I’m glad to say that Wonder Woman #21 tackles a lot of the problems I’ve been having with the series lately from both a technical and storytelling perspective. It does so all while retaining its sense of self; what’s good about this issue revolves around better execution on every level, tweaks and improvements instead of radical changes. I think it’s the best issue of Wonder Woman we’ve gotten since last August. We’ll get into it all momentarily, but first:
If you haven’t read the issue yet, I’m about to spoil EVERYTHING that happens!!
Seriously, go read it first! It’s actually really good this month!
Okay, carrying on. Let’s start with the art. It’s been very inconsistent lately, with a slew of different pencillers and inkers doing portions of the book. Things looked like they were rushed at every stage of production, and the overall effect was poor. The many different artists made for a jarring read, and it seemed like colorist Matthew Wilson had barely any time to pull the book together.
This issue, on the other hand, was gorgeous. Cliff Chiang is back, penciling and inking the whole thing, and he did an amazing job. Everything from the fierce grace of his Wonder Woman to the gritty savagery of his First Born was just spot on, and the story flowed beautifully on each page. The monochromatic boom tube sequence was especially well done, and I’d love to see the original inks for that. Wilson clearly brought a lot to that sequence as well, and Chiang’s more blocked out renderings of everyone gave everything such a cool look.
It’s no secret that I think Chiang is one of the most talented artists working in comics today, so it’s no big surprise that I was pleased with the art. The book centers around a massive fight, which was awesomely rendered, but every small moment and emotion shone through the carnage. I especially liked what he did with an early scene where the First Born confronts Hera. Hera, his mother, thinks she saved him, but the First Born disagrees and gets angry. Hera’s pain at this is visceral, but the really interesting choice is that when the fight escalates and the First Born slaps Hera, we don’t see it. Instead, we have three panels of Zola:
This works like gangbusters because Hera and Zola have developed a rapport lately despite their antagonistic beginnings. The first panel, with the baby Zeke visible, shows how Zola can identify with Hera’s pain because she’s now a mother herself. As the rhetoric escalates, Zola appears more disturbed, and she can’t even stand to watch when Hera is hit. The panels communicate their new closeness, and what they now share because they’re both mothers, all while avoiding a gratuitous panel of the mammoth First Born assaulting his mother. It’s such smart, effective storytelling, and Azzarello’s script may have had a hand in this execution as well, but Chiang is able to say so much with just a few panels in such a simple way.
Matthew Wilson does a great job as well. I suspect that Chiang’s been working on this issue for a while, given his lack of art in recent issues, which probably gave Wilson more time to go to town with the colours. Everything is detailed but smooth, looking evocative and effortless in the way only an expert coloring job can. It’s all blended and distinct instead of the blocks of colour we’ve gotten in past issues. It compliments the line art well and makes for a fantastic issue, visually.
The storytelling is also much improved, and in a way that incorporates the myriad players involved while avoiding past mistakes. We’ve had several issues where Wonder Woman launches into an ill-advised fight only to find herself outmatched and someone (always a man) shows up save the day. And that’s just the half of the book she’s in. Past issues have been filled with goings on with the First Born and the Olympian gods. Wonder Woman hasn’t been in her own book that much, and when she is she hasn’t come off well at all.
Part of this is remedied by having Wonder Woman and the First Born in the same place, but there was no lengthy check in on Mount Olympus either. When Wonder Woman wasn’t on a particular page, she was always nearby, about to jump back into the action. Between this and the fight with Artemis last month, Wonder Woman is much more in the thick of things as of late.
Plus the execution of the fighting has changed. Instead of Wonder Woman fouling it up and having to be saved, everyone works together as a team throughout the whole issue. Wonder Woman gets the first go at the First Born, then Lennox has a go, then Orion, then all of them. Zola’s the one who shows up on Orion’s glider to get them out of there, and Lennox is the one who jumps back to stop the First Born from tearing apart the boom tube. Even baby Zeke gets in on it, exhibiting some early divine powers and incapacitating Cassandra somehow. No one is fixing Wonder Woman’s screw up. Instead, they’re all working together to take down a dangerous foe. While I’d still like more Wonder Woman in my Wonder Woman, I definitely prefer this team dynamic to what we’ve seen before.
Plus, we end up on New Genesis! That’s just all sorts of cool. We’d seen Highfather briefly before, when Orion prepared to travel to Earth, but this is our first good look at him. I’m sure we’ll learn more about him, and explore New Genesis in more detail, next month. From what we have here and the cover for the next issue, it’s got a really militaristic feel so far. My recollections of New Genesis are a little more freewheeling, but a) I’m no expert on the New Gods, and b) we don’t have a clear picture on the current New Genesis yet.
All together, this was a really solid comic book. It was delightful to look at, the fight was exciting, the characters were used well, the ending was super cool, and, unlike a lot of recent issues, there’s not much to be upset about. Things improved on every level and everyone, real and fictional, seemed to be putting in their best work. More like this, please! I know they’re capable of doing it. That’s why I’m hard on them when they don’t.