As the creative teams were being first announced for DC's New 52 this past summer, few prompted as many immediate and puzzling questions as Brian Azzarello being tagged to take the helm of Wonder Woman. How would the cynical crime writer known best for gritty settings and dark moods manage to tackle Princess Diana, a character who — while by no means consistently portrayed throughout the years — has generally served as a beacon of brightness and optimism? With four published issues in the can enabling the necessary retrospection, the answer to that question seems absurdly simple. In trademark fashion, Azzarello would merely slather the world of Wondy with a thick coat of that same mood.
In other words, you'd be hard pressed to find yourself humming the Lynda Carter TV theme while flipping through these pages. With revelations of Diana's true Olympian parentage estranging her from her mother and in turn estranging the queen's nation of Themyscira from its patron goddess Hera, there's hardly a combination of characters here who aren't pissed off at each other. Surprisingly, it's an approach that works, chiefly due to Azzarello's ability to sell us on the genuineness of the relationships in question. This is a classic tale of family and the dark secrets of infidelity and betrayal therein, filtered through the same hybrid Greek mythology/superhero lens the Wonder Woman franchise has featured for decades.
Azzarello tried — with embarrassingly little success — to inject the same melancholy into his Superman run a few years back, but Wonder Woman is, thankfully, a much better effort. In the previous case, the writer sold out the heart of the central character to promote the grim tone he was going for, but it seems like he's learned his lesson since then. Azzarello's Diana is still a woman of unassailable virtue, a quality brought out all the more by its contrast with the nastiness and despair around her. Though she's certainly seen better days, Diana keeps her wits and compassion about her, continuing to exhibit concern for the young woman entrusted to her care and even seeking to make amends for her hotheaded actions last issue.
Personally, I can't say I've hopped aboard the Cliff Chiang bandwagon that seems to have recently sprung up from nowhere, but it's easy to see the strengths he brings to the book. His characters are cleanly rendered furnaces of raw emotion, with Diana and Hippolyta standing out especially as they embody the paradox of being strong, yet wounded, women. Equally remarkable is Chiang's depiction of the Greek gods as wholly alien beings. Hermes looks like as an angel might if it were imagined by the Greys from The X-Files, while Strife is a Paris Hilton party girl who looks ready for a night of clubbing somewhere near the outer ring of hell.
Azzarello and Chiang's Wonder Woman clearly isn't for everyone, possibly not even for some of those who have enjoyed the series' previous volumes. It's a somber story that demands patience from its readers, often initially seeming to give you less food for thought than it actually is. Casting preconceived notions aside, however, it's clear to see that this is the product of two creators operating at a high level. Bravo to DC for taking a risk on an unorthodox approach, ensuring that this one slice of the 52, at least, is in fact new.
Raised on a steady diet of Super Powers action figures and Adam West Batman reruns, Chris Kiser now writes for Comics Bulletin. He once reviewed every tie-in to a major DC Comics summer event and survived to tell the tale. Ask him about it on Twitter, where he can be found at @Chris_Kiser!