Batwoman, and I like Flash. But Wonder Woman may be the best book DC Comics is producing right now.
[Review contains spoilers]
A number of reviewers smarter than I am can tell you why the revelation in Wonder Woman: Guts's first chapter (Wonder Woman #7) is wrong in all sorts of ways -- that portraying the Amazons as savages who seduce and kill men three times a century, bear their children, and keep the girls and sell the boys into slavery violates actual legends of the Amazons, established DC Universe Amazon lore, and plain good sense -- and they're probably right. Somewhere, George Perez is weeping over this.
But Brian Azzarello's controlled burning of everything sacred to the Wonder Woman mythos remains a genius endeavor. As in Wonder Woman: Blood, Azzarello continues to strip the majesty from the Wonder Woman story, but far from leaving it lesser, these revisions make Wonder Woman more sensible, and more approachable. In the last volume we learned that Diana is not an immaculate golem, as previously believed, but rather she's born of plain old congress between her mother and the god Zeus. Here, no longer does it seem that the Amazons magically replenish their ranks from battle to battle, but rather they, too, have been doing it the old fashioned way all along.
The spires of Paradise Island are no longer marble-white, the sky no longer crystal blue. I had enjoyed that depiction of Themyscira -- from Perez to William Messner-Loebs, John Byrne, Phil Jimenez, Greg Rucka, Gail Simone, and even J. Michael Straczynski -- but there was always a sense of something "apart" there. To act angrily or declare war or stub their toes, the Amazons had to be mind-controlled, or misled. The characters were treated with kid gloves. To find now, under Azzarello, that the Amazons are indeed savages, and that Diana has now on both sides of her family poor options from which she has to rise above, does a lot to endear the whole lot to me, despite the Amazon's new badness.
I had previously likened Azzarello's mythological gods to those in Greg Rucka's (stellar) Wonder Woman run, in that they were more modern-looking than the Perez or Simone depictions, for instance. In this volume, with the addition of Hephaestus, Artemis, Demeter, and more from Hades, Azzarello and artist Cliff Chiang's gods begin to come into their own -- humanoid but monstrous, fashionable but classic, like something out of Star Wars or The Wizard of Oz rather than staid textbooks. In a flash, Azzarello and Chiang have given Wonder Woman some of the coolest-looking opponents in the DC landscape -- and multi-textured, too, given both Hera and Hermes's shifting loyalties at the book's end.
Moreover, I respect Azzarello's Wonder Woman because it feels like a comic book for adults, without sacrificing Wonder Woman's superheroic aspects. It is funny, as when Diana and her new supporting cast have to take Zola, pregnant with Zeus's baby, back to Virginia to see her doctor; it is complex, as in the first scene where the reader must piece together what the god Eros has done, or again in how the characters cross and double-cross one another as the story continues; and it is horrific, as in Chiang and Tony Akins's torturous underworld and its blood-soaked flood. I also have to give Azzarello credit for pushing DC's limits, as with the muffled "B-Shu" in the background at the beginning of the last chapter. In comparison to something like the first volume of Green Arrow or Hawkman, Azzarello's Wonder Woman feels akin to a Vertigo title.
Wonder Woman: Guts moves along handily, buoyed by Azzarello's creativity and Chiang's depictions; this alone makes the book worth reading. To be fair, however, Guts offers more scene-setting and character development than it does actual plot. The first chapter, with Hephaestus, reveals the Amazons' dark secret but doesn't do much else; the three-part trip to the underworld is interesting but self-contained -- it factors not at all on Wonder Woman's final two-part battle with Apollo (I also found it too much of a throwback to have a Wonder Woman story in which she's threatened with forced marriage to her foe). Indeed the first two-thirds seem simply to take up space until the end comes -- they take up this space smartly and prettily, but not with any clear purpose.
Had the last page of this book not been spoiled a million times over, I'd most definitely have been raving about it first. I wouldn't have been enthused about the larger New Gods appearing in the New 52 so soon, and certainly not in so classic a depiction, were it not in Azzarello and Chiang's Wonder Woman. With Azzarello having shown that he can refresh the mythological gods, I have full faith in what he can do with Orion and the New Gods. The only difficulty here, too, is that Orion's presence, perhaps in fulfillment of Apollo's prophecy, makes both Blood and Guts seem like so much prologue until Azzarello's real story starts. These last twelve issues have been enjoyable, to be sure, but I don't want to feel that these books were "non-essential" and I could just as easily have started with volume 3.
It remains, however, that Wonder Woman: Guts is different than most of DC's other books on the stands -- smarter, bolder, and more creative -- and that makes it a book not to miss. Undoubtedly an argument can be made that some of Brian Azzarello's changes to the Wonder Woman mythos are damaging ones, though -- like Judd Winick's licenses with Catwoman -- I think that if it were not Wonder Woman, and if this were just Mythic Superhero Monthly from Vertigo, we might credit Azzarello more for the out-there ideas with less concern for the resultant damage. Wonder Woman will survive whatever crazy thing Azzarello comes up with next, and be better for it, in my opinion.
[Includes original covers, Cliff Chiang's cover and character sketches]