One year in, and “The New 52” has now shifted to “The 52.” How’s it been? Steve Morris investigates in a series we’re calling “One Year Later.” Except, um, Danny Djeljosevic fills in for this one.
One of my big criticisms of The New 52 was the lack of adventurousness in its creative team/title pairings. For the most part, DC Comics played it safe with their lineups, using the same people who worked on DC Comics during the months leading up to their big relaunch or hiring people who worked with EIC Bob Harris back at Marvel in the ’90s. While I couldn’t begrudge DC for making sure that Green Lantern and Batman continue to sell like hot-cakes as they did under their pre-52 creators, the whole effort seemed to just be a marketing stunt to sell the same comics that they did before, albeit under the guise of a massive overhaul and the sheen of a ’90s Image Comic — which, no matter how much we make fun of it now, people bought in droves back then.
Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang on Wonder Woman was certainly an exception to that criticism. Chiang’s a fantastic artist previously known for infrequent but appreciated DC superhero work (Green Arrow/Black Canary, Zatanna) as well as some solid Vertigo stuff (Human Target, Greendale) while Azzarello is the out-of-left field creator of 100 Bullets, more of a gritty crime guy than the dude to hand over one of your most iconic characters. In other words, it was exactly the kind of crazy creative decision that should pique the interest of someone for whom Wonder Woman is generally the long-tenured cultural icon that DC struggles to make into a book people actually want to read (see also: Superman).
In its initial 20 pages, AzzChiang’s Wonder Woman lays out not only what readers should expect in the title’s year-long storyline — dangerous Greek gods, some not-so-dangerous Greek gods, Diana protecting a young woman pregnant by Zeus’, um, hand — but also a new, unfamiliar feel to the adventures of Wonder Woman. Under Azzarello and Chiang, this new Wonder Woman series is more urban fantasy horror than superhero comic, with decapitated horses transforming into centaurs and, in later issues, Amazons murdering sailors post-coitus and a descent into hell. It’s a shocking, welcome surprise for such a character.
It helps that DC has allowed Azzarello to keep Wonder Woman self-contained as far as the larger DC Universe is concerned. There are no crossovers with other titles in the publisher’s lineup and only the vaguest mentioning of Wonder Woman being a member of the Justice League. Because the creative team focuses on providing appealing, consistent storytelling and art, Wonder Woman is one of the few New 52 books that feels like it’s trying to cater to a mass audience rather than people who already know what Red Hood and the Outlaws is supposed to be about.
Part of that consistency comes from it also being one of the few New 52 titles that hasn’t had its creative team get assigned to another book or quit in disgust. While Azzarello’s scripting is enough to keep a reader coming back, artist Cliff Chiang is the star of the show, with his clear, accessible, vaguely manga-style art running counter to the Jim Lee aesthetic seen in seemingly much every other New 52 title. It’s clean, it’s modern and, most importantly, it doesn’t feel like a throwback to the last time comics actually sold.
Chiang illustrated eight of the twelve issues, with Vertigo mainstay (and previous Azzarello collaborator) Tony Akins filling in for the remaining issues. While a noticeable change, Akins’ expressive, almost manga-style cartooning matches up with Chiang’s art enough to keep the shift from being jarring or unwelcome. Same deal with their artistic cousin, perennial fill-in guy Kano, who draws half of Wonder Woman #10 while mostly remaining invisible like the special guest director of a TV show with its aesthetics already firmly in place. In comics, when you have a fill-in artist that doesn’t derail
The only real issue with Wonder Woman is that its title character remains somewhat impenetrable. Azzarello rarely creates a sense of who this woman is, save for a brief glimpse of Diana attending a metal show to deal with a recent tragedy. It’s hard to pin down who Wonder Woman is after 12 issues, while by contrast Geoff Johns in Justice League painted Wonder Woman — albeit in broad, ponderous strokes — in a matter of panels as a powerful warrior who’s also a young, somewhat unaware alien. We occasionally get the impression that she still has a lot to learn, like when she attempts to free Hephaestus’ “slaves” without considering the moral gray area, but overall we have a compelling story where the protagonist is anything but.
Perhaps it’s because she’s rarely in danger. We’re essentially watching a group of immortal, powerful characters on both sides of the battle, with this poor pregnant girl caught in between. That girl, Zola, is decidedly someone we can easily concerned about — not only is she the big MacGuffin of these twelve issues, but she’s easily capable of dying. Azzarello wisely gives a seemingly indefatigable character like Wonder Woman someone extremely vulnerable to protect — one whose humanity’s at odds with the gods working against her, painting Wonder Woman as a character caught between two worlds.
Wonder Woman #12 leads up to a surprise ending with the appearance of Jack Kirby’s New Gods (or, at least one of them) revealing a direction nobody really expected, and one that actually makes a lot of sense when you remember Kirby’s idea that his Fourth World characters succeeded a previous pantheon. In future issues we can probably expect Azzarello, Chiang and probably Akins to expand on this point and let those gods collide, but hopefully not at the risk of keeping Wonder Woman in her own world.
For more not-so-new-52 coverage, check out Steve’s other One Year Later essays:
- One Year Later: Animal Man/Swamp Thing
- One Year Later: Demon Knights
- One Year Later: Suicide Squad
- One Year Later: Catwoman
- One Year Later: Batwing
- One Year Later: Aquaman
- One Year Later: Wonder Woman
- One Year Later: Birds of Prey
- One Year Later: Justice League Dark
- One Year Later: The Flash
Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book creator, award-winning filmmaker (assuming you have absolutely no follow-up questions) and Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter at @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat. Read his comic with Mike Prezzato, “Sgt. Death and his Metachromatic Men,” over at Champion City Comics and check out his other comics at his Tumblr, Sequential Fuckery. His webcomic The Ghost Engine, with artist Eric Zawadzki, updates twice a week.