[4 March 2014]
One of the advantages of DC taking the quasi-nuclear option of relaunching their entire line of comic series was that it allowed some creators to put a new spin on long-running, sometimes staid, titles. While star titles Green Lantern and Batman continued on fairly much as they were, others like Animal Man, Swamp Thing, and Wonder Woman saw their creative teams take a fresh direction. And of those, Wonder Woman’s makeover may have been the most dramatic of all. Who imagined Brian Azzarello—best known for his crime series 100 Bullets—writing the adventures of the woman in the star-spangled pants? But over two years later it still works strongly.
Writer Brian Azzarello and artist Cliff Chiang have stripped away a lot of the elements of your standard super-hero title. First, there is a lack of your standard superheroes and supervillains, with Wonder Woman’s supporting cast largely consisting of Greek mythological figures, particularly in this issue. (Orion’s brief stint in the title a few issues back was an exception, and even he is not exactly your standard underwear-on-the-outside hero.) The result is that one of DC’s main heroes almost seems like an anomaly, an anachronism, in her title. But her traditionally heroic stance also makes her a refreshing counterpoint to the devious, over-the-top cast of characters that surround her. Second, rather than have a fixed locale such as Metropolis, Gotham, or Marvel’s version of NYC, Diana and her crew have done quite a bit of traveling throughout the course of the series, like souped-up goths on a road trip. Third, the book is a fair bit nastier than what you would want your eight-year-old to read; the infamous re-casting of the Amazons as murderers in issue #7 (not the book’s finest moment) being the most notable example. Fourth, Cliff Chiang’s art is almost more akin to art deco than the drawings of Jack Kirby or Curt Swan and Azzarello’s scattershot dialogue, whether you find it engaging or grating (and I have found it both at times), is somewhat removed from the wordplay of Gardner Fox or Stan Lee.
Over the past year, this book has pretty much swung between clever and pretentious, but I liked this issue, although perhaps that was in part because I had to pay greater attention to the story this time around in reviewing it. There are essentially three plot threads in this issue: 1) Dionysius and Zola on the run and facing off against the Minotaur, 2) Wonder Woman, Hera, Hermes, and Artemis tracking them down, and 3) Apollo and First Born duking it out on Mount Olympus. The first plot thread is not so interesting in itself, and only really gets going when it joins up with the second, with Diana and the gods facing off against Cassandra’s army. Cliff Chiang can draw some fine action sequences, and here he does a nice version of the Wonder Woman deflecting bullets with her bracelets pose, with Hermes grabbing a spear with his foot in the background. That is topped though by the (ahem) explosive climax to the battle between Apollo and First Born. Chiang strips both figures back to their basics, making them look like sculpted figures in an art gallery, particularly at the point where First Born holds Apollo in his arms. It gives Wonder Woman its most memorable and most significant moment for many months.
Should DC’s premier female character have more prominence in her title? Maybe, but it is more important that she has good stories written about her, and Azzarello and Chiang have made readers interested in Wonder Woman that have not been interested in the character for years (or ever). It is the dark reflection of the post-Crisis George Perez reboot of the Amazonian princess, and for the most part it works well. Although next month, Azzarello might have one of his overly subtle issues and I may go back to being utterly confused by it all again. At least the art always looks cool.