Wonder Woman hardcover among several New 52 compilations to be released in May

With the DC New 52 graphic novels beginning to be released next month, and the release schedule included in the 8th issue of the New 52 comics released this month, the big question is:  Which graphic novels should you buy?  Some of the most popular DC Comics titles are scheduled for a May release.  These include Animal Man, Batman, Catwoman, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, Justice League International, Justice League, Stormwatch and Wonder Woman.

If you’ve been reading the ongoing series then the answer is easy.  None.  If you’ve read a series, you’ve read it, so unless there are some big extras, $22.99 for a hardcover doesn’t make much sense.  The real value in the trade paperback/hardcover releases will be gift books–series you loved that you want to share with others, since giving a stack of comics, although its sounds good to me, is admittedly a little odd.  As gifts go, one of the collected editions I am on the fence on is the Wonder Woman book.

Wonder Woman, Vol. 1: Blood collects the first six issues of the New 52 series.  The series was written by Brian Azzarello, with art by Cliff Chiang on Issues #1-4 and Tony Akins for Issues #5 and 6.

Wonder Woman got off to a great start last fall.  Azzarello expertly crafted an origin tale of Wonder Woman from a standpoint of her Greek roots, myriad family problems, and in particular the story of her struggle to know thyself in light of her strange family of gods, coupled with the almost buddy-like story of Diana protecting a human named Zola from the wrath of mother goddess Hera.  The story is at its best in Issues #1-4, which happens to correspond with Chiang’s work on the series.  When Tony Akins took over the artwork, it’s not the abrupt change in style that is the biggest fault of Issues #5 and #6, but the Azzarello’s more convoluted story that seems to drift  away from the expected focus on Wonder Woman as the lead character of the series.  After re-reading Issues #5 and 6, I am not sure I follow the plot resolution completely, and the story problems stand out even more so in light of the brilliant storytelling Azzarello returns to in Issues #7 and #8.

Because Issues #7 and #8 are the best of the series so far, I wish that the collected edition compiled Issues #1 through #8 instead of #1 through #6.  From a story standpoint I think Issue 8 has a better ending for a single collected work, too.  But regardless of whether you opt for the new hardcover edition or hold out for Volumes 1 and 2 together, what Wonder Woman does right is worth highlighting.

First, Cliff Chiang’s art has set a new standard for Wonder Woman, separate from the past versions of the Amazon warrior.  Chiang’s renderings of the superheroine show her in the style the artist has managed to make his own–this unique Chiang art deco-inspired world view made from big, bold, clean lines.  His balance of beautiful with tough is right on the mark.  His storytelling panel-to-panel stands out as well–a lot of artists rest on their laurels with great covers and splash pages, yet his page-by-page work on Issue #8 is one of the best beginning to end comics I’ve ever seen.  (If only Issue #8 was in the Volume 1 hardcover!).

Azzarello’s story takes one of the big three of the Justice League and puts her in a world apart from the rest of the DCU and that is refreshing.  Wonder Woman’s story stands on its own–no need for partnerships with Superman and Batman.  If long-time Wonder Woman fans hang on to the current issues, the reward is a pretty good payoff.  It’s the fans of the traditional storytelling for Wonder Woman that may be put off a bit by this story.

The team-up of Diana and Zola mimic two great TV series pairings.  First, Xena and Gabrielle of Xena: Warrior Princess is a pretty good parallel to Azzarello’s banter between the characters.  With this comic book series readers are reminded at how easily Xena could have been re-named Diana and resulted in a solid Wonder Woman series accepted by DC fans.  Strong heroines in fantasy are well served by a good sidekick, for lack of a better term.  More recently the pairing of Bo and Kenzi in the Canadian supernatural TV series Lost Girl also matches that of Diana and Zola.  These are modern women who know who they are, whether their stories yet reveal that fact or not.  What DC has really excelled at in the New 52 are the authenticity of their women, not as typical comic book archetypes, but with deep relationships and good dialogue.  This can be found not only with Wonder Woman, but also in the pages of Batgirl and Batwoman.

The supporting cast is interesting.  The gaunt and strange Hermes reminds me of Abe Sapien from the Dark Horse Hellboy series.  He’s a good man to have in the trenches for Diana.  Diana’s sister Strife is strange and creepy, yet real in a post-Goth, modern way.  Hades is grotesque, yet pleasantly meddling.  Zeus, Hera, and Hippolyta appear very noble and regal, and Hera’s bizarre peacock cloak is a nice touch.  The character Lennox reminds me of John Constantine in the Justice League Dark series, and in later issues Wonder Woman gets very dark like that series, but in a good way, without the ghoulishness a trip to the Hellenistic hell might otherwise reflect in the hands of other creators.

Collecting issues #1-6, Wonder Woman, Vol. 1: Blood (144 pages/$22.99) will be available this May and is available for pre-order now online.

C.J. Bunce



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