Comics

Evil Wonders in 'Wonder Woman #33'

(Amazon)

Grail establishes herself as an evil to be reckoned with and Wonder Woman gains a villain she's never had before.

No matter how dysfunctional a family is, there's usually some kind of sentiment binding it together. That sentiment isn't always healthy. Many sitcoms, good and bad alike, are built on that kind of dysfunction.



Emanuela Lupacchino

Wonder Woman

Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99
Writer: James Robinson
Publication date: 2017-10-25
Amazon

Add gods, demigods, and superheroes to the mix and that dysfunction takes on a level that even the trashiest prime-time sitcom can't match. Wonder Woman's family may not have that kind of dysfunction, but whenever gods and demigods enter the mix, it usually means she'll eventually start punching something.

Wonder Woman's family already has its share of complications, thanks largely to an origins story that's still muddled between clay figurines and Zeus not being able to keep it in his pants again. The events of Darkseid Wars adds another complication in the form of Grail, who is basically the anti-Wonder Woman. As the daughter of Darkseid and a self-professed daddy's girl, she exists to spit on everything Wonder Woman stands for while looking more menacing than any illegitimate offspring that Zeus could ever sire.

Grail is one of those characters who has the potential to be a true nemesis to Wonder Woman. Superman has Lex Luthor. Batman has the Joker. Wonder Woman really doesn't have anyone on that level who isn't a renegade god or demigod. Grail, after taking down the entire Justice League in Darkseid Wars, can challenge Wonder Woman on every conceivable level. Wonder Woman #33 finally puts Grail in that position and James Robinson makes the most of it.

Darkseid War introduced Grail, but it offers little insight into who she is and what motivates her. She never comes off as an overly complex character. There's no effort to craft some elaborate story about how she ends up on the path of evil. Her father is Darkseid. Evil is literally in her blood and she doesn't even try to avoid that. She embraces it. Like Lex Luthor and the Joker, she is not in conflict with who she is. She's evil and she's fine with that. That kind of self-awareness may be basic, but it's oddly refreshing in an era where too many villains try to come off as tragic figures.

That simple, streamlined persona helps move the story along. Wonder Woman #33 isn't just about establishing Grail as someone who can battle Wonder Woman without relying entirely on played out themes from Greco-Roman mythology. It's about tying her story into Wonder Woman's world, specifically the ongoing conflict with her long-lost brother. Again, Wonder Woman's divine brands of family dysfunction are complicated, but that makes Grail's simplicity all the more appropriate.

Like Wonder Woman, much of Grail's story revolves around her family. She isn't just driven by her dark heritage. She actively works to protect and preserve it. The recent events surrounding Dark Knights: Metal puts Darkseid in a strange, but vulnerable position. After his defeat, he reverts to the form of an infant and it's up to Grail to play the role of mother to her father. It sounds weird, but when Greco-Roman traditions involve multiple instances of incest, infidelity, and unholy unions, it barely raises an eyebrow.

Grail still embraces this role. She never shows any hesitation or reservations about helping Darkseid return to form. She's just like him, wanting nothing more than to spread death and destruction to everything she touches. Even when aiding her father means murdering various demigods, mostly the many illegitimate children of Zeus, she does so without a second thought. She never sees it as evil or inconvenient, for that matter. She's just an evil daughter helping her evil father.

This makes for plenty of brief but brutal moments that reinforce the extent of Grail's persona. While this goes a long way towards establishing her as a menacing villain for Wonder Woman, it doesn't make for too compelling a plot. Wonder Woman #33 offers a great many insights into Grail, at least with respect to her role in the ongoing story surrounding Wonder Woman's brother. Beyond that, though, there aren't many complexities or revelations.

The simplicity of Grail's character may help move the story along, but it offers little intrigue. She has a problem, namely her father's nascent state. She has to solve that problem by killing the many demigods that Zeus sired when he kept thinking with the wrong head. She goes about solving that problem with the kind of gratuitous violence that would make any evil father proud. There's not much more to the story beyond that.

There are some characters whose evil nature needs to be belabored every now and then. Grail established during Darkseid Wars that she is not one of them. Anyone who has Darkseid for a father doesn't need that kind of effort. While giving her a defined role in Wonder Woman's ongoing narrative is important, Grail doesn't get much depth beyond that. For her to truly become the Lex Luthor or Joker for Wonder Woman, she needs more than just a desire to help her father.

Wonder Woman #33 still succeeds in exploring Grail, demonstrating just how menacing a threat she can be to anyone she faces, demigod or not. Robinson skillfully guides her into a collision course with Wonder Woman while the artwork of Emanuela Lupacchino provides the necessary brutal imagery to that journey. More than anything else, that journey ensures that any pending clash between Grail and Wonder Woman will carry a lot of dramatic weight.

The family dynamics for both Wonder Woman and Grail, as dysfunctional and divine they may be, create a unique appeal that feels right at home in the bizarre, lecherous world of Greco-Roman mythology. Wonder Woman still embodies the higher values that mythos, but Grail is set to embody the worse. The fact she can do all of this without being the bitter offspring of Zeus makes that feat all the more remarkable.

6

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Music

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Professor Abbas Amanat shines the light of reason and rationality upon this greatly misunderstood nation.

For many, Iran's defining characteristics were forged in only a few short months between 1978 and 1979. It was at this time that the Pahlavi Dynasty was toppled, that a largely secular government was exchanged for one driven by Shi'a Islam, and that the Ayatollahs rose to their dominant position within the Iranian political landscape.

Keep reading... Show less
9

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

Next Page
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image