When people walk into my office for the first time, they immediately notice two things: My Beatles poster and a framed picture of Wonder Woman, illustrated by the incomparable George Perez, which occupies a place of honor on the bookshelf. She’s not just a character I’ve loved since childhood, but also a source of inspiration; a symbol of strength and inherent goodness. Wonder Woman is the reason I fell for superhero comics as a child, and I’ve been known to say that it would be a cold day in hell before I stopped buying her book.
That day arrived a few Wednesdays ago when I asked the owner of my LCS to drop Wonder Woman from my pull list.
For months, I’d been waiting for the comic to recapture the magic of its first glorious issues after the relaunch. I even changed my expectations to “solidly enjoyable.” At this point, it’s crystal clear that Brian Azzarello is not going to write the Wonder Woman comic I want to read. There’s a big disconnect between Cliff Chiang’s show-stopping, vibrant presentation of the character and the narrative, in which Wonder Woman remains frustratingly underdeveloped.
Right around this time last year, V. pointed out that the character — so strong and imposing early on — is naïve and easily duped. In exchange for her friend Zola’s freedom, she gives Eros’ guns to Hades and trusts him not to shoot her. He totally does. She has no idea that, for a really long time, the Amazons have mated to get pregnant, killed the men afterward and then discarded any male offspring. When it appears that the god War has tricked her and absconded with Zola’s newborn, Diana has an OMG-how-could-I-be-so stupid meltdown instead of springing back into action like a boss.
What bothers me most is that Wonder Woman is the least interesting player in her own book, which, no matter what the title says, is an ensemble affair. Batman may have a supporting cast, but Scott Snyder never lets you forget that the Dark Knight is, for better or worse, at the center of everything. But Azzarello seems like he’s having a lot more fun with Wonder Woman’s colorful half-siblings and the swaggering Orion, who has some of the best lines and gets to do stuff like this:
Out of all the incarnations of Wonder Woman that come to mind, I can’t think of one who would let a guy smack her on the ass without jacking him up. But when Orion does so in issue #17, she’s too distracted by Zola’s outburst to do more than yell at him. After swooping in to save Wonder Woman from Hermes’ talons in issue #18, Orion tells her that the butt-slap was just his way of getting some of her DNA for tracking purposes. “You think … it was out of affection?” Gee, why would Wonder Woman assume that it was some kind of pass, especially since Orion refers to her as “legs?” And it’s not like those “Channel 52” backup stories are suggesting that he might be competition for Superman, Diana’s beloved.
It’s a given that Diana is a warrior who loves everyone and fearlessly protects those in need, but what are her hopes, dreams and fears? What makes this Wonder Woman tick? Well, who knows? There’s been almost no examination of the early revelations that Zeus is her dad and the Amazons are the equivalent of black widows. The reader can be forgiven for wondering how those bombshells might affect Diana’s sense of herself and her culture, or for assuming that the writer cares enough about the character to provide insight.
This quote from Azzarello in a CBR interview is revealing:
“When we started this thing, we realized there’s not a lot you can do with someone as iconic as Wonder Woman. You can’t really reinvent the wheel, but you can put on some really sick chrome hubcaps.”
Pardon me for a moment.
If “there’s not a lot you can do,” then why bother? Do editorial mandates preclude one from exhibiting any passion for a character whatsoever?
“She’s very iconic. But you ask people about her, and they have no idea. The TV show with Lynda Carter is probably the best they can do.”
Here’s the thing, though: After 18 issues, I still know virtually nothing about her. Continuing to buy this book out of loyalty, always a risky enterprise, amounts to co-signing a vision that leaves me disappointed every month. However, there are plenty of readers who consider Azzarello’s vision to be a breath of fresh air — even the best Wonder Woman story in recent memory. In all sincerity, good for them.
Nothing in comics is static, so I sincerely hope this is only a temporary separation. Maybe there’s a writer waiting in the wings who has a killer storyline in mind and some real enthusiasm for Wonder Woman. Not just as a remote icon who looks great in fight sequences, but as a unique, well-defined character who lives and breathes in the reader’s imagination. A fan’s hope springs eternal.
Gods be with you, Princess. Until we meet again …