Today, Drew and Scott are discussing Wonder Woman 15, originally released December 19th, 2012.
Drew: We’ve said it before, and I’m sure we’ll say it again: comic books are modern mythology. This is an idea Brian Azzarello has devoted Wonder Woman to exploring. I always like when art self-reflects in this way, but Azzarello never does anything so simply. The intersection of ancient mythology and comics mythology has proven to be fertile ground for essays on the nature of myth, but has tied the discussion to the world of fiction. In Wonder Woman 15, Azzarello confronts us with mythologized characters from reality, opening up the whole world of art-imitating-life-imitating-art discussions. It’s a strange, complicated arena of thought, but with Azzarello at the helm, I’m sure it will be a satisfying one.
The issue opens with the introduction of a brand-new character:
Now, my mom probably thinks this is just any overweight, dreadlocked, homeless black guy with a strange fascination with fast food slogans and telling things to “rock on,” but it’s hard for me to not recognize this as the late, great, Wesley Willis:
If you can’t watch that video (or check out the link to his wikipedia page), Willis was a Chicago street musician who fits this character’s description to a tee. Willis is a fascinating character, and wrote a lot of hilarious songs, but he also suffered from schizophrenia. Azzarello doesn’t shy away from this fact, making the character (here called Milan) a demigod, capable of some special form of sight. They aren’t hallucinations or voices, they just appear to be to the outside world.
It’s a clever turn, but why base the design of the character on a real person at all? In light of Travis Bickle’s recent appearance in Rorschach 3, we might get the impression that Azzarello is going through some kind of bizarre character-borrowing phase, but the fact that Milan is based on a real person is significant. Willis was such a larger-than-life person (and so much of that is captured here, from his penchant for head butting to his love for drawing cityscapes), and so cultishly followed, its hard to begrudge him the title of “mythological figure.” It’s important, then, that he’s approached by Orion, a member of Jack Kirby’s New Gods — which is to say, weird, even by comic book standards. Presenting these polar opposites on the scale of reality, Azzarello is calibrating the breadth of the term “mythology,” suggesting that it may not simply be the realm of ancient gods and superheroes. Cliff Chiang illustrates this idea beautifully, setting these two myths against another powerful symbol: the Statue of Liberty.
The moral that “we can all be heroes” sounds trite, but Azzarello doesn’t hit us over the head with it. In fact, it can scarcely be called a moral at all, what with all of this happening in the first scene. Which reminds me, I was in the middle of summarizing this issue…
Orion asks Milan for some help finding someone, but Milan is extremely reluctant. Meanwhile, Diana and Lennox are also seeking Milan. Lennox wants to go alone, arguing that Zola and Hera need a babysitter, and it’s Diana’s turn. Instead, Diana leaves them with the room service menu, and she and Lennox are off. They run into Haephestus, who offers upgrades to Diana’s gauntlets and some cryptic words before slinking back into the shadows. They then find Milan, but Orion isn’t happy to see them, and flies off the handle when he hears that Lennox might know the whereabouts of Zeus’ last child. Back in Antarctica, the first-born is seeking his “skin,” when he’s attacked by a trio of ice-monsters.
It’s a good thing I’m so excited by the Wesley Willis references, ’cause I can’t make heads or tails of the first-born stuff. I don’t know if we’re supposed to recognize this character as a Greek god or demigod, but it’s not for lack of trying — I just can’t read a family tree where parthenogenesis is commonplace. The talk of his “skin” made me consider Heracles’ Nemaen lion skin, but I really have no idea. Maybe we’re not supposed to recognize him?
Scott, this issue was just so full of ideas, I really don’t want to pen you in with any kind of question. Instead, I’ll leave you with the suggestion that Wesley Willis has always been a part of the DC Universe:
Scott: I figured the festive round of “Jingle bells, Batman smells,” a little boy was screaming in the grocery store the other day would be the best novelty Batman song I’d hear for a while, but I guess I was wrong. I would not have made the Wesley Willis connection on my own, but the resemblance certainly is striking enough that I can buy it. If you’re not convinced, consider that Wesley Willis and Wonder Woman have the same initials. Coincidence? I think yes. Resoundingly yes.
This issue was full of ideas, but I felt like it was also lacking something. Azzarello’s greatest strength has been his ability to integrate new characters into the Wonder Woman universe. By focusing on character development, his is able to regularly introduce complex characters without the story ever feeling disorganized. But while Milan and Orion occupy much of this issue, their characters have not yet been fleshed out, which made it less engaging than a typical Wonder Woman issue. Then again, I don’t know if I can recall a better cliff-hanger than Milan burping up the flies he swallowed with his lunch.
I like that Azzarello is pushing Zola and Hera towards an unlikely friendship, but some of their scenes together felt like page-filler. I get that they don’t get along, so an entire page showing them fighting over the remote is a little redundant. The fact that their preferred programs are seemingly a “Kardashian” knock-off and a NASCAR race doesn’t win points for either of them, either. Zola eventually makes a good point: why is Hera focusing her hate on Zola when Zeus is the one who actually betrayed her?
People often have this reaction to their spouses’ cheating in real life, and I’ve never understood why. I don’t know if trying to kill Zeus would work out for Hera, but it makes more sense to me.
The first-born stuff seems so intentionally vague that I feel justified in not recognizing him. I wouldn’t expect Azzarello to spell things out for us, but it feels like he’s withholding to set up a big reveal later on. He has to walk a difficult line of staying true to ancient mythology while also also creating something that feels new and capable of surprise. And surprise he does, creating a universe where anything can and will happen. I wouldn’t have expected a Wesley Willis inspired demi-god to appear in this issue, but somehow I wouldn’t have not expected it either. I mean, come on, think about that initials thing a little more. Mind blowing.
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?