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Wonder Woman #21 – Review

WONDER WOMAN #21

By: Brian Azzarello (story), Cliff Chiang (art), Matthew Wilson (colors)

The Story: What say we cut the talk short and Boom Tube our way out of here?

The Review: I’ve made my remarks about the difficulty of writing Superman before, so I need not repeat them now.  I will say, however, that hard as it is to get a handle on a man who seems to embody superhuman virtue, it’s even harder to get inside a character who represents womanly perfection.  For a while, Azzarello has built up such an interesting story around his heroine that you could ignore her defects as a sympathetic, accessible protagonist—until now.

Now, Azzarello has fallen into a kind of trap, the same one that captures most Wonder Woman writers sooner or later: she has become a cypher in her own story.  Her character development seems to have stopped somewhere after her line to Hades about loving “[e]veryone,” and since then, our attention has largely been fixed on the characters and events around her.  You can see here that she rarely asserts her presence except when called to spar or defend her own dignity (“…I thought I told you to respect me, Orion…”).  You simply can’t generate an engaging personality from that.

Even her encounter with the First Born turns out to be a little dull, or the repetitious grappling maneuvers make it seem that way.  Weakened from her battle with Artemis moments earlier, she can barely make a dent on him, even with Lennox’s help, although that gives Azzarello an excuse to bring Orion back to the fold again.  Their battle isn’t exactly much more interesting, but their exchange does offer some food for thought.  The First Born declares, “You have no idea what war I bring.  It’s unwinnableall will lose…including me.”

“That’s insane!” Orion replies.

“No…that’s who I am.”

The First Born’s words, ponderous as they are, coincide with a theme Azzarello’s constantly emphasized throughout this series: for the Olympic Pantheon, they are fated to act according to their natures, even when they (like Ares) tire of it—even when it leads to their doom.  Orion’s appalled reaction to this implication reveals the difference between Old and New Gods.  Orion is ostensibly a war god and (if his traditional origin remains intact) the son of pure evil, yet he is able to act otherwise.  He has the freedom to change, where the First Born and his kin do not.

Perhaps this is where Zeke fits into Azzarello’s story.  Cassandra declares that the destiny of Zola’s child is to “end the world,” a prophecy Apollo and his allies are convinced must come to pass.  And precedence in Greek mythology does show that even when they take a roundabout way to get there, prophecies eventually do come to pass in the end.  But all along, Diana, Lennox, and all their siblings have striven to be better than their forbears; to care for each other when such sentiments seem meaningless for the Olympians (see Hades’ juvenile understanding of love, or the First Born’s rejection of his mother’s recognition).  Perhaps Wonder Woman’s greatest feat will be to do what none of her heroic predecessors have managed: overcome fate.

And if that’s the case, then Lennox has certainly done his part to alter Zeke’s.  When was the last time one Olympian sacrificed him or herself for another?  Though a part of you will think Lennox’s fatal* act of courage is a sad end for his character, at least he gets to go in style, which is more than his life might have been.  He could never be happy as a sidekick—his resentment last issue proves it—and to take a hard circumstance on the chin like a good British soldier and face it with a soccer (football to the non-Americans) chant* is about as good as it gets for him.

While Azzarello’s script may be more cerebral than exciting, Chiang’s art makes it seem as if the issue is nothing by non-stop thrills.  The final pages are especially pumped with energy, with Chiang channeling the spirits of both Jack Kirby and Darwyn Cooke to convey the unimaginably intense forces swirling through the vacuum of a Boom Tube.  Also remarkable is Chiang’s always elegant sense of design, his high-tech approach to New Genesis and Highfather respectful of the past while clearly striking a whole new vision.  And no one draws Diana like Chiang does; gorgeous as she is, she never, ever looks like fanservice, and that’s saying something.  Wilson’s generally warm, neutral colors provide a great contrast to the blazing reds and white-hot yellows that appear during the more dramatic moments of the issue.

Conclusion: From an intellectual standpoint, it’s hard to criticize Azzarello’s intentions with his story, though the execution could stand to appeal to the heart more than the brain.  Chiang’s art manages to enliven the proceedings quite a bit, however.

Grade: B

- Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * I presume it’s fatal based on the theory that Azzarello’s not the type to play around with death, as is customary in the superhero genre.  Of course, we never actually see Lennox die, which means a comeback is possible—although I hope not.

* Lennox is singing the fight song of the Millwall Football Club, a team particularly known for its fans’ hooliganism.

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2 Responses

  1. Happy to see Cliff Chiang back on art, but this has been getting a bit repetitive over the past few months. Hopefully the change of scenery will shake things up and more Orion is always good.

    • Azzarello does have something of a pacing problem on this series, but like you, I’m hoping things will pick up once we get more New Gods in the picture.

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