Review: The New 52 Wonder Woman (Issues 1-9)

A year-and-a-half ago I stopped reading comic books. I was in the middle of landing a new job in a new city. Reading comics fell by the way side.  When, finally, I was comfortably situated in my new surroundings I dropped by my local comic book store only to discover that pretty much everything I used to read was either canceled or renumbered. They were also all refashioned with this queer “New 52″ logo. I get the attention of one of the employees so I can ask what the f happened.

Flashpoint. Geoff Johns. Co-Publisher  Dan Didio.

Being a DC Man, and Vertigo practically a husk of its former self, I dejectedly left the store empty-handed, cursing under my breath the dastardly shadow G-off Johns once again casted on my life.

Flash forward a year or so in the future. Its my day off and all of my favorite television shows have had their season wrap-ups. Sure I could work on all those writing/design project I keep meaning to finish but why the hell would I want to do that. On a whim I decide to head back to the comic book store. Once there I decide that I am going to buy the corporate spin and see this as an opportunity to start reading books that I would otherwise never read due to sprawling cumbersome mythology.

Wonder Woman. Check.

So my initial prejudices are: Cliff Chiang, fuck yeah. Azzarello? ugh I hate 100 bullets. I have to say I pretty much stand by my gut reaction (at least 80%, okay maybe 70ish %). The Art is phenomenal, at least on the Chiang issues. His action sequences have such an incredible vitality to them. There are quite a few through-out the run, though the first issue’s fight sequence between Wonder Woman and Hera’s minions really stands out. Unfortunately the fill-in artist happens to be Tony Atkins of Jack of Fables fame. Let it suffice to say than I never read Jack for the art. His saving grace is the fantastic job done by colourist Matthew Wilson, who bring a consistency with his muted colours that this run has really benefited from. I think colourist are severely undervalued by fandom, along with inkers, but in my opinion they really can make or break a lot of artwork. Francis Manapul for instance; as good an artist as he is, what really shines is his pallet.

As for Azzarello… okay, don’t get me wrong. I’ve enjoyed the run and I am in all likelihood going to buy the next issue. I actually bought all the issues at once and read the whole run in one go. You may be asking if it kept me pretty captivated, what’s the problem? Well, as soon as I put the book down and reflected on the story I realized that something felt off. There was something I didn’t like a-midst an otherwise pleasant experience and I wonder if the month or so between issues would have nursed that feeling into a more general disinterestedness.

The problem with the story for me is that it paradoxically manages to be both a cliché Wonder Woman mythology story (packaged with all these modern representations of Greek legend) as well as its inability to be a distinctly discernible Wonder Woman story. I know I began this review with the admission that I have never been the most knowledgeable about Wonder Woman so if you want to accuse me of speaking out of my ass… Well hell — touche sir.

The story so far is Zeus has gone missing – or rather has stopped existing somehow – and the Greek Pantheon is preparing for some Game-of-Thrones-ass dynastic struggle. At the epicenter is a mortal woman named Zola who is carrying Zeus’ unborn demigod-baby. Wonder Woman gets dragged into all this as she discovers that the story about her mommy fed her about being made of clay and given life by the Gods isn’t actually true… She’s actually one of Zeus’ many scattered demigod children. So, on the one hand we have all these Wonder Woman fixture: there’s Zeus, there’s Hera, there’s Themyscira, there’s Queen Hippolyta and her Amazons.  Nonetheless it seems to me as if you change the costume, give her a new name, this book could totally be a creator-owned Vertigo series. And it would be a pretty good one. With the exception of Zola, who is more of a MacGuffin than a character, and Strife, who smells a little to much of Sandman’s Delirium for my nose, the story has a fantastic supporting cast. The real breakout star is Hermes, who manages to be goofy, intimidating, and slyly aloof all at once.

I think it all comes back to the problem with Wonder Woman as a concept. All those fixtures that I just mentioned are in fact borrowed from Greek myth. So who is Wonder Woman, this character who has this inseverable tie to this self-contained mythology when she is extracted from it and placed in the context of the DC superhero mythology. This story hasn’t given us an answer yet. Maybe it will. But probably not soon as Wonder Woman is trapped in the underworld, soon to be married to her Uncle Hades. Although I understand comic book writers’ preoccupation with origin stories, especially in the midst of a line-wide reboot, I’ve come to the conclusions that they are traps. Look, for the most part the larger strokes of a lot of the big characters’ origins are set in stone. No matter what quirky spin you give to it, I will always come into a Batman comic knowing his family was killed in front of him, Superman is an alien raised in Kansas, Wonder Woman is an Amazon. What other stories you got?

Final Grade: B-

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16 Responses to Review: The New 52 Wonder Woman (Issues 1-9)

  1. Cal C. says:

    I’m trapped in kind of a love-hate relationship with Azz’s Wonder Woman. You really have to have read WW through Heinberg, Picoult, Amazons Attack, and JMS to understand how desperate WW fans are for a book that’s coherent at this time – and Azzarello’s take is not just coherent, but darkly original compared to the last few years the character has gone through.

    That said, there are a lot of problem areas. The book has gotten rid of the Amazons and Hippolyta and replaced them with the Manazons of Hephaestus, and Wonder Woman’s second mission finds her brainwashed into marrying her uncle. That’s not ALL the gender issues at stake here, but there are a fair number of them, and that makes the book feel… uncomfortable, from time to time.

    I think Azzarello began with a neat idea: Wonder Woman is the hero who protects people from the massively powerful, largely amoral gods who see us as, at best, pawns and playthings. It’s a concept that lends itself to action, adventure, horror, and most other genres he may want to play around in, and it’s one that differentiates the character from other heroes in subtle but important ways.

    But it’s gotten bogged down in the soap opera. The political power struggle is definitely an interesting idea, but it’s a slow-burn plot that has been foregrounded when it should probably spend a year or two building up steam behind the scenes before bursting forth, but as it is, the series mostly feels… not fully formed, I guess.

    That said, very much enjoyed the article! Welcome back!

    • YWz says:

      Ugh I hate writing reviews of more than one isssue because I always leave so much out. Fortunately your comments reminded me.

      So yeah i can’t really speak much about wonder woman comics prior to this… except for some awful amazons attack crap. That being said I find it weird that so many people are calling this original given that to me it should read: Wonder Woman: The Legendary Journies. Its basically Hercules sans Kevin Sorbo. In the comic medium there’s even Greek Street (also set in london).

      I also found getting rid of the amazons weird, despite their imminent return is basically telegraphed by the fact that paradise island wasn’t destroyed. Just some vooodoo to make Amazons into Snakes and Stone. Anyway its wierd that they’re gone because usually when comics remove those plot elements its to make the hero more unique e.g. Clark Kent has to be the last kryptonian etc. That doesn’t make sense here because Wonder Woman isn’t just an Amazon. She is a demigod, and from what I can tell she’s nowhere near the last.

      As for the wierd gender problems… I have to say I am intrigued by the themes being set up (though, honestly, from my knowledge of Azzrello’s writing I don’t think he is a thoughtful or subtle enough writer to really deliver). From an outsiders perspective it seems to me that it was pretty hard to write a 3rd wave feminist Wonder Woman. With good reason, as it 3rd wave really focuses on the inequality imbedded in the minitua of every day life which is a hard sell for a mainstream super hero comic book. Azzrello has pretty much by passed this 3rd wave which would ecompass a critique of an essentialist view of woman and embraced a completely deconstructionist one where the sexual difference altogether is done away with. His amazon’s don’t seem to be just strong women but in fact indistinguishable from the men they deplore. They rape and kill men, they sell their male babies, they lie and cheat to safeguard their interest. Ultimately Hera’s reproach to Hyppolyta is that she broke girl-code, and how awful that was considering Hyppolyta position. So in place of sexual difference, there is power. The ones that wield it, the ones that don’t. Any way theres a ton more interesting gender shit happening where Manazons tlak about their work as art. Hephaestus having moming issues. Wonder Woman leaving paradise island because she has some existential identity crisis about being made of clay. This is particular is interesting given the way she evokes such physical bodily langugage when she learns she is actually from Hyppolyta womb. Anyway I guess what i am saying is that maybe the time for a Wonder Woman that is some sort of feminist symbol has passed before it ever came to be. Its definitely not gonna be found in this run. Oh and as a side note isn’t it wierd that despite Zola making a point of being a sexually liberated woman at no point has abortion been even considered? Hermes basically tells her she has to keep the baby and that everyone will protect it.

      As for wonder woman protecting us from capricious gods. I disagree if anything she just happened to fall into the web of the gods by chance. It is definitely not some sort of mission. Also like i said Hera’s reasoning isn’t completely capricious. The only person that was so was Eros in his introduction, which Wonder Woman showed no interest in.

      Thanks for the word!

      • Cal C. says:

        Believe me, I know the feeling. I’m working on a post that tries to cover the 25-issue Johns/Giffen run on Blue Beetle in its entirety, and even at 3000 words, I still feel like I’m leaving out a lot I want to say.

        I’m totally okay with Wonder Woman not being just ‘that feminist icon’, especially since, at this point, feminism means so many different things to so many different people – it’s damn near impossible to treat Wonder Woman (or Superman, or Batman) as some sort of Philosophical Icon and still write a good story about her. The only writer I’ve seen actually pull that off with WW is probably Greg Rucka, whose run was flawed but fascinating and easily the single best Wonder Woman run I’ve ever read.

        That said, I still find an awful lot of awkwardness to how he’s handling the gender relations, in part because he’s telling stories that are very, very gender-coded (in my opinion). Batman is dealing with a literal facade of Gotham’s longrunning corruption with the Court of Owls, who have been working for centuries to keep Gotham under their thumb (… for some reason). Over in Action Comics, Superman is dealing with a similarly universal theme as he grows up from the naive, idealistic college kid he is into a more driven, confident young man. Wonder Woman is reaching for those issues from time to time – if the family drama aspect of the book wasn’t so underplayed, I’d suspect that it was a focus of Azzarello’s, given how radical the changes he’s made to her birth and family have been – but it also features Wonder Woman’s mother sleeping with a married god and getting slut-shamed by a goddess for it; a pregnant woman in peril; and attempted brainwashing and rape. What’s more, unless I’m missing something, WW’s ‘matrons’ (Aphrodite, Athena, Artemis, if I recall correctly) have been very close to completely absent in the power struggle and Diana’s issues, which, for a kind of ‘origin’, is a very, very weird choice to make.

        Now, to me, Wonder Woman has one of the most problematic fandoms in… well, in all over comics. Unlike the relatively peaceful Batman or Superman fans, WW’s fans deal with the fact that, put simply, she means too much to them.

        As for originality, no, I agree, it isn’t the most conceptually original… but it is still a direction the character hasn’t gone in quite some time. The almost horror-like tone of the first couple issues, the monstrous designs of many of the gods, Wonder Woman’s more aloof nature – these are all fairly different for the title in general.

        I’m waiting until this next arc closes out, but my opinion right now: the run has some interesting ideas and is trying some new things with the character, but it almost seems like it doesn’t WANT to be a Wonder Woman book. So much of the (admittedly too complicated) mythology is dumped and changed in favor of slightly easier material that it almost feels like Azz had an idea for a mythology/horror/politics book and thought to add WW to it. It’s mostly enjoyable, but kind of… off.

  2. wwayne says:

    I’ve been reading mixed reviews of Azzarello’s Wonder Woman: for example, you can find a lot of negative comments about it on Weekly Comic Book Review and the same quantity of enthusiastic opinions on Retcon Punch, and this made me curious. I bought WW # 8, and I think it definitely is the worst New 52 issue I read so far. I can justify this statement with 2 reasons:
    1) I’m in love with greek – roman world, and I think that Azzarello approached it in a purely pedestrian way.
    2) I enjoy super hero comics when they are as realistic, down-to-earth and plausible as possibile, so Wonder Woman definitely is not my ideal kind of comic book.
    When I wrote this on Retcon Punch, a reader replied me: “While we liked WW8, I think it’s mostly because we like the series as a whole. On it’s own, WW8 would be a frustrating, borderline-pointless read. WW has a lot of things going for it – self-contained stories isn’t one of them.” Maybe he’s right, but I found WW # 8 an unreadable comic, it was simply unbearable, and I doubt that my judgement would change if I bought issues 1 – 7.

    • Anonymous says:

      Thanks for the comments wwayne! I have to agree about the pedestrian comment. But to be fair what pop culture medium really handles the greek mythology nuancedly? With the exception of The Wire (which is by all accounts is really one of a kind) I can’t think of any.

      • wwayne says:

        Maybe you’re right: Azzarello is writing a super hero comic book, not a history textbook, so it shouldn’t sound so shameful to me if he doesn’t take the greek mythology too seriously… but I can’t help it, I can’t stand this detail of WW anyway. Thanks for bringing The Wire to my attention: I never watched it, but now I will definitely put an eye on it. : )

  3. wwayne says:

    @ Cal C.: You gave us the opportunity to talk about one of the most ignored New 52 series (both in terms of blog reviews and sales data), Blue Beetle. Are you reading Bedard’s run? If so, what can you tell us about it?

    • Cal C. says:

      I read the first 6 issues of Bedard’s run. Unfortunately, I’m not sure if I’m capable of being objective about it – Rogers and Giffen’s run from a few years back is among my all time favorites, and this was a complete reboot, one that drastically changed the characterizations, tone, atmosphere, etc…. It almost feels like “Spider-Man as action-horror”, which is actually a pretty cool idea, but the story beats are VERY stereotypical for this kind of book.

      It’s definitely not so bad that I would tell you to avoid it, but it’s not my favorite and I doubt it’s something I’ll come back to anytime soon.

      • wwayne says:

        I had already read that DC was trying to clone Spider Man, but this accusation concerned Static Shock (http://willismacgillis.com/?p=994): I bought 3 issues of SS (# 1, 6 and 8), and I had the same impression every single time. Anyway, I don’t care if a series is cloned or stereotyped, as far as I enjoy it while I’m reading it. That’s why I felt a little pain, when I knew Static Shock was about to close. I like Spider Man, even if I haven’t bought it in a long time, so maybe I’ll give Blue Beetle a try.
        I understand what you felt when you saw a series you loved being distorted: I felt the same reading the reboot of Green Arrow. Anyway, I think that this version of Green Arrow could be fun, if they put a good writer on it – Nocenti was a marvellous one, but unfortunately she’s not anymore.

  4. Female silver age Thor with none of the charm, wit or plot. Also some truly awful writing in this series- sub-Whedon but definitely trying for his 40 year old talking through mouth of 20 year old type “style”.

  5. The.Watcher says:

    You hate 100 bullets? What? You hate a critically acclaimed series that won a Harvey AND an Eisner? Oh, you so crazy.

    Seriously though, to each his own. For me, 100 was one of the best comic experiences I’ve ever had – right up there with the best of Moore and Miller.

    • YWz says:

      I hear 100 Bullets get better but it was incredibily hard for me to get into the concept. It was really repetive and violent and seemed vacous.

      • The.Watcher says:

        Yeah, it can at first. But it’s also 100 issues, which is roughly 2500 pages of art. The story gets pretty damn deep and complex the further along you go, it gets really great and there becomes a point to all the killing. Meh, if you ever find yourself with nothing to do, torrent some of them and give it another shot!

  6. Anthony says:

    I know I am a bit late to the conversation, but my biggest issue with the re-boot origin is the fact that Wonder Womans’ powers are derived from a male God. Her being the embodiment of female energy and power is what made here unique. That being said Chiang’s art is “wonderful” (pun totally intended). But I would have liked to have seen the flip flop the roles of Hera and Zues in this seies. Where Diana is the child of Hera, that must be hidden fromZues’ wrath, would have been more keeping with some of the themes that were central to the character in her earlier days.

  7. jp says:

    Wonder Woman isn´t even close to being a superhero in it, she´s waaaaaaaaaaaay too angsty, and not in a cool way, the stories are shallow even in their goal of trying to modernize greek mythology, and, lastly all the changes they´ve made to her mythology don´t seem necessary and are counter-productive in popularizing the character because really they´ve just created a whole new character instead. zeus being her father is terrible. I get also that the “clay” thing is a bit outdated, but what they could have done if they cared about the origin of the character, rather than making hypollyta zeus´ slut is have her create a clay model, then athena comes and makes her pregnant (because she´s a god, she can do that duh!) and then when she gives birth Diana is a spitting image of the clay model. I mean its so stupid saying a man has to be involved? why. because it´s not realistic otherwise. well um, this is a universe where gods, and centaurs exist, I think a goddess, granting her greatest patron her only wish is not too out there for people to understand. it also keeps the feminist and mythological implications of her story intact while dramatizing and modernizing them.

    azzerrello´s a good writer, but he doesn´t like nor care for the character by his own admission. greg rucka and gail simone did some great things for the character. they really loved the character which is why they were able to do it. gail even made her quite edgy. the only thing i hope they keep about this version of ww (or really xena princess) in future is her costume design. its ok and looks more like armor which is better than the traditional swim suit, but she still looks attractive in it. I think if they want to bring back her popularity, unfortunately given our modern sex crazed world, they have to maintain that side of her appeal.

    • No they didn’t. Greg Rucka and Gail Simone destroyed Wonder Woman by forcing her to be pretentiously dark, violent, and edgy. They started this problem by being full of themselves. I really don’t think modern fans cares about Wonder Woman at all. All they care about is exploiting her race into a Xena knockoff which is a real throwback to everything wrong with the comics trend in the 1990s. Not only it’s insulting to the general audience who looks up to female heroes, it’s not wonderful at all.

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