Wonder Woman is my favorite comic book character because of the first thirty-six issues of her series DC’s The New 52
relaunch. While I had plenty of exposure to her growing up through various television shows and had read George Perez and Len Wein’s seminal book Gods and Mortals before I started buying comics regularly, this is the series that made me fall in love with the character and her world. Written by Brian Azzarello and usually drawn by Cliff Chiang, the relaunched series put Diana in the middle of an epic story of family and betrayal steeped in Greek mythology. Feeling more like high fantasy than a superhero book, the book had a unique identity among the books I was reading. Coupled with Chiang’s stellar artwork and a host of memorable characters, it quickly became the book I anticipated most every month.
Recently, I bought Volume Six of the series, completing the Azzarello and Chiang run. Rather than simply dive into that book and finally get the conclusion, I grabbed Volume One and binge read all six volumes in succession. This seems to be the way the book was intended to be read; one common complaint about the series from detractors is that the pacing of the story is very slow. But when read all together instead of over a course of three years, the slower issues don’t feel like such a letdown. The book is paced more like a book than typical comic books, which I understand can be unfulfilling when you only get one chapter a month.
But reading it all together was extremely rewarding, as I got to once again grow with the characters and ride along on their journey. That experience has cemented this as one of my favorite runs of all time, and I decided that I will be reviewing all six volumes in succession here. While certain story elements will be spoiled, my goal here is to avoid discussing the little details. I want to instead focus on what each book reveals about Diana as a character as she goes through this adventure.
Volume One: Blood
Issue one of the book sets the plot in motion with an incredibly effective hook, especially if the reader is a fan of Greek mythology. When the goddess Hera attempts to have a woman named Zola killed, she is rescued by Hermes, the messenger god, who sends her to Diana to make sure she is protected. The reason she needs protection is that she is pregnant… by Zeus. Diana takes her to Themyscira to protect her from Hera, but this proves a dangerous place for her to be when Hera’s daughter, a contentious troublemaker named Strife, comes to the island and reveals that Diana is herself a daughter of Zeus. This puts her at odds with her mother, who always told her that she was created by the gods from clay.
The title of this book is appropriate for two reasons, Azzarello’s Wonder Woman run is a gory affair; the first issue alone sees horses decapitated so that they can be transformed into centaurs, one of which later has her arm removed by Diana’s sword. But it soon becomes clear that this is a story about family, both the one we are born into and the one we make for ourself. Diana’s revelation that she is truly her mother’s daughter is one she has trouble coping with, but it also puts her in perhaps the most notoriously awful family in the history of fiction. The Greek gods are always at each other’s throats, struggling for power and never letting go of old grudges.
Feeling no longer at home with the Amazons but not exactly at home among the warring gods, Diana ends up creating a new family for herself. She and Hermes work together to protect Zola and Diana’s unborn new sibling. They are soon joined by Lennox, another child of Zeus whose skin is made entirely of stone. Together this ragtag group of loosely related heroes have to contend not only with Hera’s wrath, but the ambition of Poseidon and Hades, both seeking to claim the throne that Zeus has abandoned. Also planning to usurp the throne of heaven is the sun god Apollo, who works from the shadows to plan his ascent.
Wonder Woman in Volume One
Though she is a late arrival in her first issue, Diana makes an immediate impact. This issue makes no attempt to hide the fact that Diana is an amazon and is thus very powerful. When Zola is teleported to her room by Hermes and Diana isn’t sure who she is or why she is there, she grabs Zola by the throat and it is intimidating. The fact that she is considerably taller doesn’t help matters. But when Diana realizes that she is frightened and in trouble, her mood immediately changes to one of compassion; she selflessly embraces the role of protector. Then she proceeds to kick centaur butt; if you’ve never seen Wonder Woman in action, this is one of the best examples of it as she shows how skilled she is as a fighter.
Diana is also shown to be at odds with her Amazon sisters. While her mother Hippolyta clearly loves her, it isn’t a sentiment shared by all of them, especially when she brings a pregnant girl and a male (divine though he may be) to their island. We get a sense that Wonder Woman’s loyalty is torn between the world at large that needs her protection, and the Amazons whose approval she is desperate to earn. But when it is revealed that her mother has lied to her about her parentage, Diana seems to clearly choose a side.
There has been a great deal of controversy about Wonder Woman’s revised origin as the daughter of Zeus, and to an extent I can understand why. The idea that Diana suddenly has a father and that years of continuity is thrown aside is potentially unsettling. But what I enjoy is that Diana never develops “daddy issues” or seems to care that Zeus is her father. After all, he’s not a man, he’s the king of the gods. She’s probably felt like his child all along in a sense, just not so literally. The only thing that matters is that she was lied to, and Diana despises dishonesty. As for my take on the whole thing, I think it’s a great move. It helps explain why Diana is so much more powerful than her Amazon sisters, and gives her a more direct connection to the Greek myths that serve as the background in her best stories, including this one.
Volume Two: Guts
Issue #6 ended with Diana manipulating Poseidon and Hades in order to draw Hera out and blinding her to Zola to prevent her from being hunted. It’s one of the brightest spots of Volume One, but just when Diana experiences a great triumph, she suffers a loss when Hades (who is referred to as “Hell” in this book) lures Zola into the underworld. Naturally, Diana takes it upon herself to rescue Zola, but not before taking a detour to Hephaestus, blacksmith of the gods, for some necessary upgrades to her armor and weapons. Diana’s journey into Hell’s realm takes up the bulk of this story and is full of plenty of fun twists, which I won’t spoil.
When Diana manages to save Zola, things go from bad to worse in a hurry. What was days to Diana and crew were months in hell for Zola, and consequently she is now in the final stages of her pregnancy. Apollo, along with his sister (and possibly lover) Artemis start to hunt the child as well. Apollo is doing this as a favor to Hera in exchange for Zeus’ throne, which leads to a climactic battle on Mount Olympus where Wonder Woman shows the full extent of her power for the first time.
Wonder Woman in Volume Two
While the first six issues showcase Diana’s protective instincts very well, this book expands upon the idea as Diana literally goes to hell and back to save Zola. A strong theme in this volume is Diana’s love for all human life. it is the driving force behind all of her actions and leads to some interesting discussion with Hephaestus and Hell. But while Diana is willing to put her life on the line for others, that same love makes her reluctant to accept help from her new teammates. She doesn’t want them to get hurt, but it’s also clear that she has some insecurity and wants to prove that she can do things by herself. I feel like this is a very good character flaw for Wonder Woman; as a product of a warrior culture, she should be competitive and independent, even when she needs to rely on the strength of others.
The final issue’s fight between Diana and Artemis is one of the coolest moments in any Wonder Woman book ever, but it also subtly introduces a new defining character trait. We see that Diana is always holding herself back, never embracing her true power because she is afraid to hurt others with it. And I like this idea, particularly as an evolution of the themes of loving submission that William Moulton Marston intended for the character. While his ideas probably went in some directions they didn’t need to, Azzarello isn’t afraid to address them. Instead, he uses this display of Diana’s power to show that the “Bracelets of Submission” do restrain her for our safety. Not hers, but for ours. The fact that Diana has truly godlike power but chooses to reign it in is an excellent modern interpretation.
Blood and Guts are an excellent start to the Azzarello and Chiang run. They aren’t afraid to make bold narrative decisions, but the true strength of the book is the excellent characterization. While Diana is the most fleshed out character, each of the gods feels very true to the classic mythos and Zola is a very likable character in her own right. Azzarello’s writing is certainly a major contributer, but Chiang’s beautiful artwork helps tremendously. His facial expressions and body language really help to sell what the characters are going through. And as a completely irrelevant point, I can’t get over the way he draws Diana’s hair. It’s gorgeous.
But while Cliff’s art is magnificent, back-up artist Tony Akins work on issues five, six, nine and ten are decidedly not. While Azzarello’s story is still compelling, these issues lose a lot of the magic because of poor artwork. I would have loved to have seen what Chiang could have done with the same material. Akins’ contributions are the sole reason why this run is not my favorite of all time, which is a shame.
But aside from that, it should be abundantly obvious that these books have my full recommendation. They are some of my favorite comics of all time. If you don’t love Wonder Woman before reading this book, you will after only a few issues.