It's months since DC announced that The Rise of the Olympian was the epic that would create a new buzz around Wonder Woman. I'm such a saddo that the very fact that Aaron Lopresti and Brad Anderson's excellent cover sported a special banner made me excited. The comic? Not so much.
It's not that there wasn't good stuff here from writer Gail Simone, artists Lopresti and Matt Ryan. The return of the Greek gods to the book - gone since they fell victim to an evil crossover - was intriguing. They're symbolically reborn from a gryphon on an Ichor spacecraft, in identical jumpsuits. There's a strangely confused Zeus and Athena, and Olympus is covered in Apokoliptian graffiti and, it's implied, worse. Most intriguing was Athena apparently losing her faith in her champions and choosing to give up her immortality. The fact that this happened off-panel, and it's reported by Mercury - the trickster god - has me suspicious. And I liked the narration, especially the references to 'a pre-civilised world of magic and war' and order/chaos; could the planet be DC's repository of magic, Gemworld, scene of many a battle between the Lords of Order and Chaos?
The page with Hippolyte sensing the return of her gods was eerie, and I loved her tracing Diana's W symbol/the constellation Cassiopeia in the wet sand; it seemed very human, and that makes for a Hippolyte we've not seen for awhile.
It was excellent to see Diana reading Sarge Steel's eyes, thinking 'I don't need the lasso to know he's lying'. This could be read in two ways, with it indicating that she still has the truth power John Byrne saddled her with; I read it as reinforcing that the lie detector is in the lasso solely, and here she's using simple human nous. It was also splendid to see Diana's tiara isn't just decorative, it retains the razor-sharp properties of former years, and Diana isn't shy of using it. I much prefer to see her classic ensemble get some play rather than the swords and axes we've seen in recent years.
The power and cruelty of new villain Genocide was suitably nasty, as she splats ordinary folk at a shopping mall she's attacked. And I appreciated the pluck of Nemesis as he stood up to fellow agents sicced on him by his boss, Sarge Steel, who believes he's a traitor to the US via his consorting with Amazons.
And the scene with Barbara Minerva - in human form rather than were-cat - brushing off T.O. Morrow's qualms about the Genocide creature he's created did a good job of carrying story info while hinting at the true evil of the newcomer.
What I didn't like was how ready said colleagues were to treat Tom Tresser like dirt. But then, there's something in the air among the DMA staff, with Agent Diana Prince quite out of character in her hotheaded attitude towards Steel, displaying signs of dependency on Tom's presence (which is later mirrored by his over-the-top fretting when racing back to her). Sure, she knows Steel's out to prove she's an Amazon sympathiser, but losing it in front of her new strike team is uncharacteristic to say the least. It could be that this is part of the psychological hoodoo Diana suspects Genocide of using against her, but Diana was acting oddly even before they met.
I wasn't at all keen on Diana announcing her diplomatic status to Genocide on first meeting - there's a time and a place, and that's not when innocents are trapped in a building, at the mercy of an unknown quantity. Plus, Diana's amazement that she might be facing a god . . . has she ever read her own comic?
Saddled with the Diana Prince as super-secret agent set-up by previous creators, Simone shows us just how wrong this role is for a heroine in hiding. On reaching the site of the massacre, Diana immediately has confidante Etta Candy make her excuses so she can become Wonder Woman. A secret ID which means she has to be in the exact same place as her more colourful self won't last for long. With any luck, Simone's highlighting of this will pave the way for a new status quo for Prince.
Genocide could become the major player DC hopes - the air of shame she creates is a first in comics - but first she has to develop a more charismatic personality. She has an obsession with homes, and a cruel streak that appalls Diana, but that's about it. Her lumpy grey skin reminds me of Superman foe Doomsday, raising the possibility that her creators, Darkseid lackey Libra and the Secret Society, spiked his DNA into a captured godling. My first thought is old WW bad girl Devastation, but she already has more than enough power to take on Diana. We know, courtesy of a DC preview, that Genocide is a kind of golem, which is how Diana - created from clay - is described by creators and readers who don't get that Diana was made flesh, she's no creature of mud. That leads me back to wondering if Deva is indeed involved here, given that she was created by dark gods on the night of Diana's birth.
The mystery of Genocide certainly has me intrigued, and I look forward to finding out more. I also hope to learn more about Diana's team while they're in the book - I expect at least one of them to die during this storyline, and wonder if another will become new hero The Olympian - well, Mike D'Alessio is pretty much a Mediterranean name . . . OK, I'm reaching here.
The artwork was really nice, with Lopresti, Ryan and colourist Anderson combining to tell the story with style. Hippolyte must be a favourite of Lopresti, as she never looks better than under his pencil, and Agent Prince's team are pleasingly distinctive. The scene with Nemesis resisting arrest was a corker, and the fight between Diana and Genocide was effective.
Effective, but it should have felt bigger. That's my only real complaint about a basically solid issue - the story should have felt more intense, the art should have made things seem scarier. For example, when Agent Prince's team arrive at the mall, a splash page shows us the crushed building, vehicles barricaded around to stop anyone getting in or out. But there's no immediate feeling of danger, of horror. I'm always quick to point out where I think DC's titles are overly violent (>cough< Geoff Johns) but here the story demands an initial sense of outrage. We could have been shown bodies strewn around, or sobbing loved ones outside. There is a telling point soon afterwards involving the contents of the cars, and the splat killings mentioned above, but an initially awful image would have cranked up the fear factor.
Still, this was the beginning of a multi-parter, so there's plenty of time for things to get really bad. Yes, I'd have preferred a bigger bang, but slower build-ups can be effective too. Diana is affected by Genocide psyche-out, I'm a victim of the DC hype machine.