Review: Wonder Woman Vol. 4: War hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

A preponderance of Cliff Chiang's artwork buoys this fourth volume of Brian Azzarello's Wonder Woman, especially as the story moves to some more exotic DC Universe locales. But despite some nice character interaction, the plot that binds Wonder Woman Vol. 4: War is rather thin. The conclusion of this book would seem to be the point to which Azzarello was traveling all along, and while it portends an interesting story to come, I'm not convinced it required four volumes to get there.

[Review contains spoilers]

The fourth Wonder Woman volume mainly involves the Olympian gods trying (once again) to steal the baby under Diana's protection, before Diana's band encounters and fights the big bad First Born, retreats, then returns to fight the First Born again. There is not much to it, and everywhere there are echoes of elements already seen in these books -- the First Born fights Poseidon again at the beginning of this volume, when he already fought Poseidon at the end of the last volume, which was itself reminiscent of Diana's battle with Poseidon in the first book. Diana fights Artemis again, just like she did before; the climax of the book is a fight between the same characters split into two parts. The danger in a story as long as Azzarello's is repeating oneself, and that's a present danger here.

The high point of this book -- what differentiates it, if not redeems it -- is the fourth chapter (issue #22) side trip to the New Gods' New Genesis, the first that such has appeared in DC Comics's New 52. Drawn rounded by Chiang and brightly colored, with a mix of futuristic technology, nature, and a heavy helping of Kirby dots, the New 52 New Genesis is everything a fan would want it to be (Chiang gets my nomination for artist on a New 52 New Gods series, even).

Whereas New God Orion came off somewhat plain in Vol. 3: Iron, here the reader not only sees Orion fight, but we also glimpse Orion's "secret" face, a reminder of the berserker that pre-Flashpoint fans know the character to be. Yet, inasmuch as I enjoy seeing the New Gods get a big role in the New 52 (here, and in Earth 2 and Worlds' Finest), there's an element of repetition here, too. The "revelations" that Azzarello teases about Orion are not different than the same revelations in Jack Kirby's original Fourth World comics in the 1970s. The characters nod and wink, but there's no actual mystery nor suspense inherent here; the "revelations" are being treated like revelations even most readers already know them.

When the New 52 started, one of my chief concerns was that I didn't want to read a new writer's modernization of New Teen Titans: The Judas Contract, for instance; a new story where Terra joins and then betrays the Titans isn't interesting to me, because it's a story I've already read before and liked the first time. I was excited to see Orion join Azzarello's Wonder Woman because I was eager to see what Azzarello would do with him; so far, however, what Azzarello has done with Orion is essentially to follow in Kirby's footsteps. I wouldn't change the basic facts of Orion's origins; however, a story that treats Orion's secrets as suspenseful treads on old ground without forging anything new.

Taking Azzarello's story on its own merits, the climactic scene of zombie warriors attacking the First Born's troops is exciting, and I especially look forward to how Azzarello will negotiate Wonder Woman, symbol of peace, as the god of war in the next book (this takes the dichotomies built into the Wonder Woman character and brings them to the forefront of the story, which is intriguing if only it hadn't taken so long to get there). But, given how fearsome the First Born was reported to be (and the violence we know Azzarello is capable of on the comics page), I found Wonder Woman's fight with the First Born a tad tame; I never felt the stakes were as high as, for instance, Wonder Woman's fight with Genocide in Gail Simone's Rise of the Olympian.

One reason I quite liked Azzarello's Wonder Woman series at the beginning of the New 52 was that Azzarello jettisoned what had been a spate of angst-ridden navel-gazing over who Wonder Woman was and what her purpose should be; Azzarello's Diana was a woman with a sword ready to protect the innocent, and later we understood she was also the demigod daughter of Zeus. Four books in, though, I do begin to get frustrated in that we know very little about Azzarello's Diana, up to and including what else she might be doing were she not chasing a baby around the universe.

At one point Diana remarks to Orion that "I tried to be perfect once," which seems like a reference to her pre-Flashpoint adventures -- but indeed we don't know if it is, or really anything about the character before she woke up at the beginning of the first book. Azzarello's Wonder Woman is a good book for someone to pick up who's unfamiliar with the character, as it requires very little background knowledge, and I don't even mind that the book is largely disconnected from the greater DC Universe -- but one begins to long for Diana's JLA communicator to ring, or something, to ground the character as more than a cypher.

Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang's Wonder Woman Vol. 4: War is nice to look at, but as with the recent Worlds' Finest Vol. 2, I'm likely to buy the next volume more because I'm intrigued by the book's cliffhanger than by the book itself. Azzarello's Wonder Woman is not bad by any stretch, and in fact it's a good take on Wonder Woman that's not as bogged down by the weight of the character. It's just that after four volumes I think I have a pretty good handle on this magic show, and I'm waiting impatiently to be surprised again.

[Includes original covers, plot/script and pencils]

Next week, maybe some Hawkman, maybe some Green Arrow ... we'll see!
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