Wonder Woman: Historia

Can superstar creators Kelly Sue DeConnick and Phil Jimenez give Wonder Woman the epic, mythical origin she deserves?

DC have a long track record of producing complex, nuanced re-workings of the three major characters in their pantheon - the DC trinity. The majority of these lauded interpretations focus on Superman and Batman - the ‘big two’. It’s about time that Diana of Themyscira, Wonder Woman, gets her turn in the spotlight.

Wonder Woman: Historia is the latest in a recent line of books that looks to re-examine the mythological aspects of Diana’s origins. In Historia exquisite comic art blends with a sophisticated, almost academic approach to storytelling, befitting of the series Black Label status.

Note: At the time of meeting only volume 1 of Historia was available. Volume 2 has recently been released.

Paint me like one of your Amazonian women

Antiope reclining

First and foremost Historia is a truly beautiful book.

The oversized format, beloved of DC’s Black Label line, looks and feels premium. It’s a format that harks back to 90s Marvel one-shot graphic novels or the larger A4 European comics. As with almost every other ‘tentpole’ comic release these days Historia also comes with a set of alternative ‘collectible’ covers. Of the five of us, Jake and Kelv managed to secure copies with a Jimenez cover. Tom, Paul and I ‘made do’ with the (admittedly lovely) alternative by Olivier Coipel.

It’s difficult to talk about Historia without heaping praise upon Phil Jimenez’s glorious art work. His art flows across pages into seamless, epic double page spreads in a manner that evokes JH Williams seminal work on Sandman. There’s so much detail, so much vibrancy and dynamism, that it can become a little overwhelming. Once in a while his panel construction gets a bit too complex, a bit too sophisticated for us mere mortals to follow.

The level of detail in each individual Amazon is incredible

Then again, this is a book about gods. Maybe we just need to up our game a little :-)

Repro imperfecto

In a couple of places we spotted a few problems with the quality and reproduction of the print. Some of the images looked less than pin sharp, with vaguely fuzzy edges on what should’ve been razor sharp line work. This was disappointing, especially as the rest of the book is so well put together.

And one particular double-page spread just feels… ill-judged. The focus of the page composition - the mighty goddess Hera - is slap bang in the middle of the page.

Page composition more suited to digital than print

In our hard copies Jimenez’s glorious rendition of Hera is almost entirely obscured by the fold of the spine. In this instance a quick look at the digital version reveals the full glory of the artwork, unhindered by the glue of the binding.

Perhaps this is one of those rare books that might actually benefit from being read digitally?

Women’s rights

As might be expected from writer Kelly Sue DeConnick Historia delivers a powerful vision of Wonder Woman’s world that pulls no punches. The Amazons are born from the frustrations, anger and rightful resentment of women’s treatement by men throughout the ages. Men are the problem, gods included. That they cannot (will not) see it drives the conception of a new race of powerful women who encapsulate each and every aspect of womanhood.

The never-ending crimes of men are powerfully documented in a double-page spread of thousands of vases each detailing an act of violence by men against women. Every vase is different, but they all reiterate the same sombre message. It’s a breathtaking page that provoked a strong sense of patriarchal guilt from all of us reading.

Vases detailing the crimes of men against women throughout history

Comic book or dissertation?

Historia is an origin of origins that refines and resets every Amazon in DC lore. What it might not be is an easily readable comic book!

It could be argued that Historia functions as more of a text book, a historical guide book to Amazonian history, than a comic book (graphic novel) in any real sense. Jake, who studied the classics, keenly felt the connection and the similarities to the structure of those ancient stories. It certainly feels as though DeConnick set out to write something that felt timeless, authoratitive and worthy of regard alongside more ‘serious’ works. However, this is not Wonder Woman’s Dark Knight or Superman’s All Star Superman - it’s something different, more considered, more literary. Comparisons with the tone and feel of Gaiman’s Sandman came up time and time again in our discussions and I think they hold true.

Something to note is that while Kelly Sue’s distinctive voice remains constant across all three volumes, the artists change on each volume. Whether that will affect the book I don’t know. Historia is certainly something special and I look forward to seeing where it goes from here.

The scores

-Tom ⭐⭐⭐⭐

-Paul ⭐⭐⭐⭐

-Jake ⭐⭐⭐

-Dan ⭐⭐⭐⭐

-Kelvin ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Slaughter House 5: A Graphic Novel Adaptation

Adaptations can have mixed results. Some stories are even deemed unfilmable, or in this case unillustratable. When in bookshop Mr B’s Emporium earlier this year I mentioned Ryan North and Albert Monteys’ graphic novel they were surprised it had been attempted! Of our group, Paul and Jake had already read the source novel but the rest of us had not. I felt the need to rectify this when I had finished the GN and I honestly couldn’t see what they were all worrying about!

Classic newspaper strip style panels

Yes, Slaughterhouse 5 is a challenging story: it jumps about through the lead’s life; it begins with the author explaining just what this book you’re holding in your hands is; it features aliens shaped like a hand stuck on top of a plunger; and most importantly, it deals with the horrors of war. But this graphic novel could not have handled all that any more straightforwardly. And I don’t mean to belittle it with that comment, nor to gloss over the pages where Monteys changes up his style to ape a different aesthetic. It is just a perfectly executed piece of graphic fiction.

Monteys takes on a storyboard approach

It helps for me that the European style is just up my ally. Monteys’ line is slick with a cel shaded colour style, his cast have exaggerated features and the panel style is often a very regimented grid. You happily read the captions and the speech balloons, all the time easily following the action as it plays out.

But it’s the action that readers have been furrowing their brows at for the last fifty years, and so for this book to so gently guide the reader through the life of Billy Pilgrim is to be applauded. It also helps that non-linear storytelling and even the concept that all time exists as one single moment has been fed into popular fiction during that time. I’m thinking specifically of the character of Doctor Manhattan from Moore & Gibbon’s Watchmen, for Vonnegut’s Tralfamadorians experience time in exactly the same way the blue superhero does.

There is no free will if everything happens at once

That is not the only heady topic to be found in the book and it is a set text for some students. Even a philosophical discussion. Vonnegut’s writing is often anti-American and it is spelled out at the beginning as his anti-war story. In the book, when someone dies the line is always So it goes, and no more devastating a instance of that is the bombing of Dresden. It is no spoiler to bring this up here as it is partly the theses for the piece. Kurt was there, and so places his fictional character there too. Through Billy, he is able to externalise his experiences.

Bombed out Dresden

Vonnegut then gifts Billy the ability to move through time like his aliens do. If things are too awful in the present, he can instead be somewhere else. For someone who has experienced such horrific trauma, it’s possible that those events would feel like they were happening constantly. If that was the case, imagine being able to relive the better times constantly instead.

Billy's happiest moment

Now, why in summing up do I feel I have lost the spark of when speaking about the work the creative team have done adapting the story? Partly it is the homework aspect. Like when I picked Don Quixote some time ago, the sheer weight of this American Classic limits my ability to be enthused. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone without a passing knowledge of the source book, like me not even knowing what the five referred to (it’s the fifth slaughterhouse, not, for instance, five people in a slaughterhouse).

But for someone looking for a new interpretation of the work I don’t think it could have been done better, and I highly encourage people to check out other works by Ryan North like Squirrel Girl (with Erica Henderson) and also Albert Monteys’ Universe, which is itself quite mind-bending too.

This review is finished, so it goes.

-Tom ⭐⭐⭐

It was an enjoyable graphic novel but I can’t view it as a standalone work.
-Paul ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Comics is the perfect medium for this story and Ryan North had the CV to do it well.
-Jake ⭐⭐⭐⭐

It’s too all over the place for me. I like non-lineaer but the weird whimsy was too much.
-Dan ⭐⭐⭐

I don’t love or hate it but it felt like a worthy read.
-Kelvin ⭐⭐⭐

Batman - Creature Of The Night

In tribute to John Paul Leon I picked this rather strange tale of Batman. I expected to at the very least enjoy JPL’s great art, and was optimistic that we’d also get an enjoyably original Batman tale.

I have to confess, I have no idea when this meetup occurred nor do I have much recollection of what was said. I’ve scanned through my notes and have been able to glean that essentially we were all finding it a bit of a drudge to read. And I totally concur.

When hit with difficult, cursive handwritten styled lettering in dense blocks of text as someone who is currently reluctant to read anything I just shut the book. It wasn’t the font, as I’d been practising calligraphy, but the blocks and blocks and blocks to grok. It turns out the rest of the gang felt the friction too.

Bruce's altered childhood

But ok, the story’s going to be good right? Kurt Busiek? He can write? Ooh this Batman is bonkers and… some kind of ghost avatar of Bruce’s splintered mind?

That could and should have been an interesting proposition but it turned out to be rather hokey.

And I don’t really have much to say on it. It’s taken me months and months to get round to writing this up but I really struggled. I can’t describe how ho-hum the story and dialogue is. But the artwork, if you’re a JPL fan, is good. There are some lush panels. They’re dark, oppressive and melancholic.

Batman villains

Some of the more fun moments were when JPL depicts from a specific Batman era. From Golden, Silver, Bronze and modern. The others hated the muted colours. I felt it suited the mood. Overall we felt disappointed in pretty much the same ways. And we all gave it 3 out of 5 stars each. Which means “meh”.

Safe?

Madi

Are comics better than movies? How many artists is too many? Is oversized the right size?

The June edition of The Comic Book Club are here to answer these pressing questions. This month we have all been reading Duncan Jones’ sci-fi fable, Madi.

Let’s get into it!

Kickstarted

There are a fair few different versions of Madi available. Tom was in early on the Madi Kickstarter campaign and got a very nice oversized hardback for his trouble. The rest of us picked up the less-snazzy and far more normal-size trade paperback. Tom’s deluxe hardback definitely has the Wow! factor and make our standard versions feel a bit… dowdy in comparison.

On a material level at least Tom was pretty pleased with his Kickstarter reward. The Kickstarter was a success and the the final product arrived only a little later than scheduled. Apparently Tom had feared the worst after being let down by the non-arrival of a Great Big Hawaiian Dick from a previously-backed KS project.

“I like it. It’s really thick”
Tom

The book of the film

According to the blurb on Z2 comics, Madi’s publisher, the book is “the third and final story in the ‘Mooniverse,’ an anthology of independent stories that take place in a shared future.”. While we’d all agree that it shares common themes, styling and tone with both Moon and Mute none of us spotted any direct links or references beyond a few possible background easter-eggs. That doesn’t mean they’re not there though.

I think that, on some subconcious level at least, we were all wondering why Madi was a comic book and not the third movie in a trilogy. More often than not reading Madi certainly felt like working through an illustrated adaptation of an early-draft movie script.

A sliver of the rather huge Madi deluxe hardback cover

Kelv saw the whole thing as a storyboard, with sparse, snappy dialog dotted across pages and clearly intended to be spoken not read. Tom commented on the cinematic wide shots dotted throughout the book, used cinematically to establish new locations and deliver a blast of visual spectacle.

Meanwhile, Paul noted Madi’s script-like qualities as the story moves through its three act structure, punctuated with showpiece action scenes. He also mentioned the huge array of characters, most of whom would’ve warranted but a few seconds of screen time in a 2 hour movie. Placing them on the page seems to elevate their importance and meant Paul spent a lot of his time trying to keep track of them all.

“This book is a square peg hammered into a very round hole”
Paul

I can only agree with everyone here. Many of the sequences in Madi have a kinetic, filmic quality to them. They feel like they were intended to play out on screen rather than on paper. Once you notice it, it becomes difficult to shake off. At worst it’s kinda distracting…

Too many cooks?

One of the most interesting things about Madi is how the artist switches every 6-10 pages or so. This very quickly becomes quite challenging to read as each new sequence lurches into a radically different art style from the last. Although there’s a broad sense of consistency in character design the wildly-varying art styles still make for oddities and non-descript faces, especially among the huge cast of ‘secondary’ characters.

Naturally, given the wide and varied tastes among CBC members, we all gravitated towards different artists. I was a fan of the strong opening section set in a future Camden Lock by Dylan Teague. It felt very Euro, like a feature strip from Heavy Metal. Kelv wasn’t so keen but could still appreciate the detail in Teague’s artwork.

Tom singled out a sequence set in Vegas drawn by James Stokoe as his least favourite. Personally I really liked Stokoe’s scruffily detailed art.

Future Vegas as drawn by James Stokoe

Jake wasn’t familiar with a lot of the artists but did recognise those with a strong 2000ad connection, primarily Glenn Fabry and Simon Bisley. He wasn’t too fond of the chopping and changing styles, finding it a distraction from the narrative.

Kelv pointed out that, due to the size of the book, it would’ve been a gargantuan undertaking for a single artist to complete. Perhaps the mix’n’match approach was dictated more by the need for a timely delivery than an intentional artistic direction?

Simon Bisley's 'approval' sketch for his Madi sequence. If it had all looked like this...

The one thing we could all agree on. art-wise, was that a fight sequence illustrated by Bisley was really disappointing.

“I used to be a Bisley fanboi but now I wish he’d just grow up a bit”
Dan

Once upon a time… in the future

Overall Madi is a big ol’ mish-mash of ideas pulled in from numerous classic sci-fi, cyberpunk and horror sources.

As far as I can tell, the plotting and story is by Duncan Jones. Well-regarded comics scribe Alex De Campi providing the finishing touches.

At the time of reading only Kelv had seen both Moon and Mute. Everyone had seen Moon and were unanimous in our appreciation of a bona fide slowburn sci-fi classic.

The film poster for Moon

Kelv hadn’t really gelled with Mute and so was a bit worried how he’d feel about another story set in the ‘Mooniverse’. As mentioned above, the first few pages didn’t grab him but, once past those, he felt Madi found it’s groove and he blitzed through the rest.

“Oh no! This might be pants!’
Kelv

Jake thought it somehow worked as a strangely grounded near-future sci-fi fable in the vein of 90s 2000ad spin-off Crisis.

“I usually forget stuff but this… I couldn’t remember anything about it after my first read through”
Jake

Ironically the script-like qualities made it an easy read as there’s minimal dialog and limited exposition. Somehow it does also manage to meander as well, despite being propelled forwards by the aforementioned big-time action sequences.

The denouement featuring repeated body-swapping and personality switching was pretty exciting and delivers a pretty decent pay-off, especially for one of the supporting characters who gets his well-deserved time in the spotlight.

Wrap-up

As a not-that-original mashup of many, many different influences I think I can say that we all liked Madi but didn’t exactly love it.

As a hefty graphic novel it’s a fast read despite it’s size, and is chock-full of interesting imagery and exciting action sequences. Due to the wide array of artists, and a story that just feels shaped and structured to appear on the big screen, Madi can’t help but feel like a bit of chimera.

Jake and Tom are planning a re-read. Kelv and Paul probably won’t. I suspect I’ll just flick through and look at the best bits.

Scores

  • Dan - ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
  • Tom - ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
  • Jake - ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
  • Kelv - ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
  • Paul - ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

That’ll be a solid ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ then :-)

The Seeds

The Seeds is a landmark release for a number of reasons:

  1. It is a team-up between superstar creators Ann Nocenti and David Aja.
  2. It is Aja’s most high-profile project since his legendary Hawkeye run with Matt Fraction.
  3. It is the latest release by the Berger Books imprint.
  4. But most significantly of all, it is my first pick since joining Da Comic Book Club.

(For context, Dan suggested my coming along in the early days when we worked together with Kelvin, but geography and my inability to drive from Cardiff to anywhere at the time never mind Bradford-on-Avon got in the way. Now in the Zoom era, such boundaries are meaningless. And I now have a licence.)

CBC NOTE: Welcome to the crew Mr McGarvey!

The Seeds tells the story of… something? Set in an alternative near-future dystopia set in a stylised world where society is splintering along lines of those addicted to tech as the world crumbles and those who have turned their back on digital modernity, the narrative takes place against the backdrop of nature beginning to behave oddly as flora and fauna mutate. And the bees are swarming ominously.

And there are also aliens, I guess?

A recurring theme in all of our verdicts is that clarity of storytelling was not a prominent feature in this book.

Lovely art, the problem is reading it

Dan went first and noted he read the first two issues when they came out, and was surprised to see the complete graphic novel appear two years later. He initially bought the issues because of David Aja and his art, and praised the “Ryan Hughesy” cover. He kept going over the cover and appreciated its texture. He particularly loved the image of alien with seeds coming out of his eyes.

Then he started reading it and remembered why he didn’t follow up after two issues. As glorious as Aja’s monochrome, single tone “greeny stuff” was, and as wonderful as the design and layout was, he did get quite lost. It was hard to tell who was who, especially with the aliens, even the ones who you think would stand out for having their junk out.

“Strangely enough my levels of knob recognition are not up to scratch.”

Dan was particularly annoyed by the thin characterisation. The two main human characters were a female journalist woman with glasses and a cool woman in wheelchair, and such physical defining features are a poor shorthand when you don’t give either character a personality.

Ultimately, it was lovely to look at, but Dan would chop out pictures and frame them and never read it again.

⭐ ⭐

Classic Karen Berger

Tom’s first comment was that a distressed cover is annoying as you are not going to be able to sell the book on. He appreciated that it had a dimpled cover, rather than spot varnish. This made it feel like a file, something a bit retro from on office, which fits in with the old-school journalism angle. He added that originally the story was just about the reporter but editor Karen Berger said that’s not good enough and they shoved aliens in it.

As much as he found it weirdly compulsive, Tom was banging his head against wall wanting to understand what was going on. In that sense it was like a Classic Karen Berger Vertigo book, with a lot of story and words going on in one issue. He found it unsettling and unnerving, but was not sure he liked it.

Reading it through for second time gave a better handle of the story, but he was still confused by a bunch of stuff happening. The bit on Mars didn’t seem to have much to do with the overall narrative.

Tom said he really love the artwork style and artwork itself, and wondered how much of it was photo referenced. It was realistic but not photo realistic. The use of a nine-panel grid throughout the book called back to Watchmen, but that decision to make the panel progression as clear as possible just added to the sense of it being overwhelmed by the amount of story.

Tom didn’t have a lot to say about it overall. It was hard work in a good way, but he didn’t come away with a happy feeling.

Another middling book from Berger Books.

She knows what she likes obviously, perfect example of the stuff she’s put out before, so what you would expect.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Urban grit and alien shit

I found the first two parts interesting as I’m a sucker for both grimy sci-fi and neo-noir, so the blending of these styles was always going to be in my wheelhouse. Initially it made me think of one of my favourite 90s films, Dark City, with its combination of urban grit and mad alien shit.

However, the more I read on, the less I understood. The world-building threw in lots of interesting elements, but ultimately raised distracting questions. I gave the example of journalists working of retro computers with green letters on a black screen. This was as contrived a stylistic choice as the 1940s stylings in Kelv’s beloved Batman: The Animated Series, but it pulled me out of the narrative rather than created an intriguing mood or aesthetic.

Retro tech just doesn’t cut it in a story heavily based around modern smartphones.

I was a bit more positive about it than everyone else, despite my reservations about the overly opaque and elliptical storytelling, but much like everyone else that was down to the art.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

BoJack Horseman

Kelvin loved the artwork as well. It felt like Hawkeye without the colours.

He read The Seeds in two parts. Initially he picked it up and thought it would be horribly depressing, an apocalyptic not quite future where basically humans are awful, and thought “I can’t read this”. He stopped in the first issue, then came back and read the whole thing on a day off.

He got what everyone else was saying about not knowing what was going on, but did like the Bojack Horseman cameo in the bar. The dialogue in that panel was very Bojack Horseman. Unfortunately this was the most interesting character in this book, as he couldn’t care less about the cynical bespectacled journalist who doesn’t brush her teeth but has a heart of gold and uncovers the truth.

He noted that it came out in June 2020, mid-pandemic, and that there was a reason why Animal Crossing was the best-selling game of 2020. He was really looking forward to post-Covid where he didn’t have to read depressing shit until at least the Third World War.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Science people doing bee stuff

Jake questioned what was all the seeds stuff about, as he didn’t get that at all? Which doesn’t bode well for a book called The Seeds. The story didn’t follow through on its apparent premise. There were some science people in the background doing some bee stuff, but they just disappeared. It felt like the creators had an idea, got halfway through, then decided it wasn’t interesting and wanted to do something else but they had already called it Seeds.

There was a lot of elements thrown in all the way through, like the talking bird, that didn’t serve a purpose. While some people would love the mystery of it all, for the book to work there has to be some meaning. He didn’t think the creators had worked any of it out. They just wanted to write some cool stuff in the genre, and they achieved that.

By the end, Jake felt he didn’t know anything at all about what had happened, of if any of the characters had achieved anything.

There were no characters in it at all.

Despite this, he quite liked it, if you take it for what is - a pretentious book. It looked lovely. He felt kind of sad he hadn’t bought the book. It doesn’t work on the iPad.

He also loved the artwork, and would be happy to read anything by the artist, but probably won’t read anything more by the writer.

The artwork reminded him more of V For Vendetta than Watchmen, with all Aja’s art being reminiscent of David Lloyd. Sometimes it does feel like he has a photo and just ran it by a filter, but if he has drawn it by hand, then he’s a genius.

It was a thing; Jake was pleased to have read it. The narration device made it difficult to get into, with internal thoughts, but not internal dialogue.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐