Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Wonder Woman #1

DC Comics, 24 pages, $ 2.99

Writer: Brian Azzarello
Artist: Cliff Chiang
Colorist: Matthew Wilson
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher

It’s safe to say Wonder Woman hasn’t been the easiest character to handle. DC, via its stories and promotional efforts, keeps insisting she’s one of its “top three” characters, but in reality, that’s hardly the case. If you ask people on the street about the character, they’ll probably remember a cheesy 1970s TV show. If you ask people from outside the U.S., then probably not even that. Even in the comic-book direct market, Wonder Woman has rarely been a big seller.

The latest relaunch is emblematic: Even with the gigantic success of the “New 52” relaunch and the critically acclaimed creative team of Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang, the book didn’t quite make the Top 10 in September. If you’re working your way down from the top of the totem pole, you first have to go past four Batman titles, two Superman titles, two Green Lantern titles and Flash—and then there’ll be Batgirl. Only after that, at No. 13, with estimated first-month sales well below the 100K mark, there’s Wonder Woman #1.

It’s not the first time in the recent past that DC has attempted to imbue Wonder Woman with some much-desired relevance. Popular and critically acclaimed writers like Greg Rucka, Allan Heinberg, Jodi Picoult, Gail Simone and, most recently, J. Michael Straczynski have all tried and failed to raise the character’s profile. Some of them were well-reviewed, and Heinberg, along with artist Terry Dodson, even managed to get sales up above the 120,000-unit mark for a couple of issues with his 2006 revamp. But the book always returned to being a modest mid-level seller before long.

So, ultimately, it was clear from the start that Azzarello and Chiang were going to be facing an uphill struggle here. And, judging from this debut issue, I’m not convinced they’ll fare any better than their predecessors.

In principle, it’s a very sensible approach to kick off the story right away and not bore the audience to death with boatloads of bad exposition, as many of the other relaunch writers have. Here, something is happening, and Wonder Woman—along with the reader—is thrown right into it.

The creators are borrowing freely from Greek mythology for their interpretation, and those myths have rarely looked more alive and threatening in superhero comics. Those centaurs aren’t fooling around, and you can almost feel the force of the monstrous arrows they’re shooting, just from looking at Mr. Chiang’s art. In terms of page-to-page storytelling, this is top-notch stuff.

The story itself, on the other hand, doesn’t have much to offer yet. That subplot building up the villain feels generic more than anything, and the characters—which, other than Wonder Woman, mainly means a woman named Zola—remain bland. It doesn’t help that Wonder Woman herself gets to make stupid decisions for no other reason than because they’re required for the plot to work—especially since that’s more or less all she does in this issue.

The book is fun to flip through, and the creators bring a lot of craft to its pages. Overall, though, there’s nothing here to convince me that Wonder Woman is a particularly interesting character. I’ll give it a few more issues, though.

Grade: C+

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