Today, Drew and (guest writer) Taylor Anderson are discussing Wonder Woman 0, originally released September 19th, 2012. Wonder Woman 0 is part of the line-wide Zero Month.
Drew: There’s a lot we take for granted in art. We accept the two-dimensionality of the canvas or the artificiality of a omniscient narrator as givens. It often takes an artist commenting on the arbitrariness of those boundaries for us to notice them at all, but that in itself has become almost expected. In comics, those expectations manifest in creative layouts and narrative devices, but it’s rarer that a creative team might challenge the arbitrariness of their tone. In Wonder Woman 0, writer Brian Azzarello and artist Cliff Chaing set out to do just that, delivering a brilliant deconstruction of modern comics via an apparent deconstruction of the Silver Age.
The issue opens on Diana’s twelfth birthday, where Amazonian tradition dictates that she must present her mother with a gift to mark the occasion. Diana’s gift — a harpy’s egg — pleases the Amazons…except for Aleka, who challenges Diana to a friendly sparring match. Much like the match we saw in issue 2, Aleka’s goals are far from friendly, and the gloves quickly come off when she calls Diana “Clay.” Horrified at having let her emotions get the better of her, Diana runs off into the woods, where she’s confronted by Ares, the god of war. He makes a strange offer — to train her in secret on every full moon — which she eagerly accepts. As her training progresses, Diana impresses Ares with her skill, and on the night of her thirteenth birthday, he brings her to the mouth of a cave, telling Diana she can find the next gift for her mother inside, but she’ll need her weapons in a kind of bizarre inverse of the Dark Side Cave on Dagobah. Inside, Diana faces the Minotaur, which she quickly incapacitates, relying on the lessons she learned in her monthly sessions. Ares appears, insisting that she deliver the killing blow, but Diana shows mercy to the monster, recalling Ares’ mercy when they first sparred with real swords. Ares leaves, calling Diana his “greatest failure,” leaving her to wonder if mercy could be her gift to her mother (’cause it’s the thought that counts, right?)
It’s a powerful story, but what’s lost in summary is the self-consciously Silver Age tone of the issue. Azzarello establishes that tone immediately, with hilarious narration (“Inconceivably conceived on a mysterious island”), thought bubbles, and nicknames in the credits (my favorite has to be the editing credit, which goes to “Malignant” Matt Idelson). These aren’t Azzarello’s normal toolset, but he uses them to surprisingly similar effect, telling a story that is distinctly his own. He expertly foreshadows events and relationships from the series proper, from Aleka to Ares, who has pointedly not interacted with Diana in any of the previous twelve issues.
More than anything, though, this feels like an Azzarello story because of the mind-bogglingly dense symbolism. A girl bringing her mother an egg on her twelfth birthday is already a kind of blunt reference to fertility and womanhood, but Azzarello take it several steps further, having Diana visited monthly by a redheaded familiar. (That reading kind of grosses me out, but I like it more than other conclusions I could draw from a young girl’s secret meetings with her uncle.) This subtly emphasizes the connection between Diana’s developing mind and body, creating a surprisingly holistic coming-of-age story. This makes her mature resolution that mercy is a gift feel earned, and helps carry that resolution into her adulthood.
The artwork also emphasizes Diana’s maturation. Chiang de-ages her brilliantly, giving her a rounder, more girlish face. Over the course of the issue, he subtly turns her more and more into the Diana we recognize.
Chiang’s character work is only rivaled by his absolute clarity in conveying action. Check out this sequence from Diana’s sparring match with Ares.
With just a few economic images, Chiang lays out a very clear sequence of events, making the fight much more tangible.
I still don’t know exactly what to make of Ares’ design, which bears a striking resemblance to Azzarello, though his role in the development of this Diana is a big clue. Ares acts as such a father figure to Diana, demonstrating real affection for her, which is a believable conclusion to draw about a writer who has treated her so well. That Ares may have been grooming Diana as his replacement throws this reading off a bit, but I also don’t know what to make of that development narratively. It’s an intriguing mystery, impressively deployed with the nonchalance only omniscient narrators can provide.
We’ve often commented that this series seems poised to go in any number of directions, and this issue is no different. Taylor, I know you were particularly drawn to Wonder Woman for the mythology — did this issue deliver the goods? Do you make anything of her being trained by Ares rather than Athena (arguably a more logical choice)?
Taylor: I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for anything that references or makes use of Greek mythology, so the chance to review Wonder Woman in all its mythical glory is something I’m happy to be doing. With that being said the use of Greek myth in a story is no sure shot. Many are the story who try to draw from mythology but few are those that actually pull it off successfully (I’m looking at you, Clash of the Titans). I think what really makes a retelling of Greek myth good is one where the author(s) craft a story that is both reverential to the original source material but which also places a certain spin on it that makes it unique. The 0 issue of Wonder Woman has done both of these quite well while at the same time doing a quality job of world building in short span of time that I found engrossing and delightful.
This whole idea of reinventing mythology while also staying true to many of its aspects is best exemplified in the character of Ares, who at once is both tender and mysterious. In virtually every other rendition of Greek mythology, Ares is always personified as a fiery brute who lusts for war and bloodshed, caring little for the destruction he causes or the people (and gods) he injures along the way. The Ares of Wonder Woman, however, is an altogether different creature and actually lends himself to sympathy. Just look at the character design. Despite being oddly Viking-like in his appearance Ares carries with him a haunted look, due primarily to the soulless void of his eyes.
This is an Ares who doesn’t rejoice in warfare but rather acknowledges it as a necessity in the world in which we live. He doesn’t want to kill, but will do so when he feels he needs to. He doesn’t like violence, but sees it as a means to an end. He doesn’t want to be the God of War, but will be until he can groom an appropriate heir.
While on a personal level this Ares is more likable than any previous incarnation, initially it is hard to rationalize this version with how he is portrayed in classical mythology. Ares represents war, specifically, the ugly parts of it — bloodshed, slaughter, terror, death — but in Wonder Woman he seems tired of these things and at the same time takes on some of the attributes of Athena. That particular Goddess represents, among other things, the better parts of war (if there is such a thing) like courage, justice, and honor — all of which the Ares of Wonder Woman values highly. Whether this blending of attributes is accidental or intentional is yet to be seen, but given how well the rest of Wonder Woman 0 is put together it seems likely this was done on purpose. The effect of this is to create an Ares that is far more sympathetic than his typical depiction and creates a true character rather than a caricature. This helps create a world that I immediately want to know more about because I know the gods are going to act like real people rather than a list of adjectives found on Wikipedia.
With all this being said the question at hand (as asked by Drew) is does it make sense that Diana is trained by Ares rather than Athena? At this point, having only read the 0 issue, it’s hard to say with any authority which god should have taken Diana under their wing since it all depends on how the plot of main series develops. However, if this issue is taken in and of itself, Ares seems like the appropriate choice to be Diana’s mentor as it leads to her development as a character. In a true coming of age moment, Diana realizes that the person she has looked up to for so long is not exactly the paragon of conduct she thought he was. This is a moment every person goes through in their life and is an essential step in the maturation process and in this particular instance shows the reader that Diana is not simply some vessel to be controlled. Her refusal to kill the minotaur for no good reason and go against her mentor’s wishes (Ares’ true colors perhaps?) shows Diane’s compassion and bravery and establishes that as she matures she will indeed turn into the superhero we all know she is destined to become: a superhero that just might be greater than the gods themselves.
Taylor Anderson, a lover of robots and dinosaurs and resident of Chicago, IL, is an education graduate student at DePaul University. Come next year he will be teaching kids how to write swear words with greater accuracy and the importance of Takis at dinner parties.
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?