Wonder Woman – 2015 Weekly Writer Challenge: Brian Azzarello (Part 2)
52 weeks. 52 different writers. 2 trade paperbacks or hardcovers a week. Each week I’ll take a look at a different writer and read two different collected editions from within that person’s repertoire to help in the examination of their work.
Brian Azzarello has worked on many of the big name characters over at DC Comics, ranging from Batman, to the Justice Society Of America, Lex Luthor and even the Green Lantern. He’s even managed to get his hands on the Comedian and Rorschach for their “Before Watchmen” miniseries back in 2012. But when the New 52 rolled around Azzarello, along with artist Cliff Chiang, was tasked with rebooting Wonder Woman. The two men tackled the character with an entirely new direction, revamping the style and origin of the character to critical acclaim. Over thirty issues and six collected editions later, Azzarello and Chiang certainly left their mark on the character before departing the title in late 2014, capping off what many consider to be one of the best Wonder Woman runs ever.
Wonder Woman Volume 1: Blood
When Zeus suddenly disappears there is a sudden power vacuum left amongst the Gods of Olympus. With the position of “Ruler of the Gods” now vacant, many Gods begin to vie for the available power and take control. Zeus’ wife, Hera, is amongst the worst offenders, seeking to take the position for herself whilst also trying to hunt down and kill any of Zeus’ illegitimate children. In doing such, Hera seeks to destroy any opposition she could have to be the rightful heir. Caught in the midst of all of this is Wonder Woman, who becomes responsible for protecting Zola, a woman who is unknowingly pregnant with one of Zeus’ children. After Hermes narrowly avoids death while saving Zola, the three characters band together to ensure Zola’s survival and also discover some startling truths surrounding the origins of Wonder Woman. What Wonder Woman discovers forever changes her life and sets her on a whole new path against Hera during Zeus’ absence.
Greek mythology and superheroes violently collide in Brian Azzarello’s first volume of the New 52’s “Wonder Woman”. Azzarello takes notable Greek gods and throws them into the world of Wonder Woman, resulting in a brilliant book that twists the history of both the Gods and Wonder Woman. It’s largely what makes this first volume such an enthralling read, blending together the histories of these Gods and Wonder Woman to add a whole new chapter to these different sets of characters. It’s as if Azzarello himself is trying to pen a modern myth which stars Wonder Woman, never shying away from introducing these Gods into her life and showing how their presence positively or negatively affects her future. I guess in some respects you could consider this first volume the starting chapter of two unraveling myths that are tightly intertwined, telling the tale of Wonder Woman’s inclusion amongst the Gods of Olympus as well as the beginning stages of the battle for the title of “Ruler Of Olympus”. Although much more focus is placed on the former as opposed to the latter, Azzarello does a brilliant job of using these two different storylines to compliment each other, using one to feed the other in between the major plot points that Azzarello is trying to hit.
Before I touch on the cast of characters I’d like to take a moment to highlight the work Azzarello does with the title character throughout the volume first, giving readers a perfect portrayal and more specifically a brilliant update to her origin. Original conceived of clay by the Amazonian Queen, Hippolyta, Wonder Woman was created instead of birthed, freeing her from having any attachment to men. In doing this, Wonder Woman plays up the freedom and independence of the Amazonian culture, a group of warrior women who rely only on their own skills and themselves to survive. To fit in with his story though, Azzarello makes a simple but fantastic overhaul to that origin, serving to be a driving force to the narrative going forward. This monumental change in origin is a shocking moment to Wonder Woman and conveys the strong conviction and morals of the character in such a brilliant way. Azzarello takes the changes he made and uses them to add a sense of tragedy to who Princess Diana (a.k.a. Wonder Woman) is. It’s right in the middle of this volume that Azzarello springs this change on the reader, shifting your understanding of Diana dramatically in a split second that ripples out through the remainder of the volume. In the early stages we are shown an awesome Amazonian warrior in Diana, who is a little sarcastic, powerful, playful but still serious. She reacts unbelievably to the new information about her that changes her entire life and the story you’re reading. Azzarello allows for this warrior to be vulnerable, honest, and heartbroken but then reels it all back in to show the true heart of Diana’s character, her drive. Wonder Woman is capable of drawing herself back from a state of devastation time and time again to complete the task at hand no matter what is weighing on her at the time. She’s a character with a heavy heart but has an even stronger sense of commitment for what needs to be done. It’s for this reason alone that Azzarello’s Wonder Woman work is worth picking up.
How well Wonder Woman is written as a character is just the start of the joy Azzarello injects into the quality of the characters he writes. In formulating the plot around a gather of Greek Gods, Azzarello allows himself to draw on a seemingly endless supply of deep characters to play with. Azzarello splits the cast of Gods up amongst your average three alignments of good, evil, and neutral. Hermes falls on the good side of the spectrum, with Hades, Poseidon, and Strife being neutral, and Hera obviously being part of the evil spectrum. There are a few other Gods sprinkled in throughout the rest of this first volume, and allusions to even more on top of that, but for the most part it is largely the Gods I just mentioned who factor into the plot the most. Hermes is part of Wonder Woman’s “team”, working with her to protect Zola, with his motivation seemingly being that he’s just trying to be one of the good guys. Hades and Poseidon only factor in because of the absence of Zeus, intrigued by the appealing prospect of being a Ruler of more than their primary domains. Without much else to tether them to the story, these characters for the most part only factor in towards the end of the tale and even then only one of them does anything that will have future repercussions. Strife is the most interesting character amongst the Gods during this first volume, barely walking the line between being good and evil. She initially appears as a character out to create chaos and disrupt Wonder Woman’s life but it’s ultimately her inclusion in the story that reveals secrets to Wonder Woman about who she truly is. After these revelations come to light, she too appears to be an unofficial “member” of Wonder Woman’s team for a bit, meshing in with the rest of the cast responsible for protecting Zola from Hera. Hera’s motivations for being the “antagonist” to the story are obvious, driven from jealousy over the adulterous ways of her husband Zeus. When the vacancy occurs in his absence, greed and that aforementioned jealousy are more than enough to motivate Hera to reach out to become the Ruler. It’s the collision course Azzarello sets these Gods on with Wonder Woman that provides some of the best moments you’ll find in this first volume.
In terms of the setting for the story, Azzarello shifts around from location to location rather frequently, with the only truly notable locale being that of Wonder Woman’s home, Paradise Island. Due to the narrative, there isn’t much need for the characters to stay in one spot for too long as the idea is that they are somewhat on the run, trying to keep Zola and her unborn child out of the clutches of Hera. In that regard, Azzarello is wildly successful as the constantly changing setting of the story helps to hammer home that element of the plot. At the same time, when Azzarello chooses to settle the story on Paradise Island for a few issues, he gets across the entire nature of the island brilliantly. Thanks also in part to the artistic skills of co-creator Cliff Chiang, Azzarello helps the reader to understand the Amazonian culture, showing the reader that this is a community of powerful women who don’t need men whatsoever. It even bleeds through from the dialogue shared by the Amazons and paints a vivid picture of their lifestyle. It’s the simple things that Azzarello does through the dialogue, like Hermes reminding Zola to not broadcast her love for men while she’s on Paradise Island, that only enhance the reading experience and fully immerse you into the setting whilst you’re there. Whether it’s seclusion on Paradise Island or duking it out with Poseidon in London, Azzarello gets everything right with Wonder Woman and the world she has to play in.
Collects: Wonder Woman #1-6
Best Character: Wonder Woman
Best Line Of Dialogue/Caption: “I like men Hermes. And I’m not gonna apologize for that.” – Zola
Best Scene/Moment: Wonder Woman pushes past the truth – Issue 3
Best Issue: Issue 3. This issue is where everything changes for Wonder Woman. Along with the reader, she discovers that her origin is not exactly what she thought it was, having been lied to for her entire life. Instead, we get an updated origin for the character that brilliant works within the confines of the story and with the available characters. It all ends up making so much sense that you kind of wonder why someone hadn’t thought of doing something like this sooner. You get an origin story that isn’t boring, crass, or slow, still honours the character’s ideals and is just solid all around. It also ends in a way that I believe is a perfect representation of who Wonder Woman is as a character. If that isn’t enough for you then take solace knowing that from start to finish this issue is loaded with meaningful character moments and interesting scenes that spin the series in a compelling direction.
Why You Should Read It: Who doesn’t love a little bit of Greek and geek mythology? This is a fantastic blend of mythology with superheroes that works as a myth, superhero story, character drama and a multitude of different styles of story on top of the few I’ve mentioned. Azzarello masterfully includes characters from Greek mythology into the history of Wonder Woman and it all makes sense. There’s as much drama and heartbreak in this first volume as there is bone crunching action that will leave you tantalized by the magnificent events on display throughout. This is an awesome Wonder Woman story any fan must read. To an even further point though, I’d readily recommend you read this if you enjoy the comic or film, 300 or Jason Aaron’s “Thor, God Of Thunder”. Even if you just like books with history or the Greek gods then this book is right up your alley.