Star-Bulletin Features

Sunday, November 25, 2001



Wonder Woman comic brings
series full circle

By Gary C.W. Chun

What if superheroes had to work within the parameters of our real world, instead of in the pages of a comic book, battling your standard supervillain hellbent on ruling the universe?

That's the premise Alex Ross works from. The Chicago-based artist is the pre-eminent comic book illustrator right now, distinguishing himself from the rest of the pack with his glorious representational renditions of superheroes. His artistry is evident at a glance; his heroes have the faces and framework of real human beings, though their powers distinguish them from the rest of us mere mortals.

Ross takes such time and care in his work that it's always an event in comicdom whenever one of his projects hits the stores. Such is the case with the holiday publication of the last of four oversize graphic novels he's done for DC Comics. All four books have a list price of $9.95.

In conjunction with writer Paul Dini (a fine, if occasional, comic-book writer who has distinguished himself with his scripts for the animated "Batman," "Superman" and "Batman Beyond" television series), Ross has annually drawn and painted what has been a series of softcover books, each featuring one of DC's iconic heroes dealing with everyday human drama.

The latest book, "Wonder Woman: Spirit of Truth," completes the cycle that started with that character's superpowered compatriot, "Superman: Peace on Earth." That effort was followed the following year with "Batman: War on Crime" and then a book featuring one of DC's earliest heroes, Captain Marvel, in "Shazam!: Power of Hope." Each of these books will satisfy comics readers old and new, as each contains a brief introduction to the superheroes' origins.

And there's more behind Ross's work than his superb artistry. Quoted in a 1998 San Jose newspaper interview to publicize the Superman book, Ross said, "Superman can remind us of certain ethics and moral choices. A lot of my personal makeup, my belief systems, right and wrong, were based on Superman. A lot of what he communicated is lacking in current comics. I realize that comics have always been about commerce and are slanted toward an aesthetic of cheap thrills so that they can compete with more aggressive forms of entertainment. What I want to bring back is a sense of morality to comics."

He's accomplished this without a trace of preachy sentimentality. For that, Ross can thank his collaborator. Dini's spare and succinct text is the perfect complement to Ross's work, adding just the right amount of prose to augment the large pictures. But it's Ross who's the main storyteller here, with moral tales perfect for the holiday season, as Superman tries to address the problem of global hunger. We see him flying immense parcels to troubled spots around the world but ultimately learning that it isn't enough.

"I tried to relieve world hunger," goes one of Dini's passages," but I encountered heartbreaking poverty, not only in the slums and wastelands of the world, but within selfish men's souls."

Dini's words are always written in the first person and in a reflective voice, which gives these books the quality of storytelling. There are no "Biff! Bam! and Pow!" sound effects and no word or thought balloons emanating from the heroes' heads.

A take on the Dark Knight, Batman, is the most somber of the four books, as the cowled crusader encounters a young boy whose parents have been murdered, as his own folks were many years ago. But instead of paralyzing him with renewed remorse, it inspires him to continue his war on crime in Gotham City.

Dini and Ross take the less emotionally complex character of Captain Marvel and puts him in a situation that best shows off his heroism, in the midst of children. His youthful alter ego, Billy Batson, gets involved in a local children's hospital and, as the good Captain, restores hope to a ward of sick and needy children by granting their wishes.

The Wonder Woman book brings the series to a close and, with the appearance of Superman as Clark Kent, also brings the story full circle. The proud Amazonian princess and warrior, with the guiding words of her "superfriend," decides to go incognito to the various political hot spots around the world, and realizes she can be of help in "man's world," more so than at home on her idyllic island with her godly sisters.

These books are heartening, inspirational tales, made even more so by a special collaboration of artist and writer.

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