Wonder Woman – Blood
And so another new 52 title releases its first trade and I find myself six issues deep in another new series that i never would have started reading otherwise; DC, you’ve done the right thing by me. What struck me the most about this trade though was the way in which it worked with that keyword, ‘new’. Like many of the new 52 titles Wonder Woman has undergone a retroactive reconfiguration ( or a retcon for the eloquent among you) and as usual this takes the form of an alteration to the title characters origin story. The strange part is that we are given the change to the characters beginnings but not the origin in of itself; instead assuming that both we and those in the world of the book are already familiar with Wonder Woman, that Amazons are old news . While I’m usually all for getting straight into the action, I do think that it may have been a mistake in this case because even if she is your favorite superhero i’m sure that you’ve never read a Wonder Woman storyline like this.
Like Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and to a lesser extent the God of War games before it Azzerello (a writer known by many for his big and brutal mythologies, but one not known to me at all) weaves here a wonderful tale of grievous gods – Grecian ones to be precise – and the games that they play with us mere mortals. The subtitle given to this trade is Blood and more than a gaudy glimpse at the gore to come ( something else that Azzerello has become famous for) this was done in reference to the dynastic drama that dominates the violence; blood of course being what ties families together.
Fittingly the family members that it chooses to center on are women: Zeus has left Olympus leaving Hera on the throne, free to torment those below while his brothers battle each other for the right to bear the big, empty crown and Hera’s first human target? A nobody by the name of Zola who by chance bears the baby of Zeus, an unexpectedly deadbeat dad. This all sounds well and good in theory but mostly the themes exists only to provide Azzarello with an excuse for witty wordplay; while that is something that I am normally supportive of here it felt strangely forced and old-fashioned, most pages ending on a panel that may as well bear an invisible caption reading: Ba-Doom-Tish.
Narratively speaking though there is an impressive complexity to the tale that he has crafted. Many have praised in particular the way that the series so strongly modernizes these most ancient concepts, have made the old new, but with them I disagree, though only on syntax. What makes this book feel so fresh is that it is in fact formally of a piece with those original parables and legends, told back when comics were called pictograms. Yes the gods here are morally broken beings, they act like real people would with such great power but this is not because they are being moulded to better fit the current darkness and anti-hero fads, it’s simply how it was in the original tales. Zeus sleeping with an earth woman is not a new thing, if anything the fact that here he got consent first is something of a cop-out; similarly the source of the stories drama, Heta’s subsequent rage at being left a scorned woman, is something constantly suggested in those stories. So in many ways this is a daringly derivative book on a macro level.
You may have noticed though that I’m yet to actually mention Wonder Woman herself and that is because her part in the book is actually a very basic one. She plays the part usually reserved for Hercules, a somewhat pivotal role yes and one that is given some potent personal moments but for the most part she isn’t the clear protagonist of a book that bears her name on its cover. Azzarello seemingly already had his idea for a story and simply shunted Diana into it when he was given the IP to work with; so while there is an interesting story being told here in this trade it is hampered by Wonder Woman herself.
Though Azzarello isn’t the only one responsible for the book, both the good parts and the bad. Artist Cliff Chiang lays down the line-work for the series with a style that is just as foreignly familiar as the story itself. His panels are lively and lush with color but it’s not their content that differentiates them from the standard, it is their size that does that. His panels are precariously large – so much so that they would be unwieldy were they made by lesser hands – irregardless of whether or not they contain that which is conventional in a splash page; their scale really captures the scope of the story, imbuing the book with the epicness that it needs. Unfortunately though the final two issues fall short of this standard thanks to a last minute substitution of staff, Tony Akins taking up the plate. DC have been adamantine about getting their books out monthly since thy restarted and that is both a strength and weakness, this though is a clear example of the latter.
The scripts of these two final issues seem much sloppier too, they’re scattershot and lacking the elegant simplicity of the first few. There is however a valid reason for this and it is that they seem to me to be the start of a second arc, another episode within the grand ongoing season of story that Azzarello aims to tell. While this suggests that the series has a lot of life left under its current author it also makes me think that maybe this is a book that will read better when you have the next fifty issues in front of you and can see straight away where it is going to and what this all means because at this stage it is starting to feel a little lost.
So it’s a flawed book sure, but I think that’s forgivable given the intent. Azzarello shoots not for the stars but into the kingdoms of the sky beyond them and so if he hits even half the time ( which he surely does) that is a stellar achievement. Whether or not it works as a Wonder Woman book is besides the point for me, because she simply isn’t a character that I find myself interested in; or at least I didn’t before now, this version though deserves to be listed as Vertigo-lite alongside Animal Man and Swamp Thing. Like the gods of old Blood is a big, grand and brutal book that is flawed but all the more fascinating for it.