Review by Ian Keogh
Covering 1996-1997, much the same applies to this second collection of John Byrne’s Wonder Woman work as applied to Book 1. Byrne is never struck for an idea to provide a page-turning plot, during which he finds inventive ways to incorporate other DC characters he wants to work with (Cave Carson, the Demon). He’s now settled into Wonder Woman, so all traces of the strangely emaciated character he first drew have gone, and page after page features the sort of dynamic layout that characterised Byrne’s graphic storytelling at its best. On the other hand, they’re plastered with incredible amounts of dialogue and thought balloons, way above an amount needed to tell his stories effectively, resultimg in the pages looking off-putting despite the art. An example would be starting his second chapter with an extraordinary amount of recapping, well beyond what was needed to update readers of a monthly comic.
Having largely sidelined Wonder Woman’s Amazonian heritage in the previous volume, it returns with a vengeance here, Byrne not only taking Diana back to Themyscira to deal with an existential crisis, but again involving the Greek Gods. Events there lead to the introduction of the new Wonder Girl, and Byrne revives Artemis, an Amazon warrior who’d play an increasing part in Wonder Woman’s life. Something Byrne deserves credit for is his populating the stories with such a great percentage of women. Using the Amazon background weights that to some extent, but the US supporting cast are almost all women as well, while almost every man used turns out to be a wrong ‘un, or at the very least concealing a guilty secret.
Byrne is an astonishingly gifted storyteller, and perhaps the sheer verbiage detracts slightly from the way his plots slot so neatly together and twist into strange places so well. A technique used a couple of times is running two stories concurrently on the same page, Wonder Woman occupying the top two-thirds, with the remainder featuring events intended to run into hers eventually.
There’s a shock ending to the regular continuity, to be picked up in Book Three, followed by two annuals, accounting for Dave Cockrum also being listed among the artists. He’s great when it comes to the designs, more inclined to curves than Byrne, but he’s considerably hampered by Byrne wanting to write a science fiction novel about a tribe trapped on a continually moving spacecraft with dangers aplenty. The concept’s interesting, but the word count immense, and once Byrne reaches his point a fair number of pages follow to play out predictably. A second annual is more interesting, not just for the combination of Byrne laying the art out for Tom Palmer to draw, but for the plot of the young Wonder Woman coming to terms with death for the first time. Byrne invents Amazonian rituals, he and Palmer provide structures on a suitably imposing scale, and an interesting ethical and emotional issue is thrown in. It’s a highlight among what are generally good stories if you can work your way past the word count.