By Kelly Gaines
I don’t really know where to begin here. All my years of studying literature and critical theory have not prepared me for this. I’ve seen Wonder Woman breastfeed a Dustbuster. I didn’t know that was something I should be afraid of experiencing- how could I? I find myself drawing on the distinct memory of the first time I saw Alice in Wonderland as a child. I was disturbed to my core by the fact that a little girl was lost in such a bizarre place and the adults she encountered seemed to be more dedicated to making it worse than helping. I had nightmares about the Queen of Hearts screaming “off with her head!” for weeks, and don’t get me started on the oyster story. As an adult, I appreciate Alice in Wonderland, but as a child, I certainly wasn’t ready for that level of nonsensical mania to come after that familiar “Walt Disney” screen with the little Tinker Bell wand waving intro. That’s how I feel right now. There’s a hell of a lot to appreciate in Shade the Changing Girl/ Wonder Woman #1, but these are characters I’m familiar with and fond of, and to open a book with their names on the cover and be so thoroughly thrown has left me with a gigantic knot in my stomach. Maybe I’m being a little dramatic, but let me repeat something: Wonder Woman breastfeeds a Dustbuster. Wonder Woman BREASTFEEDS A GODDAMN DUSTBUSTER. Initial freak out aside, I’m going to say something that I almost don’t want to say. Shade the Changing Girl/ Wonder Woman #1 was pretty good. DC promised us that Milk Wars was going to be the weirdest crossover event ever, and my god are they delivering.
If you haven’t read any of the Milk Wars tie-ins, the premise is this: A mysterious power is turning DC’s most powerful heroes into twisted mirror images of themselves. Think back to Mother Panic/ Batman #1. The twisted Batman is Father Bruce Wayne, a priest who brainwashes the wayward children of Gotham into forgetting about the pain they’ve experienced. It takes the core of Batman’s character and perverts it. Traditionally we know Bruce Wayne becomes a hero as a way of coping with his trauma and using it to make the world a better place. Father Bruce is still inspired by trauma, but he instead denies it, hides it, and tries to pretend it never happened. Shade, the Changing Girl/ Wonder Woman, plays with the core of Wonder Woman in the same way. It distorts the love and sisterhood she represents and turns her into a self-indulgent housewife who lives to provide her husband with “food, love, and feelings.” She even attends a women’s rally that features girls holding signs with slogans like “my body, your choice” and “ask me about my feminine agenda.” Her vision of heroism is to keep all emotions in check, a feat she pulls off with the help of Shade. This version of Shade is equally distorted. She’s been broken apart into a “Shade Force,” a group of Shades that each represents a singular emotion. The Shades follow Wonder Woman, or Wonder Wife as she is in this issue, and dole out the proper emotions to people. The goal is to keep the whole world functioning as a controlled idyllic 1950's paradise. Think Pleasantville but with Xanax addicted superheroes.
The main Shade is Haps or the Happy emotion Shade. She begins waking up when she notices she is having other emotions besides happiness. Because she is suddenly unable to function properly, she cannot make Wonder Wife feel constant happiness as she’s supposed to, and thus Wonder Woman begins to wake up as well. This is where I got a little lost (post recovering from the dustbuster incident and finding my footing in the story). Haps finds something she calls “the eye,” through which she can see the truth. A struggle over this eye results in both Shade and Wonder Woman returning to normal and vowing to fight this “madness” and find out how it controlled them. To be blunt, the end felt phoned in. It’s a disgusting and well-detailed story, but after Wonder Woman is returned to normal, she pretty much says “Okay here’s our mission.” There’s no pause, no moment in which she absorbs what’s happened, and perhaps most importantly, no moment where she stops to ask Shade who the hell she is. There’s just an instantaneous ‘thanks; I’m awake, let’s go fight.’ I wasn’t satisfied. As much as I hate to say it, the last few pages just felt like bad writing.
I won’t tell you that you should go out and pick up Shade the Changing Girl/ Wonder Woman #1. If you haven’t read much of either character, I would actually advise against it. This is not a good first impression of either. However, if you have been following Shade, the Changing Girl or you’re a long-time fan of Wonder Woman, I would absolutely recommend reading this issue. After reading this review, you’ll be prepared for the initial blow and able to just appreciate the striking detail that went into making what is essentially anti-Wonder Woman. It’s gross. It’s creepy. And it’s impossibly well done. If this is an omen of what Milk Wars has to offer, I’m excited. It’s good to see DC making good on their promise to weird us all out. I'm weirded out, and I feel like I bought a one-way ticket to a week of nightmares and a newly developed aversion to Dustbusters. Well played, DC. Well played.
Shade the Changing Girl/ Wonder Woman #1