Friday, October 27, 2017

Evil Wonders: Wonder Woman #33

The following is my review of Wonder Woman #33, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


No matter how dysfunctional a family is, there's usually some kind of sentiment binding it together. That sentiment isn't always healthy. Many sitcoms, good and bad alike, are built on that kind of dysfunction. Add gods, demigods, and superheroes to the mix and that dysfunction takes on a level that even the trashiest prime-time sitcom can't match. Wonder Woman's family may not have that kind of dysfunction, but whenever gods and demigods enter the mix, it usually means she'll eventually start punching something.

Wonder Woman's family already has its share of complications, thanks largely to an origins story that is still muddled between clay figurines and Zeus not being able to keep it in his pants again. The events of Darkseid Wars adds another complication in the form of Grail, who is basically the anti-Wonder Woman. As the daughter of Darkseid and a self-professed daddy's girl, she exists to spit on everything Wonder Woman stands for while looking more menacing than any illegitimate offspring that Zeus could ever sire.

Grail is one of those characters who has the potential to be a true nemesis to Wonder Woman. Superman has Lex Luthor. Batman has the Joker. Wonder Woman really doesn't have anyone on that level who isn't a renegade god or demigod. Grail, after taking down the entire Justice League in Darkseid Wars, can challenge Wonder Woman on every conceivable level. Wonder Woman #33 finally puts Grail in that position and James Robinson makes the most of it.

Darkseid War introduced Grail, but offers little insight into who she is and what motivates her. She never comes off as an overly complex character. There's no effort to craft some elaborate story about how she ends up on the path of evil. Her father is Darkseid. Evil is literally in her blood and she doesn't even try to avoid that. She embraces it. Like Lex Luthor and the Joker, she is not in conflict with who she is. She's evil and she's fine with that. That kind of self-awareness may be basic, but it's oddly refreshing in an era where too many villains try to come off as tragic figures.

That simple, streamlined persona helps move the story along. Wonder Woman #33 isn't just about establishing Grail as someone who can battle Wonder Woman without relying entirely on played out themes from Greco-Roman mythology. It's about tying her story into Wonder Woman's world, specifically the ongoing conflict with her long lost brother. Again, Wonder Woman's divine brands of family dysfunction are complicated, but that makes Grail's simplicity all the more appropriate.

Like Wonder Woman, much of Grail's story revolves around her family. She isn't just driven by her dark heritage. She actively works to protect and preserve it. The recent events surrounding Dark Knights: Metal puts Darkseid in a strange, but vulnerable position. After his defeat, he reverts to the form of an infant and it's up to Grail to play the role of mother to her father. It sounds weird, but when Greco-Roman traditions involve multiple instances of incest, infidelity, and unholy unions, it barely raises an eyebrow.


Grail still embraces this role. She never shows any hesitation or reservations about helping Darkseid return to form. She's just like him, wanting nothing more than to spread death and destruction to everything she touches. Even when aiding her father means murdering various demigods, mostly the many illegitimate children of Zeus, she does so without a second thought. She never sees it as evil or inconvenient, for that matter. She's just an evil daughter helping her evil father.

This makes for plenty of brief, but brutal moments that reinforce the extent of Grail's persona. She is evil to the core and that doesn't bother her in the slightest. While this goes a long way towards establishing her as a menacing villain for Wonder Woman, it doesn't make for too compelling a plot. Wonder Woman #33 offers a great many insights into Grail, at least with respect to her role in the ongoing story surrounding Wonder Woman's brother. Beyond that, though, there aren't many complexities or revelations.

The simplicity of Grail's character may help move the story along, but it offers little else, in terms of intrigue. She has a problem, namely her father's nascent state. She has to solve that problem by killing the many demigods that Zeus sired when he kept thinking with the wrong head. She goes about solving that problem with the kind of gratuitous violence that would make any evil father proud. There's not much more to the story beyond that.

There are some characters whose evil nature needs to be belabored every now and then. Grail established during Darkseid Wars that she is not one of them. Anyone who has Darkseid for a father doesn't need that kind of effort. While giving her a defined role in Wonder Woman's ongoing narrative is important, Grail doesn't get much depth beyond that. For her to truly become the Lex Luthor or Joker for Wonder Woman, she needs more than just a desire to help her father.

Wonder Woman #33 still succeeds in exploring Grail, demonstrating just how menacing a threat she can be to anyone she faces, demigod or not. Robinson skillfully guides her into a collision course with Wonder Woman while the artwork of Emanuela Lupacchino provides the necessary brutal imagery to that journey. More than anything else, that journey ensures that any pending clash between Grail and Wonder Woman will carry a lot of dramatic weight.

The family dynamics for both Wonder Woman and Grail, as dysfunctional and divine they may be, create a unique appeal that feels right at home in the bizzare, yet lecherous world of Greco-Roman mythology. Wonder Woman still embodies the higher values that mythos, but Grail is set to embody the worse. The fact she can do all of this without being the bitter offspring of Zeus makes that feat all the more remarkable.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

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