It’s the end? Can you believe it? For three years, Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang have been the creative forces behind the nu52 reboot of both the character of Wonder Woman and the Wonder Woman comic itself. And now they’re leaving – issue #35 is their last one.
It’s been a controversial ride, with Diana undergoing perhaps the most changes of anyone in the nu52 universe:
- Her origin was completely changed so that she became Zeus’s daughter when her mother Hippolyta had had an affair with him (her previous ‘clay’ origin was revealed to be a ruse to keep Hera in the dark)
- The Amazons were changed from a society of women living isolated from the world in a superior civilisation to one that went out seducing then murdering men for procreation before giving away their male babies in return for weapons
- The gods were transformed from largely benevolent anthropomorphic beings, fit to be worshipped, to various zoomorphic creatures, personifications of office, and generally unpleasant individuals
- Diana was eventually apotheosed to goddess of war
- Most of the supporting characters from pre-nu52 times were removed, killed or ignored, to be replaced with male characters.
The controversy also continued in the manner of the storytelling, ranging from Chiang’s drawing style to the fact that the past three years have more or less been the same story, with minimal superheroics or even any real strength from Wonder Woman, and you can see why a lot of old school fans are happy that the ‘terrible nightmare’ is all over. Indeed, new writer Meredith Finch appears to be focusing on doing everything that Azzarello didn’t do, from including Wonder Woman’s new boyfriend Superman to having Amazon-centric stories.
But after the jump we’ll have a look at the final issue, to see what foundation Azzarello and Chiang have left Finch, whether it’s been all bad, and whether it concludes the story well and/or in the way I predicted.
Also after the jump, we’ll be looking at the latest Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman, the first of a two-parter in which Diana goes egg-hunting and Cheetah goes Diana hunting, and Smallville Continuity, which effectively founds the Smallville universe’s Justice League.
All go, innit?
Wonder Woman #35
Poseidon arrives to claim Olympus. However, that’s something that Zola’s not willing to tolerate. Yes, Zola. Or is it?
After defeating Poseidon, however, (not)Zola and the others are faced by the First Born and his accomplice. Hermes is the first to strike – and doesn’t fare well.
(Not)Zola then takes on First Born and doesn’t fare that well either – and Wonder Woman’s not having the best of times with his accomplice.
Things don’t look any better when Strife turns up, but the First Born’s accomplice refuses to kill Diana – because he’s the Minotaur whose life Diana spared when she was just a girl.
Diana is now able to take on the First Born – but she’s going to teach him the Golden Age Amazon way of loving submission.
And while she’s doing that, Zola is able to put baby Zeke on the throne, completing the prophecy. And yes, he’s really Zeus.
And thanks to a combination of Zeus’ power and Diana’s ‘tough love’, the First Born is sent back to the Abyss from whence he came.
Athena – for it is she – then explains the whole of her and Zeus’ plan: for Zeus to be reborn as Zeke, the son of Zola/Athena; and for Diana to take on the returning First Born as the new goddess of war.
But now the plan’s accomplished and Zola’s not needed any more, so Athena is going to let her die. Diana begs for her life.
And Athena grants it.
Is it any good?
Essentially, it’s not only a summary and a conclusion of Azzarello and Chiang’s run, it’s the epitome of everything that’s been good and bad about that run.
So the basic framework is good. We have the conclusion of the First Born story. We have the return of Athena. We have the Amazons triumphing in battle (off-page). We have Wonder Woman defeating her enemy in a very Wonder Woman way. We have Greek myth references that aren’t half bad (but not that great). We have continuity references aplenty.
But at the same time, we also have Wonder Woman crying a lot and women (both Diana and Athena) being defeated a lot. We have raw male power being the thing that triumphs, either when used by a good male (Zeus/Zeke) or a bad male (First Born). We don’t have an especially clever conclusion, with Wonder Woman essentially throwing the First Born down a hole to win. And we have one of Azzarello’s trademark puns to end it all (incidentally, most owls don’t hoot, they screech, so it’s a typically bad pun by Azz, too).
On the face it, the issue suggests that there has genuinely been a master plan behind it all and Azz and Chiang have revealed their game plan, putting all their cards on the table. Trouble is, they’re not great card players and it feels like they’ve been playing seven card stud while everyone else has been playing five card draw.
For starters, more or less everyone guessed that Zeke was Zeus, which is presumably what Strife’s “I knew it” is a reference to. But what was the plan? For Zeus to take himself out of the picture just as the First Born was arising, despite the fact that Zeus was the only one with the power to defeat him? Okay. Couldn’t he have handed over his lightning to Athena in his absence, given he knew what was going to happen? The idea that Diana would inevitably become the goddess of war and then defeat the First Born (how?) doesn’t wash. Even adding “the prophecy said to do this…” might make some sort of hand-waving sense, but this is at best thin rationalisation to extend plot for three years.
We also have the question of what was going on with Athena. Bonus points first for a sideways reference to the contest between Poseidon and Athena, in which Athena won. That’s how to reference myth subtly and accurately.
However, Athena claims to have been reborn as Zola and inhabited her body unawares for 20 years. Yet only two weeks ago, we had the Secret Origins strip by Azz and Chiang that showed that Athena was free and a goddess at the time that Steve Trevor crashed on Paradise Island – so roughly five years ago in the nu52 verse. We also had the clear statement from Apollo that Athena had refused his invitation to Olympus back in issue #13.
And while Athena does point out that Zeus gave birth to her (in myth, she emerged from his head, after he had swallowed her pregnant mother Metis):
…we do have to square that with the idea of Zeus having sex with his own daughter, albeit trapped in Athena’s body, something that Zeus never did in myth (putting Nonnus’ Dionysiaca aside – always a good idea), and which the virgin goddess would presumably not be too happy about either. One can again square this with a handwave and say that as Zola, Athena wouldn’t have known and would have known she wouldn’t have known (and, of course, raised Erechtheus as her son), but again, it’s a handwave that doesn’t really work.
Basically, this feels like an explanation cobbled together to explain the absence of Athena, the drawn out story, etc, that looks superficially like the sort of thing you’d get in Greek myth but which ultimately falls apart under examination.
Nevertheless, reading interviews, it’s clear that what Azz and Chiang were trying to do with their overall storyline was pit brute force (First Born) against measured response and compassion (Wonder Woman) and show the latter’s superiority. I’m not sure it worked and ultimately it came off as a male rights activist showing how inferior women are to men, but at least their hearts were in the right places.
Certainly, if one looks at their legacy, as the front cover suggests (and I more or less predicted), we’re now at a point where the Amazons are back and heroic, Wonder Woman’s found her mojo and her godhood, Hera (and presumably baby Zeus) rules Olympus, and Diana has lots of female allies (and a few male ones, too). The male characters have been set up to be toppled and we have a set of genuinely visually iconic versions of the gods that are superior to what preceded them.
In essence, while their route has been very questionable, the ultimate foundation they’ve left for Wonder Woman is probably stronger and more powerful than it’s ever been – although one must also thank Charles Soule for some of his innovations on Superman/Wonder Woman for this.
We must also thanks Wonder Woman’s creator, William Moulton Marston, and his editor, Robert Khaniger, because Azz and Chiang have, more than any writers of the past 30 years, drawn on Wonder Woman’s premier periods, the Golden and Silver Ages, for inspiration. Many of the things that they included – a father for Wonder Woman, the change in Wonder Woman when she removes her bracelets, ‘loving submission’, lesbian subtext etc – were things that had fallen out of favour after the Silver Age but which were associated with her most popular periods.
While some of these borrowings were badly handled and I’m sure some won’t stick, some will, so in sense, we should also thank Azz and Chiang for taking her ‘back to basics’.
It’s time for a change, though. Here’s hoping that Wonder Woman under Meredith Finch will bring back some fans while maintaining the new.
Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #12
A two-parter begins this issue – a two-parter that’s something of a two-hander, with post-Crisis Wonder Woman off looking for a phoenix egg, while back on Paradise Island, the Amazons are dancing away.
However, Cheetah has been following Diana to get to the Phoenix eggs and their promised gift of immortality, and springs a surprise attack on her.
We then have a flashback to Diana’s childhood, with Hippolyta teaching Diana that Amazons should always offered friendship before fights.
Diana does so and Cheetah refuses. So this means war.
End of part one.
It’s all right as it goes, but it’s all a bit been there done that. Amazons celebrating their Amazonness and the goddesses? Done. Wonder Woman demonstrating the importance of peace over war, of talk over punching? Done. Flashback to Hippolyta being a wise mother to bratty Diana? Done. Cheetah being sneaky? Done.
There’s nothing that original going on (so far) and when you’ve got the whole of Wonder Woman’s 75 year history to play with, not to mention the option of going completely off the reservation, simply having a bog standard post-Crisis story that does nothing new and is yet another big fight is disappointing.
The art’s lovely, if a little cheesecakey in places…
…the dialogue’s functional, but it’s nothing exceptional. It’s okay. But unless part two is a doozy, I wouldn’t advise buying it.
Smallville Continuity #10
Not much for Diana to do this issue, now the Monitors have been repelled, except to pass judgement on a bad guy as part of a superpowered jury…
…and watch while a statue is dedicated to her and the new Justice League.
I wonder how long they had to pose for that?
An issue more for the long-term Smallville fan than the new arrival or the Wonder Woman fan, but some touching moments, including the arrival of a certain Richard Grayson and the return of Superman’s mum that should appeal to anyone. I’d wait until the end of this storyline before jumping in though.