Wonder Woman Vol. 4: War by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang – Comics Review [Bellarius]
Getting around to one of DC Comics’ trio of heroes, Bellarius looks at the New 52 Wonder Woman in Volume 4: War.
“A flawed end to a tale, but one hardly without its positives.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields
Of all the New 52’s problems, one of the biggest was the treatment of Wonder Woman and the Amazons. Like far too many points in the new setting they seemed to have had their switches flipped from noble to savage, and many things were criticised from the new costume to new angle. However, we’re a few years on now and looking at this volume it’s easy to see how the character has continued to shape up.
Continuing on from previous arc, Wonder Woman and her small army of followers are still attempting to keep Zola’s newborn child alive. Predicted to be the bringer of doom, many seek to kill him to ensure survival while others attempt to ensure he will achieve in his goal. Another has yet arisen to try and use him. Freed from his prison, the First Born is now hunting them as well and with Apollo’s ambitions clashing against them the question remains if this will finally be too much for them to fight.
Delving deep into the mythological aspects has always been a strength Wonder Woman has had over other members of the Justice League and it’s used to its fullest here. With the multiple factions of warring gods scheming against one another, the comic constantly finds new threats and ways to keep the story momentum going. While not rushing through, there is always some impending threat or element which can easily arise keeping your attention on the story. This serves it excellently as it makes the scenes between the multiple fights genuinely enjoyable to read and allows anyone jumping on at this point to become invested in what is going on. While not pulling a full Song of Fire and Ice the sense of politics and maneuvering is still an interesting angle to work with, and helps to vary up the characters and opposing sides involved.
What also helps is the ensemble of characters present. While Wonder Woman proves herself as a strong and assertive leader with great qualities, it’s how she interacts with the many figures accompanying her which draws the most interest. Her conversations with War especially highlight her position among the gods and help to keep the focus upon her despite the importance of the child, while the likes of Orion do provide some well placed moments of humour and drama alike. It’s another thing which builds towards the fight scenes, with minor interactions and talks breaking up some of the more serious or plot driven aspects. Through it the story is kept surprisingly human and despite the dark themes tone at times, it gives much needed variation to the tale thematically.
Speaking of the tone and fight scenes, what we get consists of some great skirmishes and full blown brawls. Despite this being the end of an arc, there is an obvious emphasis on this final part as having been written for a trade paperback. Each battle escalates into another engagement, building upon the story before finally reaching the climax. A god serving Apollo first attacks only to be taken down by Wonder Woman, establishing her bracers suppress her full power but showing she doesn’t need it to take out many foes. Then the First Born attacks proving to be a threat major enough to warrant several of her army becoming involved, and things continue to escalate from there. Each battle is brief, sweet but satisfying and takes exactly as long as it needs to before coming to a close.
The art and page structure is also excellent, with Cliff Chiang’s distinctive style giving the story a unique look to make it stand out from its contemporaries. There really are few to no criticisms which can be truly held against it and beyond some questionable design choices for characters, the art was consistently strong throughout, giving a semi-stylised look in its own odd way which helped significantly with its mythological subject matter.
All this said however, the tale suffers from a great many problems.
The villain here is truly terrible and an unnecessary addition to Wonder Woman’s mythos. As little more than a one note brute, the First One has nothing truly interesting about him and seems like a poor replacement for Hercules than anything else. At almost every stage he is present, it’s hard not to wish that the many other gods involved were not serving as the main villain thanks to more interesting designs, behaviour or actually having interesting ambitions.
Similarly some characters were distinctively weaker than their original incarnations. While it’s hard not to hold the difference in characterisation between here and the previous continuity against the comic, a fair number of characters do seem just like poor replacements of what we had before. While certainly humorous, it’s hard not to miss the original Orion when his replacement is effectively in name only. The same goes some degree for Highfather who, for some ill advised reason, now has a reworked design which brings him in line with Darkseid. Presumably to try and work on the idea of the characters being equal but opposites to one another. It ultimately seemed unnecessary and his new characterisation felt like yet another effort to try and make everything darker, especially when it comes down to certain choices he makes.
Atop of this, while the pacing remains consistent a certain scene change which takes place halfway through felt very meaningless. The story hardly made full use of its presence within the tale and felt it could have easily been set anywhere with the same characters involved. Combined with an ending which just felt as if it was shrugging its shoulders without resolving nearly enough of what had been brought up, the trade started out strong but had cracks begin to appear as time went by.
This volume of Wonder Woman isn’t bad but it’s not exactly great. It will certainly hold your interest while reading it, and provide enough reasons to want to see more of the world in which this is set, but you won’t feel any particular desire to re-read it directly afterwards either.