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Wonder Woman: Down To Earth

There are books that have been around since nearly the beginning of comics that no one really reads, but everyone seems to know. These are what are called the flagship books. Action Comics and Superman are the best examples, published every month featuring comicdom’s most well-known character that no one will read unless DC puts a hot writer on the book. The company simply can’t stop publishing Superman books, because Superman is the character that launched the company and cemented comic books into American culture. There are people who still think red, blue and yellow are our nation’s colors thanks to Supes and his “American Way.”

You learn to accept these books as being there; in fact, it’s rather comforting that no matter how many times I see a new title run for a few issues and get cancelled, that constancy is only a few spinners racks away. But you don’t read them. I can’t remember the last person I met who even reads a flagship book like Action Comics on a monthly basis. (Rob Sparling has never actually met his editor, and likely never will.)

So clearly, I went insane when I decided to pick up a semi-flagship book featuring comicdom’s most notable female character. What it could have been that piqued my interest, I’m not sure. It might have been the writing of Greg Rucka. It might have been the artwork from Drew Johnson and covers by various artists. Whatever it is, it added up to a surprisingly excellent book that has brought a rather archaic character and firmly entrenched her in the modern setting of today.

I really am floored at this very fresh look at Wonder Woman that Rucka has put together. Here, Diana is the ambassador from Themyscira to the world of the Patriarchy, and the narrative follows her as she promotes her new book, deals with superhuman crises and converses with the gods themselves.

Rucka doesn’t focus the story on Wonder Woman, but rather on the world around her and the world’s reaction to her. We begin rather mundanely as a new member is added to her embassy staff, and we immediately get a feel for the personalities that run the day-to-day aspect of the Themysciran ambassador’s duties. It’s quite interesting the way that Rucka mixes political intrigue with public relations crises, all the while peppering the books with bits of superhero genre. The way he sets up the story is akin to the way The West Wing scripts are crafted, where the president is the main character only to a point, and the staff that surround him make up the majority of the plot. Rucka seems to follow this in that he assumes the reader knows who Wonder Woman is, which is a valid assumption, and uses the supporting cast to flesh out her character in lieu of focusing too tightly on the Amazonian.

Also of note is Rucka’s treatment of the Greek Pantheon. Wonder Woman has always had ties to Greek mythology, but the subtle ways in which Rucka changes the divine portfolios of several of the major gods and goddesses in order to update them and contrast them with the older gods is both funny and intriguing, accompanied beautifully by Johnson’s updated character designs. Did I ever think I’d see Cupid (Eros in the Greek) with blonde dreadlocks? No, but I certainly enjoyed it.

Speaking of Johnson, I’m quite fond of his work on this book. His style of drawing is smooth and curved in his work with body design, but he shows himself able to do detailed and angular work in his backdrops. While his characters seem to have a tendency to pose, leaving their stances seem less than organic, his style is good at conveying action and movement, and he seems able to bring physical tension to talking-head situations.

I also love the way he draws women. He is not afraid to show muscled women, with larger than average shoulders and arms, especially in the Amazons, where it would seem most warranted. There have been times when I’ve seen depictions of the Amazons as thin-limbed, vaguely Anglo-Saxon stick figures and it never sat well with me. Johnson seems to understand that these characters come from a warrior culture and their bodies should refelect this. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Amazonian blacksmith Io.

The story itself is tight and not too revealing, building plot points and underlying the narrative with the mysterious threat Diana is facing, while still developing several smaller stories. It is well put together to say the least. Each chapter break has the covers from the original run, plus alternate covers and pin-ups from the likes of Phil Noto and Adam Hughes, among others. The back contains some mock-interviews and editorials discussing Wonder Woman’s radical ideals, as well as a note-laden sketch gallery from Johnson.

It’s excellent and well worth the $14.95 you’ll be paying. All you have to do pick up the graphic novel and forget that it’s a flagship title, and fork over the cash. For some of us, this will be hard (I had to close my eyes when I purchased), but it will be well worth it.

Robert Sparling

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