One of my favorite exercises in writing - and here I speak of hero fiction, since that's when I've practiced this particular one - is when you write part of a story and then hand off to another writer, or vice versa. Over the years I've played this game with a few different friends, as we crafted our own versions of super heroic events. It's doubtful we considered what good practice this could be, if we ever found ourselves an opportunity to write for comics. After all, only the rarest of gigs lets you create fresh from whole cloth: usually, there's scads of baggage from previous creative teams to work within, years of established history and so on. We were just having fun.
The exercise can be a bit of a challenge, and often a lot of fun, too, as you decide which things from the previous author to incorporate, and which to gracefully ignore...and which to deliberately revoke. Of course the real fun comes in creating something new of your own in the midst of all that to pass back to the friend who's doing the other bit of the writing.
The ravening hoards of the internet will attack anyone, of course, but it seems folks are always getting down on authors who don't write the way they might. But when you try, you'll see it's not necessarily as easy as you thought.
But, man oh man, does Gail Simone make it look easy! Yes, I'm finally getting around to reviewing and discussing (it's all just a big jumble, really) the long-awaited Wonder Woman #14. And before we go any further, even though this issue's been out for two weeks, I warn you: spoilers abounding: if you haven't read the story in question yet...and for some reason don't want to know what happened...by all means, surf away now!
Ms. Simone hits the ground running, presenting us with a mystery right off: "What You Do Not Yet Know" is the title of this first chapter and like it says, we get some new information, with an opening narration referring to the night when the Amazon Queen sculpted her daughter from the clay of the island's shore and then asked the goddesses to breathe life into her. (The 'night', you say?)
"It was not as dear as you have been told; sunny skies over deeply azure oceans of calm, and the smiles, and tears of joy. It was more like a birth itself. An act of destruction, as well as creation. There was darkness. There was thunder. And yes, there was blood. But that fierce woman, that queen who dared make demands of the Gods and Lived...now walks as if unworthy of every step..."
And we see Hippolyta, former queen of the Amazons and currently the only resident of Themiscyra...well, one of the only residents. We watch as she traverses the island, north to south and east to west, stopping at four prison cells to ask unseen prisoners if they have repented. Each time the answer is the same: "Never."
But the last one asks for more time to talk and makes a gift to her queen of a carved wooden tiara, which she says she gnawed with her teeth, being allowed no tools in the cell. The woman (her name is Alkyone)says some mysterious things about about "the birth of the Dragon" and how it tore the Amazon community apart. (Can this person really be speaking of Diana? How could she possibly be a dragon? My lip slips over the hook of Simone's lure already, as I ponder how this may play out, fairly tingling with anticipation.) The mysterious prisoner offers to kill Diana and reunite the tribe. (!!!!)
And the scene changes to a jungle river where Wonder Woman is poised to do battle with a group of genetically-enhanced apes from Gorilla City, who've been brainwashed by Grodd to believe that all humans are evil and bad and such. Here, I'll let Gail's words and the brilliant artwork of Rachel and Terry Dodson set the scene (all images should enlarge reasonably).
They do fierce battle, of course; Diana is impressed that they fight so well and realizes they may do so until death - theirs or hers - and she takes a different tack, focusing on the leader. She gets the upper hand, dunking him underwater and entreating him to talk, which is all she wants.
The leader, Tolifhar, yields, but cites human poaching as the justification for their rage. Diana reminds him of Grodd's ability for "adorning lies with truth" and they actually talk. They discuss points, negotiate and then Tolifhar is holding the golden lasso and swearing not to "subjugate or devour any humans." He swears, and the others bow down calling Diana "majesty". Diana muses that the success of this peaceable approach "is why I prefer never to use Batman's methods," with a hint of a smile.
She offers to put in a good word for them at with Solivar, but suggests a cooling off period first...but where to house them meantime...?
Diana's solution is a classic one and absolutely true to her nature and personality. But she's no doubt remembering that the hospitality business is not always an easy one. (heh...a flinging incident)
With Tom (Nemesis/carpooler)Tresser's arrival, the gorillas make like good houseguests and hide, though not without observing that it smells as though "they will mate soon, if they haven't already". Hmmm, a bit of foreshadowing here? I think the relationship between Diana and Tom is amusing, as slightly adversarial partners with a possible spark of attraction. Teetering along the edge of this frontier is always fun, but lest we forget, "Moonlighting" nearly imploded when Dave and Maddy finally got their groove on.
But anyway, Tom actually does something sort of sweet-ish here and surprises Diana with an office surprise birthday party, complete with cake. Charming the way he admits he knew the date from scanning her personnel file.
(Have we ever seen Diana celebrate a birthday? Not recently, that I can recall. I do remember there's a Diana-as-little-girl story circa 1958-59 where dreadful things happen every year as she tries to blow out the candles on her cake. Most amusing was Hippolyta and the other amazons crowding around, recreating the neighborhood birthdays of America with the candles and Betty Crocker cake and all. Hmmmm.)
Anyway...I'm very fond of Diana's observations here: "In my society, a kindness like this would lead to warm sisterly embraces and perhaps even tears. Which I find is rather frowned upon in a workplace environment, and might even be cause for a reprimand. It is a strange culture that outlaws the hug. On the other hand...there is cake, and that excuses much."
The party fun is short-lived with the appearance of Director Steel, who wants to know the source of Prince's report on Gorilla Grodd and the possible of his reforming of The Society, but she dances around that question and he assigns she and Tresser to the case.
Returning to his office, we get the next big surprise, in the form of the return of Etta Candy. However, it's unclear just how much of continuity will be retained in this post Infinite Crisis world (especially with a Final Crisis looming on the horizon)and so I'm not sure if this Etta is still the wife of Steven Trevor (is he still Secretary of State, or was that in some previous DC Earth administration?) or some continuity re-jiggering bringing a fresh introduction.
Either way, t'will be interesting, as Steel has brought Candy in as a spy to see if there's anything unpatriotic about Diana Prince. And she's already got Steel's name and number. Detailed as their exchange is, I come away wondering if Etta's hero or villian here, and if one or the other, then to whom? (Nice. I can feel the hook tug against the side of my cheek now.)
Meanwhile, in Toronto, Diana and Tom are using a high-tech "invisible" craft recently donated to DoMA by a certain Gotham City billionaire, and she hopes she remembers to send him a note. I really like Diana's interconnectedness with the other heroes these days, especially with Batman. Of course Selina's the woman for him, but I think his own dark nature must make Diana's brightness utterly fascinating to him. In light of her earlier observation, though, I can't help wonder if her note will be one of thanks or gentle reprimand.
Anyway, more surprises, as they enter the suspected headquarters of the Society and discover Captain Nazi. Now, as Tresser is making short work of the door with some well-placed C4 explosive, Diana ponders how she could break the lock with her smallest toe if she were not in her unpowered state.
See, this is where I think the recent Circe gift-of-humanity may be troublesome. I mean, couldn't she just do the Magic Spin and "become" Wonder Woman when she gets out of the shower in the morning, but then go to work disguised as Diana Prince and then still be able to break doors and crap down? But already, in Gail I trust.
I'm a little concerned that Diana's still acting on instinct in her non-powered state, as she rushes ahead to protect Tresser from Captain Nazi and gets grabbed by the throat for her troubles. Of course, she can still protect herself and stuff, or at least still carry on a conversation, as she questions Nazi about his motives and plans...and he speaks of a new rise of an old Reich...and in a cutaway, we see a invading Nazi army sloshing through the surf of Paradise Island.
(Again: !!!!!!!! Suddenly, there's a yank, and I'm flopping happily helpless on the wet deck of Captain Simone's fishing vessel, a vague taste of seasalt in my mouth.)
And that's the issue.
Well, okay, I have to say something negative about Gail, or you'll think that we're like MySpace buds or something (well, actually, we are, kinda...)but anyway, here goes: there just isn't ENUF!!!! But in the pages we're given there's great treasure: a Diana who is wise and smart and funny and friendly (even to Steel)and caring and fierce and...wow!
Not only is it clear that Ms. Simone respects the character of Diana and her mythology, but it's also easy to see that she's having a hell of a good time writing this! The way the words dance together...the semi-colons(!!!!)...Diana's voice. It's all so good.
And I'm just going to gush if I get going on the artwork of the Dodsons. Their work really shows off Diana beautifully and I just can't get enough of their stuff! Coupled with Gail's words, well, it's "wonder"ful. I wish them all a very long and happy run!
This issue feels like turning a corner. I love that Diana was able to realize the To The Death nature of her battle with the apes, without it requiring the ubiquitous Max Lord flashback. (I sort of cringed with expectation, and was overjoyed when I realized, pages later, that it didn't happen.) Similarly, I was happy that we could see Hippolyta without a reminder of her recent time in Hades' Underworld. It's a brand new day and our Amazing Amazon is stepping off into a bright new future.
I welcome Gail to what I hope will be as long a residency on this title as she hopes for (which sounds like when they pry the pen from her cold, dead hand)...great Hera, our Amazing Amazon deserves such fine treatment!
For more with Gail, I direct you toward some good press she got from the Great Gray Lady this week.
Can't wait for the next issue!!