Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang have been working on Wonder Woman for two years now, and while the series has had some great moments, the treatment of Wonder Woman herself has been bugging me for a while. Chiang always draws her magnificently, and my issue is less with him than with the way she’s written, and Wonder Woman #23 was the culmination of a lot of my concerns about how Azzarello has done so. I’ll try not to make this review the greatest hits of stuff I’ve complained about already over the past two years, but a lot of it came up in this issue, and in big ways. But first…
This is the BIG FINALE!!
You’re going to want to read it yourself!!
I know I don’t sound enthused about it, but it’s really pretty at least!!
So go check it out!!
Okay, back to reviewing.
First off, I totally called it! I’ve been saying for a while now that Ares was going to die and Wonder Woman would become the god of war, and that’s exactly what happened. This is huge because I’m NEVER right at this sort of thing. I am usually completely oblivious when it comes to plot prediction, to such a degree that my friends tease me about it. So yeah, this is either a minor miracle, or they telegraphed the ending so obviously that even I could figure it out.
This issue was the big finale battle with the First Born, and there was lots of action. Everyone took their shot at the First Born; Ares had his ghost army, Orion just punched him for a bit, and Wonder Woman went bonkers and then finally impaled him (and Ares) on a spear. The good guys won, the world is saved, hooray.
Except that, yet again, Wonder Woman does not come off well at all. Have you ever read the mod Diana Prince comics from the late 1960s, when Diana was perpetually hysterical and beating the hell out of people while her mentor, I Ching, tried to calm her down? This issue reminded me of that, with Ares in the I Ching role. Wonder Woman took off her bracelets and went full on Zeus-powered berserker to fight the First Born, while Ares tried to tell her it wasn’t a good plan. And, of course, Ares was right and Wonder Woman got beat down, because in the New 52 Wonder Woman men are always correct and Wonder Woman always makes the wrong, irrational decision.
As a sidenote, however, Chiang does some great work with half-crazed Wonder Woman. Take a look at these panels where she fights the First Born in mid-air, and specifically note her hair:
Chiang usually draws her hair in smooth waves, but here it takes on a jagged, triangular sort of appearance that mimics the harsh, jagged nature of the First Born’s cloak. Notice as well that Matthew Wilson has coloured the hair and the cloak with the same blue. This mirroring cleverly highlights how an uncontrolled Wonder Woman is as wild, angry, and violent as the First Born. And then the dialogue unsubtly hammers that home on the next page. The dialogue in this issue was not so great, as you can tell from the panels above.
After Wonder Woman gets smashed into the ground, Hera and Zola’s escape is hindered by the First Born (I love that they’re such pals now; that relationship is one of the best things Azzarello has done in the series), but Ares distracts him, buying Wonder Woman enough time to get up, grab a spear, and run them both through. I have several problems with this.
First, while I don’t mind Wonder Woman killing people (I am a firm supporter of killing Max Lord), this just seems unnecessary. Ares is little and skinny. The First Born is big and wide. There was no other trajectory that would avoid impaling Ares while hitting the First Born? That’s rather unlikely given the size disparity here. Wonder Woman should kill only when she HAS to kill. This incidental impaling seems silly.
Second, if she’s willing to kill Ares to stop the First Born, why not go all the way and kill the First Born? The line’s been crossed already, and obviously if the First Born isn’t dealt with he’s just going to do this again, kill a bunch more people, and Ares’ death is going to be in vain. Obviously, the conventions of superhero storytelling require the villain to never die so they can come back over and over and over, which is fine, but don’t then have Wonder Woman kill a dude to momentarily pause this tidal wave of destruction. Again, silly. Find a better ending.
Third, Ares is proud of the choice Wonder Woman made, and the GOD OF WAR should never, ever be proud of Wonder Woman. He should be annoyed by her perpetually looking for a peaceful alternative. This whole mentor role for Ares has felt like a wrong fit to me since the beginning, in part because he’s a man and what’s cool about Wonder Woman is that she’s an AMAZON and thus is both an amazing diplomat and warrior (when necessary) because of their training, but also because the god of war and Diana shouldn’t be friends. They should be oil and water. The first time they met, Diana should have said “There’s nothing I can learn from you that I can’t learn better from my Amazon sisters” and that should have been the end of it. If Ares is proud of Wonder Woman, something has gone wrong with your story.
Which leads us to this: Now Wonder Woman is the god of war. I guess if you kill him, you get the title. As I just mentioned, Wonder Woman and the god of war is a poor fit. Which I’m sure will be explored moving forward, and I know that her first act as the god of war was not killing the First Born, dumb as that was. She’s not going to be some bloodthirsty fiend or anything. This just seems to pull us farther away from what I think Wonder Woman should be, which is just my own opinion and one that’s obviously not shared by Azzarello. Plus it’s another example of uh oh, Wonder Woman’s accidentally gotten herself into another sticky situation.
Ironically, while taking on the mantle of a god should make Wonder Woman ridiculously powerful, I think that this is a very weak incarnation of the character. She entirely lacks control, as evidenced by her berserker attack but also by the fact that she is perpetually reacting instead of driving the action herself, always backed into a corner by her own poor decisions. She shouldn’t have had to kill Ares, she shouldn’t be the god of war, but she screwed it all up (again) so here we are. Wonder Woman should be smarter, Wonder Woman should be more capable, Wonder Woman should have found another way.
This moment, however, I quite liked. At least Zola is still freaking awesome: