Gail Simone's warrior Wonder Woman faces the Devil himself -- or something called D'Grth, which is about as close as you can get -- in this climax to the "Ends of the Earth" arc, a story that has seen Wonder Woman meeting up with classic DC sword n' sorcery characters like Stalker, Claw, and Beowulf.
It's been an ambitious story, but not necessarily a good one, as Simone piles on the incidents and scene changes, culminating here in Wonder Woman's battle with a monstrous fire demon which cuts back and forth between that action, some inside-a-cave-betrayal-accusations, and Donna Troy checking up on Tom Tresser to make sure he's good enough for Wonder Woman. It's possible to weave those three plot threads in such a way as to provide contrast and escalate the conflict, and Simone nearly pulls it off, but the fire demon and guys-in-a-cave segments feel like loud diversions instead of central concerns. There's little at stake, really, in those segments, and Simone hasn't established the Stalker/Claw/Beowulf plotline well enough for us to care how it turns out.
As much as I like Simone's approach to Wonder Woman, and her skill at characterization, the stories thus far have felt almost like fill-in plots. You know, the kind where the hero goes off on some adventure that doesn't really matter too much, just so when the real writer comes back, he or she can advance the important stuff back home. Simone has sent Wonder Woman into space and then into a magical dimension and that's all well and good -- maybe it shed some light on who Wonder Woman is, by seeing her in contrast with others -- but it also feels like a series of tangents. Like you're sitting down ready to hear an epic story of Wonder Woman, and just as it gets started the storyteller says, "but wait, there was this one time where she was abducted by Khunds, and it doesn't have a whole lot to do with the main story, but let me tell it for a couple or hours," and just when the story gets back on track, you hear, "oh, and then there was this other time when Wonder Woman ended up in a weird fantasy world where guys had swords and bad haircuts and I'll just take a few more hours to tell you what happened then. But don't worry, I'll remind you of the main characters and let you know what they're up to as they wait for Wonder Woman, so you don't give up and walk out just yet."
It's a strange approach to settling in on an extended run, and it's a strange approach to building a readership.
The scenes with Tom Tresser and Donna Troy are nice, and just when I started thinking to myself that Simone's version of Nemesis was too frivolous and silly (although in keeping with other recent portrayals), Simone gives us dialogue from Donna Troy that nails the character of Tom Tresser: "He takes everything incredibly seriously. And he carries that weight alone." His jokes and apparent goofiness are his way of functioning in society.
Simone seems to have set everything up to start telling stories with her main cast of characters now, and perhaps the strange digressions are over. By the end of the issue, Wonder Woman is headed back home, and a threat from a thousand years ago (and/or a magical dimension just now) is lurking outside the window.
Aaron Lopresti's art is perfect for a Wonder Woman series, and Gail Simone seems perfectly suited, as well. Now it's just a matter of moving the story forward and creating a core struggle that we can care about. Enough with the side trips to faraway lands. Let's see what Simone and Lopresti can really do.