I’ve been meaning to do a post about Brian Azzarello & Cliff Chiang’s run on Wonder Woman for a while now. I really enjoy it; currently it is the only DC Comics New 52 title I follow regularly. I recently learned that Azzarello & Chiang will be departing from the series sometime in the near future. So, no time like the present!
Azzarello has a really good handle on Wonder Woman. He understands the contradictions in the character: she is a highly trained, skilled, dangerous warrior, yet she is also an envoy of peace. Azzarello scripts Princess Diana as someone who recognizes that force must sometimes be utilized in the cause of protecting the innocent, but she tries to avoid doing so out of anger or malice. She hopes to provide everyone with an opportunity to prove themselves before having to resorting to violence.
It’s interesting that Azzarello utilizes an aspect of the character from the original Golden Age stories by William Moulton Marston & H.G. Peter, that Diana wears her bracelets not just for defense, but to restrain her boundless strength & anger, lest she loses control. In this way, Azzarello has Diana acknowledge her own incongruities: she must accept her own capacity for violence, and control it, before she can ask others to do the same.
This has become even more of a challenge for Diana in recent issues. The long-exiled first son of Zeus, known only as the First Born, has escaped from his thousands of years exile at the Earth’s center, ready to kill everything in his path and seize control of Mount Olympus. The First Born was prepared to slay Diana’s mentor the god War, which would have given him all of War’s powers. This forced Diana to kill her former teacher first, a very painful choice. It was one made even worse by the fact that it meant that now she is War, a role that she does not want to play, as it goes against all her beliefs.
Another aspect of the Azzarello & Chiang run that I’ve enjoyed is their re-interpretation of the Greek deities. Instead of a group of dignified-looking humanoids clad in white togas, these gods of Olympus are an assortment of bizarre, dysfunctional freaks. Which, when you take even a moment to think about it, makes perfect sense. If you ever read the original Greek myths, the gods are typically depicted as selfish, petty, vain, capricious, vengeful entities that squabble amongst themselves, abuse their powers, and typically create more harm than good. Azzarello’s writing captures those qualities spot-on, scripting a group of scheming, preening politicos who switch allegiances at a mercurial speed. The physical conception of these entities by Chiang perfectly encapsulates their twisted priorities & agendas.
The events of Azzarello & Chiang’s overall story arc are, naturally enough, caused by the machinations of the gods. Zeus, the millennia-long monarch of Olympus, has vanished, leaving a power vacuum that his fellow deities wish to fill. His long-ago actions to the First Born have also come to rear their ugly head. When it was prophesized that his first child would kill him, Zeus attempted to kill the then-infant First Born, setting the later on a millennia-long path of resentment-filled carnage & violence.
At the same time, Zeus’ infamous serial philandering has had consequences. The disguised deity seduced & impregnated an ordinary mortal woman named Zola. Zeus’ jealous wife Hera, once again unable to take out her anger on her all-powerful husband, set out to kill Zola. This is where Diana came in, protecting & befriending the pregnant woman. Along the way, Diana herself learned that she was the result of a tryst between her mother & Zeus. Hera also found out, and transformed all of the Amazons on Paradise Island into snakes.
Eventually Zeus’ son Apollo rose to the throne of Olympus and stripped his mother Hera of her divinity, making her a mortal. This presented Diana with a serious dilemma. As much as she disliked Hera, she now had to protect the former Queen of Olympus, since she was probably the only being who might one day restore the Amazons to normal.
This led to a really interesting situation: Zola and Hera, who hated each other’s guts, found themselves looking after each other, often having to aid one another in their mutual quest to survive the many dangers they faced. Out of that was eventually formed a grudging friendship. Even more interesting, the now-mortal Hera painfully began to gain a measure of humility and humanity. Along the way Hera made some hysterically inappropriate social faux pas as she learned about acting in a tactful, polite manner, as opposed to an imperious deity. So her development has been an interesting mix of drama and comedy.
In the last several issues, we have seen Apollo attempting to bend the First Born to his will. Instead, Apollo learns that hatred nurtured over millennia does indeed burn hotter than the Sun. The First Born violently seizes Olympus, and is prepared to brutally obliterate all who oppose his will. Diana, with a re-powered Hera and the once-more human army of Amazons at her side, must embrace the mantle of War in order to defeat the First Born.
By the way, Zeus has been conspicuous by his total absence from Wonder Woman so far. Having caused this whole entire mess to begin with, no doubt he’s laying low for now, waiting for everyone else to do his dirty work. I would not be at all surprised if Azzarello has Zeus finally show up just as the dust is clearing, ready to once again assume rule of the gods and carry on with business as usual. I guess we shall see.
Cliff Chiang superbly illustrates Azzarello’s stories. The art on these issues is simply amazing. Chiang’s Diana is beautiful & strong. The action sequences are dynamic & gritty. The quiet character moments are full of personality & emotion. This really is top-notch stuff. I recently heard someone compare Chiang’s work to Jaime Hernandez. I had not thought about that before, but yes, now I can see there are certain qualities to their art that are similar. Certainly each of them are amazing at drawing interesting, expressive characters, utilizing strong storytelling, and imbuing their work with drama.
In addition to totally redesigning the Olympians, Chiang also did a make-over for Orion of the New Gods, who has been popping in and out the pages of Wonder Woman for the last year and a half. Although I prefer the original Kirby design, I have to admit that Chiang’s interpretation of Orion is undoubtedly one of the better revamps that I’ve seen throughout the New 52 line.
I guess that Chiang is not nearly fast enough to pencil & ink an ongoing monthly series, and so he has occasionally had other artists spot him. Most recently Goran Sudzuka pitched in to help, drawing Wonder Woman #s 24-26, and contributing some layouts for Chiang on #28. Jose Marzan Jr. came onboard with some nice inking over Sudzuka on #s 25-26. They did very nice work, and it complements Chaing’s art quite well, not clashing at all. The rich, lovely coloring by Matthew Wilson no doubt helps to maintain an overall tone to the series.
I haven’t yet seen a definitive final issue for Azzarello & Chiang’s Wonder Woman run announced yet. It’ll probably be within the next six months. I’ll certainly be sorry to see them leave. But if they manage to maintain the quality that they’ve shown over the past two and a half years, then they will certainly be going out on a high point, in style.