Wonder Woman #40 Takes Series in a Bold New Direction

When Wonder Woman began its most recent relaunch just over three and a half years ago, it took great pains to establish itself, cleverly, in a new light for a new time and cultural landscape. The lead story focused on who exactly would be Wonder Woman, following the events of Wonder Woman's murder of Maxwell Lord in order to stop his manipulation of Superman. Donna Troy stepped into the role for a short time, but eventually Diana returned to the role she was destined to fill. Skipping ahead now to issue forty, we find a new evolution and direction for the Amazon, one that appears to be leading her into heavy social issues territory. Gail Simone recently revisited the mythological roots of Wonder Woman in a sprawling story arc involving her homeland, the gods and the true heritage of Wonder Woman. Now, Simone turns her attention to the seeds of doubt, mistrust and xenophobia that undermine society, beginning with Wonder Woman #40, and it's been one of the most dynamic and emotional shifts in the series thus far. Fresh off her troubles back home, Diana starts out with what appears to be a typical fight for her: battling a giant creature, in this case, the serpent son of an Aztec deity. The sequence follows along, with interesting narration from Wonder Woman, which Simone always handles in a way that makes these thoughts essential and not distracting. What quickly unravels is a scenario where motives are not what they seem, and with that the series takes on probably its most compelling and potentially challenging story line yet. A small group of well-spoken, what appear to be, children emerge on the scene, and quickly begin sewing seeds of doubt and unrest in first a young mother and later in much more sinister ways. I must confess that I found myself squirming just a bit as I watched in the following panels how the group was able to manipulate a man into committing an unspeakable act of hatred, setting up and then resulting in another senseless tragedy. It's a credit to Simone, Aaron Lopresti's pencils and Matt Ryan's inks that the reader is at once repulsed by the actions of a characters but simultaneously drawn into the story that's unfolding. Chaos, flames and racism seem to follow suit, and the "children" find themselves front and center when a familiar JSA heroine appears on the scene, only to fall to the same charm as the mother in the park earlier. What follows is a preview of a showdown that promises to shatter, smash and cause general mayhem in the following issue. It's a wise choice to add a particularly challenging element into this story, as the main story involving these mysterious, manipulative children who seem to have a taste for flesh. It's a timely storyline for the series, and one that is probably its truest parallel to modern day themes and emotional ties. It hearkens back a bit to familiar concepts, such as the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Hush" and the classic Twilight Zone episode "The Monsters are due on Maple Street", both dealing with themes of strangers, mistrust and mob mentality. The skill in this issue of Wonder Woman lies in its ability to not feel forced or contrived. What we have here is a fresh and unnerving new landmark issue for a series that remembers the glory days of the George Perez era, but with Simone's distinguished touch.