Thursday, January 7, 2016

Review: Superman/Wonder Woman Annual #2

A while back I decided to drop Superman/Wonder Woman from my monthly review crawl. The characters in that title were simply warped versions of the Superman and Wonder Woman who I have come to enjoy over my life of reading comics. Superman wouldn't be cruel or brutal. Wonder Woman wouldn't be a killing machine or a Stepford wife. But most of all, I didn't feel that the relationship this book was built on was ever portrayed in a way that made it seem realistic or plausible.

So why is Superman/Wonder Woman Annual #2 being reviewed here? Well, I picked it up because two creators whose work always entertain and who I think are being woefully underused by DC appear in the credits. K. Perkins and Sholly Fisch both provide stories here and, no surprise, tell very compelling stories.

But for me, this issue answered some questions I have had about this relationship. It dealt with one of the biggest stumbling blocks of these two being together. And it showed how this relationship has slowly sort of crumbled. And for that I thought I needed to give it some space here.

Peter Tomasi and Keith Champagne both write other portions of the Annual. And the art is a wonderful mix. Marco Santucci, ChrisCross, Ken Lashley, and Matthew Clark provide the pencils. The book is really beautiful throughout.

The book opens with Clark walking through the Kent farmhouse, thinking about how loving and supportive Martha and Jon's relationship was, and thinking he might have found that in Diana. We see him reach into Ma's jewelry box.

But this is clearly early in the relationship. It is those dizzying, electric, physical part of a long term relationship. After a battle, while in the watchtower, the two can't keep their hands off each other. Superman removes her boots and it is implied things get quite hotter. (In fact, pics did get hotter. Yanick Paquette did the layouts of this issue and showed a significantly steamier scene.)

Who hasn't been in this sort of torrid part of a relationship where everything is forever rosy and hormones are raging.

But this scene is sort of replayed a couple of times in this issue and that is key for understanding what has happened to this romance.

The first story, written by Champagne and drawn by ChrisCross, shows an early double date, with Clark and Diana having dinner in Atlantis with Arthur and Mera. The two women break off and talk about Di's new beau.

Yes, the two women only talk about the men in their lives. But they do it in such a familiar way, you sense they have had many other conversations. They are friends so, of course, Mera is going to talk about this new development.

Diana talks about being worried about how complicated a romance might be. Mera discusses the hurdles that Arthur and her have overcome. It shows how true love and respect can overcome a lot. And since this is the beginning of this relationship, I can see how this might be positive reinforcement for Diana to continue to be with Clark.

The art and color in this section is stunning. And I like how this again shows just how wonderful anything and everything can be in the early parts of a fling.

The next story is written by K. Perkins with art by Ken Lashley. And this was my favorite story of the Annual because it addressed one of my biggest problems with the relationship. How could Clark deal with Diana being the God of War?

Now I read and enjoyed the Azzarello/Chiang Wonder Woman run, but in my heart considered it an elaborate Elseworlds and not canon. But it was clear that DC did not think that way.

So we get a story where Superman and Wonder Woman fight Dichara, an angry demigod. Superman is surprised when Dichara stops the fight because of Diana's station.

I like the rougher feel to Lashley's art here. It works in the battle. And it works in the more raw emotional sequences too.

Wonder Woman goes to Olympus and then returns to Clark's apartment afterwards.

Notice that Clark is near naked in this whole story. Wonder Woman is post-battle and removes her costume to change into pajamas. But there isn't the flirty, sexy, physical ending we saw in the earlier story. The relationship is more serious now, more real, more complex.

Diana tells him she is the God of War. She didn't tell him because she knew it might come between them. Not exactly a solid relationship move to keep a major truth from your partner. And Clark reminds her how she questioned his 'other life' as Clark and that her title is probable on par with his secret identity.

He poses a thought, one I have asked myself since this all unfolded in the comics.

How can Clark, who fights for truth and peace, who loathes war, be with her?

And how can she be an ambassador of peace, a bastion of love, AND the God of War? She says all wars spring from love. And that is a pretty skewed view of the world.

This doesn't sound like Diana to me, the one I have read all these years. And that is a big part of the problem here.

And look at the cold nature of Clark in that second panel. He can't even look at her.

Clark here says that her life as the God of War is going to affect them. How could it not.
And she realizes that there is a lot left unsaid between them.

Finally, the two of them aren't acting like infatuated and titillated teens. This is real relationship work here, trying to find their way through problems, and realizing maybe things aren't meant to be. And the book is addressing, head on, how her role on Olympus is troublesome to this whirlwind romance.

The last panel of the story is Clark watching the news, hearing about the horrors of war around the globe, and staring ahead. This is her life. Not his.

The next story is by Sholly Fisch and Matthew Clark. It includes a cool Easter Egg, a movie poster of Rita Farr being in 'Brunch at Tiffany's'.

But it tells a story of an aborted date night. Clark, temporarily powerless from using his flare power, pre-The Truth, is cooking dinner for Diana. Unfortunately, a JLA emergency calls her away. She joins the team fighting the Galactic Golem. Clark is left behind.

The dinner remains on the table uneaten. Clark heads to bed. Diana returns.

Again, we don't see him cradling her calf and removing her boot. There aren't libidinous giggles. There isn't an amorous interaction. Things have changed from that infatuation stage.

Clark is angry he was left behind. He felt, even powerless, he could help. And Diana won't hear it. She thinks this is Clark's ego. He can't always be the hero. He can't always be involved.

It, once again, shows how these two might not walk in lockstep, or even understand each other. It also gives us some background into Diana's actions in The Truth when Clark is truly depowered.

These blips are part of the bigger canvas. We are reminded of The Atlantis War, Super-Doom, the Darkseid War, and everything else that has strained the couple.

It turns out that Clark has been holding that engagement ring from the opening pages all along, waiting for the right time to propose. But now he realizes that maybe he and Diana aren't Jon and Martha.

This all makes sense to me as someone who has questioned this couple from the beginning. But, of course, DC and Tomasi needs to add the grim-dark nature of the current DC universe. Clark wonders if he'll ever find love. And he thinks that might be a good thing. Yeesh ...

Still, I have to applaud this issue for showing us all the problems that might spring from this love affair. It shows us that early, physical, glittering love and how that can tarnish when deeper issues are dealt with. They each build on each other nicely, especially when we see the different endings of a post-battle adrenaline rush. And it focused on some of the problems I have had trying to wrap my head around this romance.

Overall grade: B+


Anonymous said...

I felt the same in that this annual just confirmed the slippery slope and downward spiral of this doomed and unfitting romantic pairing to me. The hormonal physical attraction and vague general "love can be difficult discussion" story, the "how long have you kept this secret" story and the "I can still help out as well even if you don't want me to" story felt like trite writing overall. Relying too heavily on cliches in romance storylines does not make one's work more original or entertaining to read in telling the reader about the people in the relationship. And that's what Superman/Wonder Woman has consistently failed to do.

But that moping and moody Clark at the end glumly wondering if it's best he isn't with someone was a downer. Just continues to show how DC are failing to balance both the alien loneliness Superman is supposed to feel sometimes with the connection and ties he has with humanity. That's lacking greatly in Superman's current incarnation for sure.

Also I see you might not have noticed the little controversy this annual got DC into, the one about how the Pakistani people the demigod attacked were speaking, according to the sub-box, Pakistani, which isn't an official language of the country. Quite a simple but stupid error to slip by DC's notice when a Google search would have prevented this error.


Anj said...

Thanks for comment!

I agree with much of what you say. Some of this seemed a bit cliche. I don't think it is breaking new ground to have a couple say that a relationship is hard or that you shouldn't keep secrets from each other.

But the truth is, the things that make this relationship complex and difficult have been evidenced since DC announced the two as a power couple. I have been wondering when the elephants in the room (that the two aren't very compatible) would be addressed. And frankly, the very fact that DC decided to address them made this a win for me.

And yes, moping Clark is a drag and not how I envision him.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reply, you certainly make sense in pointing out how unoriginal the arcs for this romance have been. Perhaps under the right writers some more compelling subjects could have been brought up in a romance between two prolific DC characters.

I think the elephants in the room got addressed even sooner than this when Johns said that the romance would end "badly" when talking about Superman and Wonder Woman's break up. Whether this is what he meant by ending the relationship badly, I don't know. There are still those either through predictions or wishful thinking who still think Superman and Wonder Woman will get back together.

Agreed, and it paints a stark contrast to the Pre Flashpoint Superman happily married with Lois and bringing up their son despite the adversity and troubles facing them. That just shows what DC is doing with New 52 Superman to be even more wrong.


Martin Gray said...

Lovely review, I've nothing to add - said it all over at my place - just, thanks.

Jay said...

I actually think the relationship is going to get better from here on out. They'll probably be on a break for a while, with the comic still heavily relying on the romantic subtext, which could be more entertaining than what was done with them steadfastly together, they can do the build up that they didn't do the first time around, then eventually they'll date again. This isn't the end of them, of that I'm pretty confident after how open-ended they left everything when they could have easily closed the book definitively here if they wanted to.

Seeing them on the road back might be more fun than the way it was dropped into our laps so quickly.

Anj said...

I agree Jay, a slow reconciliation might give the writers some breathing room to show us why these two should/would be together.

Jay said...

I'm a little concerned if Tomasi is the right writer for that though. He can produce some alright stories but isn't really known for heavy characterization. We'll see how long he sticks around though.

And I was bummed with bummer-Clark too. I hate the woe-is-me outlook, but it is what it is now so I can only hope better writing later will have him get over it.

And if anyone's reading JL, I think they're setting up Steve dying, which will be a big thing for Diana to deal with in her own right.

Godzylla said...

While still not what I consider Superman and Wonder Woman, these portrayals of them were actually likeable, something I haven't seen since the new52 began. The storytelling was exquisite, Paquette captured all the nuances perfectly, as you described.

I was pleasantly startled by how much I enjoyed this issue.

Veronica said...

SMWW will break up, there isn't return from this garbage. also dead never stopped steve trevor, even if he dies he will be back and dating wonder woman