Firstly, a little circumspection. It’s easy to view comics in isolation, particularly when you’re only interested in one series, so I should probably mention here that Wonder Woman #1 was one of the best of the “New 52” that DC produced last month. Having waded through the first issues of Batwoman, Catwoman, Supergirl, Batman, Justice League, Justice League Dark, Men of War, Superman and Action Comics, I’d say Wonder Woman #1 was probably the best of the lot, a clean story without endless amounts of continuity bogging it down, almost nothing that could be construed as sexually exploitative and while not going too far in explaining itself, did at least make the concession to potential newcomers that this might be their first issue so didn’t assume much of the readers in terms of backstory.
I still have reservations about it: Wonder Woman was a little underpowered and there’s no trace of Diana’s internal monologue, which has been in the comics since the days of Perez and possibly even before. I’m not so keen on the (literal) dehumanising of the gods and the loss of “the pants” I think is a step backwards. With Chiang and Azzarello coming from a background in Vertigo, DC’s adult/horror imprint, it was perhaps more adult and gory than the comic has been of late and – how shall I put this? – it was quite a macho/masculine take on Wonder Woman.
But on the whole, it was a great start to the run. Let’s face it: when Gail Simone was writing it not so long ago, it sunk to about number 89 in the charts. I have no idea where it was when JMS was writing it this past year or so, but I suspect lower. But Wonder Woman #1 was actually 13th in the charts last month and sold over 100,000 copies. So it’s certainly doing something right.
Now, though, we’re onto issue #2 and we’re launching into the story proper. Can Azzarello and Chiang add flesh to the pared-down, bare bones of #1 to keep us reading?
Plot (contains spoilers)
Following the events of issue #1, up on Olympus, Hera discovers her efforts to kill Zola, the mortal pregnant with Zeus’s child, have been foiled by Hermes and Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman takes Zola and the wounded Hermes to Paradise Island, where the Amazons (and Wonder Woman’s mum, Hippolyta) find her.
Poly discusses with Wondy what a bitch Hera is towards anyone who gets pregnant by Zeus, while Zola and the now-healing Hermes discuss how Zola got pregnant by Zeus. Hermes also tells the legend of how Wonder Woman was made by Hippolyta from clay and the gods (apparently) animated the clay baby and made it real.
Wondy and Aleka the never-previously-mentioned Amazon warrior then have a show fight for all the other Amazons, during which Wondy does a lot of backflips and impressive martial arts stuff.
Then Eris, the goddess of strife, pops up on the island and gets all the Amazons fighting each other, thinking they’re the enemy, before turning into a hundred foot tall version of herself. Wonder Woman lassoes her, but gets picked up by Eris – and (BIG NEWS) gets told that she’s actually Zeus’ daughter.
Is it any good?
While not quite as impressive as WW#1, this is still a page-turner. It’s also a bit of a disappointment for a long-time Wonder Woman fan because – and I’m prepared to wait to see if things change – there are a few worrying trends.
So on the plus side, the story is intriguing, involving godly machinations rather any of the tedious sci-fi rubbish Wondy got lumbered with starting mid to late-Perez, the characters are starting to get explored, we have the proper introduction of both Hera and Eris to the story, the Amazons and Hippolyta have shown up and Wonder Woman is finally front and centre with the gods.
We have some nice touches here. We have an almost entirely man-free story (although men are frequently talked about – indeed, men, particularly Zeus, are quite the focus of the piece). We get to see Wondy acting like a princess, but also bowing to her mum. We get to see her be smart, rather than just a warrior:
And Wondy actually has a sense of humour again:
All good. Admittedly, there’s no sign of Apollo and we spend a portion of the middle part of the book just sitting around chatting, but it’s a good bit of character development and scene setting. In essence, the issue is about adding new pieces to the board, moving existing pieces and providing background rather than advancing the game.
It’s also useful to note the changes that are being made to the whole Wonder Woman mythos, largely in the interest of keeping things simple. Themyscira is back to being called Paradise Island, even though it doesn’t look like much of a paradise any more. People are calling Diana “Wonder Woman”, even if they’re gods. Hippolyta is now blonde (again) and looking very kick ass for easier differentiation from Wondy:
Eris (called Strife throughout to make things simpler) now looks like a woman and is the daughter of Zeus and Hera, rather than the daughter of Ares, as she was in Perez’s day:
As you may have noticed from the above page, Aleka – for it is she – bears more than a passing, pony-tailed, fighting-spirited, red-haired resemblance to Amazon fan-favourite Artemis of Bana-Mighdall (a former rebel off-shoot of the Amazons who lived in Egypt before eventually settling back on Paradise Island), who actually got to be Wonder Woman for a few issues:
Azzarello’s made it clear Artemis isn’t coming back, but my suspicions are that in the interests of clarity, he’s effectively brought her back in another guise but without the huge Bana-Mighdall baggage and the confusing name – what with there being a Greek goddess called Artemis who helped create Wonder Woman and the Amazons in the first place.
Now all of this is largely good and is surely what the point of “the New 52” reboot was – to clean out the cruft, simplify and make everything easier to understand. But I’m worried the (clay) baby is slightly being thrown out with the bathwater here.
Now, how you regard the changes to the Amazons depends on how you feel about William Marston’s original story, the concept of a super-race of women who are there to bring peace to the world at the Aphrodite’s instigation. It is arguable that Marston’s idea of peace-loving Amazons was a bit odd, given their role in Greek myth, but there you have it: he had a feminist message to impart and this was how he was going to do it. All good to him.
Now in his version, the Amazons were a technically advanced bunch, being able to create invisible planes, control things with their minds and predict the future:
With the 80s Perez reboot, while they were still created by the gods to teach the world about peace and love, they lost that technological advance and became a race of peace-loving warriors with a thing for classical Greek architecture:
Although they did get a bit technological later on.
But now, the Amazons are looking a lot more savage than they used to and they appear to have changed architect away from a lover of 5th century BC Athenian designs to one who likes more Renaissance Fair styles:
Again, the Amazons are being simplified down to being an apparently warrior race at the moment, which takes away the feminist slant they’ve had for the last 70 years. They’re also a bit of a bunch of misandrists:
We have no really decent female characters except for Wonder Woman, whereas we do at least have Hermes on the male side (no positive goddesses at the moemtn). We also have a distinct lack of “wonder” in Wonder Woman. This is how Greg Rucka ‘introduced’ Wonder Woman at the start of his run:
This is Wonder Woman beating the crap out of Batman in The Hiketeia to protect a woman in her care:
Beating up a mesmerised Power Girl (who’s as strong as Supergirl):
And beating up a mind-controlled Superman:
As you can see, Wonder Woman, officially #2 most powerful superhero in the DC line-up (but obviously #1 thanks to having brains and magic weapons – as well as simple maths: Superman is as strong as Captain Marvel, who has the “strength of Hercules”, but Wonder Woman is “stronger than Heracles”), was indeed a “woman of wonders” pre-New 52. But what have we had so far in the “New 52” version? Well, last issue, she head-butted a centaur. This issue, she has a staff fight with another Amazon…
…and got dangled by her lasso.
In fact, so far, we don’t actually know if she has her god-given gifts any more. We’ve even had a changed birth scene for her, which doesn’t actually involve the gods. Here was her Perez/Simone birth scene:
But here’s the revised version:
Notice that Hippolyta is ‘barren’ in this, not just ‘without man’, and there are no gods handing out powers. Couple that with the shock revelation (or is it one of Eris’s lies? She is bound by the Lasso of Truth at the time, but it doesn’t seem to be at full strength, given the ‘dangling’) at the end that Zeus is really Wonder Woman’s dad and we have the question of whether the entire scene is now actually supposed to be a lie of Hippolyta’s to save Diana from Hera’s wrath – has the entire inversion/feministisation of the Pandora myth been chucked out? She may now be a demi-god (although she’s been an actual goddess, the goddess of truth, back in John Byrne’s run, so that’s nothing new) but does Diana actually have any godly powers at all now, beyond being able to hit people? An interview with Cliff Chiang and Brian Azzarello hints that we’ll see her ‘hover’ rather than fly, but is that really the best we can see from our woman of wonders?
My worry is that we’re undergoing a process of Xena/Hercules-isation. She’s clearly not Xena. She’s clearly not Hercules from Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. But we are getting the offspring of Zeus, facing the wrath of the evil Hera and Strife/Discord by punching people a lot (Hercules) coupled with a fighting woman who can do backflips, has a sword, walks around with a sidekick and knows some scruffy looking Amazons who hate men, wrestle a lot and live in cod medieval towns (Xena). In the interest of making Wonder Woman a simpler proposition, is she being turned into something blander, weaker, less/not-at-all feminist and more derivative, a kind of ‘Greek Myths’ Greatest Hits’, without anything new to contribute?
I’m hoping it won’t turn out that way, but at the moment, I’ve yet to see anything that truly says this character is Wonder Woman.
All the same, I am really liking this new Wonder Woman. I love Cliff Chiang’s art: it might not be photo-realistic and Diana’s slimmed down a bit since her former Miss Universe days, but it’s not the usual cheesecake comic art, is distinctive, if a little dark, and tells the story cleanly without words in just the way good comic art should. I still miss Wondy’s internal monologue, but I can understand why Azzarello might be withholding that, since so much of what’s happening right now is about revelation.
I just kind of miss my Wonder Woman, the feminist kick ass version who’ll let herself take a beating if it’s better than war:
I’m hoping she’ll show up soon.
Outside of Wonder Woman
No superhero or superheroine is an island, particularly in DC, and Wonder Woman and her world are already impinging on other titles. In particular, we have Justice League #2, where although WW has yet to make her actual appearance, we have an interview with a certain ‘Steve Trevor’ (yes, him), who has been to ‘Paradise Island’ aka Thermyscira and come back.
This is what he says of Wonder Woman:
TREVOR: She can’t get home. Look, they’re not a problem. She’s not.
WALLER: Try telling that to the rest of the world. After what Wonder Woman did to that kidnapper —
TREVOR: He was going to kill those children.
WALLER: She slit his throat with her sword. Right in front of those kids. Is that what Amazons do? Kill unarmed men?
TREVOR: He wasn’t unarmed… She’s only doing what she was raised to do.
WALLER: Which is?
So not the peace-loving Wondy we’ve come to expect then. What’s up there? We’ll have to wait and see.
Comics fans will practically explode with delight at one word that’s mentioned in that interview, incidentally. For the sake of surprise, I’ll spoiler cloak the interesting part: “And there are several strange reports from several man and women across the world. People with absolutely no connection to one another who claim to have been abducted by a wizard and tested. Tested to see if they were worthy of something called ‘Shazam.’“
We’re also going to have to wait until issue 3 of Justice League before we see how Wonder Woman is regarded in (or even introduced to) the outside world and becomes part of the line-up she’s probably best known from in the comics world, though, although it’s worth remembering that Justice League is set five years before the current WW run (IIRC).
It’s clear she will be in that line-up at some point, certainly, since she also put in a guest appearance – in a variant outfit and after having gone on a diet and lost about a foot in height – in Justice League Dark #1:
Interesting to see she has a sword as part of her uniform at that point, whenever it’s set (it’s definitely set after the League is well established). Ooh, and red boots, too.
However, Wonder Woman isn’t the only part of her world that’s impinging on the rest of the comics book world. Long-time enemy Circe (yes, from The Odyssey) has put in a really remarkable appearance in the otherwise unremarkable Men of War #2. When last we saw her, she looked and acted like this:
An enchantress turned goddess turned enchantress again (long story), with an occasionally provocative dress sense, an extreme dislike of men and a nifty sense of humour, she now looks and acts like this:
So that’s obviously an interesting take on Circe. Now, not only does she look completely different, she appears to have become a goddess – and might always have been one – with an extreme lack of clothing. Interestingly, if you cast your mind back to Greg Rucka’s run, this is how Aphrodite appeared:
Look familiar, huh? And this is Hera with Strife/Eris in WW#2:
Something of a fashion trend, huh? Of course, Greek goddesses (and gods), with the exception of Artemis, weren’t exactly that worried about casual nudity, something that Perez emphasised with Hermes in his WW run.
Notably, though, the goddesses actually look like women in the New 52, whereas WW’s gods look different – here’s Apollo and Hermes from WW#1:
(Mostly) hot goddesses in not much clothing versus odd-looking gods in lots of clothes. A double standard? Hmm. Let’s wait and see.
UPDATE: It’s been pointed out – although it’s a bit hard to tell because of the background – that she flies in Justice League Dark #1. I’ve also noticed that in the character sketches in Justice League #1 that the sword is there as well, so it looks like that’s a permanent part of her ‘uniform’ now (although she has trousers in the main pic). We just haven’t seen either in her own title though.