This Wonder Woman Really Is Number One

September 28th, 2011 by |

Well, DC is catching even more internet crap than I ever imagined they would over the Starfire and Catwoman.  But I’ll give them credit where it’s most assuredly due.  They hit a home run with the Wonder Woman title.  I was not even remotely enthusiastic about this title when I saw first saw it, but now that I’ve picked it up, I have to say I’m extremely impressed.  Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang combine their talents to make a vivid and fantastic book.

Azzarello is at his best in noir, and he’s shown us in Flashpoint that he can get a little nutzo with it.  What he’s done in Wonder Woman is transport the Greek Gods into an urban underworld.  Perhaps the better world for it is ‘overworld,’ since the first mythological character we see in the book has taken up residence in a spectacular penthouse.  According to him he’s the ‘sun of a king’ in what I am sure, by the end of the book, is not a misprint.  Mythological creatures flit around the world, committing murder, trying to commit murder, and very occasionally trying to prevent murder.

If the premise of mythology in the everyday world sounds too precious for regular comics readers, Cliff Chiang rides to the rescue with deep neons that stand out against red skylines.  Never have centaurs looked so perfectly in place.  The storyline is pure noir as well, with the thoughtless kingpin (Zeus) at the top, playing around while his underlings, in this case his children, scrambling and scheming to get a bigger slice of the pie.  It looks like the most ruthless of those children wants to knock off dear old dad himself, or at least a few of his brothers and sisters.

Into this world, a hapless innocent – a young woman who was impregnated by Zeus – has gotten in over her head.  Diana is summoned to save her, from the machinations of Zeus and from all of his children on earth.  This book, funny as it sounds, has Wonder Woman playing Sam Spade.  She’s world weary, knows the lay of the land, knows she’s not particularly high up in the hierarchy, but also knows she’s tough as nails.  It’s her job to figure out what’s going on, what needs to happen, and to go up against the powers that be to make sure it does happen.

Let me add a word or two about Cliff Chiang’s art.  (I believe those words will be; Nekkid Ladies Done Right.)

This is Zola.

She spends the entire issue in her underwear, and it’s pink.  I didn’t notice it until my second or third reading.  Although Chiang’s art makes women very ‘pretty,’ there isn’t any scene that looks posed or contrived.  When Zola’s in danger, the art is about Zola being in danger.  When she’s threatening someone with a gun, the pose is one that looks right for threatening someone with a gun.

And here’s Diana:

I would argue that the picture above is hot.  At the same time, the art doesn’t sacrifice personality, context, or the heroic look of the character in order to make it hot.  In fact, the most awkward piece of art in the entire book was this panel:

That magical coverlet has to be held on with magnets, or has to have slid down to her waist one second later, because otherwise Diana would be flashing the reader.  And I would be fine with that.  Surprised that they did it, but fine with it.  (I’d also be fine with her sleeping in pajamas.)  It’s not about nudity.  I’m pretty sure that between Vertigo and Max and independent titles every comics reader out there has seen a nipple or two, and kids don’t read this stuff.  (Even if they did, I doubt a naked boob shot would hurt them.) It’s about the context and the character – and prioritizing both.  Not all nudity is bad nudity, and a nude shot of Diana here would, in my opinion, be better than the fully-clothed gratuitous butt shots of other female characters in other books.

But back to Wonder Woman.  The art and the storyline work together well.  It’s also an interesting story, thanks to good world-building by Azzarello and thanks to the fact that, unlike nearly every other book in the New 52, it isn’t stuck waist deep in yet another re-telling of a superhero’s origin.  If there’s one thing that hampers it, it’s the fact that Wonder Woman remains DC’s version of The Man With No Personality.  (“Some say he robbed a bank and saved a puppy at the same time.” “Is he fer the law or agin’ it?”  “Nobody knows.  ‘Cause he ain’t got no personality.”)  Putting her in the Sam Spade role is a good way for her to stalk through the book with authority and purpose, but the main show will always be the side characters.  Overall, though, I’d say it’s one of the best books to come out of the New 52, and it’s good to see that for this particular part of DC’s Big Three.

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12 comments to “This Wonder Woman Really Is Number One”

  1. I have to say, the first time through this book I was just stunned, it was so unexpected. But the more I went over it, the book I liked it. I do agree that while Wonder Woman was awesome in her deed, I too didn’t get a sense of her personality.

    Maybe it is just the titles that I’ve picked up, but I have noticed almost NO origin stories of heroes being told in the new 52 so I thought that was an odd assessment of the reboot.

  2. I’m a big Greek Mythology fan and I really hope that this series gets deep into that. What is more fucked up, gruesome, and cool than Greek Mythology? It’s a perfect source for story ideas.

  3. Yeah, WW was pretty damn good, and while I would disagree with you that Diana has no personality (writers like Simone and Rucka were able to write great stuff in that respect), it was a good review of the issue.

    One little thing:

    “I’d also be fine with her sleeping in pajamas.”

    I honestly wouldn’t. She’s been sleeping (even praying) nude since the Perez run, and has been one of the few consistent things about the way they portray her for the past 30 years to the point where I’d say her in pajamas would be out of character for me.

  4. I find it hard to believe that people wouldn’t be angry if the very first shot of Diana was her nude.

    But yeah, I liked WW #1 a lot, and the horse part at the beginning reminded me a lot of Berserk. I’m down with the Greek myths but I’ve never really read a WW comic. I wasn’t aware of Rucka until his run had been over for a while, but Azzarello and the preview images of Chiang’s art got me interested in this.

  5. Could not agree more. WW was a great surprise in all this 52 hoopla.

  6. Damn, that’s good art!

  7. I am pretty happy that they put the top creative team on Wonder Woman. Honestly, I doubt I’ll buy any series other than this one else past #1 until I read reviews on the collections.

  8. Honestly, this was how you portray beauty and strength in a female character WITHOUT being gratuitous. Like others, I am a sucker for Greek / Roman Mythology tales when done right and this hit all of those right notes.

    When we talked about writers who can change or ‘tweek’ their styles to fit their characters, I really overlooked Brian Azzarello but that should be good omen… Why? Because o so long ago when it was announced that Greg Rucka was taking on Wonder Woman, I thought it would be a joke. He only went on to have one of the most heralded runs on the character.

    *knocking on wood* I hope they can sustain the quality of issue #1.

  9. Something that I think will be an actual success of the new 52 – characters that many thought of as boring or lame ( Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Superman, OMAC ) will possibly produce the best titles.

    For these 4 in particular:

    Wonder Woman – Be confident enough in the character that there’s no need for an introduction. Instead, focus on her world or others from it existing in ours.

    Aquaman – Deal with the “Aquaman is lame” stance in-story. Then, show why it’s such a closed minded, tired cliche.

    Superman – Use the characters original presention as the basis for his reintroduction. Shake up the status quo for his supporting cast ( I thought of a storyline where Lois becomes E I C of the Daily Planet, Perry White retires to the farmlands of Smallville. He ends purchasing a home next to Ma Kent but they’re time as neighbors is brief. Ma Kent can’t afford to keep the land as she can’t produce enough of what the food industry needs at a price they like. Even with all this, the biggest status quo change is for Clark. Yeah, I’ve given this some thought.).

    OMAC – Simply have fun on a title with a simply fun premise. If Dan Didio were not listed as a writer on the book, more people would give it a chance.

  10. I dont dig the idea that Wonder Woman isn’t quite the central character in the first issue of her own new series. My preference would not be for me of that.

    The distinction Esther makes about nudity is slightly elusive for me. Would Diana flashing the reader be more appropriate than some other character in a needlessly suggestive, but fully clothed-pose, simply because Diana’s in a bed?

    Whether the book should be kid-friendly is also in-question, IMO, as popular, kid-friendly cartoons were made about or including characters like Wonder Woman. That sounds like an advertisement to kids and anyone else likely to watch that cartoon.

    Until DC puts out kid-friendly versions of these series are released, I would expect prospective readers to expect kid-friendliness. Interesting article, though.

  11. Here’s my problem with Wonder Woman.. She’s arrogant, she’s violent and she’s rather nasty to Zola through out the entire comic. She’s not the Wonder Woman who will change the world and make it a better place, no.. she’s a Warrior Woman that chops off arms, gets testy and rather nasty. She gets rather impatient with Zola several times and even threatens her. It’s just.. not.. Wonder Woman. She has no qualities that make her better, instead.. she’s Xena or Red Sonja, which just isn’t anywhere near as interesting. She’s no longer a role model for young girls.. She’s just too Batman and not enough Wonder Woman.
    Plus, Perez did the whole start with mythology angle, which worked, but after he left? the majority of the writers struggled to find something new to write about. I fear this will suffer the same fate ultimately and can you see this Wonder Woman facing off against Cheetah and not cutting her head off? Seriously?

  12. Holy crap, Esther is writing about a book that isn’t Bat-related.