Wonder Woman Vol. 3: Iron continues Azzarello's successful run on Wonder Woman and there's not overmuch to complain about here, except for the fact that this volume isn't terribly different than the one that proceeded it. Azzarello adds some interesting new friends and enemies to the cast, but in all I felt like I'd read this one before.
[Review contains spoilers]
Surprisingly, the storyline I liked best in Iron was that of the newly-revived First Born, trying to recover his mystic armor and accoutrements. I felt the First Born's appearance came out of nowhere, until I read the conclusion of the previous book again and understood that it was the First Born, and not this book's major guest star, appearing in the Arctic on the last pages first two panels. The First Born himself is not a well-differentiated villain, seemingly a bruiser like so many others, nor were his trials significantly different than what Diana faced in volume one, Blood -- the sea battle with Poseidon seemed especially recycled.
But Azzarello's slow build of the First Born's march toward his inevitable confrontation with Diana puts me in mind of other such recent enemies who worked out well -- Genocide and the Olympian from Gail Simone's run; Veronica Cale and the military forces amassing against Diana in Greg Rucka's run. So far in Azzarello's run, we haven't seen Diana face off against a bad guy per se, just the gods and their various demigods; the First Born, too, counts as one of those demigods, but I expect his fight with Diana will be of a different ilk, that I'm looking forward to.
We also get a better sense in this volume what Azzarello's Wonder Woman run is meant to be all about. This book contains the title's Zero Month issue, done in the simplistic style of the Golden Age Wonder Woman stories, but with a stark purpose -- to show the young Diana's friendship with "War," the god Ares, one that eventually soured. The New 52 audience knows nearly nothing about Diana's origins, how she came to "Man's World," met Steve Trevor, etc. so to learn anything about young Diana is significant; also Azzarello gives her a relationship now with her longtime enemy, like Geoff Johns's Green Lantern and Sinestro and Superman and Zod, that gives their future conflicts an extra layer besides just good versus bad.
Collections fans will also note that War proclaims himself to be "blood ... guts ... iron ... and war," three of the names of the New 52 Wonder Woman trades, with indeed volume 4, War, due out next March. Though the First Born and Apollo would seem to be Diana's primary obstacles in protecting her friend Zola, my guess is this story will come down to Wonder Woman versus Ares, as is often the case.
Jack Kirby's New God Orion also makes the scene in this book, though his appearance was something of a let down. After his cameo in Guts and his ominous conversation with Highfather here, Azzarello mainly has Orion in the background making snide comments. There was none of the cosmic superpower here that I would have expected from Orion's first New 52 appearance, nor does Azzarello differentiate the character as the New God Orion any differently than if he were Captain Comet or another otherworldly hero. The presence of the New Gods in Azzarello's Wonder Woman story promised to transform it from "just another" tale of Diana versus the gods to something truly historic for the New 52, but I didn't find much historic here.
The other difficulty is that, in its broad strokes, this volume too closely repeats the plot of the volume that came before. Once again Diana must delve into the realm of the gods to rescue a kidnapped friend; last time it was Zola and this time it's Zola's child, but the storyline is still based on a quest, in which Diana, with one of the gods as her guide, battles her way through a foreign realm to save her ally. This type of story essentially stands still -- sure, Diana's relationships with Orion and War evolve, but all the while the child is kidnapped, nothing necessarily changes with Zola, her baby, the prophecy, etc. Diana's visit to Hades in the last volume was at least visually interesting; her fight with Hermes in this book's conclusion is less so. I like what Azzarello is doing with Wonder Woman, very much; I'm just ready to see the plot grow in new and more interesting ways.
Initial Wonder Woman artist Cliff Chiang draws the minority of this collection, with regular fill-in artist Tony Atkins drawing the majority along with various others. To the editorial team's credit, Atkins's work is close enough to Chiang's that the book offers a generally consistent tone. I find, however, that Atkins draws Diana too often reacting to something another character has said with a look on her face that's supposed to be annoyance, but seems distorted to me, like Diana's consistently sucking lemons (see the bar scene in issue #17, for example). Atkins draws perhaps the book's definitive Poseidon, but I felt overall that Chiang's absence contributed to this book feeling off the mark.
Between Orion, the First Born, and the general dark energy Brian Azzarello has been pumping into the Wonder Woman title, no question I'll be back for the fourth volume. But Wonder Woman Vol. 3: Iron was a weaker collection; Geoff Johns's Green Lantern sometimes had weak volumes, and then roared back strong, so I'm hoping the problems I found here were just an aberration.
[Includes full covers, sketch and design pages]
Next week, Saga Vol 2 and Arrow!