Here’s the thing about Tom King as a writer: he has incredible concepts and can set the stage like almost no one else in comics. But here’s the other thing about King: sometimes, those concepts are top heavy and get in the way of the characters these stories are ostensibly about – losing the thread. While Wonder Woman #1 certain starts off strong with an interesting concept–albeit one cribbed from a 16-year old existing story–by the time the first issue concludes there are already hints that readers could be in for a long grind of telling rather than showing. And they may potentially see a rapid unravelling of this story warping classic characters to fit.
In Wonder Woman #1, King essentially takes on an extended metaphor for the American political and social sphere’s treatment of immigrants, in this case using Amazons as a stand in for immigrants. To do so, he not only resurrects, but replicates 2007’s “Amazons Attack,” opening the issue with a brutal slaying in a pool hall in Montana after one of the male patrons gropes a woman who just so happens to be an Amazon and isn’t going to accept that sort of treatment. The woman’s reaction–which in more nuanced hands would have made for an interesting metaphor for female rage at the endless disrespect women face on a daily basis, but alas, we’re not dealing with nuance here–sets off a wave of anti-Amazon sentiment that itself triggers Congress to outlaw Amazons in America, authorize the creation of the Amazon Extradition Entity (AXE), give Sgt. Steel an outlet for his bigotry, and make Wonder Woman the enemy with abundant sexist threads before getting to the “reveal” at issue’s end.
King largely spoon feeds most of these developments to readers by using extensive narration, including a literal full page of talking heads outlining how quickly things go bad. It’s still a lot to unpack as things get shaky when it comes to the more direct character moments. Wonder Woman herself is mostly absent from this issue as it is almost exclusively focused on staging the conflict and establishing Sgt. Steel’s specific axe to grind. When we do see other characters, including a few Amazons, they’re written without an understanding of their culture or previous characterizations. They’re quickly portrayed as victims of the government’s brutality as many stand waiting for Diana to save them. When Diana does appear–rather than Wonder Woman, which delivers an interesting fight sequence–she herself seems to be at a loss as well.
While the writing and story is already off to an unsteady start, where Wonder Woman #1 excels brilliantly is in the artwork. Daniel Sampere is working magic in this issue and brings his gorgeous streamlined yet detailed style to every page, giving the story an almost liquid, graceful aesthetic that in a sense makes the horrors that King is hinting at that much more uncomfortable. And while Sampere’s art itself is perhaps some of his best work yet, paired with Tomeu Morey’s colors, you have something that at certain moments can simply be called high art. There is a particular moment with Wonder Woman in battle where everything comes together visually and it is breathtaking with the heroine captured in perhaps her most perfect form; t is done so well that I say it belongs in a museum. If there is one reason to give this book and this run a chance, it’s going to be the art, full stop.
Overall, Wonder Woman #1 has potential in that it’s a departure from what readers have seen across more recent runs on the title. By taking on the sociopolitical climate surrounding immigration, there’s an opportunity to explore our shared humanity and values. Unfortunately, even in the first issue some of King’s standard weaknesses are present with a top-loaded story that is heavy on narration with plenty of telling-not-showing, the recycling of a previous (and problematic) story, and the distortion of existing characters to fit a theme rather than writing a story that stems from the characters being written. It is all in furtherance of what feels like a too lofty goal that doesn’t have a clear path forward. The only saving grace is the artwork, which is outstanding. Wonder Woman #1 is a comic book likely to be of great appeal to King fans but it is already showing signs of falling short of servicing the character whose name is on the cover and remains strangely absent from its pages.
Published by DC Comics
On September 19, 2023
Written by Tom King
Art by Daniel Sampere
Colors by Tomeu Morey
Letters by Clayton Cowles
Cover by Daniel Sampere and Tomeu Morey