It must be tough to have become the most talked-about comic book around, especially when the reason why you've become so talked-about is because you've apparently either set feminism free or smothered it forever.
Wonder Woman is the most talked-about comic around at the moment, which is something nobody's ever been able to say before, ever. Diana is a very difficult character to make interesting, and especially hard to turn into a compelling, fascinating hero. She's always going to be defined as the "first" female hero, as opposed to being the "best" female hero. While DC planned a relaunch of the series, writer Brian Azzarello overheard some of the publisher's plans and stepped in. The story wasn't going to cut it, in his opinion, and he wasn't going to accept that. If Wonder Woman were going to be relaunched, she was going to be damn well relaunched WELL this time. No stupid red sunglasses and white suits. That decision led to him taking over the series for DC, who teamed him up with dreamy Cliff Chiang for the long-term future. And that decision also leads me to issue #8, the issue which will always be famous as the issue that happened AFTER the Amazons died.
Say what you want about the scene — and I know damn well that everybody is going to — it got people looking at the Wonder Woman title for the first time in years. Here was a genuinely controversial, interesting move, which unleashed passion in a fanbase who usually passively buy each issue with a mechanical nod of the head to Lady Feminism as they go. This was like telling Superman fans that the rocket shot past Smallville and Clark had to raise himself for years, and doesn't know what an American Way is. It was a rare gut-shot for readers, the kind nobody sees coming but smarts when they see it. Personally, I'm fine with the Amazons being turned into (allegedly!) pirates and murderers. Because this is an origin story. You've got to grow beyond your past if you want to become your own person, and that's what Azzarello's been doing for Diana. If some background figures die in the process, then so be it. As long it matters.
The thing is, issue #8 continues a streak of issues wherein Diana definitively takes the backseat. She's present, and cool things happen — whenever Cliff Chiang is told "she's going to do a backflip and cut off seventeen heads at the same time," you know something wonderful will result. Yet Diana herself remains fairly immobile. The story is wonderfully crafted and endlessly fascinating; the characters are rich and deep and funny and emotive. Wonder Woman doesn't really seem to be going anywhere. This issue takes her down into The Underworld, where she's pledged to find the soul of her friend Zola and rescue her from death. Fairly classic Wonder Woman! Valuing all life as important and valuable. And the thematic ideas from this story ring out powerfully: while she values life, ultimately life doesn't value anything. People die. Only Gods are immortal. That's an interesting point.
But Azzarello has set himself the task of defining not just Wonder Woman, but the world. He has to explain Hades, and show off Hermes, and throw Gods against each other in fateful mythical battle. There's simply no time for any of the characters to take a second away from the plot and breathe. Wonder Woman #8 is a perfect comic book. Chiang's art sings, and Azzarello's writing is strong, clever, and dense. The World is involving, with Gods and monsters which feel iconic and fully realized. Each and every month, Wonder Woman remains one of the best-made comics around (Daredevil being Marvel's counterpart). Yet Diana herself still feels a little flaky, a little simple, and not quite there yet. Until she is made complete and whole — and I myself wouldn't have any idea how to make that happen — there's a tiny hollow knot in the centre of the book, which can't be picked out. I still recommend Wonder Woman, but that tiny nagging element of the story is slowly unravelling every other stunningly realized moment of creativity and inspiration for me.
(From a feminist's perspective, because God knows apparently only seasoned feminist critics are allowed to read Wonder Woman nowadays, the comic remains as it's been for the past eight months. Strong and proud.
Azzarello isn't afraid to pull the safety net away and leave readers panicked and scared about their favourite characters, but that also means he's working a brutal angle showcasing progression and empowerment. This issue is a perfectly-written bridge between a shocking act of violence and anger, and what looks to be a crowning moment of love and respect next month).
Steve Morris is the head and indeed only writer for Comics Vanguard, the internet’s 139th most-favorite comic book website. You can find him on Twitter at @stevewmorris, where he unleashes might on a regular basis. His favorite Marvel character is Darkstar, while his favorite DC character is, also, Darkstar. I'm on Team X-Men, you guys.