Patrick: Drew! It has been ages since you and I wrote about this series together. Last month, we had help from guest-writer (and voice of our Cram Sessions), Siri Hellerman. Otherwise, Shelby usually gets in on writing about Wonder Woman, and we’re thrilled to get that female perspective. It’s by pure random chance that you and I selected the butchest issue of Wonder Woman yet to review. Thankfully, the more action-heavy tone didn’t overpower the series’ usual style, cleverness and depth.
Fresh out of hell, Wonder Woman, Hermes and Lennox take Zola to her family doctor in rural Virginia — she is magically-fast-pregnant with Zeus’ baby, recall. Hermes is less than thrilled the relative shit-hole they find themselves in, but the immanent danger isn’t the crumminess of the clinic but the incoming hostile gods. You see, Hera contracted the twins, Artemis and Apollo, to find Zola and bring her back to Mount Olympus. They’re a pair of bad ass gods, so even the combined forces of Diana, Lennox and Hermes (with two separate assists from preggsies Zola) can’t turn them away. The twins take the young mother back to Hera’s throne room and Apollo is about to claim his prize as King of Olympus when Hermes and Wonder Woman appear, ready for round two.
This title is fucking fearless man, I tell you what. This issue confidently transitions from Mount Olympus to Michigan or from a meeting of Gods to an impoverished woman waiting at a crappy doctor’s office. Part of what makes the design of the gods so compelling is that they all look like they exist in actual physical space. There’s something… I don’t want to say “practical,” but maybe “probable” about the way they look. I get the sense that these characters are revealed to us rather than invented – if that makes sense. Everything in these pages vacillates between the mundane and the fantastic with such grace its staggering — often humorous — but never out of place.
And speaking of humor, this issue’s really on fire in that department. Brian Azzarello mines some genuine laughs out of the totally mundane interactions. Like right here, before everybody throws down.
It’s not even the tombstone punchline that I like here. Just that they’re all saying eachother’s name but the little pre-show-down ritual has to be put on hold because Artemis doesn’t actually know everyone in attendance.
Azzarello and artist Cliff Chiang really are too clever for their own good. Every time a mythological element is introduced, this team takes extra care to make sure to plaster a uniquely Wonder Woman stamp on it. Like the eclipse that heralds the arrival of Apollo and Artemis (Sun and Moon)? That’s rad. Or like the way Artemis talks to Demeter through the wild animals (as she is the goddess of such)? Or the way Demeter — as the goddess of the harvest — rises up out of the earth, as though being grown. And let’s not sell that character design short. Her clothes appear to be bark and fruit hangs from her long leafy hair. But even cooler than that is the detail that the tree behind her looks JUST LIKE HER, suggesting that Demeter took this form because that’s what was growing from this specific ground.
I tend to gripe a little when we get an issue drawn by Tony Atkins — not because I don’t like his art, but because I’m so in love with Cliff Chiang’s. There’s a simpleness to the characters and a thickness of line that is so pleasing to me. It’s the same effect Francis’ Manapul’s art in the The Flash has on me: I see it and smile. The clarity of the images make the action in this issue exciting and immanently followable. And that’s great, because roughly a quarter of this issue is given over to one extremely fluid fight sequence. There are so many great panels depicting characters in combat that feel alive and dynamic, tricking you into thinking you’re seeing something actually in motion – I think my favorite of which is Zola’s big move:
Reading this series is so unlike reading the rest of the DC line-up. I don’t really have a sense of where this is going or when this arc will end — though I’m starting to suspect #12 will wrap this whole thing up. But it’s not like you can see the super-hero wheels spinning — the great editorial machine chugging away. It’s like the powers that be gave Azzarello a year to let Wonder Woman run around her own world so she could find herself. Which is something the character sorely needed: a solid identity to rival the other mainstays in the DC stable. I think they’re getting there. Take a look a this poignant exchange.
She’s loyal, compassionate, knows just what she needs to do to help a friend and is no less bad-ass for doing it. That’s a quality you won’t see in the other DC heroes. Batman, Green Lantern, Flash, Superman — they all lack the social skill-set to have this sort of sincere insight into their friends’ needs. In a landscape over-populated with heroes who are sort of jerks, it’s refreshing to see someone who cares.
Drew, you looking forward to the Battle for the Throne next month? If Wonder Woman can keep Apollo off the seat, who do you think she’d put in his place? I’m still not ruling out the possibility that Zeus himself is in Zola’s belly.
Drew: Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever not been looking forward to whatever issue of Wonder Woman is next (at least, not since I started reading it, anyway). Patrick mentions how clever the writing is, but it’s also just good. The plotting is intricate, and the characters are fully drawn. We’re reading several ensemble titles, but Wonder Woman far and away has the most well-developed cast of characters of the lot. It helps that the arc is as long as you mentioned; where most other titles have at least rotated in a new villain, Azzarello has been able to stick with largely the same cast. That level of serialization doesn’t make Wonder Woman the most approachable title on our pull, but it does allow for some brilliant long-form storytelling.
You’re also right to praise DC for giving Azzarello the freedom to play around in this little corner of their sandbox on his own. While other titles seem to be getting a lot of pressure to do shorter arcs and one-offs, I’m glad DC was willing to take a risk on something like this (though I’m not sure how “risky” even a very long arc by a name like Brian Azzarello is). The results truly are amazing, leading me to make potentially hyperbolic, dust-jacket ready statements like “this year’s best serialized drama isn’t on your TV.” In all seriousness, though, I think the depth of these characters and strength of the plotting here make comparing Wonder Woman to the likes of Mad Men completely natural. But here I go gushing.
Patrick ably laid out the most praise-worthy aspects of this title, which leaves me to focus a bit on the details that really make the broad strokes sing. Take, for example, that meeting between Demeter and Artemis. Narratively, the conversation offers us a glimpse of Hera’s plan, but surely that would have made more sense as a conversation between Apollo and Artemis. Alternatively, Demeter could have been replaced with any other god, including a few we’ve already met, so why choose her specifically?
I think it has everything to do with her symbolic significance as goddess of the harvest. Her bounty reflects Zola’s fertility in myriad ways. This is made a bit more explicit by the fact that she’s conversing with the goddess of the moon, whose temporal ties to female fertility are obvious. Azzarello makes things even more explicit (and perhaps grosser) by having Artemis pluck and bite into a piece of ripe fruit. As the scene is set in Michigan, I had presumed those were apple trees, but their coloring and juiciness (and a quick glance at the wikipedia entry on Coloma, Michigan) confirms that they are peaches; the pink, fuzzy, juicy favorite fruit of literary perverts everywhere.
As if this connection needed any more emphasis, Artemis wears big deer antlers for the duration of that conversation. That detail is echoed in the awesome shirt Zola wears to the health clinic in the next scene.
That’s a LOT of connections to make for what amounts to a symbolic match-cut, but it’s precisely that strict attention to detail — and slightly literary symbolic vocabulary — that make this title so good. I mean, christ, if Azzarello wanted to imply “peaches,” he could have just set that scene in Georgia. Instead, he went for a specific town way up in Michigan that’s locally known for its peach festival. That’s some well-researched writing that very intentionally rewards close reading. It’s titles like this that justify our pseudo-intellectual approach to discussing comics.
For his part, Chiang sells the holy living shit out of what could be bogged down in pretension. The art screams peaches, even when I’d already assumed apples. More importantly, the quality of his acting keeps all of the emotions human, even as the cast is overrun with gods. Look at how hurt Hermes looks in that panel where Zola is dismissing him. Chiang’s ability to squeeze those emotions out of all of these exotic character designs is really the lynchpin of this whole title, and of course, he’s on his A-game here.
When Siri and I wrote up issue #10, she mentioned how much she loved the outfits featured in this title. I have to admit, that wasn’t something I was always conscious of, but she’s right; the costuming here is impeccable. Demeter’s bark-leaf-dress is awesome, but I’m also impressed by the more mundane details of Hermes’ messenger bag (ha!) or the simple fact that Apollo is a snappy dresser (because of course he is).
Details. Even when those details don’t draw a lot of attention to themselves, they do a great deal of heavy-lifting on character work and world-building. This is a title that rewards very close readings, and this issue in particular has reminded me of that fact. It’s smart, it’s compelling, and it’s polished. Maybe that line about being the year’s best serialized drama isn’t so hyperbolic, after all.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?