Posts Tagged ‘Matthew Wilson’

Wonder Woman #35 Review OR The End Of An Era

October 29, 2014

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I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited for a comic than when DC announced that Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang would be relaunching Wonder Woman. I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news, how I flipped out in a public place and drew a lot of odd looks, and how I called my best friend to celebrate with someone comicly inclined who would understand the awesomeness of the day. I was a huge fan of Azzarello’s work on books like 100 Bullets and Loveless, as well the only guy I know who loved Superman: For Tomorrow, and I’d been following Cliff Chiang’s work for years; he was one of the few artists whose work I always bought no matter my interest in the book as a whole. I have a stack of Cliff Chiang comics starring characters I don’t give a hoot about, but I love the comics because they are GORGEOUS.

Now, more than three years later, their run on Wonder Woman is drawing to a close. It’s had its ups and downs, to be sure. I’m still not over the changes to the Amazons, and their portrayal of Diana was a bit all over the map. But when their Wonder Woman was good, which it was quite often, it was one of the best comics on the stands and portrayed a powerful and compassionate version of the character. Today, with their final issue, Azzarello and Chiang have finished strong, presenting a fantastic showcase for Wonder Woman and the wider cast they’ve built around her. But before we talk about that, first this:

SPOILER ALERT!!!

I am going to spoil not just this issue, but the ENTIRE run!

Go read it all first!

Don’t rob yourself of a good story and spectacular art!

Carrying on, let me start with a bit of self-congratulating. I called the Zola is Athena thing when I reviewed the last issue, as well as the Zeke/Zeus connection. So high fives all around for that!

Onto the book itself. This issue picks up where the last one left off, with Wonder Woman and her pals facing Poseidon on Olympus. Then things went sideways when the First Born showed up, and it looked like some of the team were going to meet a bad end. But, of course, the good guys won. It’s superhero comic; that was sort of a given. How they won, however, speaks to the strength of Azzarello and Chiang’s run.

Over the last few years, I’ve often commented on the lack of Wonder Woman in Wonder Woman. On average, she was lucky to be on half of the pages of her own book. But for this finale, Azzarello and Chiang had Wonder Woman take center stage and show her true heroism. She was on every single page of this final issue, driving the action and bringing the First Born’s reign to an end.

When all was lost and it looked like the heroes would be defeated, Wonder Woman was spared because the minotaur couldn’t kill her. He remembered what she did when he was in the same circumstances in Wonder Woman #0, subdued and about to be killed. The young Diana couldn’t kill the minotaur and now, years later, because of that act of compassion, the minotaur refused to kill her. After three years of Wonder Woman’s compassion routinely biting her square in the ass, that it finally paid off for her when it mattered most was a nice, triumphant moment.

It also allowed Wonder Woman to regroup, and defeat the First Born. She took off her bracelets and went full on god mode, and could have killed him. Hermes was certainly cheering for that when he told her to show no mercy. But mercy and compassion are her core. She tricked the First Born; Wonder Woman is clever as well. But instead of killing him, she sent him back down into the pit from whence he came to stay for another few thousand years. The act appeared to not be about malice or punishment, but rather about her belief that the First Born could, with time, learn to love and trust others. Despite all of his evil actions, she refused to see him as a lost cause.

Finally, Wonder Woman convinced Athena to save Zola, who she was set to discard as she returned to her divine form. Athena had been living as Zola, unknowingly, for twenty years, a pittance compared to the lifespan of a god, but Diana convinced her that her time as Zola was valuable and that Zola should live on, to help Zeke/Zeus and also to help others. I’m particularly glad for this turn of events, because Zola is one of the best new characters to come out of this run.

As a comic book, this final issue was well balance and paced. The action was a lot of fun, and the fights were great, but there was a lot more going on than a typical superhero beat ’em up as Wonder Woman’s compassion ultimately saved the day. Azzarello wrote great moments for all of his now fan favourite characters, and finished with a surprisingly happy yet fitting ending for his darker take on Wonder Woman’s universe.

The issue was beautifully drawn as always by Cliff Chiang, who captured the emotion of each beat perfectly. I don’t think that any other comic book artist communicates feeling and mood as well as Cliff Chiang, and definitely not as deftly and subtly. Plus, he can draw the hell out of a fight scene too. The man is incomparable, and I’m so sad to see him leave the title.

Matthew Wilson’s colours were gorgeous, which is not a surprise given the stellar work he’s done on this series. He always knows how to find the exact right palette for an issue, and then punctuate it fun ways to really drive home the key moments. This issue, I was particularly taken with how he coloured Wonder Woman, Zola, and Zeke as the dawn hit them on the second last page. Such lovely work.

Jared K. Fletcher’s lettering continued to achieve the key goal of lettering: To blend in so well with the art that you don’t even really notice it’s there. His work has been seamless from the first issue on, telling the story effectively while showcasing the artwork as well. Being a letterer isn’t the flashiest of jobs, but good lettering goes a long way and Fletcher has done some fantastic work on Wonder Woman over the past few years.

So the First Born is vanquished, the Amazons are back, and Wonder Woman and all her pals made it out alive. This issue is not only the end of this epic storyline, but also the end of an era. Largely due to Azzarello and Chiang’s star power, the series has been incredibly self-contained and avoided the wider world of the DC universe, specifically Wonder Woman’s foolish romance with Superman. From what we’ve seen of the Finches’ first issue set to debut next month, this separation is over and Wonder Woman will now be much more integrated with the rest of DC’s titles. Wonder Woman hasn’t received the best treatment in the New 52, so her autonomy in her own series was a nice respite. I suppose we’ll still have Sensation Comics, at least.

My congratulations to Azzarello, Chiang, and the whole Wonder Woman team for this great finale! While the run has had rough moments, I think that in the end there was a lot more good than bad and, as a whole, it will go down as one of the better runs in the history of the character.

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Wonder Woman #29 Review OR Game Of Thrones With The Greek Pantheon

March 20, 2014

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The queen’s jerk of a son is on the throne.  There are siblings with incestuous leanings.  A displeased relative has raised an army to try to overthrow the false king.  Wonder Woman is totally Game of Thrones at this point, and I am all for it.  Things are definitely escalating as we enter the final act of Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s run, and I’m really enjoying how everything is coming together.  Let’s chat about it, but first:

SPOILER ALERT!!

I’m going to tell you ALL OF THE THINGS that happened in this issue!

No more Game of Thrones talk though, so don’t worry about spoilers there!

But there are Wonder Woman spoilers galore!

We got some confirmation on things we suspected at the end of last issue, namely that Apollo is dead (or as dead as a Greek god can be; I assume another creative team will bring him back down the road at some point) and that the First Born is the king of Olympus now.  We also got answers to questions raised by the preview we saw last Friday: Wonder Woman is the one who saved Cassandra’s ship, and Hera got her powers back in full.

So Olympus is decimated, and sort of gross looking.  Olympus continues to conform to the personality of its ruler, and with the First Born we get an organic, mangled mess of flesh and bone growing on top of the collapsed skyscraper.  As expected, the First Born is a cruel ruler.  He’s not even nice to Cassandra, who has been such a huge help to him since he escaped his imprisonment.  Artemis and Wonder Woman were nearly killed before Hera showed up to teleport them out of dodge.

Hera’s triumphant return to Olympus as a fully powered deity was a great redemptive moment for the character, and something that the series has been building to for some time.  Hera was the villain of the book when Wonder Woman #1 premiered, and remained the primary antagonist for most of the first arc.  Now she’s a full-fledged ally of Wonder Woman, and pals with the woman whose baby she tried so hard to kill.

We saw growth in Hera in two ways.  The first is obvious, her turning from a bad guy to a good guy because of the kindness shown to her by Wonder Woman when she was depowered.  This issue cleverly turned around a trope that I’ve felt was overused in past issues of this run, whereby Wonder Woman gets herself in over her head and someone else has to swoop in and save her.  Here, the First Born was sucking the life out of Wonder Woman and Hera did swoop in to save her, but it felt earned.  Hera is a hero now because of Wonder Woman’s positive influence; Hera saved Wonder Woman, but it was Wonder Woman who originally saved Hera.

The second area of growth is simpler, but meaningful.  After Hera lost her powers, she became a joke.  She and Zola were the book’s comic relief, hapless women protected by Wonder Woman who had little to do but order room service and go to bars.  There were issues where they totally stole the book with great, amusing moments, but they were also female characters who were cast in the age old damsel in distress role.  Zola’s broken out of that mold in recent issues; her going after Dionysus was an enormously brave and moving moment.  Now Hera has transcended her comedic role as well and has emerged as a hero.  She’s still hilarious, to be sure; this moment was great:

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But Hera’s not ONLY comic relief anymore, and that’s great to see.  Villain to joke to hero is a rare transition, and one that’s been pulled off very well by Azzarello and Chiang.

Hera’s rebirth as a heroic goddess resulted in the book’s biggest revelation, which fans have spent the past couple of years waiting for: The Amazons are back!  Now, those of us who are at all familiar with comic books knew that they’d be back at some point.  We’ve been through several Amazon genocides now, and lo and behold they always return.  No one ever stays dead in a comic book.  Nonetheless, it’s lovely to have them back.

Also, Wonder Woman taking charge of the Amazons was a nice moment as well, given that there seemed to be some animosity towards her from some of her sisters when the series began.  I was a little surprised that we didn’t see anything with Hippolyta, but I’m betting that her reunion with Diana will be the opening scene of the next issue.

As much as I’m glad that the Amazons are back, though, I don’t think that their return excuses their absence.  They’ve been out of commission for most of the series, just to give Hera a nice moment and to supply Wonder Woman with an army (assuming that this all was Azzarello and Chiang’s plan from the get-go; who knows, they may have brought them back on a lark).  That doesn’t strike me as a good enough reason to cast aside such a key part of Wonder Woman’s mythos, especially when their removal was paired with a constant undermining of their legacy and feminist power.  The whole raping and murdering sailors situation has left quite a black mark on the Amazons, plus now Wonder Woman’s abilities are the result of her divine father and her male mentor instead of her Amazon heritage.  It’s wonderful that the Amazons are back, but the book has done a great deal of damage to them in their absence.

That being said, Azzarello and Chiang have done an excellent job rehabilitating Hera over the course of their run, so I’m curious to see if they can rehabilitate the Amazons before their tenure is over.  They’ve already got a lot of balls in the air, storywise, and there’s a lot of damage to be undone, so I’m not particularly optimistic.  It’ll take more than a big victory against the First Born to repair their tarnished image; that would hardly make up for centuries of rape and murder.  I’m hoping Azzarello and Chiang have a plan for walking that back, but again, I’m not optimistic.

Qualms about the Amazons aside, this was a very solid issue and everything is developing at an exciting pace.  I’m very pleased to see that Wonder Woman’s team has remained intact and that she hasn’t had the rug pulled out from under her in several issues.  I may not be optimistic about the Amazons, but it feels like this run is going to end well for Wonder Woman herself as she comes into her own and takes control of her destiny.  The action is definitely going to escalate in the issues to come, and I’m curious and excited to see how it all turns out.

Wonder Woman #29 Preview OR Olympus Has Fallout

March 14, 2014

The last issue of Wonder Woman ended with a bang, literally, and now there seem to be some repercussions.  IGN has a preview of next week’s Wonder Woman #29, so let’s take a look:

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First off, a preview of Wonder Woman would ideally have more Wonder Woman in it.  Or any Wonder Woman at all.  But she is on Cassandra’s ship somewhere, so I assume she’ll pop up pretty soon.

The big thing here is what happens to Hera.  It doesn’t look great for her; being able to see someone’s skeleton is rarely a positive sign.  But I think she’s going to be all right.  More than all right even.

Here’s a panel from Wonder Woman #12, when Apollo took away Hera’s powers.  Note the colour of the vapour:

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It’s the same green as the ball of energy that blasts Hera at the winery.  My bet is that the destruction of Olympus and the apparent death of Apollo has freed her powers to return to her, and she’ll be a goddess again.  Hopefully one who has learned some valuable lessons from her time as a mortal, because she was a pretty terrible person last time we saw her as a deity.

The other big question is how is Cassandra’s ship still flying.  My money’s on Wonder Woman holding it up, but Zeke busting out his powers again strikes me as a decent option.  I doubt it’s a First Born thing, because he’s probably buried under a pile of rubble right now.  As a side note, I love the colouring in the Zola panels, with the harsh red and soft blues.  Matthew Wilson always makes cool choices.

Look for Wonder Woman #29 this Wednesday, March 19, online and in comic shops everywhere.  Azzarello and Chiang are building to their big finale now, and it sounds like it’s going to be a doozy.

Wonder Woman #28 Review OR Olympus Has Fallen

February 20, 2014

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This wasn’t a terribly eventful issue of Wonder Woman until the very last page, with the book consisting of just two fight scenes, but it was a fun read that built on the good things we saw last month.  While it’s only February, it feels like Azzarello is building towards the annual August finale already, though I’m sure there will be plenty of twists and turns before then.  Let’s talk about the issue, but first:

SPOILER ALERT!!

I am about to discuss ALL of the goings-on in this comic book!

Go read the issue first!

So we’ve got two fights that ultimately move the pieces around a bit.  The result of the first fight was Cassandra capturing Dionysus, and using him to gain entry into Mount Olympus while, unbeknownst to her, Wonder Woman grabbed onto the ship and tagged along for the ride.  They arrived at Mount Olympus just as the second fight reached its explosive conclusion.  It looked like the First Born had gained the upper hand over Apollo, withstanding his solar blasts and crushing him in a brutal bear hug, but Apollo had an ace up his sleeve and destroyed his skyscraper Mount Olympus, with himself and the First Born atop the roof, in a massive, fiery explosion.

There was a lot to like in both fight scenes, but let’s start with Cassandra and her minotaur in France.  First, I liked the twist that Cassandra was actually after Dionysus and that Zola and Zeke happened to be there was just coincidence.  We’ve had two and a half years of everyone chasing after Zeke, so we’re used to him as a target, but Cassandra didn’t even seem aware he was there.  That was a nice misdirect, and a speedy resolution to Zola’s runaway sideplot as she’s already back in the vicinity of her team.

Speaking of the team, they’re still together!  No one betrayed Wonder Woman!  That’s very nice to see.  I’m glad that the team is effective and working well together, and I really like the lineup.  Artemis is useful addition, with her fighting skills and tracking prowess, but she’s also a lot of fun.  She’s always spoiling for a fight, has cool weapons like her moonerangs, and Matthew Wilson colours her so beautifully.  I love the blues he uses, and how her moonlike glow lights up every panel she’s in.  Even in bright light, Wilson captures a slight lumosity with Artemis.  His work with the character is quite stunning all around.

If you’ve read my reviews before, you know that Hermes is my favourite character, and this panel of him catching a spear in his talon while Wonder Woman deflects a spray of bullets is an absolute blast:

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Wonder Woman, Hermes, and Artemis have a great dynamic in the fight scenes, and when they’re not fighting they also have Hera to add some comic relief and make for some enjoyable exchanges.

There was also a heroic moment for Zola after the minotaur captured Dionysus.  She was safe and could have left, but she decided to go after Dio:

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Later in the issue, we see her near the ramp to Cassandra’s ship and, since she doesn’t show up after that, I assume that she and Zeke sneaked onto the ship to try to help Dionysus.  Zola’s been running since the series began, as she should, considering she’s got a baby to protect.  But she’s also been hanging out with heroes, and it’s starting to rub off on her.  She doesn’t want to just be a damsel in distress anymore, nor does she need to be; Zeke is just a baby, but he’s also quite a weapon when push comes to shove.

Over on Mount Olympus, the First Born sure took a beating but the First Born is nothing if not used to perpetual pain and misery.  There was a classic Azzarello piece of dialogue when Apollo couldn’t understand why his fiery blasts weren’t stopping the First Born, and the First Born replied, “My hate burns hotter than a thousand sons.”  The First Born’s rampage is all about his daddy issues, and the son/sun exchange underscored that nicely without having to rehash the entire story.

It was a well crafted fight, and Chiang and Wilson did an excellent job depicting the increasingly charred First Born.  Wilson also did a fantastic job colouring Apollo, who transitioned from a white hot glow to increasingly dark shades of orange as he blasts at the First Born and depletes his solar energy.  The changes are subtle and gradual, and are characteristic of the care that Wilson puts into his colouring in every issue of Wonder Woman.

Jared K. Fletcher had a strong issue lettering as well.  Fight scenes mean a lot of sound effects, and Fletcher did a great job communicating the action with sound effects that capture each punch, shot, and block without being obtrusive or impeding the flow of the story.  Letterers have a thankless job; when they’re at their best, they blend in so perfectly that you don’t notice them, and Fletcher did just that in a sound-heavy issue.

All together, this was a solid, albeit quick, issue of Wonder Woman.  The destruction of Olympus might have some big repercussions, depending on who survives the blast and how soon it is restored.  If Apollo is dead and the First Born survives and captures the throne, that would create a whole new dynamic where the rest of the gods, including Wonder Woman, would have to team up to depose him; that could be fun.  While the issue itself was just a couple of well put together fights, the ramifications of these fights could have some huge implications for the book moving forward.  I’m excited to see what happens next.

Wonder Woman #27 Review OR Wonder Woman vs. A Godless Killing Machine

January 23, 2014

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After nearly two and a half years of being subject to the fiendish machinations of the gods, I think Wonder Woman is starting to turn the tables.  With Zola and Zeke gone, Wonder Woman isn’t flying off half-cocked like we’ve seen in the past.  It looks like she’s got a plan, and she’s acting instead of reacting.  I’ve got more to say on the matter, but first:

SPOILER ALERT!!

I am about to reveal EVERY major plot point from this issue!

Do not read on if you haven’t read the issue yet!

Cliff Chiang is back!  Go enjoy his lovely art and then come back!

Before we get to Wonder Woman’s plan, let’s talk about the art for a minute.  Cliff Chiang is back, and boy oh boy does he kill it.  The man is just a premiere artist.  His page layouts capture the story perfectly, he communicates the serenity or brutality of a scene with equal skill, and I think he’s the best in the business when it comes to facial expressions.  The book is an absolute thing of beauty.

The facial expressions are particularly striking in this issue, and Chiang and colourist Matthew Wilson are doing some very cool work.  For most comic art, the inked line art stays black, but here a lot of the details have been coloured.  It’s a technique Chiang and Wilson have used before, but I don’t think they’ve done it to the degree we see it in this issue.  Look at this panel featuring Wonder Woman:

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Her nose, eyelids, jaw line, and inner ear are all coloured with a darker flesh tone instead of the usual flat black.  It makes the book more visually interesting, taking great line art and making it even better with some clever colouring.

Wilson had a fantastic issue across the board, and he really makes the art sing with his colour work.  From the pale blue glow of Artemis to sunny warmth of Provence, each scene has a colour palette that communicates the feel of each setting.  Plus the colouring is ridiculously smooth; nothing is just one solid colour, but rather an array of highlights and shadows blending seamlessly.  It’s stellar work.

But back to the story itself.  I don’t think it’s going out on a limb to say that Wonder Woman is a weird book.  In this issue alone, we had four pages of torture, an orgy in the woods, and a minotaur in bondage gear.  This most definitely is not a book for a younger audience, or even for squeamish adults.  Seeing someone already beaten and bloody get their back broken repeatedly is not for the faint of heart.

As a sidenote, however, the First Born scenes are certainly effective.  I now sympathize with the First Born, despite the fact that he was nothing but a remorseless killer before he was captured.  I was glad he escaped, and I hope Apollo gets what he has coming.  So yeah, making the First Born someone I’d cheer for, even if it is just against another sadistic fiend, is quite a feat.  The systematic torture of the First Born has been gross, but now I’m on his side a little bit.

Nonetheless, this dark, horror tone and the, shall we say, mature content of the series is not my favourite.  I’m not averse to darker stories in any way; I just don’t think it’s the best way to present Wonder Woman (though Superman/Wonder Woman has ably demonstrated that there are, in fact, worse ways to present Wonder Woman).  It’s not a particularly accessible series in terms of its range of appeal, and moreover it’s a book where Wonder Woman is often the least interesting character each month.  The world that surrounds her has been far more vibrant and compelling than Wonder Woman herself, and being constantly overshadowed and ineffective against the horrors of this world has resulted in a weak depiction of the character.

Luckily for me, this might be about to change.  Wonder Woman is finally doing something.

Up to this point, Wonder Woman’s been reacting, responding to the actions of other characters rather than taking control of the situation.  But now, with Zola and Zeke gone yet again, she’s actually got a plan.  The fight with Artemis in bear form was fun (and beautifully coloured), but this final panel captured everything I’ve been missing about Wonder Woman:

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The sly smile.  The knowing side eye.  For the first time in a long time, Wonder Woman is up to something.  She’s going to outsmart her enemies instead of punching them, and she’s going to dictate the action moving forward.  This is the Wonder Woman that I haven’t seen in two years.

When the book first launched, Wonder Woman was firmly in control.  She swooped in to save Zola, showed up Aleka in a sparring session, and busted up Strife at a rock show.  You didn’t mess with Wonder Woman.  Things took a quick turn when she learned that Zeus was her dad and all of the Amazons were wiped out, and Wonder Woman’s been reeling since.  She’s been angry and careless, punching before she thinks, manipulated by the gods at every turn.  As someone who wants a great Wonder Woman in their Wonder Woman, it hasn’t been the best time.

This issue, and that panel above, is the first time in ages that Wonder Woman has actually felt like Wonder Woman to me.  She’s had her moments here and there, mostly with cool fighting moves, but now she’s thinking.  She’s as strong as she’s ever been, what with her Zeus powers AND her god of war powers, but she’s not punching things anymore.  She’s got a plan.

If we can return to an in control, firing on all cylinders Wonder Woman, then all of my other issues with the book will quickly fade away.  A weak, flailing Wonder Woman in the midst of this grotesque horror story hasn’t been a fun book to read, but a strong, capable Wonder Woman putting an end to these horrors is a story I’m excited about.

Wonder Woman #23.2 First Born Review OR Some Interesting Background On The Big Bad

September 26, 2013

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While Wonder Woman #23.1 The Cheetah didn’t seem to have much to do with anything going on elsewhere in the DC universe, the similarly awkwardly named Wonder Woman #23.2 First Born digs deep into the character’s history and lets us understand some more about him and his motivations.  It’s not necessarily an essential piece of Azzarello’s bigger story but it does flesh out the First Born some more, along with giving us some hints of what’s to come.  We’ll get to all of that, but first:

SPOILER ALERT!!

I am about to ruin the ENTIRE issue for you!!

And if you’re a regular Wonder Woman reader, you should probably pick this one up!!

Read it for yourself first!!

I liked this issue, not because it was particularly revelatory but because I thought it was nicely put together.  Apollo using his oracles to tell the story of the First Born was a simple but effective plot device that allowed the art to really shine and communicate the story as well.  This was a good call; ACO did a fantastic job capturing the brutality of the First Born in a number of unusual and striking settings, using thick lines and strong shadows that were well balanced out by Matthew Wilson’s colours.  Everyone on the creative team did a great job this month, and the result was a book that looked great and told an interesting story.

The basic story we knew already: The First Born was literally the first born son of Zeus and Hera, cast out of Olympus and imprisoned by the gods deep within the Earth, but there was more to it than that.  Zeus was jealous of his son, worried he would usurp him after an ominous prophecy, and the boy was abandoned in the wild.  Raised by a pack of hyenas, the First Born continually tried to get the attention of the gods, conquering the whole world through mass slaughter to do so, but they never noticed him.  Finally he attacked Olympus himself, only to be beaten almost instantaneously by the combined power of his father and uncles.  He was locked away deep inside the bowels of the Earth, and would only be freed when Zeus ended his reign as king of the gods.

The First Born’s motivations aren’t the most nuanced.  The comic describes how he became a creature of hate, with the god’s continual spurning pushing him to act out in increasingly violent and evil ways.  Azzarello hasn’t done the greatest jobs with the motivations of his main characters, really; where Wonder Woman has her “I love everyone”, the First Born hates everyone.  The dichotomy is nice, and the big fight in Wonder Woman #23 did a good job of getting into that, but it’s a somewhat simplistic situation.  The First Born is understandably upset at the gods, and this hate festers over millennia, but the result is a villain who’s more an animal than a person, ruled by an overwhelming urge to destroy.  Yes, he’s clearly seeking validation, but his father isn’t even around to validate him anymore.  Should he win the throne of Olympus, the First Born would suddenly realize all his raging and destruction was for naught, as there’d be no one left to notice him.  That’s tragic in its own way, but again points to an unthinking force of nature more than a person.  He’s not reflecting on what he’s doing, he’s just doing it.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as far as villains go.  Obviously he’s super evil and Wonder Woman will have to inevitably take him down again, and that kind of single-minded motivation will make for an epic battle.  I’m hoping there’s an extra layer to the First Born that emerges now that he’s captured, though, some sort of humanity that extends beyond him being hate incarnate.  I thought there was a chance for that in Wonder Woman #21, when Hera tells him she loves him and she did what she did to save him, but the First Born just responded with hate-filled vitriol.  Perhaps now that he’s been humbled in defeat, he’ll have a slightly new perspective and there’ll be something more to him than hate.  We’ll have to see what happens.

The book ends with a new prophecy from Apollo’s oracles concerning a great battle between Apollo and the First Born where one will emerge victorious while the other is engulfed in flames.  There’s also a naked woman there, Apollo’s sister, and the oracles say she is too late, but we don’t know for what because they burn up before they can finish the prophecy.  The only naked woman we’ve seen so far is Aphrodite, in a few brief appearances, so perhaps she’ll play a bigger role moving forward.  That, or Wonder Woman loses her costume at some point.  In a Wonder Woman comic, when a lady is mentioned in a prophecy there’s always a chance it could be Wonder Woman herself.

Speaking of which, Wonder Woman doesn’t appear in the book at all.  She showed up in one page of the Cheetah comic last week, albeit in a dream sequence, but she played no part in this First Born title.  It is VILLAINS Month though, and frankly Wonder Woman hasn’t had much to do in a lot of her normal issues during this current run anyway.  An issue without her in it isn’t a big stretch.  The lack of Wonder Woman and the fun, dark machinations of the gods in this issue made me think about what role Wonder Woman really plays in the series.  The gods are all engaged in this massive fight for the throne of Olympus, with disputes and alliances stretching back to the dawn of the world, and Wonder Woman just seems stuck in the middle of it because Hermes sent Zola to her way back in Wonder Woman #1.  Of all the pieces in this bigger story, Wonder Woman is the one that lifts out most easily.  However, this could very easily change now that she’s the god of war.  That may bring her into the fold directly, and make her a more integral part of this war of the gods.

Altogether, I enjoyed this issue.  While I have some questions about and hopes for Azzarello’s overall story arc, this issue was well written and drawn and gave me a lot to think about despite its relatively simple narrative.  I might be silly to be looking for humanity in a hate-filled god, but I hope that’s an avenue that’s explored moving forward.

Wonder Woman #23 Review OR An Unsatisfying, But Not Unusual, End To An Uneven Year

August 22, 2013

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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…

SPOILER ALERT!!

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:

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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:

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