Sensational idea, less-than-wonderful execution: 'Sensation Comics' #1

Last week saw the return of Sensation Comics to store racks, as DC Comics repurposed the long-defunct title for a new Wonder Woman anthology series, featuring stories by rotating creative teams that debut online as part of the publisher's digital-first initiative. It's a strategy the company previously used for similar anthologies Legends of the Dark Knight and the soon-ending Adventures of Superman.

It's a great idea, and one well past due. Unlike Batman and the Man of Steel, Wonder Woman has long been confined to a single solo title, with fewer miniseries, specials and one-shots, and is more often subject to drastic new directions, due to a perceived notion the character needs to be "fixed."

The current Wonder Woman series is a good example of this, with Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang and company reintroducing the character with an "Everything you thought you knew was wrong!" origin, accompanied by a weird and dark backstory for the Amazons, and a London setting for the heroine.

Last time I checked in with Wonder Woman, the title character was the demigod daughter of Zeus and Hippolyta and had become the goddess of war, dispatching her foes with magic swords -- and when she's really in a pinch, she takes off her power-dampening Amazon bracelets, which allows her to "power-up" into a sort of glowing Super-Wonder Woman.

So an Adventures of Superman-style anthology of her own is certainly welcome. As with most anthologies, the Adventures book varied rather wildly in quality from story to story and issue to issue, but one of its functions was to present the "real" Superman, in his instantly recognizable costume and familiar milieu, in continuity-lite stories. Many of these stories a reader could rather easily slot into continuity somewhere between Crisis on Infinite Earths and the New 52, but -- and here's the thing -- usually there was no need to. They were generally timeless, standalone Superman stories. And many of them were quite good.

That meant Adventures provided a sort of alternative to DC's current Superman line, an ongoing monthly with no connection to the New 52's Man of Steel that could offer refuge for the dissatisfied fan or, better still, solid Superman stories for the casual reader (and, incidentally, give great writers and artists a chance to play with DC's iconic hero, more or less unfettered).

Legends of the Dark Knight worked in similar fashion, but was much less necessary, given all the Batman comics available. Even if you ignore the huge back catalog of collections, it's possible to pick up a comic featuring your favorite Batman, whether that's the one from the 1966 television show, the Batman Beyond cartoon, the Arkham video games or, depending on the month, the one from the Scooby-Doo or Beware the Batman animated series.

And now it's Wonder Woman's turn.

The first issue is, sadly, not that great of an issue, and Sensation doesn't kick off as promisingly as either Legends of the Dark Knight or Adventures of Superman did. That said, the issue does seem like it was put together with regular readers of DC Comics in mind, with former Wonder Woman (and generally well-liked) writer Gail Simone crafting the lead story, which is drawn (mostly) by popular DCU artist and occasional Simone collaborator Ethan Van Sciver (oddly, a single page of the story is by artist Marcelo Di Chiara, seemingly to change a very dark event into something less gruesome).

Also, it's a Batman story, which never hurts the sales of a DC comic.

Titled "Gothamazon," the 20-page tale appears set in a vague, pre-New 52 timeline in which Wonder Woman still wore red and blue and had star-spangled shorts, The Joker's face was still attached, Harley Quinn showed less skin, and, most noticeably, Barbara Gordon was Oracle (just to confuse matters, the opening page, illustrating a metaphor for a hypothetical situations, features Nightwing in his his red New 52 togs).

Perhaps only Simone knows the real provenance of the story, but it seems like the plot is from a never-used idea for a Wonder Woman/Birds of Prey team-up, rejiggered into a meditation on the differences between Batman and Wonder Woman via narration (former Wonder Woman writer/artist Phil Jimenez and his collaborators explored similar territory in 2001's "Gods of Gotham," in which the Wonder Woman and Batman families teamed up to stop an evil Olympian incursion in the Dark Knight's stomping grounds).

And so Batman is out of town, and seven of his deadliest villains decide to team up to wreak havoc. Oracle needs to call in a substitute hero, and so she summons Wonder Woman, who takes on Batman's archenemies using her fists, her recruitment abilities (deputizing Harley and Catwoman as Amazons for the night), her magic lasso, and what I guess you'd call Wondarangs, pointy, W-shaped projectiles that return to her when thrown. Maybe Batman made his fellow Justice Leaguers sign a contract stipulating that, should they ever fight crime in Gotham, they must do so with boomerangs in the form of their logos?

It's no revelation who wins here, although Simone does surprise a bit with her take on Two-Face and The Joker. And while it's not the most original story, and while there is something a little depressing about the first story in the new Wonder Woman anthology guest-starring Batman and his rogues, it at least gives Van Sciver an opportunity to draw all those characters, plus some Justice Leaguers, who get a one-panel cameo each.

More depressing still is that, although this is a continuity-lite story, Simone sticks with the post-Kindgom Come Wonder Woman-as-Red Sonja characterization; Wondy restrains her impulse to simply kill everyone, but we still get a page of her imagining doing so, in which she chops Two-Face in half along the line separating his good half from his bad half, and stands atop a pile of corpses.

So if you were waiting for a Wonder Woman comic you could give a little girl, well, maybe next issue ...?

The Simone/Van Sciver cover story is followed by a 10-pager, seemingly in New 52-continuity, that's the sort of story such an anthology would generally be filled with. (Like Adventures of Superman, this one focuses on some core aspect of the character, and/or how she relates to the real world via in-story stand-ins.)

It's written by Amanda Deibert, drawn by Cat Staggs and colored by John Rauch, and features a brief Wonder Woman vs. Circe fight in Washington, D.C., the climax of which involves a little boy exclaiming how awesome Wonder Woman is. His friends make fun of him ... until Wonder Woman herself joins the conversation.

The artwork here is in a photorealistic style that is apparently pretty popular nowadays in certain circles, but I can't really countenance, and the layouts feature characters breaking the panel borders at random. However, based on how often I see this style in superhero books, it's quite likely I'm in the minority.

All in all, it's not the most auspicious of starts, and there's plenty of room for improvement. Given some of the creators DC has lined up for future issues, though -- including Gilbert Hernandez, Dean Haspiel and Amy Mebberson — that shouldn't be a problem.

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