Review: ‘Wonder Woman: Love and Murder’ by Jodi Picoult and others
DC Comics got a lot of press last year when they signed up bestselling novelist Jodi Picoult to write their monthly [[[Wonder Woman]]] series – gallons of ink about her being the first female “regular writer” on the series, and about how this would finally catapult WW into the position DC keeps insisting she already has: a central, iconic figure whose comics people actually buy and read.
Well, more than a year has passed year later, and Picoult’s run turned out to be only five issues long – so much for “regular,” huh? – and also served primarily as set-up for one of the log-jammed line-wide crossovers, [[[Amazons Attack!]]] Picoult’s five issues were gathered into a classy hardcover, suitable for libraries (where I found it, actually) and real bookstores, with her name given huge prominence.
Assuming that the point of making Picoult’s name so large is to draw in the many readers of her novels, or other casual bookstore browsers, it’s fair to ask whether [[[Love and Murder]]] makes sense as a book in its own right, and provides anything like a satisfying experience to those new readers.
I haven’t read any of Picoult’s novels, unfortunately, but I also haven’t ever read Wonder Woman, and I haven’t read a mainstream DC book regularly in a few years – so, with my ignorance wrapped around me like a cloak, I dove in…
Wonder Woman: Love and Murder
Written by Jodi Picoult
Art by Drew Johnson & Ray Snider with Rodney Ramos, Terry Dodson & Rachel Dodson, and Paco Diaz
DC Comics, November 2007, $19.99
Well, the first thing a seasoned comics reader notices is that the art team changes entirely twice during five issues, which is usually a bad, bad sign. Readers coming from the world of prose probably won’t notice that – the three art styles are all minor variations on today’s version of superhero-standard, and the transitions aren’t particularly jarring – but it is a danger sign, implying that something was going on behind the scenes.
And then, before the story actually starts, we get a one-page “Previously in Wonder Woman,” explaining how she killed Maxwell Lord in some other cross-over that we didn’t read and don’t care about, and now she’s pretending to be “Diana Prince” again, working at the Department of Metahuman Affairs with her face-changing partner Tom “Nemesis” Tresser under the literally iron-fisted Sarge Steel. (I’m not sure if we believe that, since Diana has some much trouble with ordinary life later that we doubt she could convincingly fake a history or paper trail to get such an impressive job.) OK, fine, that’s backstory, and we’ll get into a brand new adventure now, right?
Diana does save a roller-coaster car full of people on story page 7, which feat is only dimmed slightly by the fact that the breaking of the roller-coaster is never explained in any way, nor does it have anything to do with anything. It’s really just there to get her into costume quickly, so we remember who she is. (Later on, there’s a throwaway bit of dialogue that says the whole amusement park is a “complete wreck,” which seems like a huge overstatement to me – unless something was going on in some other comic.)
Anyway, the real point of the first issue is to establish Diana as a naïf who knows nothing about modern life and to begin building up the dichotomy of “human” vs. “Themysciran” (the island/dimension/whatzit that Diana came from), which would be more effective if we had any reason to think the Themyscirans were different from humans in any real way (except being all-female). In a comic-book universe filled with metahumans, more alien races than you can shake a stick at, and various flavors of god, the ways Themyscirans differ from humans are vanishingly small.
By the end of the first issue, the villain of the piece has been revealed to be Circe. I don’t know her, but she’s apparently strong and nasty and possibly has mind-control powers to go with her snake fetish. So far, so good: it’s set-up, but it’s solid set-up.
The second issue packs a whole lot of plot in, and moves things forward well: one character is saved from capture, and then another is caught. In fact, there’s a bit too much plot; the panel-to-panel writing and transitions get a bit choppy in the middle, as Picoult (or her editor) jump quickly through all of the material they need to get in.
With the third issue, the plot reveals itself (to those who know) as a blatant lead-in to Amazons Attack!, with Circe bouncing back from the failure of whatever it was that she was trying to do in the first two issues (that was never clear, actually) to resurrect Diana’s mother, Hippolyte, the Queen of the Amazons. (Although they keep calling her “Queen Mother,” which does not mean what Jodi Picoult or her editor thinks it means.)
The dialogue gets more clotted and portentous with this issue as well, with lots of characters (starting with Diana, Circle, and Hippolyte) declaiming at a furious pace towards the camera. And it doesn’t get any better towards the end.
There’s no explanation at all for the big Amazon invasion of Washington, D.C.; Hippolyte is angry and yelling, like a girlfriend throwing shoes during a bad break-up, and about as coherent. The last couple of issues are a big fight scene – broken up with lots and lots of “talking about the relationship” – that ends on a cliffhanger. Anyone who wants to know how this story actually ends will have to find various bits of Amazons Attack! and hope that Picoult’s plot with Circe actually got followed up on, somewhere. (It quickly dropped into the background here once the Amazons attacked, so I don’t have high hopes on that point.) Picoult’s foreword to the book tries to defend the ending, but, really, it’s indefensible: she wouldn’t end one of her novels like that, and we all know it.
So, let’s sum up Picoult’s run: it starts off dealing with the aftermath of one big crossover, and serves only as a teaser to another big crossover. Is this how DC wants to treat a New York Times bestselling writer? Like just another disposable cog in the all-events-all-the-time perpetual-motion machine? I can’t believe that this is what Picoult really wanted to do with Wonder Woman: usher her professionally from predetermined Point A to Point B, leaving her own story unfinished.
And I very much doubt Picoult fans – or anyone not already plugged into the DC crossover calendar – will find the ending of this book at all satisfying. [[[Wonder Woman: Love and Murder]]] is nothing but a big bait-and-switch: we’re told that a major writer from the Big Leagues is going to take her shot at Wonder Woman…and then what we get is the same watered-down plotting-by-committee, without even the courtesy of an ending. Somebody at DC should be ashamed at the lost opportunity here; this book isn’t likely to bring in any new readers.
If Picoult wanted to write comics, why didn’t DC set up a Minx project with her? If she wanted to write Wonder Woman, why didn’t they give her a miniseries or a graphic novel? With all the possibilities available, why on Earth would they want her to write a big piece of space-filling middle? In the end, Wonder Woman: Love and Murder stands as the epitome of everything that’s wrong with superhero comics today: it starts nowhere, ends nowhere, and just tries to rope you into buying more stuff.
Andrew Wheeler has been a publishing professional for nearly twenty years, with a long stint as a Senior Editor at the Science Fiction Book Club and a current position at John Wiley & Sons. He’s been reading comics for longer than he cares to mention, and maintains a personal, mostly book-oriented blog at antickmusings.blogspot.com.
Publishers who would like their books to be reviewed at ComicMix should contact ComicMix through the usual channels or email Andrew Wheeler directly at acwheele (at) optonline (dot) net.