Superman/Wonder Woman was facing a very uphill battle before I turned the first page. It was written by Charles Soule – whose work until now I hadn’t read, but whose Swamp Thing had been labelled “crap” and Inhumans merely deemed “passable” in online circles – and illustrated by continual writing offender and male gaze aficionado Tony Daniel. It spun out of a last-page reveal done rather hamfistedly at the end of Geoff Johns’ The Villain’s Journey. Hell, it was a book about two of the three biggest DC Universe players hooking up and dealing with relationship troubles while kicking ass. That idea on its own sounds trainwreck enough.
Further, I was also a little worried it might be relationshippy the same way Batman/Superman is; that is, not having anything apparent but relying almost entirely on subtext to tell the romantic story of two lost souls who are perfect for each other. I guess that’s more something Tumblr fans would be eager to search for, but c’mon, neither of those two guys will be happy with anyone else but each other.
But colour me absolutely surprised. Superman/Wonder Woman: Power Couple is not only a good book, not only a great book, but quite possibly one of the most nuanced and relatable comics I’ve read all year.
No, I have not taken leave of my senses and no, DC are not handing me sacks of gold to positively spruik their story. Trust me, if this were bad I’d have no qualms about opening with both barrels.
The premise is simple in summation; Supes and WW are together, working out relationship stuff, while Christmas happens, Doomsday attacks and Zod emerges from the Phantom Zone. Sounds a bit The O.C. meets Smallville, but as I said the simplicity is in the summation. Our deuteragonists spend an awful lot of time exploring deeper questions and ramifications specific to two superbeings gettin’ it on in the modern age, and its from that well of character focus that Power Couple draws its primary strength.
One of the largest complaints levelled at Superman and, to a lesser extent, Wonder Woman is a lack of relatability. They’re big, powerful, well-muscled heroes who kick more ass than a donkey sadist. Supes is an alien. Diana is from a mythical island. There’s little grounding for readers to draw a relatable line from; which is why Batman works so crazy well as, for all intents and purposes, a regular human devoid of superpowers who hones his skills to a razor’s edge.
Power Couple seeks to tackle that lack of relatable attitude head-on, bringing the titular characters down from their apparent pedestals and doing its damnedest to show you that gods and aliens are people, too. Out of costume, Diana goes shopping at Harrods for a Christmas present to give the Man of Steel. Superman allows Wonder Woman inside his Fortress of Solitude as an analogy for lowering barriers and letting love inside. The neat little trick Bruce Wayne pulls by getting the Justice League to do the heavy lifting on crime for a day while Clark and Diana take a breather is, however brief, great.
Where Power Couple excels is in the depiction of its, well, Power Couple. It’s of a similar mindset as Peter Tomasi’s Batman and Robin run where the narrative is a father-son bonding story that just happens to be about superheroes. Here, S/WW is a love and
relationship exploration that happens to contain two of the biggest leading characters in the DC Universe as its protagonists. While the inclusion of named villains like Zod and Doomsday feels somewhat perfunctory to the main narrative (and, considering the apparent retcon of Superman’s death never happening, opens a ton of continuity questions about the latter best asked at night with a bottle of Glenmorangie), it adds to establish that, yes, this is a real deal story with Superman and Wonder Woman fighting crime and also being in a relationship. The premise sounds ridiculous, but the execution is really damn worth it.
Because one thing Power Couple does, that no other superhero book I’ve read that features a romantic relationship can adequately pull off, is make me give a hoot about the relationship itself, rather than just being in the ‘shipper mentality of “OH MY GOD I WANT THEM TO STAY TOGETHER FOREVER OTP”. The reasons why these two are attracted to each other, the fears they each bear about respective burdens and the impact on the world at large, the reasons to keep fighting for what they have rather just throw in the towel – that’s the real, understandable and well-laid-out heart of Power Couple. Their joining makes sense. The issues they raise with each other make sense. The pros and cons make sense. In defiance of my initial impression of the book, this is not simply a smooshing-together of two well-performing characters in the hope they’ll give birth to profits. This feels natural.
Unfortunately, it’s not perfect. The dialogue by Soule is, to put it kindly, mostly wooden. I get that Superman and Wonder Woman don’t necessarily converse with the casual, lackadaisical human tone someone like Barry Allen or Hal Jordan might, but surely they don’t always sound like a Renaissance cosplayer pointing out the weather in stolid, lumpy wordplay. There are moments where the flow is a bit better, and Batman’s dialogue is one of the little highlights when it’s used less for a brooding anti-hero and more for a concerned friend during his chat on the moon with Superman (if there’s one thing this book underlines, it’s that Batman is a total bro). Zod and Faora don’t have much to work with, but they’re passable. In general, it’s ok if you don’t look too closely at it.
The art, similarly, has its flaws. Daniel is back after embarrassing himself on Detective Comics and thankfully eschews a lot of the grimy palette he forced on us during those dark times. The use of colour and realistic proportion is better, being much closer to his sterling work on Batman RIP and not unpleasing to look at. But at times battle scenes can be a bit messy, and transitions between some scenes appear to be missing a few panels to get from A to B. But overall its pretty alright.
I’m sorry if my critiques for art and dialogue are brief this time round, but I’m honestly pleasantly surprised at how engaging the story was. The move towards imparting more grounded, human troubles onto our self-made comic book paragons of goodness will no doubt raise the same cries as always – “Superman’s meant to be above such things! He’s our idealised perfection!” – but I refute them. I like it when Batman struggles with loss. I like it when Green Lantern isn’t always on the ball. And I really, really like it when two flying brick characters get together for more than just the sake of plot. Even if their particular characterisations are only contained to this book rather than Justice League or their respective solo books, it’s still refreshing to have two DC heavy hitters be a little bit more human for once.
Go read Power Couple. Go get yourself some of those feels the kids are talking about. You can bitch about Doomsday later.
PUBLISHER: DC COMICS
BEST QUOTE: “You’re so strong, Clark. But you’ve never been trained to fight. Power isn’t everything. I, on the other hand, studied under the actual God of War since I was a child. You have things to learn, and I’m just the woman to teach you.” – Wonder Woman