Wonder Woman has a certain nostalgic meaning to me: when I was seven years old I lived in the US for about eight months because my parents had to be there because of my father’s job. It was 1978, and Wonder Woman was one of the popular tv series of the time, with Lynda Carter playing the role of Wonder Woman. While we may not have heard very much about Lynda’s career lately, she has recently done some voice acting for several parts of the popular game series The Elder Scrolls, with Skyrim as their most recent hit.
Being from the Netherlands I didn’t know Wonder Woman at all – we didn’t have any superhero tv series in the Netherlands back then. Nor now, for that matter. But from the moment I saw her on tv in our family apartment in El Paso, Texas, she touched something in my very soul: the part that wants to be both a princess, and a warrior and a superheroine!
I think that these precious childhood memories have stopped me from reading Wonder Woman as a comic up until very recently. On the one hand because I couldn’t imagine how a Wonder Woman comic could be a great read – I mean, she was like Superman in that she was invincible and practically invulnerable, which – frankly - to me sounded rather dull. And on the other hand I really didn’t want to spoil the nostalgia of that old tv series from my early childhood by reading a comics version of her that was no doubt way more modern.
However, since I’ve started a series on the first year of New 52 comics on my blog Gadgets and Geekery (which, I’m sorry to say for all American and English readers, is in Dutch) I felt I couldn’t leave out one of the DC trinity, you know, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. So, with some apprehension I decided to read the entire first year of the New 52 Wonder Woman after all, issues 1-12.
And lo and behold, this series managed to very pleasantly surprise me. The first twelve issues of this series consist of one big story arc, which has a very interesting story concept and its artwork, though taking a little getting used to, is frankly nothing less than very beautiful. And, perhaps most importantly, it’s truly written very well – something I find can really not be said about every comic.
We meet Wonder Woman as Diana, princess of Paradise Island, an island populated only by women. These women still live like in Roman times – though not very ladylike: instead they are amazones, female warriors that train for battle like gladiators.
Their queen is Hippolyta, Wonder Woman’s mother. Or rather, adoptive mother for legend has it that Hippolyta was barren and one day formed a baby out of clay. She then prayed to the Greek gods, fell asleep and woke up to find her clay baby transformed into a little baby girl, who she called Diana and raised as her daughter.
Despite all of the amazones, the story does take place in our own time. Wonder Woman takes on the task of protecting a young woman, called Zola, who is pregnant by Zeus, the supreme god of the Greek pantheon. This is why Zeus’s jealous wife Hera threatens to kill Zola and sends supernatural assassins to hunt the girl down.
Wonder Woman and Zola are assisted by messenger god Hermes and find an extra enemy in the goddess Strife, daughter of Zeus and Hera, and sister to the god of war, Ares.
Zeus himself remains mysteriously absent during the entire run of the first twelve issues, with no-one knowing where he is. His absence kindles ambitions in several of his divine children and it doesn’t take long for gods Apollo and Artemis to hunt for Zola. They intend to deliver her and her unborn child to Hera. This way Apollo intends to buy Hera’s allegiance, his ultimate goal being his father Zeus’s throne.
When Wonder Woman strikes a deal with Zeus’s brothers Poseidon and Hades, the deal goes south and it takes everything she’s got to not only keep pregnant Zola alive but also to simply survive herself.
And as if she hasn’t got enough on her mind already, Wonder Woman also has to deal with the discovery that the legend surrounding her own origin is not exactly true – and turns out to be quite a bit less romantic than she thought.
I’ve always loved Greek mythology ever since I was about 13 years old, so I was not exactly thrilled when I found out that this comic sported all kinds of Greek gods, fearing the writer would concoct a story that would not be consistent with Greek mythology. However, the original way in which writer Brian Azzarello and artist Cliff Chiang modernize the Greek pantheon enough to transport it to our modern day society is actually quite believable – after you suspend your disbelief of course. In fact, they manage to pull this off so greatly that they really won me over to this comic!
Almost every god in the story has characteristics of both ancient mythological times and our modern day era. For instance, Apollo’s black metallic skin makes him look truly as a being not from this world, while at the same time he wears high fashion 3-piece suits. Hades, while still being king of the ancient underworld, looks like he’s been designed by a painter of the modern arts, and Hermes, while looking like some kind of bird-human hybrid wears very hip outfits that would almost let him blend in with young adults. Almost. Best of all, Eros, the god of love we also know as Cupid, still shoots at people’s hearts to make them fall in love, only this time he doesn’t use his famous bow and arrow, but a couple of slick guns that have the same effect.
Is it a bird, is it a plane…?! No, it’s…… Hermes…?
I really recommend artist Chiang for the way he draws the goddess Strife, who looks particularly cool with her shaved head, heavy make-up and fashionable mini-dress – I don’t know whether it’s punk or high fashion, but it’s an original nowadays rendering of what’s supposed to be an ancient goddess.
Of course Wonder Woman herself shows that same combination of ancient and modern times: when “on the job” she looks the amazon we know and love, sometimes even carrying a sword and shield, but in her spare time she dresses like any modern day woman and lives in an apartment in 21st century London.
But enough about the gods. Like I said before, the story is well-written and often reminded me of tv series that I like to watch. An example of this would be the dialogues between the several rivalling gods, full of layers and hidden agendas, which could be taken from scripts of series like Boss (which is an awesome series btw).
Hera and her rebellious daughter cross verbal swords
Another instance is the way in which Hera transforms ordinary farm horses into aggressive centaurs – this definitely contains horror elements and seems straight from a particularly bloody episode of the X-files or something.
Thirdly, I really got to like the artwork although it took me a little while to get used to Chiang’s somewhat stylized way of drawing the human form. His cityscapes are gorgeous and together with colorist Matthew Wilson he succeeds in adding specific atmospheres that contribute to the storylines in the comic.
Furthermore, I liked the subtle humor in the story, like the way in which one of Wonder Woman’s brothers in arms consistently tries to light a cigaret by holding them against gods that either contain or work with fire. It may sound a bit strange when I describe it, but the humor is in the art itself.
And last but not least, I appreciated the fact that gods in the comic are not immediately mentioned by name, so that readers have a couple of panels to figure out for themselves which god this is. For instance, when a certain god says “I’m the sun of a king” this is clearly a hint for the reader – for it is only the reader who can see that he is referring to the sun as in “star”, instead of son as in “male child”, thereby enabling the reader to figure out that this is in fact the god of the sun, Apollo – who is of course also the son of Zeus, the king of the gods. Oh well, perhaps most of you are bored to tears by these things, but to mythology geeks like me these kinds of hints are totally awesome.
Frankly, I couldn’t really find many negative things to say about this comic – and not for lack of trying. I only have two real criticisms.
To begin with, like in most other New 52’s there was a change in the artwork team somewhere along the way, for a couple of issues. I can not get used to this, however much I may understand deadlines and that artists need their time off as well, etc. I always immediately notice, probably because they always seem to choose fill-in artists that have totally different styles from the original artist. I cannot begin to understand why they don’t even try to find someone who does a serious attempt at keeping the artwork at least somewhat consistent. Fortunately it only lasted for a couple of issues and I sighed with relief when Chiang returned.
And secondly, on a related note, Chiang’s coverart does not do much for me. His human forms are even more stylized and the backgrounds are either boring or ugly. And I really dislike the color schemes. So no, hating the cover art. Of course other opinions are available (although they would be wrong).
This is a definite buy! (Yes, it is, just try it).
I give Wonder Woman’s first year a quality score of 8/10 and a relevance score of 7/10 – since all this mythology should have some potential to lead to meaningful conversation, for instance about the existence of gods in this day and age – and their true nature.
So, please let me know what you think, and if you’re going to try out the New 52 Wonder Woman!