Just How Bad Is Tom King's Take on Wonder Woman?

Category: Wonder Woman
Last article published: 5 August 2023
This is the 105th post under this label

And we're not going to be talking about the art, just the writing, but let it be known that for a popular artist, Sampere sure gives Wonder Woman a pin head. All his Amazons are rather wide-shouldered and barrel-chested, but Diana feels the most consistently out of proportion. But like I said, neither here nor there...

If you're just joining us, let me freely admit that I am aesthetically predisposed to disliking Tom King's writing. This has come from series upon series of what I feel are wrong-headed takes on characters I love (because we are apparently interested in all the same characters, which just adds insult to injury). I did not read his Adam Strange nor Heroes in Crisis, but the internet spammed with fans' ire at his systematic take downs of Strange and Wally West. Couldn't stomach more than one issue of his Supergirl series, finished Human Target but still think it was done with the wrong characters, really tried with Danger Street but quit half-way because it was too pretentious even for me, and the recent Joker story in Brave and the Bold was absolute pants. But being surprisingly committed to trying Dawn of DC titles, I'm still going to give Wonder Woman #801 a try.

I've boiled his method down to three key problems all his series share. A fourth - ripping off a movie and injecting superheroes in it like square pegs in round holes - isn't present here. Or else it's too early to tell. The first is a writing tic I find abominable: Cursing.
I don't mind cursing - I am, myself, quite a potty mouth - but I don't think all superhero comics should have it. Deadpool? Sure. Wonder Woman or Superman? Uhm... Diana doesn't curse, a small mercy, but it's not the mere presence of cursing that bugs me with King. It's that he uses symbols to censor the words (an old comic book trope), but uses them wrong. There's nothing wrong with a speech bubble that's just full of them and nothing else. It just means anger/frustration in the same way that a light bulb means someone had an idea. When you do a graphological replacement, the reader then pretty much knows which word goes there, which is a cheat. You're not "protecting" young kids from the language, you're hardly fooling their parents. And if it's obvious that that's what's happening, King will frequently randomize the number of symbols in a word as to make it an impediment to reading. So in the above fragment, the first word has to be the C-word - later, someone calls Wonder Woman this and she reacts in such a way as to confirm it. The second should be the F-word but at 5 symbols, I just stop in my tracks in my reading and am taken out of the story. The third one should be F-ing, but at 4 symbols, I stumble again. And look, possibly the C-word again, because I don't think the B-word is censored in 13+ comics. It's nonsense and I don't know why editors and letterers aren't fixing it. He even does it in Mature Readers books - there's no reason to! But the worst thing really is the C-word, and calling attention to it. You're so edgy, Tom King. I don't know how my eyes will take rolling into the back of my head this hard. That all said, there isn't as much cursing in this book as there have been in his other comics.

Second on my list is the Hero Take-Down. To his credit, he's very complimentary to Wonder Woman herself. She's violent AF, which is not my preferred take (though by this point, DC has pretty much decided she's a warrior first and a peacemaker 35th), but there's a purity to her that many of the female characters in the book respond well to. This is less about her than about Sarge Steel.
I'm already on record saying I think Amanda Waller being turned into a callous killer is one of DC's stupidest moves of the Millennium, so what's the point of making her sometime-rival - and former heroic character - Sarge Steel even more psychotic? In this, he's heading an I.C.E.-like federal unit called A.X.E. that is deporting Amazons, stealing their adopted kids, and shooting any resistant very dead... and he's making jokes, threatening children, at one point murders two dudes with his (checks) gun finger(?), and oh, he's the one who calls Diana a @#%&. Now sure, no one actually CARES about Sarge Steel, to the point where he could be just about anyone - some new character or something. But that's par for the course with King's writing: He has no respect for the toys he's been allowed to play with. Again, so edgy. Well, it might be, if he didn't do this in EVERY series.

Third, he always includes some kind of trite narration. In Human Target, it was hard-boiled noir and worked well. In Danger Street, it's this absolutely awful fairy tale being told by Fate's Helmet that really doesn't fit the narrative and is just so annoying. Here, the style is fine, but I found it quite frustrating anyway because he doesn't tell us until the very last panel WHO is narrating the issue. It doesn't seem to be anyone on-panel, and there's a LOT of it. Too much not to be told why we should care what this person thinks of these events or of our heroine. It's a huge writer misstep.

From now on, expect spoilers.
Dragging the Amazons in the mud, making one of them murderous, and the word thinking of going to war with Paradise Island has been done before. No one liked Amazons Attack, but sure, let's go again. Having the world turn against a super-powered segment of the population is an old saw I find extremely boring too. It's fine for the X-Men, but I didn't like it in Legends (which this is most like) or any of the many attempts both of the Big Two have pulled to get some of the Mutant Hysteria going in other titles. Here, it's Amazons, and if King were doing this series in, say, 2018, it might feel cutting edge. Now, it's out of date and makes for an anger-inducing read. Hundreds of Amazons across the U.S. are being deported or killed by pseudo-I.C.E, and Men's Movement types are speaking their minds about these "Man killer", with nary a peep from any kind of official opposition. The satire is out of date and we're left with very obvious points that just remind us that the world's gone to crap. Oh, and maybe we'll let America off the hook, because the country's got a secret king (which is kind of meta when your NAME is King) who uses a reverse Lasso of Truth to convince good people to do the wrong things. By all means, let's forgive our culture for gobbling up the lies of the Top 1%. Let's take no responsibility.

Now, I don't know that King is actually making these points on purpose - he might just be going through some movie's plot points, for all I know - but it's a political story, often a boring one (Diana doesn't appear until past the middle), so you can't blame me for dissecting its politics. It often seems like Men Bad, Women Good, while also making characters say it's wrong of Amazons to suggest (not that they have) that Men Bad, Women Good. If you're going to do such Hit me over the head Feminism, I'd rather a female writer did it. THAT would come from a place of righteous rage. I don't feel that here.

Verdict: Not for me. In other words, the usual Tom King pap.


Boosterrific said…
I bought this issue purely for the delightful Tedesco cover with a happy kanga, but the emotion of that cover is disappointingly out of step with what's inside. Why does the book have so many *unnecessary* words? Thanks for speaking up so at least I don't feel alone in my dissatisfaction.
Tom King seems to be all about cynical deconstruction, with a bonus if he can drive a hero insane. I can't speak to his writing skill but his story types are why DC is failing, because it's the opposite of why I chose DC over Marvel. Getting rid of DiDio doesn't help if the people he helped put in are still ruining the DC Universe.
Michael May said…
I've given up on Tom King and appreciate this reinforcement that I made the right decision. It's annoying enough when he's doing his thing on fun characters whom I'm not emotionally invested in. It would be maddening to read his take on one of my favorites like Wonder Woman.
Siskoid said…
Here and on social media, I've gotten nothing but positive comments about the article, which really makes me wonder WHO these Tom King fans are that keep him at his star writer status.
Michael May said…
None of my friends are into his stuff, for whatever anecdotal worth that has. Maybe it's a generational thing? I suppose there could be younger readers who aren't jaded by the countless cynical takes that folks our age have endured.
Siskoid said…
YOUNGER comics readers? Never seen one in the wild.