In 2006, “100 Bullets” creator Brian Azzarello and “Human Target” artist Cliff Chiang delighted DC Comics fans by teaming up for “Doctor Thirteen,” a backup story in the eight-issue miniseries “Tales Of The Unexpected.” This September, Azzarello and Chiang reunite once again for DC Comics’ company-wide relaunch — but instead of working with one of DC’s smallest characters, they are working with one of the publisher’s biggest, oldest and most widely recognizable: Wonder Woman.
Since being announced as the duo in charge of the Amazing Amazon Azzarello and Chiang have kept a low profile as debate raged over everything from Wonder Woman’s powers to her past to her pants. With little over a month to go before the release of “Wonder Woman” issue #1, CBR News spoke with Azzarello and Chiang about the upcoming series, touching on their approach to Diana, the Greek gods, the (now lack of) pants, and the inherent challenges in writing and drawing an American icon.
CBR News: You guys have the “Wonder Woman” comic out in September, and it’s part of DC’s linewide relaunch. But prior to this, you two teamed up to work on that great “Doctor Thirteen” series a while back. After “Doctor Thirteen” were you actively looking for another comic to collaborate on and eventually “Wonder Woman” fell into your lap?
Brian Azzarello: [Laughs] We were looking for something to collaborate on, yeah.
Cliff Chiang: We had a couple of things, we had five things at least we were talking about working on and then nothing lined up. Then I started working on “Greendale” which was a long project and sort of took me off the book for a little bit.
Azzarello: And “Wonder Woman” did not fall into our laps.
Then how did you two end up on the title? Was it something you actively sought out when DC started talking about the relaunch?
Azzarello: Boy, I was talking “Wonder Woman” before the relaunch was even being discussed.
Chiang: We had a really good conversation about it early on and then I didn’t hear anything so I thought it had moved on! [Laughs]
What drew you specifically to “Wonder Woman” as opposed to the other DC characters?
Azzarello: What drove me to Wonder Woman? Because I had a good story I could tell about her — that’s what drives me to any character. I don’t get wrapped up in characters unless I have something to say about them. Cliff and I came up with this mythology and I said, “All right, let’s do it, let’s see if we can pull this off!” I’m not writing this just because it’s Wonder Woman. Here’s the take on this, looking at this character a little bit differently, and I feel it’s going to resonate with fans.
Brian, I know a big theme in your work is getting into the little nitty-gritty details of people’s lives — you really explore things like accent a dialogue a lot. Is part of the appeal to you applying your brand of realism to Wonder Woman’s fantastical world?
Azzarello: I don’t know, Cliff, am I doing that?
Chiang: [Laughs] I don’t know if you enjoy it, but I’m enjoying it! I really think Brian’s approach to all his stories is finding that nugget of truth in it and really running with it and making it this huge character-defining moment. Doing this with “Wonder Woman” and reading Brian’s scripts and being a part of this story has been really great because it feels like we’re doing something new.
Azzarello: But it has been pretty enjoyable coming up with the dialogue and the cadence of these characters that are larger than life, the way that they speak. They have a sort of larger than life approach to sentence structure too! [Laughs]
Cliff, switching over to the art, since you guys have been talking “Wonder Woman” prior to the relaunch, what was your involvement in the costume redesign? Did Jim Lee do the initial redesign of her costume and you modified it here and there, or was there a lot more give and take between the three of you?
Chiang: I wasn’t really in on the design process, but I think what’s cool about comics is that everyone has a say on stuff. So even though Jim had laid out the design, there was a lot of openness from everybody to see how it would be interpreted. I think I’ve read interviews where he said, “This what I’m doing, people are going to add or subtract detail where they see fit, but this is the main model.” And it’s been great! It’s been really fun to try to adapt what Jim has done to my sensibilities.
Azzarello: Yeah, but that’s comics. Batman’s cape is five and a half feet or nine feet depending on who draws it.
Now I’m sure this is a question you guys may be sick of answering, but is Wonder Woman officially pants-less again?
Azzarello: She’s pants-less. I like my women pants-less! [Laughs] Apparently most of her fans liked her pants-less too, judging from the reaction. They put pants on her! God forbid!
Touching on that, Brian I know when we spoke before you said a lot of fans have been vocal about the changes, and Wonder Woman is something of a difficult character — she’s had a lot of changes over the years and a lot of costumes. For you guys, has it been a challenge to dive into her and find the core of Wonder Woman? Or was it freeing that you could do what you wanted with her?
Chiang: I mean the tricky thing with Wonder Woman is that she’s so iconic. If you ask five different people about Wonder Woman you are going to get five different versions of it, and one is a warrior who kicks ass, and one is going to be this compassionate person who prefers negotiating before fighting, etc. Trying to make everybody happy just dilutes the character, so we just have to pick a direction and go with it. As long as we’re coming from a really sincere place with our story and the things we want to do with her the fans will love it and I think they’ll come along for the ride.
Azzarello: Yeah. You mentioned the pants — that’s not what it’s about. This is about the story; this is about redefining this character and looking at her in a way that hasn’t been looked at before. That’s our goal. She could put on Batman’s costume, I don’t care. Or Superman’s!
Chiang: She’s got Superman’s old red pants!
Azzarello: What she’s got on has nothing to do with the story.
Chiang: What we like to do is be able to give a version of “Wonder Woman” that you can sum up quickly. You can always describe Superman or Batman in three words or less. It means that people are really aware of what that person’s mission and personality are all about. We want to be able to do that with Wonder Woman.
Speaking of her status as an icon, Brian, you’ve said before that you don’t think the DC Trinity quite works — is your goal for this series to really firmly establish Wonder Woman as one of the DC universe’s big guns?
Azzarello: Yeah, we’re pretty committed to doing that, aren’t we? Don Quixote and Sancho Panza over here! “The Trinity, there is no trinity, it’s Superman and Batman and then there’s everybody else,” I believe that’s what I said. She may be more iconic outside of comics than she is in comics. It’s a challenge worth taking.
Chiang: Everybody has an idea of who Wonder Woman is, so if we can play with that recognition and say “Here’s the Wonder Woman story” for people to read without ever having read everything in the past, that’s a great opportunity.
Turning back to the art again, Cliff, I think everyone has now seen the great Wonder Woman as Joan Jett image you did. Looking at that and the “Wonder Woman” covers side-by-side, there seems to be a little of that punk rock sensibility leaking through — is that an intentional style or tone you are playing with in the artwork?
Chiang: Yeah, the way the story is going, we’re doing a dark take on mythology, so why does the book have to look like every other book on the stands? I think we can take some chances with this, make the covers interesting, not your standard good guy punching bad guy cover. We can do things that are cool or graphic or mysterious and really make you want to read the book! With the art style, I’m trying to make sure I can get all the emotion that Brian is putting into those scripts. At the same time, still have a really broad appeal to the people who haven’t been reading comics or the people who are just looking for something different.
You always have really nice clean colors and nice dark lines in your artwork — are you doing the coloring and inking on “Wonder Woman” as well?
Chiang: I’m inking but the colors are being done by Matt Wilson and he is doing a fantastic job. He’s a really great storyteller and he really understands the art. When I draw stuff it’s very graphic and can easily go flat, but Matt has such a great understanding of it he really brings life to it.
As we discussed earlier, you previously worked together on “Doctor Thirteen.” How did you two first meet up and realize your styles worked well together?
Azzarello: “Doctor Thirteen,” I guess!
Chiang: We didn’t know each other and I was little nervous because of how much I liked Brian’s writing — I thought, “If this doesn’t work I’m going to be kind of crushed!” [Azzarello laughs]
Moving back to “Wonder Woman,” you mentioned you are doing more with the mythology in the series. Have there been other “Wonder Woman” runs you guys looked to for inspiration, or have you avoided looking at what’s been done in the past?
Azzarello: I’m particularly fond of the old bondage issues, I like those! [Laughs] The problem is that they’ve been done already, and that’s not something we’re interested in doing. It’s one of the problems I think that happens too much in comics. You get the same story over and over and over again cyclically. We’re not interested in doing that. We want to make something brand new here, and it’s going to change the character — until the next guy comes along! [Laughs]
Brian, a lot of the work you’ve done before has been realistic with a violent and gritty tone to it. Is that something you’re still keeping with this “Wonder Woman?” Are you making her a little grittier and horror-inspired than before?
Azzarello: Not with her. Definitely the world around her and the Gods, I’m definitely bringing that take to the pantheon. And it’s been a blast getting rid of those damn togas!
Chiang: We’re really trying to take the mythology and modernizing it, make it fresh so that when you encounter it you’re not saying, “I remember encountering this as a kid, Zeus with the lightning bolts.” We need to come at this from a different angel; because everyone is so familiar with it we had to shock and surprise them. When you do that to Wonder Woman’s world you really do redefine her and what the book can be.
And you do have classical Greek mythology that is bloody and violent and can hit that grittier tone.
Azzarello: Yeah! It’s funny; when those myths do get interpreted the humanity is sort of left out of them. The raw human emotion really drives those stories, both for good and for bad.
Chiang: There’s so much: there’s love, there’s anger, there’s jealousy, there’s pride. These are all things you can use to describe the stories in “100 Bullets” as well. These are real human emotions that all these stories are pinned on so all of this is incredibly fertile for material.
Has this given you a chance to focus more on the fantasy aspects of Wonder Woman — really deal with the idea that she’s created by the goddesses and she has a magic lasso and delve into the magic side of things?
Azzarello: Hmm. [Laughs] This isn’t going to make sense, but we’re treating magic like reality. I don’t think we even mentioned that her lasso is magic.
Chiang: The approach is that you know who Wonder Woman is, you know what her powers are, and then where’s the story? The story is in all these other characters around her who are manipulating her and pushing her to do things. You can accept all the fantastical elements because everybody else in the world does. If there are monsters running around, why can’t she have a magic lasso?
Azzarello: Right. And, more importantly, that monster is an asshole and he treats people poorly and we know someone like that! [Laughs] It’s getting these characters recognizable emotionally and motivationally.
Chiang: That’s the big thing.
Azzarello: Motivations you can understand — you don’t have to agree with them, but you understand why they’re doing them.
How does it feel to be working with a character that isn’t just a big deal in the DC Universe but is a feminist icon and big deal outside of comics?
Chiang: I think were trying to address a couple of things. One, we’re trying to make this story global, so in the first issue we’re in Singapore and Virginia and London. There’s this acknowledgement that Wonder Woman’s known all around the world, so we’re trying to make the story as big as that. The other thing is, yeah, it’s a challenge and a honor to be handling a character like Wonder Woman and being responsible for really polishing up this image and making her a character that will really resonate with people. I feel there are times her costume is better known than the character herself.
Azzarello: Right, it’s more recognizable than known because she’s more recognized than known.
Chiang: You recognize her, but you don’t know what’s she’s about. So we’re trying to fill in the other half of the equation.
A big part of the DC relaunch is that the comics are taking place on a more global scale and taking part in a more interconnected DCU. Have you guys had a chance to world build and add new facets to the Wonder Woman side of the DCU?
Azzarello: Oh yeah. That’s all we’re doing, constantly. It’s part of what telling the story is about.
Chiang: “Wonder Woman,” I think, is maybe the only constant that we have. Everything else we had to come up with and take another look at: what do the Amazons look like? What is their world like? What is Paradise Island like? Those are big questions. What do the Greek gods look like and how are they interacting with Wonder Woman? And what are their plans for her? It’s been great, because when do you get to let loose like that? But it’s also been a lot of work!
If Wonder Woman is the only constant, how did you go about deciding what parts of the supporting cast and mythology to embrace and what to tweak or throw away?
Azzarello: Well, originally it was like what are the core elements of this character that are very important, that make her what she is? That are recognizable about her? Those are the ones we kept intact. I’ve said before this isn’t a hard reboot, this is a nice soft one. So as Cliff mentioned, she’s globally known in our story. Everybody knows who she is. We’re not erasing her history. We’re just smudging it a little! [Laughs]
Chiang: I think that’s a good way to put it. There is so much Wonder Woman history visually that we can play with and we’re doing that, and it’ll become more clear how we’re doing that as the story goes along. It’s a chance to reintroduce you to Wonder Woman, more or less. It’s like that childhood friend you haven’t seen for years and you see them as an adult and you say I really do know this person but they’ve grown up.
Have you guys had to modify at all your version of “Wonder Woman” to mesh with the version of the character in Geoff Johns and Jim Lee’s “Justice League?”
Azzarello: I don’t worry about that stuff. I don’t know, it must be okay, I haven’t heard anything! [Chiang laughs] No one’s come to me and said, “Hey, you can’t do that” yet.
What do you hope people ultimately take away from you “Wonder Woman” issues? Is it that reintroduction, redefinition of her as one of the DCU’s biggest characters?
Azzarello: No, I just hope they go away feeling like they read a good story and that they can talk about it. My ambition is so small. You mentioned redefining the character — we don’t want to redefine the character, we want to tell a good story.
Chiang: Especially with comics you can’t really walk into it with a political agenda like that, you just focus on the story itself and hopefully you make something memorable. But if you go in thinking you’re going to change things and revolutionize that then it’s not going to happen. That’s ego.
Azzarello: And we did that with “Doctor Thirteen,” that was one of the things we were talking about! [Cliff laughs]
“Wonder Woman” #1 hits stores September 21