Wonder Woman, vol. 1: Blood

58-coverThe gods of ancient Greece are up to their old tricks. Specifically, the “Zeus knocking up human women and Hera going after those women in a rage” tricks. Zola doesn’t even know she’s pregnant until Hermes shows up at her farm with a warning, followed closely by Hera’s centaur thugs. With some assistance from Hermes, Zola escapes and is introduced to Diana, a.k.a. Wonder Woman, who vows to protect her. Wonder Woman sweeps Zola and the wounded Hermes off to the island of the Amazons, where her mother, Hippolyta, reigns as queen. But Hera isn’t done. Furthermore, Hippolyta has been keeping a big secret and the island of the Amazons isn’t as safe as Wonder Woman thinks. Maybe no place is safe, now that other gods, too, are stirring to action.

One of the things most striking about Wonder Woman vol. 1: Blood is its unusual take on the Greek gods. The visuals are creative – Hades in particular looks eerie in a way I’d never seen before – and their roles in the story are just as interesting (expect to be surprised by Apollo). Hera has all the violent jealousy attributed to her by myth and her power manifests in creepy ways, as when she creates the centaurs by beheading two horses and summoning human(ish) torsos to claw their way out of the neck stumps. I also found it interesting to see Strife, a minor goddess, playing an active role as Hera’s daughter.

It’s also great to have a deeper look at Wonder Woman’s own mythos. I come to this New 52 volume as a DC Comics fan, but without much knowledge about their best-known heroine. This volume provides enough background – Wonder Woman’s real name, her origin as an Amazon – to give newcomers a good foundation. The fight scenes show some love to her lariat and indestructible bracelets, too.

It would be hard to discuss a superhero comic with this many female characters without considering how those characters are portrayed compared to, say, the images parodied in the website The Hawkeye Initiative. (This site humorously draws attention to two common, groan-worthy tropes of the style in which female superheroes are often drawn: absurdly impractical scanty costumes and backbreaking “action” poses that are obviously about sex appeal and nothing else.) My friends and I were pleased to observe that the cover of this book defies the latter trope, featuring a female superhero striking an action pose that’s more about action than about showing off her boobs and butt at the same time. The comic does a good job with this between the covers as well. In fact, Wonder Woman has not just fighting stances that make actual sense, but even a body type that suggests real muscles; no waif-fu going on here.

In terms of outfits, though, the comic is absolutely Hawkeye Initiative-worthy. While no actual naughty bits appear, combining the clothing of Hera, Strife, and even Zola into one outfit might still not get you service at your average cafe. (Hera, for instance, wears only a peacock-feather cloak, while Strife is dressed in what appears to be one long, haphazard strip of electrical tape, or possibly a scribble of Sharpie.) Compared with these three, the Amazons, wearing outfits that are basically Wonder Woman’s costume done in leather, appear practically Amish. That said, it’s nice that Wonder Woman herself is drawn in poses – and, for the most part, attire – that put her squarely in the frame of “Amazon warrior princess” rather than “sexpot.”

In addition to the outfits (or lack thereof – okay, I’ll stop), it’s worth noting that there is a sex scene, frank discussion of sex, and more than a little gore. This is especially good to know given that the cover doesn’t really imply any of these things. I can easily see a reader picking up this volume and being startled by some of the content.

This is an engaging story on a mythic scale. Incorporating emotional depth, development of the character’s canon, impressive battle scenes, and a fascinating and threatening version of the Greek pantheon, this volume feels really worthy of Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman, vol. 1: Blood
by Brian Azzarello
Art by Cliff Chiang and Tony Akins
ISBN: 9781401235628
DC Comics, 2012

  • Jdoe

    I disagree the book’s interiors are “Hawkeye Initiative-worthy.” In Catwoman Vol. 1: The Game, artist Guillem March draws Catwoman in various stages of undress, even during fight scenes where it’s ridiculous to believe she’d want to have her costume unzipped. In contrast, in Wonder Woman: Blood, Cliff Chiang draws the gods in outfits that demonstrate their personalities — Hera and Strife’s undress speaks to their powers, how they consider themselves, others, etc. The point of the Hawkeye Initiative is to demonstrate gratuity — nudity or sexuality with no basis in the book. That’s not the case with the pages of Wonder Woman: Blood.

    • Nic

      Thanks for reading! I do have to disagree regarding the outfits. I could certainly see making that argument if we were talking about, say, Aphrodite. Hera, though, is not a goddess especially associated with sexuality. She is one of the very few Greek gods not to carry on affairs with mortals, and while she’s all about marriage, she was largely viewed as a matronly figure. She shows vanity in some myths, but so does basically every Greek god. And Strife’s mythical associations are with mischief/sowing discord (famously tossing Paris the golden apple that led to the Trojan War) and with battle, not with sexuality.

      Neither of these descriptions precludes the goddesses from wearing skimpy outfits, but if we assume that every female character who isn’t specifically precluded from wearing skimpy outfits will do so, that’s a pretty Hawkeye Initiative-worthy approach.

      The goddesses are, of course, being reimagined here by the comic’s creators. However, I think it’s worth noting that this means that everything about their portrayal is a conscious decision. One can’t say, “Hera is shown naked in every scene because that’s just how she is!” as if the creators are simply reflecting a real person with undeniable traits. Hera has not always been portrayed this way, which means that portraying her this way is a choice. To give the male gods in the story a range of appearances, from naked Zeus to giant sea monster Poseidon to creepy Hades, while drawing the female gods only as human-shaped women with virtually no clothing – that’s a choice. To have a story teeming with female characters of whom Wonder Woman and the Amazons are the least exposed – that’s a choice.

      I have a lot of positive things to say about this volume, as noted in my review. It’s not a condemnation of the comic or its creators to say that I believe some of their female characters’ outfits to be a tad impractical and gratuitous. I am happy to see Wonder Woman herself handled in a way that is respectful of her as a character and a warrior. But it’s very possible for this volume, like many expressions of art, to be excellent and enjoyable in some ways and still have aspects that are problematic. I think it’s good to be able to talk about both.