Wonder Woman Vol. 1: Blood, Vol. 2: Guts
Published by DC Comics, 2012, 2013 respectively
Written by Brian Azzarello; Art by Cliff Chiang and Tony Akins; Coloured by Matthew Wilson; Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher; Additional Ink and Art by Dan Green and Kano
I finally sat down and read the New 52 Wonder Woman trades, Blood and Guts. Together they include the first twelve issues of the series. As I’ve said before, I haven’t been reading a lot of DC’s new titles (mostly the odd trade here and there) and I’ve never been a regular Woman Wonder reader. I’ve caught some feedback on this series, but I went in with very little in the way expectations.
Expectations have always been a burden for Wonder Woman. When Marston created her, he described her as, “psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world.” Every couple of years, it seems, some new writer has to try his hand—it’s almost always a guy—at what that means exactly. And that’s too bad. Diana is an iconic character, one of the few genuinely iconic characters, and she can’t be forced into any given mold. I wouldn’t be the first to suggest they just stick to writing good stories and allow her to develop out of her own strengths.
Looking at Azzarello, Chiang, and Akins’ version, the first you notice about this Wonder Woman is that this is the Vertigo version of the character. Of course, Azzarello has a long history with that imprint. Reading these books I was impressed with how deftly it ties the supernatural and mythological together with the superhero genre. Of course, the supernatural and mythological aren’t new to superhero comics, but like Sandman and its spin offs, Azzarello’s Wonder Woman really feels like it’s another world. A world of magic and dark forces.
The story begins with Zeus. After knocking up yet another mortal, he disappears, deserting his throne and precipitating a war of succession. Diana is drawn into the center of the conflict when she chooses to defend the pregnant women, Zola, against Hera (true to mythological form, Hera takes out her anger at her husband’s infidelities on the women and their offspring). The story quickly moves from the modern world, to Paradise Island, Hades, and the throne of Olympus and the cast grows to include Hermes, Eris (Strife), Ares, Hades, Poseidon, Hephaestus, and more, with Diana making allies and enemies at every turn. I like Chiang’s character designs with one exception: Aphrodite. She is presented as a nude woman, but we never actually see what she looks like—and that’s somewhat predictable as you can’t really have blatant nudity in a comic pitched at a general audience—and in their effort to obscure her appearance, they keep placing her head out of panel. Instead of thinking ‘goddess of love,’ I reminded of Ms Bellum from the Powerpuff Girls. Put something on her and stop being coy.
There were a couple of other things I didn’t like. First, Chiang is the principle artist for the title, but Akins was bought in to do about a third of these issues. Recently Brandon Graham made the point that, while there are artists who can get an issue out each month, when you know the artist you want on a title can’t, maybe the title’s schedule should be changed to accommodate that artist. Second, this Diana is a little naïve. She is brave, skillful, a woman of integrity, and I get that she’s young and learning, but she doesn’t seem to understand, well, where babies come from. One issue describes how Amazons reproduce, and the consequences of producing a male child. This turned off some readers, but the idea actually draws on Greek Amazon myths so I’m okay with it. Azzarello is looking to the origin source matter after all. Still, Diana is as surprised to learn this as the readers are, and that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Azzarello may have a perfectly good explanation for why a 23 year old wouldn’t know this, but he really needs to share it with his readers.
The third problem I had isn’t really the story’s problem as much as it’s mine, but I bring it up because of the importance this version of Wonder Woman places in going back to the character’s mythological roots: Amazon’s aren’t Greeks. They’re a part of Greek myth, but in Greek myth they are a barbarian people, typically at war with the Greeks. And by ‘barbarian’ I mean foreigners. I have long had an interest in the history, and social history, in ancient Greece. While the Greek’s are rightfully praised for many things, they were also a bunch of xenophobic misogynists. Most of the places they listed as homes for the Amazons coincide with the territory of a very real people, the Sarmatians. The Sarmatians lived around the Black Sea and their women actually did go into battle with their men. Archeologists have found weapons in many of their women’s graves. In the eyes of their Greek neighbors this was a terrible inversion of the natural order. But in the DC Universe Amazons are Greeks, and in this latest incarnation of Wonder Women they still are. It would be interesting to have a version of Amazons drawn from what we know of Sarmatian history and mythology. (By the way, the modern Ossetians are direct descendants of the Sarmatians. If you want to see what a Greek was probably thinking when he thought ‘Amazon,’ google ‘Ossetian.’)
My little rant (thank you for your patience) notwithstanding, this book has a lot of promise. If these stories are left to develop out of Diana’s strengths we could have the beginnings of a true hero’s journey. I am skeptical that DC will do that, they seem intent on rebooting everything every two or three years, but the potential for something great is here.
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