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Wonder Woman #23 – Review

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

The Story: Now’s our chance to see which era had the most badass warriors.

The Review: Troubled as some people were by the slow pace Wonder Woman had been running at for some time, it’s been even more troubling to see the title suddenly speed up in the last few issues.  Last issue in particular was something of a disappointment for how much it truncated Diana and Co.’s time on New Genesis when we had all been so longing to see the Fourth World’s standing in the new DCU.  It was the very definition of a missed opportunity.

In the same fashion, we’ve all hankered to see the ultimate throwdown between Diana and the First Born, yet now doesn’t seem like the right time for it.  To make the First Born a truly worthy adversary in Wonder Woman’s gallery, there has to be time for the two to develop a relationship, even an antagonistic one.  Given that in context, she’s only known him for about a few hours (setting aside the time she spent comatose), having a final confrontation now seems premature.

The brevity of their acquaintance also undermines the credibility of her characterization of the First Born: “”Selfish!  Cruel!  Entitled!  You’re everything I’m not!  And if I have to destroy you…I will not hesitate!”  Aside from being its snap-judgment nature, the speech has a few other problems, one of which is its overt self-promotion, which goes against her usually modest personality.  The final lines also paint Diana as someone quick to dispose of problems the brutal way, which contradicts the compassionate, loving character she’s shown to most others.

For those reasons, you’re glad to see that her hit-hard-and-fast strategy doesn’t pay off.  When even Ares questions the viability of her tactics (“Is any fight worth winning if the cost is one’s self?”), failure may be preferable to success.  Getting the wind knocked right out of her a second team, even after her gauntlet-throwing trick, affords her a brief moment of reflection.  Diana told Orion last month that “a good way to start [trying to be better]…is by accepting who you are.”  Her realization here, that “[s]ometimes, it’s best not to be who we are…but who we aspire to be,” is the logical next step to that philosophy, and it does indeed leave her the better heroine.

Yet Diana doesn’t come to that realization on her own; of all people, it’s Ares who reminds her of how to strive to be better than oneself.  It’s hardly surprising then that the real heart of the issue centers on her mentor rather than herself.  We’ve questioned his motives in helping her so faithfully in recent months, and now it seems the reasons are twofold: to become more than just an instrument of war and in so doing, to finally find a measure of peace at last.

It thus seems fitting that—spoiler alert—the death of Ares would be the event that prompts his family, mortal, divine, and in between, to come together.  Hera, perhaps softened by mortality (and by witnessing true monstrosity in her eldest child), displays, too late, the truest gesture of compassion towards her fallen son,* and even Hades displays something like sympathy for the moment, maybe a result of Diana’s parting shot to him in #10.  On the other hand, Apollo’s arrival on the scene isn’t out of affection for the brother he’s lost so much as curiosity for the brother he’s just acquired, which leaves the First Born available to one day become a nemesis worthy of Wonder Woman

I’m not sure we could have accepted anyone but Chiang alone to deliver the concluding issue of this arc and storyline.  His class is such that every character, even the grizzled Ares and the scarred First Born, have a regal bearing, projecting godlike charisma if not clear signs of divinity.  With such an action-packed issue, Chiang gets a chance to demonstrate how freely moving his figures can be.  Though less realistic than the work of, say, Mikel Janin, Chiang’s characters move and bear themselves with more realistic force and grace.

Conclusion: Though the timing of the issue is quite questionable, Azzarello mostly succeeds in giving a neat finish to a plot and to several themes nearly two years in the making.

Grade: B

- Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * In contrast to her sudden determination to protect Zola and Zeke, even to the point of risking her life against her First Born son, all of which is very unconvincing.  Hera’s grown up, some, since she lost divine favor, but her relationship with Zola hasn’t developed that far just yet.

- Seeing Orion beat down by the First Born a second time calls into question the power of the New Gods against the Old, doesn’t it?  But I should let that pass; even pre-relaunch, we’ve seen Orion seemingly bested by non-Fourth Worlders before.

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