Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Cliff Chiang
32 pages, color
Published by DC Comics
Poor Wonder Woman. A lot of high-profile creators have taken stabs at the character over the past decade or two (J. Michael Straczynski, Gail Simone, Jodi Picoult, Allan Heinberg, Greg Rucka, Phil Jimenez, John Byrne, to name just a few), but none have managed to create a definitive, high-excitement run that kept its momentum going. Next up are Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang, who both have the benefit and hindrance of getting the opportunity to start as much or as little from scratch as they wish. The end result? If I didn’t know better I’d think this was a hot new Vertigo series debut.
What’s fun about Wonder Woman #1, right from the start, is that Azzarello has brought his own voice and take on the comic which both fits with what we’ve seen before, but at the same time could just as easily be the start of something utterly brand new. At its core is the most important parts of Wonder Woman for me; a strong, self-assured main character, and the influence of the Greek gods. The latter might not sound like much, but when the title was rebooted in 1986, George Perez, Greg Potter, and Len Wein’s addition of the gods into a major part of the title is one of those pieces that fit in perfectly. After all, both the Amazons and Wonder Woman herself have major connections to the Greek gods in their origins, and it helps set the character apart from most other superheroes. And here, we’ve got gods galore: a rendition of Apollo with dark, rocky features by night and bursts into flame in the morning; a bird-footed, willowy Hermes; a peacock-cloaked Hera who leaves weapons and destruction in her wake. All three are instantly memorable (especially Apollo), and I like Azzarello’s twists on them. Azzarello dips into Apollo’s portfolio to remember his influence over oracles for a grim two-page opening that then is threaded throughout the comic—another reminder that seeing the future is not always a good thing—and the modern take on Hermes’ helmet and winged sandals is a clever one.
But more importantly, Wonder Woman herself is good here. She doesn’t get a lot to do, with more focus on new character Zola, but it’s still a surprisingly good introduction. She’s short on words but no nonsense; as she fights the beings surrounding her and Zola, you are instantly given the impression that this is someone who is not easily stoppable. Wonder Woman is supposed to be one of the most powerful characters of DC Comics, and it’s a pleasant reminder here that she’s one of the "big three" characters for a reason. When Wonder Woman tells Zola in her home, "You’re safe here," you can tell that she doesn’t just mean it, she knows it to be true.
Just as important to this debut issue of Wonder Woman is Chiang’s art, which is crisply drawn and beautiful from start to finish. When it comes to motion, Chiang’s got it down to a science. Just look at the three panel sequence where Wonder Woman takes down a centaur running away from her. First we get the heft of the blade, then in the second panel a tight focus on Wonder Woman right as she’s thrown it. We don’t need to see the sword leave her hand, or even her hand itself. The way she’s got her mouth open and leaning forward, the motion lines around her arm, it’s clear what has just happened. And sure enough, in the third panel, we have the sword whipping through the air. Not only do we get a strong sense of movement in that panel with the multiple images of the sword, but Chiang has lined it up with the second panel so that at a glance it actually looks like it is moving away from her body.
Of course, the figures themselves look fantastic. As Wonder Woman suits up for battle she’s got a beautiful, confident expression on her face, doubled up with the way that she puts her iconic bracelets onto her arms. The previously mentioned redesigns of the gods look great, making them both alien and human at the same time. And Zola gets a lot of attention from Chiang; with just a few lines we get everything from panic to anger to fear echoing across her face. Best of all, even though some characters are in various states of undress throughout the comic, Wonder Woman never comes across as sleazy or exploitative. If I had to describe how Chiang’s characters looked in two words, beautiful and strong would probably the the ones chosen.
Wonder Woman #1 is a big success. It’s recognizably the right character, and it’s a good take on her iconic nature. The story moves briskly, has a good cliffhanger, and it feels like it’s heading towards something even bigger. Without the Wonder Woman name or costume, I could see the ideas here being used in a totally different comic and being a success, but having Wonder Woman star in it adds an extra little punch to the story that makes it all click together. I feel like Azzarello and Chiang have a clear, distinct vision for the character, and hopefully they’ll be delivering it to readers for some time to come. While Wonder Woman #1 serves well as a template to follow, I think I’d be much happier with them just providing the end product month in and month out.