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‘Wonder Woman’: The Best Modernized Superhero Pantheon

For years now I’ve felt like Wonder Woman is a character that I wanted to enjoy reading about more than I actually did. Regardless of the take on the character, something always felt just slightly off, slightly missing, as if all the individual elements were there for a great story but no creator was putting them together in a way that felt right to me. But when DC relaunched their entire line this year, they made the bold and surprising choice to give the new Wonder Woman series to writer Brian Azzarello and artist Cliff Chiang. They gave readers a modernized take on Greek mythology, full of jealous gods and mortal heroes victim to their whims, and I’ve found myself finally looking forward to every issue.

Wonder Woman had always been a character connected to Greek mythology in the DC Universe, but before the relaunch it was never quite so big a deal. Sometimes Greek gods would make a cameo, but more often they’d merely be mentioned as a censor-friendly profanity substitutes. (Seriously, go find every time she says “Great Hera” and replace it with an F-bomb). They were wise mentors or comic book villains rather than the scheming, grudge-holding Olympians seen in mythology. Wonder Woman’s connection to them was merely an origin story for her superpowers.

In Azzarello and Chiang’s Wonder Woman, the Greek gods are back and they’ve brought all the prophecy, tragedy and blood readers of classic myth would expect. And by telling a story where Wonder Woman deals only with gods rather than any superheroes or supervillains, they’ve reminded us just how much of a difference there is between the worlds of togas and magic and those of capes and tights.

Azzarello is building a complex story, as Diana finds herself drawn into a fight between gods that she would rather have no part of. But as she discovers that her past was a lie, she’s pushed away from the comforts of home into a conflict between powerful, vicious beings who see mortals as playthings or as tools to be sacrificed. It’s not the reintroduction to the character you might have expected, but it also shows an awareness that if they want to attract new readers then taking a risk on a talented writer and artist combination taking a character in an unexpected direction might be more rewarding than more of the same but with less continuity to learn.

Chiang’s inclusion on the series as artist is both welcome and a pleasant surprise. DC’s taken a lot of criticism for seemingly trying to appeal only to 18-35 male demographic, but Chiang’s art is a wonderful departure from the way women are so often drawn in the typical DC superhero style. He’s done a great job depicting Diana and the Amazons of Paradise Island as tall, imposing women who are part of a believable warrior culture. His designs for the Greek Gods also impress, each taking a human form that’s just inhuman enough to inspire the proper amount of awe or fear.

With the book’s focus on struggles between gods and magic, Azzarello and Chiang’s Wonder Woman often feels like it’s part mainstream DC, part Vertigo. Many of the relaunch’s most impressive titles so far, including Swamp Thing and Animal Man, took Vertigo books and moved them more into the DC Universe, finding a sweet spot between the two, but Wonder Woman has found that same place coming from the other direction, creating a more varied DC Universe of mysteries and dangers outside the normal scope of superheroes. If you’ve tried and failed to love Wonder Woman before, give this book a shot; it could be the one that changes your mind.

Buy Wonder Woman at your local comic shop or online.

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