A god looks over the balcony of a high rise in Singapore drinking champagne. From the very first pages of this amazing book, we know we’re in for an unconventional tale of gods and goddesses. The creators on “Wonder Woman” have crafted a book that intrigues, draws you in, and makes you pine for more Wonder Woman and the motley cast of characters that inhabit this book. Brian Azzarello writes an epic story as if it’s an intimate chamber piece, letting us slowly get to know these gods and goddesses. We care about these characters and become invested in them.
After jumping back into comic book reading, the only hero whose exploits I had never read were those of Wonder Woman. Diana, Amazonian princess, makes up one third of the trinity of heroes in the DC Universe and needed a book that was deserving of that pedestal. The collection of the first 6 issues of “Wonder Woman”, titled, appropriately, “Wonder Woman Volume One: Blood”, proves that writer Brian Azzarello, artists Cliff Chiang and Tony Akins, and colorist Matthew Wilson were the team to bring Wonder Woman to prominence and deserving to stand tall with Batman and Superman. The machinations of gods and goddesses within these pages is epic, yet touched with the personal as well. It is a story of blood and family, topics that anyone can relate to. I was sold on this book instantly because of that human touch that Azzarello gives to these gods.
Azzarello reinvents Diana inside the pages of this title and anyone can begin reading the story without any prior knowledge of her. The reader doesn’t get an origin laid out conveniently right from the beginning. Azzarello has a long epic planned, and it shows by the pace of the book. He says so much with so little words and information, leaving a mystery to the proceedings. By doing this, Chiang and Akins are able to express the story beautifully through their art. Wonder Woman feels like a fresh character and one that is being reinvented as if she is a new character being introduced to the world. We’re discovering Diana as she discovers herself. When Diana first appears in issue one, she is startled awake in her bed by Zola and grabs her by the throat. Chiang’s art powerfully depicts a warrior always on defense against those who would attack her. The reader is experiencing what Diana is going through as it’s happening to her, letting us be thrown into the mystery along with her as she experiences it.
From the very beginning of the book, the battles are drawn and colored by Chiang and Wilson dynamically and viscerally. In one panel, an arrow is coming from our point of view straight toward Diana and Zola. Wonder Woman’s wrist plates deflect the arrow, which then leads to a virtuoso fight scene that is indicative throughout the book of the power that lies within her. She can stand by heroes such as Superman any day of the week, fighting alongside them or alone.
Blood and family is the overarching theme that wraps like a noose around the entire story being told within these pages. At one point, the god Apollo has transformed three human women into his oracles. One says to him that “Your family is broken, beaten, and betrayed by blood.” Metaphorically and physically speaking, that oracle is correct. Schemes are hatched, the family of gods and goddesses are manipulated, and accepted truths are obliterated.
Although “Wonder Woman” has great battles and family intrigue, Azzarello and Chiang pepper the book occasionally with levity. Hera dubs Diana’s home Paradise Island as that of a “cockless coop” because it is restricted only to women. Hera has more moments of witty wordplay, such as her banter in one scene with other gods and using the word “ass.” This witty language and banter show the reader that Azzarello can slyly entertain while also moving the reader by conveying huge emotions such as grief, rage, and joy.
Cliff Chiang’s art is larger than life. The physical size of the gods is overwhelming and that is demonstrated by how Zola, who is human, looks much smaller next to them in comparison. Azzarello’s writing also contributes to their formidable sizes and personalities by having Wonder Woman and the gods going through family strife and struggle on an epic scale. These aren’t humans experiencing these all too familiar scenarios, but gods. To express the breadth of this story, use of panels on a page is utilized many times when the top of the page is large and then two smaller panels are below it. The epic scope of this story is proven by the use of this style. The grandness is also conveyed when Chiang uses multiple panels on a page but with one scene happening across each set of panels. When Zeus and Queen Hippolyta are having sex, there are twelve panels on the page. The twelve panels are broken up into four scenes and the way Chiang draws this page makes it powerful and more poignant when the tremendous theme of blood and family is brought into play.
Tony Akins is the artist for the last two issues in the collection, and although he has a different style than Chiang, he admirably works well with Azzarello. Like Chiang, Akins can skillfully convey something not said between characters through facial expressions and action. When Lennox discusses his past with other characters, the reader simply sees a flashback of Lennox surviving a plane crash and discovering who he is during the second World War. Akins’s art is not as epic or clean as Chiang, but the interactions between the gods is topnotch. The emergence of Poseidon from the water is impressive and the character design has a humor to it that does not take away from his indomitable might. The tension leading up to Poseidon’s appearance is adeptly paced as well. The chiming of the clock bells will make you wonder what monstrosity is about to appear at any moment. Akins’s art does not feel like fill in art for these issues, but proves that Azzarello, Chiang, and Akins are artistic partners working in sync.
Matthew Wilson needs to be especially singled out for his use of color in bold, epic, and personal ways. When Strife first appears on paradise Island, fiery yellow surrounds her. Blood red orange paints the sky as battle ensues between Strife and the warriors of the island. Wilson uses purple and pink colors on the island, making it seem as if we’re in a regal and feminine land. The candles upon Hades’ head burn with a yellow and white brightness that could only belong to a god of the underworld.
A scene that encapsulates the brilliance of this book comes in issue three with the funeral for fallen warriors on Paradise Island. While the surviving warriors bicker among themselves, two crabs are shown fighting each other. In that same scene, Wonder Woman discovers a family secret from the mouth of Hippolyta that changes everything Diana knows to be true about herself. Premonition of events to come is transmitted through the return of the crabs fighting after the exchange between mother and daughter. One crab snaps the other’s claw off and it lays in the sand. Family and blood ties are definitely going to be tested and taken to breaking points. Powerful imagery and human moments between gods make this book an artistic triumph. By these first six issues, we know that Azzarello, Chiang, Akins, and Wilson understand and have a love for these characters that will continue to strengthen and grow. I don’t know if the same can be said about the bond between the characters in the book, but the journey of Wonder Woman and her family in these first six issues is intense and epic, yet all too human.
“Wonder Woman Volume One: Blood”
Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Cliff Chiang and Tony Akins
Additional inks on issue six by Dan Green
Colors by Matthew Wilson
Letters by Jared K. Fletcher
Covers by Cliff Chiang
Published by DC Comics