Shadowhawk reviews the first ten issues of DC’s latest relaunch of Wonder Woman, penned by Brian Azzarello. The first six issues in the series are collected together in hardcover as Wonder Woman: Blood.
“Wonderfully vibrant both in script and art, New 52: Wonder Woman is a great series that you just can’t put down!” ~The Founding Fields
Wonder Woman is one of those big-name IPs of DC that I never really got into. I was far more interested in the two “First Families” of DC: the Supers and the Bats. That is in part to growing up watching the Tim Daly voice-starrer Superman: The Animated Seriesand the Kevin Conroy voice-starrer Batman: The Animated Series. These two superheroes have always been the hottest of DC properties in India because of their massive appeal and because they’ve partnered together across both of those particular cartoons. My tastes widened in college when I saw the Justice League animated series and was introduced to other DC greats as Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Hawkgirl, Flash and Martian Manhunter. For me, Susan Eisenberg’s Diana Prince/Wonder Woman is now as defining a portrayal of the character as is that of Tim Daly’s Superman and Kevin Conroy’s Batman.
Brian Azzarello’s take on the Amazonian Princess does not disappoint, not in the beginning at least.
What I really liked about the story in these 10 issues is that it is one single story being told, akin to Scott Snyder’s New 52: Batman, and not a jumble of stories across the various releases. Every single installment furthers the larger narrative quite substantially and the world that Azzarello is recreating here is fantastic to see. He really has done a great job with it, with Cliff Chiang’s artwork really taking things to the next level.
The story here revolves around, as it always does I suppose where the Greek gods are concerned, another of Zeus’ indiscretions with a mortal woman. Zola, a down-on-her-luck rancher in the middle of nowhere is surprised to find out that she is pregnant, with high and mighty Zeus’ child, and that she is under the protection of Hermes and Wonder Woman while Hera, the Queen of the gods, wants to kill her. At the same time, some serious intrigue is afoot amongst the gods of the Greek pantheon as Zeus is missing and his various sons and daughters are up to no good either. A sort of a classic Greek myth story but Azzarello handles it all really well and he gets you interested right from the first few pages when we meet the “sun of a king”.
Through all the issues, the action is pretty much non-stop. We get to see Wonder Woman and her allies get right into the thick of things and kick some bad-guy ass. Or we see them “negotiate” with the most powerful of the Greek pantheon, even with Hera herself. We see the Amazons humbled. Betrayal. Conspiracies.
Everything. Brian Azzarello has packed a ton of things in each issue and it shows, in abundance. The most significant of the theme/motif in the the series is that of “blood relations” and their importance. Zola’s unborn child, a future demi-god, is the prize in a game of cosmic proportions and the way that Azzarello unfolds all the little intrigues is just great. Every issue hammers home (never in a ham-fisted way mind you) of how important ties of blood are. The Greek gods are some of the most promiscuous gods in ancient mythologies, and nearly all the heroes are their descendants in one way or another. And yet, while they are very promiscuous, the bonds of the true family are more important than anything else, which is one of the main driving motivations for why Hera hates all of Zeus’ bastard sons and daughters, and why she just barely tolerates Apollo and Artemis.
Back to Wonder Woman here. I like what Azzarello has done with her character. She is still a no-nonsense, first-in last-out, honourable character but Azzarello has left his own mark. His Wonder Woman is a bit more modern-savvy than we see in the Justice League animated series, has more ‘spunk’ to her, and is infinitely more attractive in that she struggles throughout with her nature and her past. That’s not something that we really got to see in the animated series or in theWonder Woman animated movie, where she is voiced, inexpertly, by Keri Russell. Her portrayal, in addition to everything above, is of a strong woman who can stand up for herself and absolutely just kicks ass. The first big action sequence of the series, in the first issue itself, shows that aplenty and it is something that continues in a trend for all the following issues.
The secondary characters here, such as Zola herself, Hermes, Strife, Hephaestus, Hera, Eros and Lennox are all also portrayed rather well. Each of them brings something different to the story and each of them stands out from the rest in almost every way imaginable. Azzarello’s cast is just as vibrant as Cliff Chiang’s artwork, especially as a means of getting into the pscyhe of Wonder Woman and seeing what makes her tick. Azzarello plays up the paradoxical unity/disunity of the Greek panetheon with an experienced hand through his cast and just as he does with Wonder Woman, he leaves his mark on these characters as well.
By the time I was done with issue 10, the general feeling I had was that I really did not want to get on her bad side. It is not a pretty place to be in by any means.
Another thing that Azzarello has worked wonders here is his redefinition of the the Greek gods. This portrayal is not as apparent from the script as it is from Cliff Chiang’s art. Each of gods that we see, whether the major ones such Poseidon and Hera, or the minor ones such as Strife and Eros have been rendered really nicely. It’s not a case of what the gods are but how they are seen, Poseidon and Hades being the most prominent examples of this. Redefining the Greek gods, visually speaking, is not an easy job but as I saw in this series so far, that hasn’t stopped either Azzarello or Chiang. The two make for a great creative team of writer/artist. And seriously, who doesn’t love a gunslinging Eros? Or a Hades with melted candles for a head?
And that brings me to issue #10, which I think has been the lowest point in the entire series and is possibly a game-changer. The one thing that really put me off the entire issue was that nothing really happened in it, unlike in the previous nine issues. The larger narrative, the intrigues being put in place by Apollo and Hera’s vendetta against Zola and her unborn child, was never even addressed. This was an issue that stayed uncomfortably focused on the side-plot taking place in the Greek underworld as Hades gets up to some of his old tricks again, and the future repeats itself. To a degree. And then there was the art. I was really put off by the art in the first few panels. It was just too…. monochrome. There were colours yes, but they were strangely muted, rather unlike how the colours have been so far in the series. Sometimes the muted colours even got lost against the white background that permeates those first few pages. It all really put me off.
The one redeeming feature though was that the issue ends on a really exciting cliffhanger.
Taking all the 10 issues together however, the artwork has been damn impressive. Cliff Chiang’s covers especially are really well done and are quite breathtaking. There is a strong vibrancy to them and a lot of dynamism too. The amount of detail, the character poses, the expressions and just the entire vision that he has developed alongside Brian Azzarello is fantastic. For my money, this is definitely Wonder Woman, and the Greek gods to a degree, for the modern audience. Really impressed with Chiang’s work and Tony Akins’ pencils.
Overall, I really enjoyed the series and look forward to more, although my enthusiasm has been somewhat dampened by issue 10. Some of it I think could have been easily removed but them’s the breaks too. Just gotta roll with the punches. I have my fingers crossed that Brian Azzarello can deliver another action-packed, explosive issue as he did with the first six issues of this new run.
In short, this is a series worth exploring and getting into. But be sure to start off with the Blood hardcover TPB of the first six issues but this is not a series where you can start in the middle and expect to understand what is going on.