In my last review I made a big deal about a lot of the arbitrary changes made to Green Arrow’s character and mythos and how they added very little to either the narrative or character. Similarly, a lot of fans became polarized by Brian Azzarello’s Wonder Woman because of a specific change to Diana’s backstory, mainly the circumstances of her birth and her relationship with her mother that follows therefrom. But unlike the changes in Green Arrow, this change actually informs the character, makes the story more interesting, more dynamic, and invigorates it with life and nuance. It gives a staid and well-trodden character somewhere new to go, rather than, say, retread older, better stories all over again. Without it, Wonder Woman has no thematic parallel to the story being told and no deeper motivation to see her mission through.
Some could make the case that this alters Wonder Woman’s character in a way that won’t be appealing to all readers, especially long time Wonder Woman fans. To their credit, Diana is a lot angrier in this book, more dispassionate — more attuned with her Amazon roots, I would argue — and the change I mentioned only exacerbates these qualities. But this is a younger Wonder Woman, as well, one more disconnected with mortals and their less violent, more introspective foibles, so, on a character level, I think these things can be forgiven. Nevertheless, for anyone used to Wonder Woman’s character as it was prior to the reboot, this book may be a tough sell, but, to Brian Azzarello’s credit, at least he’s using the relaunch as an excuse to do something new, something we haven’t seen before with this character. But enough of that, on to the book at hand.
Well, what’s there to say about Wonder Woman? Amazon, ass kicker, spirit of Truth, and foremost superheroine of the DC universe. Indeed, we waste no time with introductions as this book leaps straight into the action:
Zola, a woman living in isolation somewhere in Virginia, receives a sudden visit from the Messenger of the Gods, Hermes himself, informing her that she is not only pregnant, but pregnant with a child of Zeus. Immediately, two centaurs beset them and Hermes teleports Zola away, away to the home of Diana Themyscira, who, upon hearing Zola’s story, agrees to help her, rescuing Hermes, and whisking the two away to Themyscira itself, Paradise Island. Elsewhere, the gods plot and scheme, pondering matters beyond the bastard of their father god. Matters of succession. Matters of right. Matters of blood.
As the volume’s subtitle, Blood, implies, thematically this book is about family. The ties that bind, drawing people relentlessly together despite their efforts to forge their own path. Every conflict in the book revolves around these ties — the old grudges, the allegiances, the days long past both fond and foul. On a personal level, we see Diana confront her mother Hippolyta with lies and secrets hidden for decades, a fantastical conflict born out of a genuine emotional kernel: What happens when you realize a parent is something more than they appear, something more insidious and challenging to your personal ethos? And how do you react when you realize their blood flows in your veins as well?
As 100 Bullets stands to prove, Brian Azzarello knows how to craft an intricate, well plotted, and irresistibly intriguing story. From the very first moments when the headless bodies of two horses explode into mighty centaurs in wicked, bloody fashion, it is difficult to tear one’s attention away from this book. And like 100 Bullets, as the various factions (here, the gods and goddesses) reveal themselves, hints at multitude plots and conspiracies being woven by numerous players, each seeking the throne of Zeus, emerge. As such, this volume is mainly concerned with introducing the players themselves who will no doubt serve larger roles later in the story. Long time Wonder Woman villains Ares and Hades make only brief appearances before retreating into their own maniacal webs.
Indeed, the biggest criticism I can level at this book stems from how much it’s “written for the trade” — hell, one could say it’s written for the omnibus. Character development comes slim in each issue, and, even in this collection of the first six issues, the characters only just begin to take form. Not that big a deal given how little backstory and development need to be covered with Wonder Woman herself, but the supporting cast feels a bit lacking. However, this doesn’t read so much as a “lack” of character but, rather, like Brian Azzarello is keeping his cards close to his chest, eeking out fragments of the characters’ hidden depths slowly, deliberately. Zola alludes to her past, showing very little, but what hints we get aren’t pleasant: an abusive father, no other family to speak of, anonymous encounters with multiple men (to the point she doesn’t even remember sleeping with Zeus, the friggin’ king of the gods!), and she seems to take the news of her pregnancy with a demigod and impending murder at the behest of a goddess in stride.
In lieu of deep characterization we get ACTION! Big, bold, bloody, and brutal. DC’s interpretation of the Greek mythos, like many modern interpretation, is largely sanitized, lacking the grit and gore of the classical myths. Myths which largely focused on enormous men beating each other crimson and screwing anything that moves in a whirlwind of passion, rage, and sweat. Azzarello takes that old depiction, the safe and wholesome Greek lore, and tosses it in the bin, giving us something more akin to old myths, the grim and gritty myths. The gods are gods and humans merely playthings to them as we see Apollo casually obliterate three women in the first issue.
Artwork by Cliff Chiang and Tony Akins is a particular highlight among the New 52 titles, nicely stylized without deforming into the cartoonish, able to blend the real and the fantastical seamlessly. Their designs for the gods build on simple iconography evocative of both role and stature: Apollo the sun god, coal black in the night, explodes with the first rays of sunlight, shedding light on the world and the myriad plots taking form about it. And for a book calling for action, Chiang and Akins deliver with fearsome impacts of swords, arrows, and fists. Blood runs through more than veins here and colors by Matthew Wilson shine with every trickle, complementing the illustrations fantastically. This has to one of the most vibrantly illustrated and painted of DC’s current line.
Along with Batman, Wonder Woman is one of the most solid entries in the New 52 line, a beautiful blending of art and writing. A great starting point for new readers as well as something new for the longtime fans. All that’s required is an openness to change and patience enough to wait for the full story to take form.
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