As a woman who loves both video games and comic books, I have a history of being irritated by the lack of female characters that I can feel excited about. Both have an unfortunate tendency to focus on female characters’ sex appeal to the detriment of them having interesting personalities or brains. Happily this is changing, and I had heard great things about the New 52 Wonder Woman series so I was excited to review that this week. It’s written by Brian Azzarello and illustrated by Cliff Chiang, two creators with whom I had zero experience. I’ll be covering volumes one through six for the purposes of this review.
In bringing her over to the New 52 universe, a fair amount of lore about the Amazon princess has been changed. In the original story, Diana’s mother, Queen Hippolyta of the Amazons, was barren and desperately wanted a girl child of her own. So she molded a baby out of clay and prayed desperately to the gods. Lo and behold, Diana was given life! In this version however, Diana is the result of an illicit encounter between Zeus and Hippolyta, a fact that has been hidden from Diana all her life so that the Zeus’ wife Hera won’t find out and murder them all. The series focuses on Diana’s struggle with her demigod status, her less than accepting families and her desire to protect a young, pregnant human woman named Zola. The father of Zola’s child turns out to be Zeus, and when Zeus suddenly disappears, it seems likely their child will fulfill a prophecy which terrifies the other Olympians. This leaves Wonder Woman as the sole person standing between Zola and the wrath of the Greek gods.
Azzarello deserves a lot of credit for making Wonder Woman an incredibly strong character. I will admit that Wonder Woman has rarely been my favorite character. I prefer my characters to be a little darker and she’s often in the same “truth, justice and the American way” camp as Superman so she has had a tendency to annoy me. That’s still largely true here, but Azzarello makes up for it by making her clever and witty as well as a talented warrior. It’s nice to see a Wonder Woman who won’t back down from a fight and uses her brains as much as her heart. Azzarello particularly focuses on Wonder Woman creating her own ragtag, misfit family for whom she will do anything. That kind of mother bear instinct makes Wonder Woman highly appealing as a character and it’s hard not to constantly cheer for her throughout the series. And best of all, Wonder Woman is a self-rescuing princess.
Unfortunately, this series has two major drawbacks: the somehow-not-terminally stupid Zola and overly dramatic writing. Zola is one of those characters that you repeatedly want to drop kick off a cliff. Each time there’s a crisis in the story, it’s because Zola freaked out and put herself in a situation that forces Wonder Woman to come rescue her. At first I cut her slack as the poor human caught up in extraordinary circumstances. But after having to be rescued at least once in each of the six volumes, I learned to hate Zola.
Azzarello is clearly aiming for a modernized Greek myth in this series but in doing so, he creates a story that simultaneously follows the same basic procedures as every Greek legend ever written and makes some of the most bizarre changes that I’ve ever seen in a modernized myth. It’s like Azzarello felt he had to make up for the fairly standard storyline by making the Greek gods as bizarre as possible. Worst of the lot is his depiction of Hades. There are several plot related reasons for making Hades’ head look like a demented birthday cake but all of them are stupid and predictable. In addition to this, Greek stories often end up dragging in a lot of Olympian family drama but this felt like As the World Turns: Olympus. The interactions between jealous Hera, wife to Zeus, and Zola, his most recent sexual conquest, were particularly ridiculous. There are volumes that seem to deal with nothing but family drama and that gets old pretty quickly. While there’s a lot about Wonder Woman herself that Azzarello gets right, there’s a lot of the rest of it that he doesn’t.
Since I want to see more strong female protagonists in comic book stories, and spend a fair amount of time complaining about the lack of them, it’s always frustrating to me when I don’t enjoy one. I wanted to love Wonder Woman but to be perfectly honest, I ended up being annoyed with as much in the story as I enjoyed so it leaves me somewhat ambivalent. Azzarello deserves major credit for making the character of Diana/Wonder Woman compelling and someone that little girls can look up to as a heroine. Unfortunately, the story and some of the aesthetic choices really don’t help support this great character. It’s worth reading if you’re a huge Wonder Woman fan or if you want to catch up on all the New 52 changes to the DC universe but otherwise I’m sad to say you could skip this one.