Every now and then, Themyscira just up and goes away, and we have to pretend it means anything. Most recently, it’s happened as part of the latest Wonder Woman mega-arc, although it got crowded out of the discussion a bit by the whole “Diana? In a jacket and pants?” thing. Before that, it happened in Infinite Crisis, and I’ll be honest – Infinite Crisis probably coincided with the heaviest “DC period” of my comics readership, if you want to call it that, but I have no clue how that plotline resolved at all. This is emblematic, to a point, of the general history of Wonder Woman. People shout a lot, but who’s listening unless it’s to once again dredge up the tired old debate of star-spangled swimsuit vs. anything else?
So let’s look at War of the Gods — arguably the biggest event of Wonder Woman’s publishing history, structure-wise, and see if we can’t find clues as to why even her mega-event crossover has slipped from the collective memory. Join me after the jump and we’ll get moving.
War of the Gods is in part about Man’s World — that’s us! — coming to the brink of outright war with the Amazonian motherland of Themyscira. If this seems familiar, that’s because it was rehashed recently in another, more modest crossover, Amazons Attack!. If you don’t remember Amazons Attack!, it’s okay. Even those of us who claim to wish we could forget probably actually have forgotten by now. It just serves us in bringing us back to the central point of questioning why nothing in Wonder Woman’s world can ever quite seem as fresh as it should.
I choose to lay blame at the feet of George Perez. Over the course of five years, Perez took an inherently goofy character and reduced her to core components: Diana, Princess of the Amazons, empowered by the Greek pantheon to go be the Amazons’ emissary (yes, I’m aware that I’m simplifying). And he could have left it at that, played fast and loose, and taken what we might call “the Incredible Herc approach,” where action and humor leaven a mythology that is often pretty ridiculous. No offense; so are superhero comics. But Perez took the opposite tack, and used the Greek-myth aspect of Wonder Woman as a means of giving her adventures weight and scope, rebuilding her entire world without it’s once-signature high camp. Perez made it okay for a comic book to be completely ambitious and self-serious (even pretentious, at times) despite being about a grown woman who dresses in a shining gold bustier and blue panties with stars on them, so that she can fight crime with her magic rope. He also made her hair curly, although I was still a toddler when this happened, so I don’t know if it caused as much of a flap as putting some pants on.
In this respect, George Perez is Wonder Woman’s Frank Miller (Make your own “WHORES WHORES WHORES” joke here, since I got nothing). Think about Daredevil pre- and post-Miller; after Miller’s exit, every long-term Daredevil writer has largely been content to sit in his shadow and perpetuate the themes of his run. How many times has Matt Murdock’s soul been shattered? Karl Kesel’s brief stint is about the only notable exception I can think of, and Scott Lobdell’s even briefer one the only non-notable (and with good reason). So it is with Perez and Wonder Woman. While writers have occasionally branched off into variations on the theme, everyone from William Messner-Loebs to John Byrne to Gail Simone has embraced the Perez model, where Diana the Warrior Princess, both down to Earth and not of this world, interacts with Man’s World while solemn-faced mythological machinations bubble around her. This is why Wonder Woman’s events are never as big as, say, Batman’s or the X-Men’s (we’ll leave the gender-related line of questioning to other blogs for now). While people have certainly written good Wonder Woman stories since Perez, no one has really written anything that’s felt in any way completely new. Consider No Man’s Land or E Is for Extinction. While the new Wonder Woman storyline might be an attempt at such a reinvention, it’s still working with inherited parts.Continued below
The reason all of this is important when considering War of the Gods is that this crossover was meant to be George Perez’s last word on Wonder Woman. It was a 50th-anniversary celebration of the character, a reinforcement of her ties to and importance within the greater DC organism, and the culmination of themes he’d been building upon throughout his run on the title. Yet when looking at it, the most immediate food for thought is how much it’s been cannibalized for other stories. If George Perez is to Wonder Woman as Frank Miller is to Daredevil (or Denny O’Neil is to Green Arrow, or Alan Moore is to Swamp Thing…), then why is what should be the magnum opus of his tenure such a footnote?
Part of the reason War of the Gods rests in obscurity is poor timing. Obviously, to coincide with five years of Perez and fifty of Wonder Woman, the publishing date of the story had to be a bit set in stone. The problem is that this pushed War of the Gods out of the door before DC’s big summer annual event, Armageddon 2001, had even properly resolved. The resolution of Wonder Woman’s ongoing plotlines isn’t as snappy a marketing headline as the mystery of Monarch’s true identity, and Perez himself later complained at the lack of marketing push behind his story. Another timing issue came from Perez himself: while writing and doing the layouts to War of the Gods (and writing the tie-in issues of Wonder Woman), he was also penciling The Infinity Gauntlet for Marvel. Again, what’s quicker to send a buzz up your spine: George Perez writing the Greek gods, or George Perez drawing the entire damn Marvel Universe?
Another problem keeping War of the Gods from marquee status in history is the sheer amount of superfluous stuff floating around in its nearly thirty-part structure. It’s not far off from the typical crossover structure of today — look at how Secret Invasion unfolded across its own title and the Avengers books to tell its “core” story. But imagine if instead of just having a Secret Invasion mark slapped on the cover, every last tie-in was given a “Part x of 80” numbering, no matter how tenuous the connection to the story? That’s what War of the Gods did. Some issues counted as parts of the story failed to do this; this is why, going off of covers alone, there appear to be pieces of the story missing. You might wonder, looking at Starman #38 or Hawkworld #16, what Will Payton and Katar Hol have to do with the war between Themyscira and the military. To be honest, I’m still wondering for some of them. It’s Wonder Woman’s 50th birthday, though — it’d be rude not to invite everyone to the party, even if some guests are more tedious to be around than others.
This overstuffed quality did have at least one high point worth seeking out: Suicide Squad #58, featuring the Squad’s assault on Circe’s citadel late in the story. Part of Squad‘s modus operandi was to gather up obscure DC characters and feed them into the meat grinder. So after Grant Morrison wrote himself into DC continuity in Animal Man, where better to tie up that loose end? Beyond that, though, it’s as hit-and-miss as any other megacrossover. It all comes down to how much you care about who wins in a Flash vs. Hermes race, or the ramifications of the Greek-centric shenanigans in other pantheons, or exactly what Maxie Zeus is up to during all of this.
All of that distracts from the main point, which I’ve sort of intentionally avoided thus far. Stripped to it’s vital components, War of the Gods is a Wonder Woman story, and it’s success or failure can best be judged on that level alone. More than that, it’s a Wonder Woman story in George Perez’s distinct style, which isn’t for everyone. Those looking for high camp should stick to the Sekowsky days; this is serious business. Maybe too serious, in fact. There’s a cast of thousands, and all of them have grave proclamations to make as they slip in and out of the story’s focus. War of the Gods may be a fitting end to Perez’s Wonder Woman run, ramping up all of his pet themes to critical mass and giving panel time to the large supporting cast he’d created, but as an event unto itself, it can be nigh-on impenetrable at times. Whether this is a satisfying conclusion or hot-air overkill entirely depends on your personal context for it.Continued below
Still, it doesn’t change the fact that War of the Gods takes the “more is more” approach to an almost lethal extreme. Issues are jam-packed with characters to the point that most of them have a page (tops) to demonstrate their relevance and get out of the way. To compensate, they deliver enormous scrolls of dialogue, even when smashing each other’s faces. When they’re standing still, they talk even more. When there are no characters around to talk, there are purple, Claremont-esque captions. War of the Gods is so intent on telling that the showing often suffers.
The most damning point against War of the Gods as being an event worth digging up is the sheer repetition of the contemporary history of its heroine. As mentioned above, Wonder Woman falls into the same grooves often, and favors variation over reinvention. Part of this is the set-up inherited from Perez. Diana is from a society that’s just about perfect; otherwise they wouldn’t call it “Paradise Island.” Smashing it or obliterating it or cutting it out is a shortcut for drama, because what’s more melodramatic than Paradise Lost?
Nearly every plot element in War of the Gods can be found in some other, more recent Wonder Woman story, and it’s hard to recommend any one of them based on anything other than the reader’s personal taste. Still, there’s something to be said for being the first and the most packed, right?
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