Sometimes you have to grade on the curve. Some find that spineless or even a kind of cheating. But at least the practice lets you recognize and reward effort and, in a rough way, support improvement. Meredith and David Finch have improved over the course of their short run on Wonder Woman. Truthfully, the book is still loaded with flaws. But, the increase in quality is real, and should be acknowledged. Wonder Woman Annual #1 is arguably their best product yet.
David Finch continues to impress with his art, and his faces seem to have become more natural and better proportioned. Or perhaps it is just a matter of growing used to them. The inks of Jonathan Glapion and Johnny Desjardins likewise are smooth and flowing, fitting well with the forms and expressions that no longer seem so deliberately posed. If the bodies and faces, even the architecture, seems a bit too perfect, well, these are gods and the children of gods, after all.
Unfortunately, if the lines of the artwork flow smoothly, the pacing of the story does not. This has been a problem for Meredith Finch from the start of this run, and it certainly continues into the annual. Finch takes a very utilitarian approach to this volume, using the pages to close off ongoing plotlines in almost box-checking fashion. The story of the insect people in South America comes to an end, or at least a pause, with little grace or sophistication, and little exploration of the point of the whole thing. The Donna Troy plotline, on the other hand, gets wrapped up, in this case obviously only for the moment, with more attention to both logic and detail than previous issues might have led one to expect.
Oddly enough, it isn’t in the main story where Wonder Woman Annual #1 is at its best. Rather, Meredith Finch really shines in a babackup tale chronicling the history of the bitter drone Derinoe and her relationship with Diana’s mother. It is a rare example of such a story that comes across as believable and serves to both deepen the existing characterization and strengthen existing plotlines. The art by Goran Sudzuka has a pleasantly rough texture, giving the story just the right feel of a memory eroded by time and sorrow. The specifics of the relations between Derinoe and Hipollyta are perhaps somewhat pandering to certain market incentives and political sensibilities, but they ring true nonetheless.
It's important sometimes to remember that faint praise is praise and not actual condemnation. This isn't the best WONDER WOMAN comic of the past few years. It isn't the best DC comic this week. But it is probably the Westside the Finches have produced to date. And we need to recognize that the best is, quite simply, the best.