The last time I tackled a Gail Simone book, worlds lived, worlds died and the Savage Critics were never the same. Will lightning strike twice?
Probably not. I thought WONDER WOMAN #17 and "The Circle" were OKAY.
I'll admit that I struggled with that grade - it was either going to be a high OKAY or a low GOOD. The thing is, I liked the premise; it was an interesting twist on the story of Diana's birth, pointing to an aspect of Themysciran life that had never really been dealt with before. And, of course, Alkyone's prediction could have come true very easily, which goes a long way towards making her and the other members of the Royal Guard sympathetic. Their story was compelling... up to a point.
The major problem I had with "The Circle" had to do with pacing, and this has been a issue for me with Simone-written series going back to THE ATOM and WELCOME TO TRANQUILITY: too much happens too quickly, and there's no room for depth or real drama, not when you're fast-forwarding through the story like Dark Helmet in "Spaceballs". This, in my opinion, has plagued Simone's recent output - a failure to allocate enough attention to the varied story elements. If I were to break down "The Circle" in terms of plotlines, this is what emerges:
A) The backstory of Alkyone and the Royal Guard, coupled with their present-day escape and their targeting of Diana.
B) The Nazis invade Themyscira, get whipped by the mother-daughter team-up of Hippolyta and Diana, and are sent packing.
C) Diana befriends gorilla warriors.
D) Etta Candy may or may not be a spy for Diana's boss or something... I didn't really get that sequence (though I don't fault Simone for that - I'm guessing it's a leftover from the Heinberg or Picoult runs?).
Now, the best stories are those which form thematic parallels between the B-plot and A-plot, the better to integrate them towards the climax: we can think here of how FABLES has moved Flycatcher's long-running character arc into the greater Fabletown/Empire conflict as an example. With "The Circle", though, what we get are two separate plotlines which only intersect in the name of contrivance (ie: the Nazis free the Circle), at which point they separate and are resolved separately - the Nazi cleanup has very little to do with the Circle's attack on Diana. As a result, neither develop any real gravitas: had this been the Circle's story, Simone might have been able to flesh out the other three members of the Royal Guard, and bring their conflict with Diana to a much more potent boiling point, dramatically speaking. But there simply aren't enough pages to do that, because you have Nazis and gorillas running about, smacking each other around. And at no point during this four-issue arc does Simone ever convince me that the Nazis and gorillas were needed.
Ultimately, "The Circle" fizzles to a very unsatisfying conclusion: there's something poignant about Alkyone's final realization, but at the same time, I felt that it just wasn't enough, that more could have been done with the Circle and their complex relationships with Hippolyta and Diana. So... OKAY, because I liked the idea and I wanted to see more, but I didn't.