31 August 2013

A brunch Review: Wonder Woman: Issues 0-23

Wonder Woman
Writer:  Brian Azzerrello
Pencils: Cliff Chiang
Color: Wilson Matthew (among others)
Created by: Moulton Marston (waaaay back in the day)

Amazons through a Vertigo filter

[There are a few spoilers ahead, but seriously not so much that you won't enjoy the book]

Wonder Woman has been an iconic fixture at DC comics for decades. She has been, in various iterations, a warrior princess, an ambassador, a simple superhero of Amazonian origin. She is probably the second most powerful person in the DC universe, which is to say, there is Superman, and then there is the Amazon (arguments could probably be made for Martian Manhunter, Darkseid, or Doomsday being number two). She is part of what everyone calls -fans, writers and editors alike- the DC Trinity. That is to say, she is part of the crew of DC superheroes around which the rest often coalesce. Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are DC's big three. Sadly with the exception of Batman, two of these three are probably also the hardest DC characters to write. Of the two, Superman and Wonder Woman, its probably the WW whose book has most often been on life support. Judging by the fact that she has no character defining stories I have to suspect she is the more difficult character to write (by character defining stories I mean stories that all the fans look to and say this story defined the direction of the character for years, stories all the fans know). That isn't to say there haven't been good runs on Wonder Woman. There certainly have been. But Wonder Woman, the noble, just and deserving Princess Diana, hasn't had her Days of Future Present, or her Year One. She hasn't had it that is, until now.

For those of you who don't know Princess Diana's origin, here it is in a nutshell. Her mother, the queen of the Amazons, Hippolyta had a beautiful baby girl. This girl, Diana, did not have a father. Hippolyta said she fashioned her daughter out of the clays of Themyscira and her love and need for a child brought the girl to life. Praise Hera, patron of Amazons rah rah.

Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang et al, as part of the DC's reboot, looked at this origin and realized that it smelled a bit fishy. And being mischievous, they decided to turn all of it on it ear. Hippolyta had, for very good and sound reasons, told a very massive lie. Hippolyta had fallen for one of Olympus' more well known scoundrels, become with child and she and her inner circle had attempted a cover-up. We can see why she might opt for a cover up given that the scoundrel was, of course, Zeus. Hera has never taken this kind of thing well, nor has she ever really taken it up with Zeus, but rather taken it out on the mothers and many children of Zeus. Amazons know this better than most, Hera being their patron.

Secrets, as any adventure story will explain to you, are hard to keep, and it is only a matter of time before this one, a doozy to be sure, comes out. We meet Diana just before her outing as a demigod. She is eighteen maybe, and while she loves Themyscira and her rich Amazonian culture she also doesn't feel like she fits in. This is because she doesn't. She is stronger, faster, and better than any other Amazon who has ever been. She is kind, but resents that most of her peers call her "Clay." The revelation of her true origin comes out early in the series and Diana, feeling her life one of lies, decides that the unknown world (the Amazons live in isolation from the World of Men) is preferable to the lie.  It is at this point her adventures and troubles truly begin. Once the secret of who her father is comes out, it is well and truly out, and every scheming Olympus is in on the cruel joke.

The series has been incredibly inventive, especially in its character design. These characters seem fresh and accessible in a way  Wonder Woman's Greek Pantheon just hasn't been prior to Azzerello and Chiang's run. Wonder Woman's greek gods seem like us and not like us in odd, and sometimes unsettling ways. There are no togas here. Ares is an old man, bored out of his mind and possessed of nothing but contempt for his fellow immortals. He walks bare foot and his eyes are deep pools of black that reveal nothing except maybe his weariness. His sleeves and the cuffs of his pants are soaked always with blood and we get the sense that he would like to burn Olympus down.  Strife, takes great pleasure in her cousin Diana's company, and in spoiling her optimism and sowing, casually and with out apparent effort, discord where ever she goes. When we first meet this godly cast, they are sitting around a pool, Apollo wearing board shorts. There are other things I could say about this cast of deities but there should be some surprises. If you know your Greek mythology, you will already know that they don't all like working together however they look.

There are stark contrasts here to be sure. Diana has lived like an Amazon for most of her life (like the ones that gave Theseus and Nestor so much trouble). Her self imposed exile has forced her to confront a world that has moved on from the times in which the Amazons went into their timeless hiding. Azzerello and his team manage this pretty subtly and don't go for the easy gags. There is a wide cast (the rest of Zeus' brood) and a big adventure whose thread runs through nearly all of these twenty three issues.

I do hope I have made it entirely clear, dear reader, that there is plenty of action and adventure waiting for you in the first twenty three issues of Wonder Woman. Cliff Chiang has dynamic and delightfully quirky pencils that breath a strange life in to his drawings and these characters.  But that is only part of why this book works and has worked for nearly two years. Wonder Woman defies the gritty, darkness that has come to define most comic book stories for the last twenty five years. Wonder Woman's issues don't always end on an up-beat note (serials gotta have a cliff hanger sometimes), but she does manage to be optimistic in spite of her troubles.  This optimism has emerged very organically and has never seemed strained. That is to say, I think Azzerello understands Wonder Woman and this tendency of hers has just come out in the writing.

My advice, stop by your local comic book store and pick up Wonder Woman by Brian Azzerello and Cliff Chiang in the trades. Ask the nerd at the desk for help if you are going into a store for the first time. They will know what to do.


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