The first image in this issue took me right back to the Seventies and the cover to issue #246, with Diana in bed as a mystic force attends her. The shot is almost certainly a coincidence, but one I enjoyed. What follows is one of the best scenes Gail Simone has written since she took on this book, with a terribly creepy Ares, god of war, appearing to Diana and taunting her with weasel words. Artist Bernard Chang cranks up the atmosphere so Ares seems like the ghost Ebenezer Scrooge never met, there not to threaten, but to deliver a message. And their panel of a godly tongue licking Diana's lasso is one of the ickiest in a long while - there may be a subtext but I'm just not going there.
What's right with this scene is that it adds extra visual interest to Ares, as he bears the scars of Diana's axe, and that rather than being cowed, his words motivate Diana to face her foes. What's wrong with this scene is that it has no business being at the start of this issue.
Last month we ended with Diana having been informed by Achilles that he had her mother, Queen Hippolyte, strung up as a hostage. There can't be a reader who didn't expect - want - the continuation to begin with Diana's reaction, maybe a shot of the bound queen, prior to all hell breaking loose as Diana and temporary ally Giganta stuff Achilles' terms where the sun don't shine.
Now, confounding expectations can make for a great experience, but sometimes you have to give the reader what they want, because it makes sense for the story. The Ares scene could have been saved for some other time, with altered foreboding. It's followed by Hippolyte on New Themyscira (I forget its name, Gail rarely bothers with locations when we move scenes - too uncinematic I suppose, which is a terrible thing for, er, a comic book) visiting a mystically pregnant Amazon, with no reference to her ever having been imprisoned by Achilles.
It was at this point that I seriously wondered if I'd missed an issue, but we're finally informed, during a love tussle between 'prancing idiot' Achilles and rogue Amazon nut Alkyone, that Diana retreated after last issue's threats, leaving three of her gorilla chums to protect the Queen.
You what? The odd gorilla has already died as a result of loyalty to Diana - they're not invulnerable. Yet she's depending on them to protect her mother where her Amazon sisters could not? And the situation hardly equals a stalemate between Wonder Woman and the so-called Olympian - departing at the behest of Achilles leaves him free to continue his campaign to end world wars by killing soldiers (or something, the book hasn't made his campaign plans particularly clear).
Wonder Woman should be rallying all her allies to end the thread of Achilles and his army, but instead she tries to grab a good night's sleep. Gail has some fascinating, original ideas, creates attention-grabbing new characters and tweaks existing ones in interesting ways, and writes great scenes and dialogue (ignoring the awful line, 'Tonight I will introduce them to Diana reassembled'. Out of place Avengers in-joke or just a weird choice?). But the plot structure regularly gets peculiar, to say the least. Climaxes aren't followed up, important things happen off panel . . . I'd love to see evidence that editor Elisabeth Gehrlein sits down with Gail and works out where plot beats make sense. Perhaps the problems are less evident in trade form but at the moment the scattershot approach is harming this comic as a monthly read.
In other news . . . Artemis returns to the island with the Bana prisoners freed in Secret Six last month, and Amazon extra Persephone announces her as their likely saviour - not surprising, given supposed champion Diana's folding before Achilles. It's probably best not to try to work out where the S6 story fits with the last year of Wonder Woman, as there's no obvious point at which Diana left her Genocide/Ares/Alkyone/Achilles storylines to help free the dear ladies. Perhaps it was in between dumping gorillas and having her cocoa; a reference would have been nice. Did I mention I'd like a stronger editorial hand on this comic?
Good on Gail for having the balls to mention the Stygian hornets, one of the most ridiculed elements of DC's shameful Amazon Attacks mini series.
And well done for showing a bit of Diana's legendary Athenian wisdom in working out how to use the lasso to end her battle with Donna Troy. It's just a shame we didn't see how Achilles got her to throw in with him - Donna's apparently been flying around for several issues, off panel, waiting for someone to ask her to beat Diana up for perceived wrongs. Silly girl.
Then there's Achilles, who isn't so much a superheroic rival for Diana as Captain Henpecked, constantly bowing before off-her-bald-head Alkyone.
The assertion of Ares that Diana actually serves him rather than the more peaceful gods cuts nicely to the core dichotomy of Wonder Woman, that she's a warrior for peace.
Chang delivers, page after page. His Diana is a tad more Greek looking/stern-nosed (ducks) than regular artist Aaron Lopresti's, and as powerful, intelligent and dignified as you could wish for. The action scenes are as good as the Ares opener.
Lopresti shows up for the cover but wasn't there a proper brief? While Hippolyte does turn up at issue's end, pleading with Diana to let her play hostage (bleedin' Amazon perverts), nothing like the moment shown happens. If Donna had been substituted for Hippolyte, fine. When there's as much going on as there is inside this comic, there's no excuse for a cover that lies. Oh, and Bernard Chang is denied credit, with Lopresti being named this issue's interior artist. Again, editor?
So another enjoyable issue, but one that could have been better with a more reasonable plot structures.