Sadly for me, I’ve been a bit out of the comics loop. However, I’m trying to get back in, so what better way to do that than reading an anthology issue? Sometimes it’s just nice to get a break from continuity, man.
So, that’s brought me to Wonder Woman: Black & Gold, an anthology series where each story features multiple stories done by a different creative teams. In #4, we’ve got five stories, so let’s delve into them individually.
Firstly, we’ve got “Prayer,” written by Andrew Constant with art by Nicola Scott. Basically, it involves Diana caring for a dying beast that’s frightened some human campers. In just a few short pages, Constant and Scott convey the sobering effects that encroaching humanity has caused on wildlife, especially the mythic variety. While it’s not the most original message in the world, the directness and focus of this short is commendable.
Certainly the messaging could have been unbearable if the art didn’t hold up…but Nicola Scott, whose impressive work includes Black Magick (which I’ve reviewed) brings this story to life. With her soft black and white compositions, several moods are accomplished at once, both majestic and tragic. Her spreads are just as intimate and potent as her close-ups with her almost photo-realistic proportions.
Next up is “Amazing,” both written and illustrated by the ever impressive Outcast artist, Paul Azaceta. Spoilers, but this is the strongest installment of the bunch. It’s a darn cute story where a couple siblings (a boy and a girl) witness Diana taking down a villain, inspiring the little girl in the process. While a little funny that a female empowerment tale is being told by a man, it’s a sweet message that, like “Prayer”, is honed in on.
Excellently paced with character beats and action, Azaceta also shows off his ability to convey large scale. His style, not realistic nor overly cartoony, is usually utilized for smaller scale stories, but it’s great to see him bring epic splashes in spades for Wonder Woman kicking butt. The action is easy to follow and features the right amount of detail to derive order through chaos.
Unfortunately, the quality of the stories drops off in “Whatever Happened to Cathy Perkins?” Written by Sina Grace and drawn by Leo Romero, this story does have an effectively retro feel to it. At times, Romero’s art is downright reminiscent of Jack Kirby’s blocky yet elegant designs (especially in close-ups). Not only is this aesthetically pleasing, but it also serves a thematic purpose, since this tale is about black magic being used to keep a woman young and in the past despite the destructive toll on her.
Problems arise when the plot kicks in. As cool as the concept is — reminiscent of old Star Trek or Twilight Zone plots — because of this anthology’s short format, teams only have so many pages to convey their stories. So if a story has a complex plot, it’s going to take a lot of visuals and dialogue to convey that succinctly. Sadly, Grace’s words clog up too much space for exposition (not to mention all the continuity references) and Romero gets too carried away including visual details. It becomes overload and tempts the audience’s eyes to glaze over.
Written and illustrated by Andrew Maclean, “Love Failed” struggles to rise above similar stories. Diana visits a self-help talk with a friend, only to be faced with a black magic cult. I seem to recall a Batman anthology doing something very similar, and “Love Failed” doesn’t make its own mark on the similar story. It’s predictable and rushed in its plotting, but I would say it’s almost worth reading because of Maclean’s unique art. His monochromatic color schemes and thick lined compositions that burst out of his small panels are mesmerizing.
Finally, #4 ends on a whimper with “Wing Woman,” written by Sherri Smith, art duties by Colleen Doran. Focused on a female pilot in WWII saved by Wonder Woman, this story doesn’t give us enough character, conflict, or awe required of a good WW tale. Our lead, Delia Burns, has an annoyingly retro “golly gee whiz” way of speaking that feels like a parody. Conflict is largely free from his short. When our protagonist is shot by a German plane, we’re only given two (I counted—two!) panels where we see Burns in danger before a Diana ex machina saves her.
Smith’s art leaves a lot to be desired for this story. The panels are big, but they’re flat composition wise and lack interesting gesture. Even when Wonder Woman arrives, it’s not with as much grandeur as the other stories successfully accomplish. No element here seems exceptionally detailed or tenderly rendered — not the planes, not the cloud landscapes, and not even Diana or our human lead.
Overall, like any anthology, we’re given a mixed bag of results in issue #4 of Wonder Woman: Black and Gold. However, while some anthologies leave a bad taste in the mouth, Black and Gold #4 is a pleasant read even if most of the stories aren’t great. No matter the quality, these shorts have a good heart and there’s a lot of love for the character on display that will please hardcore fans and win over Diana dilettantes like me.
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