I feel you summed up the fragmented content perfectly well. A good deal of very exciting layouts to gaze upon from artist David Finch, but also a good deal of padding on his behalf in the form of the repeated use of double-page splash shots and a succession of overly large panels to fill out the rest of the pagecount, and no doubt require less time per page spent from him. To be fair though this style of layout seems a growing trend across DC and Marvel comics at the moment, no doubt a means by which to keep to deadlines and perhaps to please the lucrative original art market later on.
The story itself for this latest issue was... difficult to follow. One of the key responsibilities of any writer has to be to make a story coherent, to make sure all the clues and information is there on the pages for the reader to put together and build up a fuller picture as to what is happening in this world and the order in which it happens. In this issue coherence breaks down as strange new characters appear from nowhere and are left unnamed and inexplicable, we are left equally baffled as the location of scenes and locations shifts without any attempt to tell the reader where exactly we are now... the result of this lack of captioning and context makes it all very disorientating to follow, and unfortunately the results for Wonder Woman #37 is an overall scrappy reading experience.
To highlight the difficulties, successes, and failures of the story let us take a quick walk through the issue:
"I miss my Mother every moment of every day Clark, but grief is a luxury I don't have time for." - Wonder Woman
pening with a dramatic sequence on Paradise Island David Finch's artwork immediately impresses with its rich detail and imagination, aided by equally rich colouring from Sonia Oback we see the Amazon guard responding to an approaching threat to the islands shores, swooping from the impressively ominous skies is a flock of giant monstrous birds, vicious predators, that David Finch uses the opening first page as a conventional multi-panel arrangement to show us the Amazons responding to the approaching danger is showing a strong grasp of storytelling ethics, that he then follows this with a doublepage splash of the Amazons meeting the Avian menace in battle is equally appropriate. This is good old fashioned storytelling at work here.
From the Amazons meeting this menace to their shores an abrupt uncaptioned shift to... somewhere else. The scene could almost be from Macbeth, two disturbing witches and a sacrificial victim with a large cauldron bubbling and frothing away. Taking place atop a small platform on a hillside this scenes sinister agenda could not be made more apparent, dark dusk skies with a demonic almost reptilian priestess taking away a newborn baby from its knelt mother. What does this scene mean? Where is it taking place? Who are these two inhuman witches making such barbaric sacrifice? and to what purpose...?
Upon rereading the issue we can glean much more about this scenes context, this is in fact still Paradise Island we are on and the old Woman has just sacrificed her daughter and granddaughter to a sorceress in exchange for some unspecified favour. But coming as it does here in the story the pages are utterly mystifying in their meaning. There is no context.
Another uncaptioned and equally abrupt shift for the next page and we are... somewhere else. Daytime setting contrasting very sharply with the dark night of the previous page and we see Diana engaged in quarter-staff fighting with Clark Kent. Another double-page splash, but while the opener with the Amazons set the scene and threat of the issue this one is a needless waste of two pages that could have been done in just one. Clark is concerned for Diana and running through her recent pressures as he tries to get through to her. Are we on the Island? In her London retreat? Somewhere else...? Who knows for sure.
Another wasteful quarter-page arrangement as Diana vents her problems, and to be sure she has had a tough time of it lately, but then is Clark's life that much less pressurised? Easy melodrama as a scene but its purpose seems merely to show us Diana is under various great pressures and yes, she is still seeing Clark. But from there another shift of scene, this time back to the two witches and their altar and a confusing sequence of panels showing the newborn and the cauldron, with a face forming within it. Some omniscient mumbling about sacrifices and a bewildered readership frowning at the incoherence of it all.
At least with the next page clarity finaly begins to form. Is that not the older 'Witch' Woman in the Amazon meeting hall? As Diana stands before the Amazon council the old woman is condescendingly accusing the new Queen of a deriliction of duty, and after all this is not an unreasonable accusation. Wonder Woman belongs to the outside world, a creation shaped by the demands and perceptions of mankind she is its protector and watcher. But to Paradise Island there is only Princess (now Queen) Diana. And to complicate matters also the new God of War.
David Finch's attention to detailing once again impresss greatly, the meeting chamber is a small but grand space with wide open windows allowing sunlight to fall in on the main section of the floor, in the background though is naturally more shadow, the effect is a very engaging page to look upon, and the eye keeps returning to the predominant main panel thanks to its rich design layout.
More three-quarter page shots - An interesting point not addressed so far is just what the significance of Diana's Wonder Woman costume has on the Island. Completely untypical of anything else worn there it is safe to say it might as well be fancy dress to her fellow Amazons, since we have never been told its origins and how she came to adopt it one should be careful of making false assumptions, but stood in front of the council, who are demanding her to choose beween worlds, it is this she wears rather than standard Amazon garb. And despite the aggressiveness of the old woman Is it therefore not at all unreasonable that the Amazons have become uncomfortable with her ever increasing list of priorities which are taking her further and further away from the day to day requirements of running the Island and administrating the welfare of its infrastructure and people?
Queen to the Amazons, Protector and Ambassador to the outside world of man, and now Olympian God of War. Three titles, three responsibilities. On balance one can see that the needs of the outside world of man would be the lesser of concerns, but what then of the new Queens dual role as Olympian Goddess and newly installed War representative - one would think that it would be this development which would be of greater theological and political concern to Amazon society than merely the who should be running their island if not Hippolyta's own daughter and natural successor... perhaps though this problem is what really concerns the old Woman and secret schemer?
The challenge of the assembled council is left in the air as word comes of the attacking birds comes and another abrupt shift to yet another double-page splash-shot of Diana launching into their mechanical flock.
The spectacle and detailing of this splash is lovely to look at, yet at this point it comes across as overly indulgent and done to save the artist time. This is a shot that could have achieved the same function with being one large half-page panel rather than a glorified poster of Wonder Woman in battle. The colouring is again striking, the uses of oranges for the skies suggest this to be sunset but put into context with the opening pages and rest of the issue the timeframe of this issue is somewhat confusing - are we watching events taking place over two days or more? As Diana leads the guard in battling the mechanical predators back she also saves the old Woman of the Council, to a rather hostile gratitude. Quite why this stooped old woman's constant heckling to the Princess and would-be-queen is tolerated by anyone is a mystery. One would expect more deference and respect to be required to the royal family.
The birds we learn are actually Ares' man eating pets, and it appears they are being drawn to the Island by their new master - Diana. An interesting complication. The Amazons are unduly harsh on her for her ignorance to their existence, but with the old Woman being the one to do the accusing we the reader know that things may not be quite as straight-forward as they appear.
Certainly the question hanging in the air as to which world Diana should choose is a legitimate one, And to polarise the moment Victor Stone chooses to contact Wonder Woman at this precise moment to look into a dissapearing village, one of the Justice League's numerous cases at the moment.
"The Longer you refuse to fully embrace the throne the more vulnerable you make us appear to our enemies."
So, pressure and responsibility. That is the are which the Finch's are using to power along this, their opening arc. The issues by which Diana is assailed are all well founded and not to be taken lightly; does she stay true to her birthright as an Amazon and lead her people, as is hr duty. Does she ascend to Olympus and deal with the complexities of her God of War title? Or does her future lie in being finally independent of such political weights and expectations, instead pursuing a personal freedom in the world of Man?
As she leaves the Amazons to report to the Justice League none of these options seem able to be dealt with as yet by her. Does life with the League offer her convenient and welcome escape from all this political drudgery one wonders...? Born to be royalty, predestined for a pseudo-political role, courted by Gods and their murky agendas, did the opportunity of dissapearing and exploring Mans world offer her the escape route she secretly craved...
In keeping with the flow of the story so far we receive one last shift in scene to... well, who knows. Again it is a full page view of the inside of... somewhere strange, and a monstrous alien figure reporting to someone/thing sat on a throne of sorts. Cryptically telling his superior that it is done and asking about "the traitor", who as we turn the page steps forth from the Cauldron seen earlier in the issue and is named to us - "Rise Dona Troy, and take your rightful place among the Amazons"
Donna Troy. A name with deep familiarity to the majority. These final two pages however are baffling rather than surprising. Two inhuman figures unrelated to anything seen previously and devoid of any context or meaning to us the reader, followed by a full page shot of a familiar looking 'Donna Troy' rising from a frothing cauldron.
If I were to offer a guess I would suggest that the shot of Donna Troy has nothing to do with the previous shot of the two mystery players and their cryptic exchange, rather the final page is in fact supposed to be back in the 'Witches' coven as their sacrificial victim having summoned forth Donna Troy to the old Woman. Quite why the zealously patriotic old Woman gives her the very Non-Amazon name of Donna Troy is something I will be curious to see explained as things progress. As surely such an obvious contradiction will not have escaped the writers attention no?
If being blunt then the best summary of Wonder Woman #37 would be that it is in fact a bog-standard Wonder Woman yarn. A reserving of what we have regularly seen since the grand relaunch of 1987 - a heroine torn between duty and worlds, hostile factions on Themiscyra, dissaproving political enemies who get up to mystical mischief, and a rival anti-Wonder Woman
conjured forth by black magic.
None of Meridith and David Finch's work is terrible on the whole, but neither does it show the exprience and capable delivery of previous creative teams. The strongest element of the issue is without a doubt the art though, despite the poor value of repeated splash pages and shortcuts the work of Finch is quietly impressive. In particular his use of light stands out, almost every page is evidence of this skill in shading areas and lending depth to faces. This level of lighting awareness is actually a very rare thing to see despite so many gifted artists working in the medium, only Mike Deodato springs to mind as another who has the same acute awareness of light and its uses. David Finch proves a surprise on Wonder Woman then, this is not the murky work of his Forever Evil and Batman, in stead here he is willingly adapting to creating a new world, combining his work with a very different colourist than he is used to, and as a result bringing a visual reality which is a world away from the distinctive but stylised work of Cliff Chiang. The finished script and art just needs to mesh better though.
The potential for greatness, or at least competence, in the Finch's work is there. But are the editors?