The Ninjabot

Wonder Woman: Not-So-Great Expectations

Posted on September 8, 2012 at 11:37 am by Tyler Waterman

No one judges a book by its cover more than a fan of comics. We make snap decisions every week as to what we think will be worth our time and money, and while we may often be right, our preconceived notions can also keep us from reading great books. To help out my fellow readers, every week I’ll pick a title I would normally pass on and give it its due. I’ll report back whether it’s a diamond in the rough or just, well, rough. This is Not-So-Great Expectations.

Before I get into the content of this title, I want to make sure it’s clear why I chose it. I haven’t avoided it because I’m not a fan of Diana; in fact, nothing could be farther from the truth. The superheroes I favor the most are the heroes that I feel have transcended being “popular” and have reached the upper echelons of “respected.” This is what will always make Superman and Captain America such powerful characters in each of their respective universes; these are the heroes the other heroes look up to, and what could be more impressive than that? Diana is one of those heroes.

Exceptionally powerful, overwhelmingly charismatic and always integral to every major event, Diana is a third of the DCU Trinity for a reason. However, despite all this, solo Wonder Woman books have never been able to keep my interest. The fact is, there are some heroes who shine in group books, yet never manage more than a dim glow in their individual titles, and Diana has always been a great example of this phenomenon.

Until now.

The problem with Wonder Woman has always been twofold. Her origin story is almost more confusing than Joker’s, and being surrounded by Greek mythology has been more of a burden than a reason to keep reading. It’s no surprise to me, then, that series writer Brian Azzarello immediately tackled both those issues, and in record time has turned Wonder Woman from “generic amazon” to “compelling protagonist.”

Azzarello’s take on the modern-day gods of Olympus is startling, fascinating and exceptionally realistic all at once. Zeus is gone, presumed dead, and now his children, wife and brothers each plot to take his place as King of the Gods. Each classic Greek character is there, but gone are the generic togas and sandals. Hades is a cruel child who just wants to be loved, Strife is a burned-out party girl, Hermes is a bird-footed messenger who is much more than he seems. As each god is introduced, their modernization is consistently interesting and drives you to keep reading to find out how Azzarello’s next god has adapted to our world. War deserves a special mention; if you don’t agree that this is the true face of war in our time, you need to get out more.

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With the world fleshed out in a more compelling way, Azzarello then fixes the other problem: the origin story. While there have been many versions, the ultimately accepted Wonder Woman origin story is that she’s a miracle child born from clay to the infertile Queen of the Amazons, and while it’s very mythologically-appropriate, compared to “parents were murdered in front of him” or “last survivor of a doomed planet” it’s pretty weak. Azzarello fixes this, establishing that the clay legend was a tale told to Diana since birth to protect her from the truth, that she is in fact the child of Hippolyta and Zeus, yet another child spawned from Zeus’ adulterous ways.

While this is particularly important to the plot, as the entire series is focused around Diana protecting a woman carrying Zeus’ latest unborn child, the real impact is on Diana’s character. She doesn’t immediately accept this and continue on; she gets mad, storms out on her mother, goes to a concert and stabs Strife with a broken wine glass. In other words, she reacts to finding out her life was a lie like a real human being would, with human emotion and bad decision making. Suddenly, this character who’s always seemed so sanctimonious and hard to connect to feels like a real, human person; a first for Wonder Woman, and a big reason I’ll continue to read this book.

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Although Azzarello’s writing is some of the best in the business right now, another part of what makes this book so great is the art. Both Cliff Chiang and Tony Akins are in rare form in this book; their Diana is both physically intimidating yet stunningly feminine, their environments are immersive and clean, and the level of detail they bring to even the least-significant characters is refreshing. I’m rarely a fan of a book where the artist changes frequently, but both of their styles are so distinctly their own yet complement each other at the same time that it’s a joy to watch it go back and forth. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention Matt Wilson’s colors. They keep with that sense of everything being deliberate and clean, and change so subtly in different environments that they almost tell the story themselves. Honestly, there aren’t many examples of an entire creative team clearly meshing as well as this team in this book.

Wonder Woman may not be a title you’d normally glance at, especially for male readers who will tend not to gravitate toward lady-character solo books, but if you enjoy comics in any way you’re doing yourself a disservice by not giving this a shot. It’s fun, powerful, intense, and beautiful; just like Diana herself.

    • thejerd

      Wonder Woman is in the top 5 books of the new 52 in my opinion.

      • Tyler

        If I'm allowed to lump all my favorite Bat-titles into one for this list, I would confidently agree with that statement. Prob say Batbooks/GL/Action/JL/WW

        • thejerd

          Meh, I have been pretty underwhelmed with the array of Bat titles. Animal Man, Aquaman and Wonder Woman have been the definite stand outs for me.

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