Just ahead of New York Comic Con, DC Comics revealed that Wonder Woman’s origin was getting an overhaul. And while it’s not a complete do-over, reimagining Zeus as the Amazon Princess’ biological father is a pretty major tweak.
But what would you expect when you hand the keys to the invisible jet over to Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang, the creative team responsible for the critically acclaimed and wildly warped, “Doctor 13: Architecture and Morality” co-feature in the 2006 revival of “Tales of the Unexpected?”
In Wonder Woman’s original origin, her mother Hippolyta crafted her from clay as opposed to conceiving and giving birth to her daughter. Hippolyta remains Wonder Woman’s mother in the New 52, but as was revealed in the first two issues of the new series, Hera — Zeus’ wife — plays a central role in Diana of Themyscira’s world, now.
CBR News spoke with Azzarello and Chiang about Wonder Woman’s new family tree and what it meant for the team creatively to introduce the “Father of Gods and men” to the first lady of comics’ backstory.
CBR News: Aquaman is often the most maligned when it comes to rating DC’s superheroes in terms of coolness factor, but I have to ask, is Wonder Woman cool? And if not, how do you make her cool?
Brian Azzarello: How do you make Wonder Woman cool? I think that’s what we’re doing. [Laughs] At least, we’re trying to.
Cliff, do you agree?
Cliff Chiang: Is she cool? Yeah, she is now.
I spoke with Grant Morrison about writing “Action Comics” and he told me he’s looked to the earliest appearances of Superman from that series for inspiration. Have you gone back and read some of the old Wonder Woman stories from “All Star Comics?”
Azzarello: No. Well, the early days? No. We’ve gone back to the early days of mythology, though. That’s where we are getting our edge. We’re not just making Wonder Woman cool. We’re making her world cool.
Chiang: That’s a good distinction. The characters are really great, but at the same time, over the years, people have built these restrictions about the kind of stories you get when you read “Wonder Woman.” So we’re taking it in a different direction from that. And I think that’s why people are taking notice.
By introducing Zeus into the Wonder Woman mythos as her father, you’ve potentially heightened the inherent power level of Wonder Woman, let alone the DCU as a whole. Was that one of the reasons for going down this path, to really supersize the level of storytelling with some of the heaviest hitters of all time?
Azzarello: I hope so, yeah. And I don’t know what powers they’re going to have yet. [Laughs] Or at the least the powers they have versus what we choose to give them.
Was bringing Zeus into the fold a hard sell to Dan DiDio and Jim Lee?
Azzarello: No, it wasn’t a tough sell at all. It was square one. It was part of the original pitch. It was a reaction to something that they wanted to do with the character. We said, try this instead. It’s way more explosive.
So it came about quite organically.
Azzarello: Greek mythology is something that is unique to the character of Wonder Woman. Let’s play it up. Why shouldn’t it be played up?
The other thing is, now, we’ve given her a family — a big, horrible family — and the story possibilities are endless. The gods act horribly to each other, they act horribly to humans. But at the same time, they’re not entirely unsympathetic, either. They are all coming from a place you understand. That’s kind of the universal quality of mythology, that it’s all about human nature.
The other thing is, Wonder Woman’s never had a Gotham City. Now, her family is going to be her Gotham City.
Can you talk about how you’re going to portray Zeus in the series?
Azzarello: Nope. [Laughs] No, really, I don’t want to give too much away. I think part of the fun for readers is discovering these characters. And we’ve already given [the fact Zeus is Wonder Woman’s father] away already.
It’s like Hera, in this past issue. People knew that she was part of the story since last issue. But this time, we fleshed out her motivations a little bit more. That’s fun, for our readers to discover the characters that way.
They know, in real broad strokes, Hera is very jealous because Zeus has lots of affairs, and Hera goes after, sometimes, the women and the offspring involved in these affairs. That’s broad strokes. You know that about her. But now, we’re going to show you how we’re going to handle it.
Zeus is the granddaddy of them all, literally the father of gods and men. When presenting him in “Wonder Woman,” does that enter your mindset or is he just another character you have to flesh out?
Azzarello: He’s just another character. [Laughs] Of course, it’s invigorating to reinterpret these characters and to portray them in ways that they haven’t been portrayed before. Or at least, they haven’t been portrayed this way in a long, long time. If you read any Greek mythology, you’ll see that these guys are prone to falling to the most basic levels of human reaction and emotion. But also, they’re the highest. They’re us, cranked to 11, on both sides.
Like you said, they’re the original concept for everything we do with superheroes.
How about when you’re scripting Zeus? Is there an actor or previous portrayal you try to channel to get in your Zeus zone?
Azzarello: I don’t know how I’m doing it, but I’m doing it. It’s weird when I’m re-reading this stuff for corrections, I’m like: “Did I write that?” We’re establishing this cadence and this way we want these people speak and we’re just going with it.
It’s fun. And it really makes it interesting for me.
Chiang: Actually, a lot of the characters, including the Amazons, have a particular way of speaking. It’s almost Shakespearean. It’s really densely packed stuff. It feels different from normal speech and definitely different from what Brian usually writes.
It’s early days, and I know right now you’re just trying to integrate Zeus and some of the other gods into Wonder Woman’s world, but are we going to see you unleash the Greek gods on the greater DCU at some point?
Azzarello: Aw, man. I’m not even thinking about that. No crossovers, buddy. [Laughs] If they get picked up down the line, they get picked up down the line. And if they do, that means Cliff and I did a really great job with these guys, to make them compelling enough to make other people want to use them.
Do you think readers will get a better understanding of Wonder Woman and how she has been presented the last 70 years by truly immersing her in Greek mythology?
Azzarello: I’m not interested in giving anybody a better understanding of Wonder Woman, coming from a past perspective at all. We’re all about telling a good story — right now. Hopefully, long-term Wonder Woman fans will enjoy the ride as much as the new fans it appears we have brought to the book.
We just did New York Comic Con and I’ve never heard so many people say, “This is the first time I’ve ever tried Wonder Woman.” People just buy Superman or Batman because that’s what they buy. With Wonder Woman it was like, “This is something new and I want to try it.”
Cliff, you’re not only getting to draw a character that many believe to be the perfect specimen of the female figure but you also get to draw classic gods whose stories have been told for literally thousands of years. Is that a heavy load or is it license to go gangbusters and pull out all the stops?
Chiang: You know, it’s part of the freedom that came from the relaunch. It allows you to try new things. And come on, getting to draw Wonder Woman is great. But also, to be able to really define what this character is, for ourselves and for our story, has been really great. Extending that to the cast, with the gods, is a lot of fun too — just going modern with them. Or going weird. Design has been a huge part of the personality of the book.
Azz, you’ve said you haven’t gone back to read or re-read much of the Wonder Woman catalogue from the past 70 years, but now that you have been writing the character for some time, what have you learned about Wonder Woman that you maybe didn’t know before that surprised you?
Azzarello: I didn’t know she was capable of telling jokes. And she is. She has a good sense of humor. It’s dry, very dry. It’s good.
Cliff, what about drawing her?
Chiang: I didn’t realize I was going to draw her hair that big. And it keeps getting bigger. It’s like Batman’s cape.
But it’s been fun to draw Wonder Woman, as well as the Amazons, and to show different body types and different ideas of femininity. It’s been really cool.
Since the Linda Carter TV series, Warner Bros. has had an impossible time getting a Wonder Woman TV show or movie off the ground. Jump in the director’s seat: who would you cast as your interpretation of Wonder Woman? Do you picture anyone in your mind when you’re writing Wonder Woman?
Azzarello: My mom. My mom is my Wonder Woman.
Cliff, what about when you’re drawing her?
Chiang: That’s really hard to answer because everyone’s got such different ideas of what Wonder Woman is. When you’re drawing her and trying to get that universal quality, it’s pretty tough. I don’t really have an actress in mind when I am drawing her, because like Brian, I’m just trying to get into her character and draw her in a way that makes you feel like she is the most incredible in the world.
“Wonder Woman” #3, by Brian Azzarello and featuring the art of Cliff Chiang, hits stores November 16.