The ''Superman Returns'' prequels vs. a new ''Wonder Woman'': DC revisits two of its superheroes with varying results, says Ken Tucker

By Ken Tucker
Updated June 22, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT
Credit: Wonder Woman: © DC Comics

”Superman” prequels vs. a new ”Wonder Woman”

DC Comics has begun rolling out four ”prequels” to the Superman Returns film, and like all such movie tie-in efforts, they are aesthetically doomed from the get-go. You already know they’re not going to give away any plot points or dialogue from the movie (artist Matt Haley’s official movie-to-comic adaptation will come after the film opens on June 28), and so the writers of these prequels have to tiptoe around the screenplay. Such enforced timidity is never useful for artistic achievement.

Each of the four books (one released every week since June 7) has a theme or character around which to pivot: The first tells the story of Superman’s infant arrival on Earth for the, what, 3,785th time; the second is subtitled (and centers around) Ma Kent; the third is Lex Luthor; and the fourth, hitting stands June 28, is Lois Lane. All are, of commercial necessity, trite as far as the writing goes, but the artwork — particularly by Karl Kerschl on Ma Kent and by Rick Leonardi on Lex Luthor — is often very good indeed. Kerschl evokes the Kansas farmland of Superman’s youth with vivid landscapes, and the coloring by Jason Wright paints a perpetually lovely autumn dusk. Leonardi makes Luthor a malevolent bullet-head surrounded by convincing thugs in prison, and generates visual heat with Luthor’s menacing nuzzling of prison nurse Kitty Koslowski. In general, the artwork does most of the minimal storytelling in these books; overall, they’re for folks who want to collect Superman Returns merchandise rather than become transported by revelatory narrative.

On the other hand, the first issue of the relaunched Wonder Woman has storytelling velocity to burn, and the pictures ain’t ugly, either. Writer Allan Heinberg, whose TV credits include The O.C. and who has also done a bang-up job on Marvel’s Young Avengers, is taking what had become an absurdly complicated backstory of Wonder Woman — as, at various times, Diana Prince, a goddess, and Donna Troy — and is streamlining that history while (and this is crucial) not trashing or discarding it. He reintroduces old, potentially corny villains — need I write more than that their names are Cheetah, Giganta, Dr. Psycho? — and, with the help of the sleek penciling of Terry Dodson and the lambent inking of Rachel Dodson, turns Wonder Woman into a twisty-turny thriller, an adventure story with curt dialogue and the occasional cutting joke. Unlike the Superman prequels, Wonder Woman has loads of plot to unfold, but does so in the most economical manner possible. This initial story-arc is called Who Is Wonder Woman? Its first installment leaves you happily baffled and wanting — waiting for — more, more, more.

Superman Returns prequels: C
Wonder Woman: A-