Written by Steve Orlando
Art by Jack Herbert
Published by DC Comics
Wonder Woman Annual #4 opens with a panel of Wonder Woman riding a great white shark.
She’s got her magic lasso around the dorsal fin, smile on her face, and everything.
How do you beat that for an opening?
Which is unfortunate. Even though the story begins with such a splendid image and ends with some big news for the Amazon tribes, Wonder Woman Annual #4 is a bit of a snoozer.
Wonder Woman stories pose a writing challenge because it’s superhero stories plus magic.
If writing fantasy isn’t quite your thing, it’s easy to fall into the characters talking their way through magic and taking away from plot and action.
The annual’s story, “Amazing Amazons” by Steve Orlando and Jack Herbert, falls prey to this at times.
Diana is riding that great white shark (wonder what Aquaman thinks of that) to the Amazon Embassy off the New England coast. Queen Hippolyta and her council are discussing a new crisis. A city on the coast of Brazil has appeared out of nowhere, surrounded by a magical energy field that distorts reality.
It’s the Dark Fates, Wonder Woman reasons immediately, and says she’ll go cast them out of the city.
But hold on, says Atlalanta, Diana’s aunt and founder of the splinter Amazon group the Bana-Mighdall. Those rivals to Themyscria already are on the scene. Intrigue!
Wonder Woman arrives at the Brazilian city, and her talk with the Bana-Mighdall’s Queen Faruka II goes a bit like city cops and FBI agents arguing over jurisdiction in a crime drama. Both sides agree to let Diana take a swing at driving out the Dark Fates, as opposed to the Bana-Mighdall’s plan to charge in and kill the Dark Fates, collateral damage be damned.
Diana’s lasso of truth, also known as the “golden perfect,” is key to defeating the Dark Fates, whose magic afflicts their victims with false, “darkest timeline” visions of whatever actions they may take. The resulting panic and self-doubt manifest physically, turning one 20-year-old woman into someone who looks four times that age.
Diana can walk through the hidden city with clarity, as long as she holds the lasso, which is tethered to the world outside the bubble. So, with that bit of rule creation in this magic story, you’d imagine that a likely bit of drama would be Diana losing grip of the lasso of truth, and therefore losing her way.
And Wonder Woman does lose her hold on the lasso, reliving every nightmare scenario of every great evil she has faced and defeated. But it’s OK, she immediately grips the lasso again.
Or, perhaps, the Dark Fates would find a way to corrupt the golden lasso or incept doubt into Diana’s mind about the lasso working. Nope! The main witch, with big spider-woman energy, just hits Diana with magic rays a bunch of times while they seemingly repeat the same dialog a bunch.
The Dark Fates themselves don’t have much personality in this story, and Herbert’s art makes that worse. The witches are drawn mainly in widescreen panels, with next to no close-ups, and not much detail about their power sets despite some physical features that would seem formidable in hand-to-hand combat, if we got any.
Which is a shame, because Herbert’s art otherwise is fine with lots of splashy pages and Wonder Woman power poses.
However, Wonder Woman’s battle with the Dark Fates ends with a well done chain of events that spells out big news for the Amazons going forward. No spoilers, but Wonder Woman stories often are best when they’re about Diana’s unity with other women. This story doesn’t miss that I-got-all-my-sisters-with-me point.
So while you probably wouldn’t miss much if you skip Wonder Woman Annual #4, don’t be surprised if you see it referenced in editor’s notes a bunch going forward.