By Andrew Stevens. DC released issue two this week of Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman, giving us another two stand alone stories with Diana of Themyscira.

The first story in this anthology format, “Taketh Away,” features Wonder Woman taking on her biggest opponent yet: the news media. They’ve finally come for her and are asking all sorts of pesky questions about her pagan past, and while this plotline doesn’t telegraph any hints concerning a Planned Parenthood ribbon cutting or an intern from Vassar wanting to learn “the way,” it did give me a flash of hope that the writers might be taking on weightier subject matter than that of issue one.

Early in the issue, Wonder Woman asserts her faith as a private matter, making only a small slip-up by stating that the old gods needn’t be worshipped by people of this world. Throwing aside his toxic tone, the host of Let’s Be Frank invites Wonder Woman to dinner. She declines in lieu of her reservations about Frank. (“…the hate barley masked behind claims of love…”)

Upon arriving home, Diana briefly questions whether there will be consequences awaiting her in forsaking the gods, but other problems come the Princess’ way. After being alerted to a crisis in Greenwich Village, she flies off to meet her next adversary: a well-educated white man who lost his job. This recently-fired doctor has brought a gun to his hospital in attempt to work some things out. Diana’s head is buzzing, but she presses on and takes a bullet. With her powers waining she endures some misogynistic comments, brutalizes the gunman off camera, and delivers him to the police.

Marcus To’s artwork in this issue is functional, combining well with colorist Andrew Dalhouse. The artist’s work finds some nice moments, like their presentation of the gunman action sequence, which lends the comic an amusing 1980s action movie atmosphere (overblown, dated, and one-dimensional). The two work by-the-numbers in moving the story forward, and seem driven not by the merits of the story, but by the desire to simply see this project though. The comic fails at every opportunity to lift itself a few inches beyond predictability, leaving the reader with nothing to do but to sigh.

And while arguments can be made that individual characters aren’t meant to represent their entire gender, or should be considered role models due to their fictional status, Wonder Woman is one of the longest running characters in American comics, and is wholly capable of shouldering such a burden. In previous Golden and Silver age comics (and more recently in the hands of Rucka and Azzarello) her engagement with the Greek pantheon, crimes against women, and her status against her male superhero counterparts gave the comic a rhetorical backbone and narrative edge that are seriously lacking in the Sensation Comics run.

Take the panel following Diana’s battle with Drakon – “Why did it have to be Drakons?” – where she enters her bathroom and looks in the mirror, only to find that her beauty has been lost. What makes the scene offensive, or at the least poorly handled, is that the creators decided to seek an additional creative avenue further than Diana’s failed attempt to fly, or her earlier failure to deflect bullets, to illustrate Wonder Woman’s apparent fall from grace. Instead writer Ivan Cohen chose to include this mirror sequence where she examines her beauty, implying that this will be the moment that one of the most powerful beings on earth will realize the gods have forsaken her. (“I am forsaken.”) Sure, we could be generous here and call it a “humanizing” of a superhero, or we could be bolder and represent it as lazy writing leaning on outdated gender norms.In the beginning there was a psychologist, who aside from being erroneously credited with the invention of the lie detector, William Moulton Marston created Wonder Woman. He based his creation on his psychological theory that women were superior to men (women could enslave men with their love) and sought a hero that might inspire young women to seize upon this opportunity. (If you’re interested exploring the origins of this Harvard-educated psychologist and his amazing family, you can read the book Wonder Woman: The Golden Age by Les Daniels (Chronicle Books, 2001).) The point is Wonder Woman, at her root, is as exciting a controversial figure with an agenda can be. With all that history in mind (that the present handlers of her legacy seem to avoid) both a complex engagement with the present moment, and any antics that might indicate an awareness of the character’s potential depth. These narratives are replaced with simple moral tales of no consequence.

“Taketh Away” does avoid the pitfall of issue one in bringing the villainous Cheetah into the story, rather than every single villain in Batman’s rogues gallery, but this is a small condolence compared to the large thematic, character, and pacing problems with which the story contends.

The second story with a pun-as-title is better executed. “Brace Yourself” is a coming of age narrative crafted in a child friendly style with bold lines and warm colors. (Along with an explanation of Diana’s commitment to truth, justice, and peace.) Once Diana encounters Athena during her initial girlhood rites, she discovers that in order to receive her second bracelet, she must defeat her mother – Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons – in combat. Hippolyta narrates the heartwarming tale of mother/daughter rivalry and the difficulties of letting go. This story handles the arc with a playful and light tone that offends less than the first, and at least leaves one feeling satisfied.

While this heartwarming narrative of classic motherhood offers little that is new, it does steer away from the numbing predictability generated in “Taketh Away.” However, it still contains the petty subjugation one would think is beyond the 21st century presentation of Wonder Woman. We see this most clearly when young Diana sneaks up on her mother showering in a waterfall: this presentation of female flesh, while in the course of Diana’s attempt at stealthy attacks feels natural, would never find a place in story of any male figure in the superhero pantheon. While this is a minor breach compared to the former tales’ mirror sequence, taken as a whole it communicates a creative effort that is rushed and uncaring of its content.

Overall, issue two improved over one by a thin margin. If they continue at this rate by issue ten we should reach a quality worthy of our money.

DC Comics/$3.99

Written by Ivan Cohen/Jason Bischoff.

Art by Marcus To/David Williams.

Colored by Andrew Dalhouse/Wendy Broome.

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