Of the DC Trinity, Wonder Woman was arguably the hero who stood to gain the most from a universe-wide relaunch. She’s been mucked-up and un-mucked-up so many times that my head spins a little just thinking about her recent history. Of course, the biggest problem with the series has been the nonexistent but perceived need to update Wonder Woman, who, whether written by a New York Times bestselling author or wearing pants, couldn’t sell more books if doing so would save a besieged Paradise Island. The best two Wonder Woman runs in recent memory, Greg Rucka’s and Gail Simone’s, focused not on her image in relation to modern society, but her place in it. Both modernized Wonder Woman, but in ways slight and not off-putting; Rucka’s Diana was an ambassador to the United Nations, and Simone’s was a modern take on John Byrne’s conception of Wonder Woman as a heroine of gods and monsters for our time. They weren’t looking to sell Wonder Woman as anything more than the protagonist of a great comic book, and now, with the TV series dead in the water and hopes for a non-Batman DC Comics movie doing well quashed by the failure of Green Lantern, Wonder Woman is free from the shackles of consumerist oppression.
The resulting comic book, Wonder Woman #1, is exactly the kind of thing I hoped for from the New 52 initiative, movement in a positive direction for a favorite character of mine. In it, a woman is visited by Hermes, who tires to warn her of an impending attack by a duo of centaur-assassins. The shotgun-wielding woman with a pixie haircut doesn’t believe Hermes, of course, until the assassins beat down her door, brandishing swords and bows. Hermes gives the woman a key, which spirits her off to an apartment belonging to Diana Prince, who you might know as Wonder Woman. As you can see in the picture above, she’s pretty good at protecting those who randomly drop in on her while she’s sleeping. She’s freakin’ Wonder Woman.
What’s most appreciable about Wonder Woman #1 is that it does not question who Wonder Woman is, nor does it treat the reader like an idiot. You don’t need to be a mythology buff or a Wonder Woman fanboy to understand that ancient Greek gods walk among us, and that it’s Wonder Woman’s charge to protect those effected. Sure, one’s appreciation of Wonder Woman #1 likely increases if you can spot Hera (she of the peacock cape) or know who Apollo is (the oracular god of the Sun…hence the three young women he uses as oracles), or have read any mythology where either a) a powerful being is told that he’ll be killed by a soon-to-be-born child or b) a god sleeps with a mortal and is mysteriously absent to deal with the consequences, but these are stories as old as storytelling, they’re familiar, they’re still good, and here, added to them, is our time and place and a superhero.
I was surprised to see this from Brian Azzarello, whose previous DC work beyond the fantastic, gritty crime saga 100 Bullets and other adult-orientated comics includes a shaky run on Batman and two mini-series featuring more “realistic” takes on iconic villains–Lex Luthor and the Joker–that didn’t really do much for me. The story here is solid, updating some gods as one would expect, keeping others as they were, and focusing on Wonder Woman’s heroism, though I suspect one “life changing” factoid or another will be dropped on her soon enough. The art, by Cliff Chiang, is what really pops here, both in its scale and its attention to detail. Despite the fact that the two women at the center of the book are barely clothed, neither is sexualized. Considering the mild controversy that arose over the cover of Justice League #1, where Wonder Woman, as is typical for the female character in a mostly male book, struck a lascivious pose that looked out of place amid the scowly, barrel-chested bros behind her, who somehow towered over Diana despite her being an Amazon.
Chiang’s artwork, if nothing else, shows him as an artist capable of portraying a Wonder Woman of mythic proportion without salivating over her. The art’s dynamic nature is helped in large part by some bold inking and a reverence for the style seen in DC’s classic animation, pioneered by Bruce Timm. I wouldn’t return to Wonder Woman just for the artwork, but, combined with Azzarello’s confident tone, Wonder Woman #1 joins Simone’s Batgirl on a very small list of titles that has me both interested in the direction of a character that I like, and a universe that is open to its own curiosities.