For the past four months writer Brian Azzarello and artist Cliff Chiang have ramped up the stakes in DC Comics’ “Wonder Woman,” giving the Amazing Amazon a new father and a new mission protecting Zola, mother-to-be of Zeus’ next child. With Zeus missing, Hera out for blood, a prophecy concerning Zeus’ murderous plans for his children and a host of Gods about to descend on Paradise Island, Azzarello and Chiang have set up the drama at a breakneck speed — and as they confided to CBR, things will only intensify in “Wonder Woman” #4.
With the explosive fourth issue on shelves tomorrow, Chiang and Azzarello shared an exclusive preview with CBR News, as well as speaking about their continuing work on “Wonder Woman.” Though they stayed away from plot specifics the creative team touched upon their goals for the ongoing comic, which villain from Wonder Woman’s past to expect in issue #4 and what Diana gains from having the Gods as both enemies and siblings.
CBR News: “Wonder Woman” #4 is out tomorrow, which wraps up this first storyline, though Zeus is still missing. After establishing her new origin in the New 52, is #4 the launch pad into telling more adventure-oriented stories exploring Diana?
Brian Azzarello: That’s exactly what we’re doing. End of interview! [Laughter]
Cliff Chiang: Yeah, I think these first four issues have been about setting down the direction we’re going to go in. We had to clear the decks with the origin to set up the bigger story that we have coming.
Obviously one of the huge reveals, and what much of the first story emotionally revolves around, is the fact that Zeus is Wonder Woman’s father. Brian, at NYCC you expressed that this humanized Diana in a way. At this point, what do you gain story-wise by tying her to Zeus?
Azzarello: Well, it’s not just the relationship with Zeus now, it’s the relationship with her mother as well; I’m giving her a family larger than just the Amazons. They’re all women. I think she needed some — I’m not going to say role models, but she needed some males. [Laughs] Because they aren’t role models, that’s for sure!
We do see some of the Gods’ capricious and cruel nature coming out with the earlier issues and with Strife in issue #3.
Azzarello: Did you say capricious and cool or capricious and cruel?
Cruel, though cool fits too.
Azzarello: I’d go with the former rather than the latter! I think they are going to be varied. You’re going to see coming up in a number of issues that not everyone is a dirt bag.
Chiang: I think even in issue #4 you start to see it. The Gods put a different value on human life and for some of them it’s not worth much. But at the same time you might see moments of strange compassion from them because they view human life differently. They might surprise you. Nothing’s black and white.
The appearances of the Gods are varied too; we’ve got Hermes who is a blue half-man/half-bird, and Strife who looks like she stepped out of a nightclub. While you two wanted to get away from Gods in togas, where did the inspiration for the new looks come from?
Azzarello: Basically, what we were trying to do was externalize what they represented, see how can we visually communicate exactly what these things are without words.
Chiang: Yeah, it starts with personality first. What are they about? When you look at somebody like Apollo you feel how he holds himself above everybody else, you feel a sort of arrogance coming off of him. The same thing with Strife, you look at her and you know she’s a troublemaker. So doing that is a clear visual thing and it helps the dialogue really shine because everything is supporting it.
One of the other visual changes is that Hippolyta is blonde as she was in the Golden Age comics, and Wonder Woman herself is closer to the original curly-haired, square-jawed heroine of the 1940s. To that end, Cliff, are you drawing visual references from the Golden Age version of “Wonder Woman?”
Chiang: Now that the origin is out I was thinking maybe it’d be cool to have [Hippolyta] be blonde because, from issue #1 to issue #2 when you meet them, it supports this whole idea of Diana having been made from clay because her mom is blonde. The fact that they didn’t look that similar was important. And it was one of the things that we talked about pretty early on about how to approach “Wonder Woman” — was it going to be that she was this really slender girl? Her name is Wonder Woman so we wanted someone who was beautiful and imposing. We wanted to give her big, curly hair. It was sort of square one in a lot of ways from the design.
Going along with this being square one, the obvious thrust of both issue #4 and the series as a whole is Wonder Woman squaring off against the Gods. What do the Gods as antagonists bring out in Wonder Woman that her mortal bad guys don’t?
Azzarello: You ever been to a family reunion? That’s what they bring out! It’s the backhanded compliment, or the drunk uncle.
The murder-happy mother might be a new one, though.
Azzarello: Oh, you haven’t been to my family reunion. [Laughter]
Does making her part of that cool-but-cruel family also plant doubts in Diana’s own head about her heroism? That she might actually be more like the Gods?
Azzarello: Does it do that or does it actually solidify how she feels about herself, her view of the world? I think that’s one of the aspects we’re getting at when we talk about humanizing her. In prior “Wonder Woman” stories she came from a perfect place and she was a perfect person. That’s not human. It’s very one-note, so we’re trying to add some other notes to the character. Have her flawed, have her family have flaws. It makes for a — it just makes for story, I’m not even going to say richer. The bottom line of story is conflict.
Brian, outside of some basic obvious differences, “Wonder Woman” touches on a lot of themes in your other work — flawed protagonists, brutal truths seeing the light of day, characters whose perspective on their world unexpectedly and completely changes on them. Do you see “Wonder Woman” as something of the thematic successor to the work you were doing before?
Azzarello: Oh boy. [Laughs] Yeah, sure, why not? I suppose I write the same story over and over because I have the same questions. Do I revisit themes that I’ve written about before? Of course. I think every writer does.
Chiang: With a character like Wonder Woman the question is, when you put pressure on her and a kind she hasn’t experienced before — now she’s got really powerful family members who have different agendas and different relationships with each other — how is she going to navigate that? How you conduct yourself in a situation like that is going to determine what kind of hero you are.
In your eyes, what has been the most challenging part of this new “Wonder Woman?”
Azzarello: Most challenging? No! It’s been a cool breeze! Once we established the direction we wanted to go with the character and her supporting cast that was 90% of the work. Now we’re executing it, that’s all we’re doing. Challenging is the wrong word because it’s really fun to do that stuff, the world building. Is it challenging? Yeah, there’s work to it, but it’s also where the real creativity comes in. That’s why we do this! [Laughs] I don’t know if it’s rewarding, but it’s fulfilling. Rewarding is when it hits the shelf when it’s out and we’re already on the next one.
Speaking of hitting the shelves, what were your first reactions when the numbers starting coming in and “Wonder Woman” was one of the high-selling comics for the first time?
Azzarello: Well, we weren’t number one, so I was disappointed. [Laughter] I figured we weren’t doing something right! No, it’s great, I’m glad people are enjoying it. Well, I don’t know, are people enjoying it? I’m glad people are buying it! [Laughter] Listen, she needed this, she needed the attention. People are talking about Wonder Woman now — when was the last time that happened? You want to talk to us every month with each issue coming out, and it’s “Wonder Woman” — I don’t think even the press had any interest in “Wonder Woman” for a while, not just the fans.
Do you feel this was the same on the creative side? Have other creators now talked about using her in their books since?
Azzarello: Yes, there’s been talk about using her in another book. Eventually that will happen, but not for a while. It’s really important to keep her insular right now within what we’re doing — other than the “Justice League” stuff, which I have no control over, she’s in that.
Though fans may be on the lookout for the other DCU heroes or old “Wonder Woman” characters making an appearance, because the book so heavily involves the Greek Gods should we be on the lookout for Hercules and Orpheus rather than Batman? Will we see more mythic Greek figures?
Azzarello: Yeah, you will! [Laughs] I’m not going to tell you who!
Chiang: Well, we’re able to give a little hint with issue #4, there’s a long time Wonder Woman character that comes in: Ares makes his appearance in grand fashion, I think!
What is this new Ares like?
Chiang: I would say we’re taking him a new direction. We had a couple of conversations about it when I had trouble visualizing him. Once you see it I think it’ll make sense; it’s very different from the Ares that has come before and I think his position in the world is also different than from what we’ve seen in the past. And everyone who’s been clamoring for Wonder Woman Pants finally gets it in issue #4. So we can stop answering that question!
From talking with you before, we know you like your women without pants, but I think with #3 we saw you like your Zeus without pants, too.
Azzarello: We’re equal opportunity here. [Laughs]
Getting back to the story, we’ve seen a lot of Paradise Island at this point but after issue #4 we’ve got Diana going to her “home base” in London. Why pick London as Wonder Woman’s home base, rather than an American city or a DCU city?
Azzarello: It’s a new wrinkle on her. She’s global. She’s not American — that’s Superman. Creators have used Superman as a touchstone for one, that’s why for us it was, “Why not open up the world a little bit?” Put her somewhere else, make it a little more exotic, do something new.
Chiang: And the story is going to bounce around, we’re going to be all over the world. I’m drawing an issue now that, when it starts off, takes place in Italy. Her having a home base in London reflects the fact that her world is bigger than just the States.
Azzarello: In “Justice League” she’s in the States all the time, but she doesn’t have to stay there.
How is this new Wonder Woman different than the other characters you’ve written or drawn before?
Azzarello: How is she different? She’s a good person! [Laughs] She has a strong moral spine.
So she wouldn’t be in the “100 Bullets” world, huh?
Azzarello: Well, she would, but I don’t think she’d last! [Laughs] No, she’s different, she knows what’s right and wrong and she sticks to it. I suppose most of the characters that I’ve done, at best, are anti-heroes. She’s definitely the hero.
Cliff, do you have favorite part about working on “Wonder Woman?”
Chiang: I like drawing strong images of her. There’s something really powerful about the character and her kind of iconic status. You can tap into that, there’s a kind of energy about it. I’m surprised at how potent that is. The cover of issue #7 has her with a hammer forging her own sword; it’s fun to be taking this idea of women and blacksmiths and turning it on its head. There’s a real power to that message of “Wonder Woman” where the feminism comes in.
I think that early image you did of Wonder Woman with the bloody axe certainly hits that.
Chiang: Yeah, the point is to not objectify her in a way to simply make her attractive. There are more interesting things you can do. We really want to get an attitude and personality across.
Azzarello: It’s not meant to be crude.
“Wonder Woman” #4 is on sale tomorrow.