Superman/Wonder Woman v1: Power Couple

Superman/Wonder Woman: Power Couple v1 Cover

*Note: This was a review written by me for a previous website.

During the New 52 relaunch back in 2011 one of the bigger points of contention was regarding the fact that Clark Kent was no longer, and never had been, married to Lois Lane.  We have since come to learn that just about any relationship for DC characters is pretty much off-limits for creators to explore (which is a terrible policy), but a slightly bigger surprise might be that one of the few exceptions to this rule appears to be the burgeoning relationship between Superman and Wonder Woman.  They shared a kiss, seemingly from out of nowhere, in 2012’s Justice League #12, and since then have become a big enough couple to actually merit receiving their own book together.  That book is, naturally, Superman/Wonder Woman, and it has the pair both exploring their relationship and taking on some of the biggest bad guys in their collective back stories (mainly Superman’s).

The relationship itself has faced a bit of opposition from fandom — though perhaps not as much as expected — largely on the basis that it is pretty well established that Superman and Lois Lane are DC’s main couple.  Batman has not had a relationship worthy of the name in decades, and pretty much every other major DC character has a sad tendency to get their significant others killed with alarming regularity.  It is true that, from a story perspective, Lois offers a lot to Superman and is an excellent match to him, as well as providing a tangible link to humanity and Earth for him.  She challenges his intelligence, not his strength, which is an interesting dynamic.  However, the Superman/Lois story has developed over decades, and most of the stories that could come from that pairing have pretty well played out by now.  Using the relaunch as a springboard for giving Superman a fresh start, romantically, was not as terrible idea as it first appears (and is miles better than Marvel’s handling of Spider-Man’s split from Mary Jane).  Following through with that and pairing Superman with Wonder Woman actually gives a lot of fresh story material for DC to explore.

Lois Lane was never able to be a physical match for Superman (except in a few oddball stories), and that kept certain storytelling possibilities out of play.  Diana — Wonder Woman — is on the same power level as Superman, and not exactly low on the intelligence scale either.  She complements his strength, and gives him more options on the battlefield.  Superman had to protect Lois from threats that could kill her simply by breathing too hard (and there was always the danger that he could accidentally hurt her, too), whereas Wonder Woman could potentially rescue Superman as often as he rescues her.  Several times in this book she is actually shown to be the better fighter, given that she has actual combat training and Superman generally just relies on being stronger than his opponent (which, in fairness, he normally is).

If I have spent a lot of time talking about this from Superman’s perspective and not very much from Wonder Woman’s, that is largely because Superman’s main partner is pretty well established, whereas Wonder Woman does not really have that connection.  The closest character to come to mind would be Steve Trevor, who has been in and out of Wonder Woman’s life ever since her introduction to the world outside her Amazon community.  Their relationship has never reached the same status as Superman’s with Lois, though, and I strongly suspect that if you were to ask most people who Wonder Woman’s boyfriend is they would draw a blank.  Now, granted, this does actually work in her favor to a degree, since female heroes with easily identifiable husbands/boyfriends do tend to get overshadowed by those guys and this just lets Wonder Woman be Wonder Woman, for better or worse.  But it is worth noting that there is a bit of hypocrisy inherent in this couple, which is that they are not distinctively viewed as a couple, so much as Wonder Woman is viewed as Superman’s girlfriend.  It is a subtle, but unfortunate distinction.

The story does do a fairly good job of walking the line between the two characters and making them both important within the confines of the story.  The villains are primarily from Superman’s rogue gallery, but that does not mean that Wonder Woman’s relationship to the Greek gods is shunted.  Indeed, it does seem that Superman will benefit from Wonder Woman’s connections quite well, so long as he manages to not piss off Apollo too much (spoiler: he is not good at not pissing off Apollo).  There is also some nice effort put into trying to reconcile the differences between the two characters and their drastically different world views, which helps to cover some of the bases regarding the main arguments against the couple.  Wonder Woman comes from a background of exceptionalism being prized above all else, whereas Superman has been taught to hide his abilities as a matter of course.  Taken from this angle it is actually apparent how good a match the two make in literary terms, and why it is sometimes important to challenge characters in new ways.  Which is not to say that this perfect, and there are certainly missteps throughout this book, and DC’s handling of the relationship.  For instance, I seem to have missed the part where they got into a big fight over something which caused them to be uneasy as a couple for a while, but that only lasts for a short bit anyway.

Drifting away from the romance side of things, the book starts off by teasing a rematch between Doomsday and Superman.  This barely materialized, though, and the promised fight is shunted off to a crossover event following this book’s actual story arc, which I will not be reading.  Instead the book takes a left-turn and drops off Zod and Faora to take on our heroes.  Apparently this is also meant to be our first encounter with Zod and Faora, who, at first glance, were probably shoe-horned in to draw in movie viewers, but on second glance it is actually a pretty good choice.  Firstly, making the villain a couple gives you a chance to compare them directly to Wonder Woman and Superman, and although the book never explicitly brings that up it is clear that this is intentional.  Secondly it also gives us villains who could conceivably defeat Superman in a fair fight (they are both trained warriors, even if their power levels are lower than Superman’s), which gives Wonder Woman a chance to shine.  She clearly has something that she can teach Superman, and she may actually be more useful in a fight than him for now.

For all its pluses, though, it can come across as more than a bit disjointed.  The Doomsday fake out, for one, is a bit annoying since that was a major part of the early billing for the series.  There is also an odd quibble with this wherein no one, except Superman, actually knows who Doomsday is.  My (admittedly rusty) knowledge of the New 52 continuity is that the Death of Superman storyline still happened, but Wonder Woman’s lack of knowledge about Doomsday would suggest otherwise.  I am a bit puzzled on how exactly this is meant to have played out.  It is possible this is covered in another book, but no references are made here so it is hard to tell.  In addition to that Superman’s spat with Apollo really comes out of left field, and Superman’s eagerness to engage in a fight with Apollo seems out of character.  Lastly, the climax of the fight between our heroes and Zod and Faora does not make all that much sense.  I get, in theory, what is meant to happen, but I am still at a loss of how, precisely, Wonder Woman and Superman were meant to cut an atom with her sword.  It is not like there really is something for them to aim at, despite what Superman may say, and the idea that you would even have to aim to hit an atom (using a sword, anyway) really makes no sense.  The physics of it are less than clear, to put it charitably.

When I first finished reading Superman/Wonder Woman v1: Power Couple I was disappointed.  I had expected a story about Doomsday, which never occurred, and the plot with Zod and Faora played second fiddle to Batman playing relationship counselor to our new team-up.  On top of that there was some fairly shoddy physics going on, and the final reappearance of Doomsday at the end was overshadowed by both the knowledge that it was leading into a massive crossover.  Also, apparently some previously-unmentioned organization is going to try to manipulate Doomsday (brilliant plan, shall I queue up Darkseid next?) for purposes unknown.  But the more I thought about it the more I enjoyed it.  Putting these two characters together as a couple is more of a ballsy move than it originally appears, and writer Charles Soule actually does a good job of making me care about their relationship.  It can be heavy handed at times, but DC books are not particularly well known for their subtlety anyway.  They are also not especially known for thinking ideas through, and there is a lot to suggest that the pairing of these two characters comes more from them being two of the most identifiable DC characters then from any real chemistry.  That Mr. Soule is able to get any mileage out of it at all is actually fairly impressive.  It did not make me care one bit about any other Superman or Wonder Woman title on the market, but at least it will get me grabbing the next trade for this book, after the bloody crossover is done.

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