Recently I was dining with my good friend and confidante Kirima, a member of an Eskimo tribe who migrated from Alaska long ago. We've shared a copacetic relationship; I buy her dinners, and she helps me with the opposite sex (I am a comic book reviewer, go figure). Upon the slightest mention of The Latest Issue Kirima immediately pointed her fork (along with a helping of tofu salad with basil and cashews) at me and declared: "Dammit, you still haven't reviewed any Wonder Woman on your page!"
Naturally, I reminded her that I spoke of Wonder Woman in my review of The Brave and the Bold 5 in the beginning of November, but she quickly shouted (so that all the patrons of the restaurant were peering over their teacups at us) "Not that guest-star crap, you need to review the actual Wonder Woman comic! That Jodi Picoult run just went trade, you should review that, you sexist prick!"
And so I did. Never mind the fact that this advice came from someone who actually owns Wonder Woman pajamas, I did need to review a DC title (lest the hordes that are my ally Steve breathe ever so much more down my neck) and I had to admit that the Jodi Picoult run on Wonder Woman had initially caught my attention, if only for the fact that it was a mainstream author who was coming in and writing one of the most prolific characters in comics. It's something that still doesn't happen often, for good reason or not; Many authors of Picoult's (My Sister's Keeper, Nineteen Minutes) stature don't often sully themselves by "stooping" to write comic books. In Picoult's own words, though, she thought it was "far too cool an opportunity to pass up", citing Brad Meltzer (Identity Crisis, an upcoming arc of Buffy the Vampire Slayer) as someone she admired who often crossed the barrier from author to comic writer. She is also a self-proclaimed Wonder Woman fan, and seems to have a pretty good grasp on the character. But the nagging voice at the back of my mind as I'm picking up this title is screaming: "It's going to suck!! Did Jonathan Lethem teach you nothing??"
Wonder Woman: Love and Murder opens with a black-suit wearing Diana Prince (WW's secret identity) staring at herself in a lavatory mirror, attempting to distinguish between what makes her Wonder Woman and how to blend in with the human population she had been sent to protect. Upon exiting the restroom, we're introduced to Nemesis (Tom Tresser), a c-rate vigilante-turned-superhero shape-shifter and Diana's partner at the Department of Metahuman Affairs. The two have been assigned to work security at a superhero-themed fun park, protecting a reality-show winner who won the chance to be the new Maxi-Man. While working the tables, a roller coaster suddenly falls apart, chaos ensues, and Diana pulls a Clark Kent move and Wonder Woman arrives on the scene to save the day. Wanted fugitive Wonder Woman.
The two realize this when they get back to HQ (Nemesis doesn't know DP is WW) and are told by their commander, Sarge Steel, that the US government wants to question Wonder Woman for the circumstances surrounding her murdering Maxwell Lord one year ago. Fans will remember Wonder Woman murdered Lord because it was the only way to stop the psychic control he used on Superman to make him attack other heroes. The World Court had apparently dropped all charges, but leave it to the US government to take things into their own hands. Wonder Woman can't help but feel that things aren't what they seem, and it eventually leads up to the return of not one but two powerful villains, cloak and dagger plotting, and the eventual lead-in to the DC Amazons Attack storyline.
I actually liked Love and Murder. While it wasn't the greatest story I've ever read, I liked the idea Picoult ran with, conflicting Wonder Woman with the public hero she is and is confidant being, and the human side of her, underdeveloped, as much different from Clark Kent's human side as can be. It goes a little far at times (as Diana Prince, WW doesn't know how much gas costs at the pump... or how sed gas pump works) and turns silly, it's a good idea and is played well for the most part. Less impressive is the scene where Wonder Woman has surrendered herself to the government and is locked in what is deemed an "impervious" cell, I could accept the fact that she turned herself over willingly to avoid an international incident. But when the agent proceeds to apply electrical shocks because WW is unwilling to exchange Amazon technology for her freedom, she has superman-level strength and should have been able to escape any prison in which she was being wrongfully held.
Nemesis is borderline useless. He's got a major crush on Wonder Woman, not realizing that his partner is WW incognito. He berates Diana constantly for her lack of basic human instincts, while lusting not-so-secretly after her superhero persona. He's also a wisecracker. He's a white, shape-shifting Chris Tucker, and it's only in the series' fourth issue that he comes into his own as a useful character, and it's done nicely, too. Also a wisecracker? Don't laugh, but some of the best lines are spoken by Batman during the fourth issue as well, and that is all wrong for that character. He speaks lines you expect from Guy Gardner, not Bruce Wayne. My final writing complaint comes with the way this book ends, as Wonder Woman is locked in mortal combat and Picoult drops a major cliffhanger at the very end... and then turns the reigns of Wonder Woman over to the next writer. I'd have loved to see what Picoult could have done with two more issues, and it seems like she just didn't have the time to help finish what could have been a better series.
The artwork surprisingly jumped around a lot between these five issues. The first two were drawn by Drew Johnson (Supergirl, 52) and Rodney Ramos (Countdown to Final Crisis) with some conflicting styles. Johnson's work is pretty good, the character art looks great, and the frustration that appears on Diana's face whenever she faces something she doesn't understand looks perfect. Ramos' art isn't bad, but it definitely pales compared to Johnson's. Issues 3 and 4 were drawn by Terry Dodson (Marvel Knights: Spider-Man), and are not really much of a step up from Johnson and Ramos. It's obvious Dodson doesn't love drawing backgrounds, as he gives as many panels as he can get away with no backgrounds, characters performing against a blank slate. Some people defend this style, but it's not one I agree with unless used well, and Dodson doesn't carry it well enough. Finally, Paco Diaz (Teen Titans, X-Men: Emperor Vulcan) rounds of the artist merry-go-round with what probably amounts to my favorite work in this book. The fight scenes are incredibly captured, and the character work is the best of all the issues. It helps Picoult end the title in style, even if the writing and dialogue were less than they could have been.
Obviously, Jodi Picoult's run on Wonder Woman has it's flaws. The suboptimal writing and dialogue, the artwork carousel, and Nemesis' sidekick status detract from what could have been a much better take of a high-profile relaunch like WW. Also, there are no special features in this trade, like limited covers or any special interviews (except for an introduction written by the author). Still, despite the cracks in the facade, I liked this title enough to recommend it to Wonder Woman fans or those who might harbor interest in the most powerful female character ever in comics. I think Kirima would approve.