much actually happens, but this is a ridiculously frenzied week at work, and it’s been hard enough to squeeze this much in. So, next week, more where this came from!

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