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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Review: Wonder Woman #1

Wonder Woman #1
Brian Azzarello (w), Cliff Chiang (a)

Wonder Woman is in many ways a sterling example of everything that is right and wrong with DC. Here is a character noteworthy more because of her legacy and her potential than anything else. Here is a character with a long history of being more iconic than well-rounded. Here is a character who has become notorious for being difficult to write or to understand. Here is a character the public (even the non-comic-reading public) is invested in but doesn't know why.

In short, Wonder Woman is the kind of character the DC reboot was made for: an iconic character with a long, confused history who would benefit from a fresh start. That said, given all the missteps and regressive creative decisions that have hampered the reboot so far (barring a few extraordinary exceptions--like the rest of the internet, I am smitten with Animal Man and certainly onboard with a few other titles), I had very low expectations for Wonder Woman.

Boy was I wrong.

Wonder Woman #1 is as straightforward and intuitive a reboot as I could have asked for. There are a million things this book does right, and nearly all of them stem from the fact that Azzarello has put Diana in a context that actually makes sense for her and her varied influences. It's what we in the biz* would call "mad coherent."**

The first instinct in dealing with Wonder Woman always seams to be "run screaming from her mythic origins" or else "flashback to Amazons playing badminton near a babbling brook where some of them are swimming and giggling, delightedly, to (ONE WOULD HOPE) every reader's embarrassment." Happily, Azzarello doesn't fall into either trap. Instead he acknowledges both the strangeness and grimness of the Greek mythological landscape and grounds them in a contemporary American setting (kind of like what Jason Aaron's run on Ghost Rider did for Judeo-Christian mythology). It's simultaneously gritty and fantastical (and hey, so is the phrase "warrior princess," taken at its most literal meaning), and it lets readers flex those "Greek mythology allusion-spotting" muscles.***

More than that, drawing on Greek mythology gives Azzarello a straightforward plot that can be as self-contained or expansive as he chooses. "Diana protects a mortal woman impregnated by Zeus from Hera's wrath." LOOK AT HOW UNFUSSY THAT IS: instant threat, instant world-building, instant direction, instant relationships. Almost as if he were writing the first issue introducing a character and storyline!

His approach to Diana as a character is also refreshing in its clarity. Her compassion is tempered with a soldier's terseness. Zola on the other hand (the woman gestating a McGuffin), is hot-headed and impulsive, making her a good foil to the guarded and dutiful Diana. Sensing a pattern? Azzarello isn't breaking new ground here; he's just telling a tight, clean story with boldly drawn characters. And he makes it look easy.

Cliff Chiang's standout art is a big part of that. His character designs for the mythical figures are clever and imaginative (Hermes as a bird/man hybrid, Apollo's sunlit brilliance peeking out of what appears to be a dark metal suit), and his action scenes are violent and kinetic. My only complaint (and it isn't really a complaint because I actually loved it) was a scene where Diana is awakened while sleeping naked under the sheet. In the space of one panel she fashions said sheet into a smart little outfit, which she then uses for the sole purpose of walking across the room and dropping the sheet to change into her armor. THAT'S RIDICULOUS. But if a Wonder Woman comic isn't a safe space for bizarre and campy moments like that, then I don't know what is.****

Wonder Woman #1 is smart, simple, and a ton of fun--the kind of comic I hoped the reboot would foster. Next time on Death-Ray Ozone, I show everybody how to make their very own Wonder Woman duct tape wrist gauntlets!*****

*Blogging for free
**I'm so sorry
***Want to know one of the cheapest ways to get a laugh at a college improv show? (Not dick jokes, surprisingly.) Break out your damn Greek mythology references. Everyone gets it, everyone feels smart for getting it, everyone is so excited that they got it that they laugh (if for no other reason) because they are totally pleased with themselves.
****Answer: every episode of Gossip Girl.
*****No, I don't.

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