Comic Book Review – Wonder Woman by John Byrne Volume 1

Wonder Woman by John Byrne Volume 1 (2017)
Reprints Wonder Woman v2 #101 – 114
Written by John Byrne
Art by John Byrne

I first became aware of John Byrne when I was about 7 or 8 years old. I remember being at K-Mart (I think) and picking up one of those 3 for a dollar polybagged comic book grab bags. Inside, I had two issues of the Superman reboot helmed by John Byrne (issues 2 & 3) to be specific. I remember I really liked the art, especially Byrne’s take on Jack Kirby’s New Gods characters. I’d been aware of who Darkseid was from watching Challenge of the Superfriends, but this was my first introduction to the larger pantheon of characters in that niche of the DC Universe. Being a child at the time, I wasn’t quite aware of John Byrne’s love affair with the work of Jack Kirby, but fast forward to the mid-1990s, and the writer-artist was folding in those elements to his run on Wonder Woman.

In the wake of Artemis’s death and the battle with the White Magician, Diana leaves Boston and ends up in Gateway City, a pretty clear analog to San Francisco. Before the Amazon can even think about settling into her new life here, everything is disrupted by criminals wielding highly advanced technology. Diana teams up with local officer Mike Schorr who are both curious to find out where those weapons came from. It leads them to Darkseid and his minions. By the end of this arc, Themysciria is in ruins, and Diana has learned the ties that bind the New Gods and her Olympians.

That all ends up serving as a prelude to the Wonder Woman’s new direction, which adds and subtracts from its supporting cast in strange ways. Diana remarks that her archaeologist friend Julia Kapatelis has recommended she befriend Professor Helena Sandsmark, a woman in the same profession who also has a teenage daughter, Cassie, who idolizes Wonder Woman. This is one of the annoyances I have with this switch in settings and casts, the Kapatelis family gets dropped without any real resolution. The introduction of these characters gets entwined with a story featuring more of Jack Kirby’s creations, specifically Etrigan the Demon & Morgaine le Fey. The villain is summarily defeated, and Helena Sandsmark ends up in a romantic relationship with Jason Blood, the man who becomes the Demon.

The final arc in this collection is the truly dreadful Lifelines. The antagonist is the preserved consciousness of a scientist’s dead son, using file footage of superheroes and supervillains to artificially create constructs that wreak havoc in Gateway. I think this might have been an excuse for Byrne to draw lots of characters that were off the table otherwise, like Barry Allen Flash and Sinestro, both of whom were dead at the time these issues were published. The stakes feel non-existent, and the only thing of weight that comes out of the story is Cassie Sandsmark’s debut as a very different Wonder Girl. While I don’t think the character came into her true potential under Byrne’s pen, Cassie has become a significant part of the DC Universe, in my opinion.

The collection’s final issue is a standalone story and doesn’t feature the real Wonder Woman until the last page. Instead, we do get a sort of coda to Julie & Vanessa Kapatelis’s story. During William-Messner Loebs’s run on the series, he shared some space with writer Joey Cavaleri. In those issues, Doctor Psycho is shown to still be haunting Vanessa’s dreams. Byrne gives us closure on that arc, showing that Vanessa, inspired by Wonder Woman, can fight back in her dreams and defeat Psycho.

This is a very middle of the road start to Byrne’s run, a lot of ambition but very much drifting away from those elements that could be argued to make Wonder Woman the character she is. As often happened with Byrne and DC, he would take on a title and bring in those elements that interested him, even if they clashed with the title’s main character. Some of them work here, and some feel forced. The one feature I absolutely hate is John Byrne inking his own pencils. I personally find his inking to be terrible; his pencils are fantastic. Byrne’s pencils look best when inked by other artists; I am thinking of Terry Austin (Uncanny X-Men, Superman) specifically. I think Wonder Woman was also happening at a point in Byrne’s career where he had developed such an inflated ego he couldn’t step back and see how sloppy his inking work was; maybe he thought it looked good. I personally just think it’s so bad and hurts the storytelling.

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