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Wonder Woman ’77’s strong art doesn’t make up for under-representing women

Also reviewed: Vacancy, The Unmentionables, and Wuvable Oaf

After an undefined apocalyptic event leaves an eerily human-free world and the Earth scorched and ruined, Simon, a tame dog, finally decides to leave his home and kennel to venture into the woods. His owners have been gone for a while and it doesn’t seem likely they’ll return. Some time on, Simon’s decided that he must forge ahead himself and, him being a dog and all, living in the wild must be the natural option for him to take.

Grouping up with Cliff (a raccoon) and Reynard (a deer), Simon rapidly discovers that in actuality he doesn’t know much about life in the wild, or what it entails, at all. He only has preconceived notions about it, and his brief experience is starkly different from what he’d imagined, leading him to quickly adjust his expectations and realign what it is exactly that he wants—who he is, where he belongs, who he wants to be with.

Simon’s choices and thought processes are familiar ones. Should you do something because it seems to be the thing to do, what others are doing, what you feel is expected of you? He’s a guard dog—“I was bred for protection”—and thinks that the label he’s been given translates into him being a certain way: tough, able to survive, independent. He goes into the woods with Cliff and Reynard but views it as a temporary arrangement: “I’ll find my own pack by then.” So while he wants companionship, a sense of belonging, and some form of structure, he hasn’t really gauged the “how” thoroughly. Simon’s trying to fit into an idea and a place where he thinks he should be, even though he’s not ready for independence—certainly not in the way life in the wild would require—but there’s no shame in taking the option best suited to you at a particular time, and growing and learning at your own pace.

If you’re going to talk about individuality and freedom and expression, discussing stylistic choices as presented via fashion choices is equally viable. All the animals are niftily turned out: colored backpacks, striped T-shirts, cropped hoodies, little scarves worn over sneakers, tall lace-up boots. Author-artist Jen Lee’s detail and attentiveness in this aspect is a pleasure to behold; fashion is a facet that’s too often overlooked and underused in comics. It’s interesting to glean characterization from, for example, the softer clothes and colors of Simon contrasted with the darker tones, ripped sleeves, and tough boots of the wild animals he encounters—almost a rock grunge gang aesthetic. That’s reinforced in a superbly executed chase scene at sundown, the tension caught in time against the darkening pinky purples of the sky. The difference between the animals is shown as the wilder ones revert to “type,” running on all fours with Simon and the others remaining upright.

Vacancy (Nobrow Press) is a beautiful looking book in general; Lee’s use of color and shape is gorgeous and evocative. The sense of emptiness and uneasy quiet she conjures is almost absolute—the broken landscape a constant background even as the inherent beauty of the natural environment offers its own deceptive juxtaposition. You can choose what to see. [Zainab Akhtar]

Nostalgia is a powerful force in any medium, but particularly so when you’re talking about characters with more than seven decades of backstory and hundreds of adventures to tell and retell. With the recent success of Batman ’66, telling tales that just can’t fit in the main DC continuity, it’s no surprise that Wonder Woman ’77 #1 (DC) was the next experiment. Just as Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman is a very different creature than the Adam West-based hero of Batman ’66, Lynda Carter is the basis of Wonder Woman ’77’s appeal, rather than anything that the Finches are doing on the main book. The cover art, by Nicola Scott and Annette Kwok, sets the tone immediately, all bright colors and retro costume. The interior art is strong too, but frankly it would have been gratifying to see Scott contribute some panels: With the exception of associate editor Jessica Chen, Scott and Kwok are the only women credited by name in the entire book. This is not to say that writer Marc Andreyko or the artists do a bad job of telling a Wonder Woman story. It’s a fun book, based explicitly on the TV show, and the art is beautiful. But there are a few panels that suffer from Escher Girls syndrome and it’s becoming increasingly frustrating to see books that prominently feature underrepresented groups while hearing how hard it still is for real live creators in those groups to get jobs in the industry.

The art is what really shines at the outset in this book. There are a lot of artists, which makes a certain amount of sense given how long the book is, and their styles mesh well enough that it’s not seriously distracting. Jason Badower steals the show with a couple of close-up shots that look so much like Lynda Carter it’s painful, but Matt Haley and Richard Ortiz deliver the best of the action sequences in the final pages of the book. Drew Johnson was a great pick to start the issue off, clearly defining the characters and the era by mimicking the TV show without sacrificing the storytelling. The key here, though, is the coloring. Each of the artists have a slightly different take on Lynda Carter’s face, on the way bodies fill a space, but colorist Romulo Fajardo Jr. keeps the whole book feeling cohesive. The light is soft and forgiving, some of the clothes have the faint sheen of polyester, and everything looks as good as you’d hope through nostalgia-tinted glasses.

If you’re looking for a serious, heavy story about Wonder Woman, this isn’t it. There are Soviet villains in hot pants and roller skates wielding hammers and sickles on the very first page and later, when Diana and Steve go to a club undercover, Steve’s shirt is undone to his waist. Wonder Woman ’77 is campy without being overblown, and Andreyko does a good job walking the delicate path where the reader knows this is over-the-top but the characters are still given a chance to take it all seriously. With the unevenness of the main Wonder Woman book of late, it’s refreshing to see a version of the character who’s entirely in control of her life and doing her best to ensure the safety of those around her. It’s nice to read a Wonder Woman who has agency and doesn’t require help to save the day. [Caitlin Rosberg]

The overlap between comics readers and wrestling fans is unsurprisingly large, so it should come as no surprise to see the latter sport reflected often in the former medium. Superheroes and pro wrestlers share a lot of DNA, after all—they’re both larger-than-life figures in multicolored costumes who carry on epic feuds while also participating in ongoing soap-opera narratives. The Thing spent a couple years in the 1980s working as a pro wrestler, and the ups and downs of ladies’ wresting have been an important element of Love & Rockets for 35 years, to name just a couple examples of this connection at work.

The love affair continues with Jack Teagle’s recent one-shot The Unmentionables (Retrofit/Big Planet). This is an extremely satisfying package, a huge black-and-white comic with a nice heft and beautiful color covers, all for only $6 (positively a bargain by any measure). This is apparently a kind of origin story for the title group of heroes/professional wrestlers, who come together to stop the anti-social rampage of their own heels, who are frustrated by the fact that they’re paid to be villains and eager for some payback.

Our heroine, Lizard Woman, is a single mom and grappler who works long hours in the ring, leaving her mom at home to take care of her son. It’s not a particularly glamorous life: Wrestling is hard, painful work, the kind of thing you would only do out of sincere devotion to the sport, and not necessarily with any hope of a big payday. The problem is that her own personal heel, Vulturella, isn’t particularly happy with this state of affairs, and decides to take out her frustrations on Lizard Woman both inside and outside the ring, after forming a gang and robbing a bank.

Teagle is an excellent cartoonist, with a pleasantly effective and simplified style that well matches the subject matter. This isn’t a hyper-realistic sports drama; this is a cartoonish world with lizard people, vulture women, and bee girls duking it out in the streets. (Lizard Woman is a lizard—we know this because she lays real eggs—but Bea is a normal woman in a bee costume, just so you know.) When the evil heels turn out to be too strong for the cops to tackle, Liz and her team arrive on the scene just in time to put the, ahem, smack down.

This is a lovable book with a lovable premise. It doesn’t take itself seriously for one second, while still communicating a sincere affection for the subject matter with every line. At this late date it should no longer be a scandal to learn that wrestling is scripted, but the athletes who do the dangerous work are very real, as are the risks they take. The Unmentionables is a mash note to this peculiar sport, the people who risk their necks to do it, and the dedicated fans who will always be willing to suspend disbelief for the sake of a good show. [Tim O’Neil]

With his huge frame and excessively hairy body, Oaf Jadwiga exudes raw masculinity in his physical appearance, but when it comes to bears, Oaf is more teddy than grizzly. Spending his days creating stuffed dolls and rescuing homeless kittens, Oaf is a kind, gentle soul looking for someone to cuddle with in San Francisco, and he finds his ideal mate in Eiffel, the pint-sized lead singer of disco grind-core band Ejaculoid. Ed Luce chronicles their courtship in the delightful Wuvable Oaf (Fantagraphics), a heartwarming, hilarious, occasionally raunchy exploration of San Francisco gay life and the city’s queer underground music scene.

The adjective in the title is the key to Oaf’s character, and Luce’s hero is an adorably naive giant with a big heart and rotten luck. Flashbacks detailing Oaf’s worst dates and Eiffel’s bad breakups flesh out the histories of the characters, and even though Oaf successfully woos Eiffel, he has a lot of obstacles to deal with if he’s going to be in an actual relationship with the man, obstacles that come in the form of Eiffel’s ex-lovers. With a juvenile, slightly oblivious lead, heightened ex-related drama, and strong ties to an urban music scene, Wuvable Oaf is like a gayer, hairier, filthier take on Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim graphic novels, a connection Luce acknowledges by having characters from that series appear in an art gallery scene featuring numerous other indie comics cameos.

In typical Fantagraphics fashion, Wuvable Oaf is a beautifully designed package. It’s a sturdy hardcover with thick paper, and Luce makes the book a reflection the character by drawing hair all over the inside covers, which Oaf shaves off on the title page. Hair is an essential element of Luce’s story, and the very first scene in the book involves Oaf’s kittens cuddling up in bed with him, licking his copious fur, and promptly spitting up hairballs. It’s a distinctly unglamorous start to the narrative, but Oaf takes pride in his hairiness. The only reason he shaves is so he has something to stuff his dolls with, and he wills a new layer of hair to the surface immediately after he’s gathered his stuffing for the day. Sometimes the focus on hair is intended to arouse and sometimes it’s intended to disgust—Eiffel’s ex-boyfriend uses his body hair to create some “toothsome” waffles for Oaf—but Luce clearly has a deep appreciation for hairy men, devoting a lot of attention to capturing the specific texture, shape, and density of the hair on his characters.

That specificity of characterization goes beyond just the hair. Characters each speak with their own individual font, and there’s almost 100 pages worth of short stories that expand on the rest of the characters in the “Oafiverse,” highlighting the diversity of this community and the variety of stories possible with such a wide array of people. If readers want even more information about the inhabitants of Luce’s San Francisco, they can read each character’s entry in the “Official Handbook To The Oafiverse,” which features extensive write-ups for nearly every character with a significant speaking role. Luce has done considerable work to fully immerse the audience in this world, and hopefully it won’t be too long a wait before he invites readers back to spend more time with Oaf and his eclectic group of friends. [Oliver Sava]