Working with artists Cliff Chiang, Tony Akins and more, Azzarello’s “Wonder Woman” has pitted Diana against her divine family, the Greek Gods, over and over as she tries to protect her new demi-god sibling. With New God Orion on Earth to stop a possible related Armageddon, the most recent issue also introduces the New 52 version of New Genesis as well as bad guy First Born, who will be featured in his own Villains Month one-shot in September.
Meanwhile, over at Vertigo, Azzarello has re-teamed with artist Eduardo Risso for “Brother Lono,” an eight-issue miniseries centered on the “100 Bullets” bad guy. Picking up with Lono four years after the conclusion of Azzarello and Risso’s 100-issue crime story, the series finds the former Minuteman now living in Mexico, assisting a local church while a local gang tries to discover the identity of an undercover DEA agent.
Speaking with CBR about this week’s release of “Brother Lono” #1 and “Wonder Woman” #21 Azzarello shed light on the creation of the First Born, the popularity of Lono and the surprising parallels between “Wonder Woman” and “100 Bullets.”
CBR News: In issue #21 of “Wonder Woman,” we finally see Diana, Orion and the First Born all meet. Up to this point ,we’ve been seeing your take on the Greek Gods. For the First Born, was there any myth or Greek god that you were pulling inspiration from?
Brian Azzarello: No. I mean, he’s obviously connected to the gods because he is one, but he’s one that’s been wiped out from history. So he’s much more a character Cliff [Chiang] and I came up with. We really wanted to create a nemesis for Diana, something new.
As a god who’s been wiped out of history, what was the inspiration for him? Is it the idea that the greatest foe Diana could face is someone both familiar and unfamiliar?
Yeah, in some aspects. In other aspects, we thought, “Let’s make a god that all the other gods are afraid of.”
And you have parallels between them fearing the First Born and Zola’s baby, the last-born.
Yeah. Funny how that worked. [Laughs]
Looking at all of Zeus” kids we’ve gotten hints in this latest issue that Lennox isn’t trustworthy and pretty much all of them seemed to have lived fairly horrible lives. Can any of these children of Zeus and/or Hera be trusted? Or is Wonder Woman the best of this bunch of demi-gods?
Well, she better be the best of the bunch — it’s her name on the cover! Trusted? I don’t know. You have a family, right?
Yeah, so can you trust everybody in your family? [Laughs] It’s always the ones you can’t trust that are in your family!
Looking at the end of issue #21, while Orion’s been around for a while we got to see a little of New Genesis. We’ve seen all the Greek Gods and now we’re going to see the New Gods — as the writer defining these groups, what is the big difference between the two pantheons we’re dealing with?
I think it’s going to become clear that one is much more magic-based; I think the Greek Gods are more magically based than the New Gods. The New Gods are going to be more high-tech, technocratic. But with the New Gods, Orion, they’re supporting characters. Wonder Woman is the star of this, let’s not forget that!
Then to talk about Wonder Woman thematically, and this is something that I think also ties into “Brother Lono,” what is interesting is that as a reader it feels like “Wonder Woman” is almost a “Godfather” story. She’s trying to do good, but Diana’s family are like a mafia, or the Trust. Though this is Wonder Woman story, when you sit down to write it, do you feel like your story isn’t too far off from “100 Bullets” or the other pulp crime stories you’ve written?
I guess parallels can be drawn with the gods. I don’t think so with Wonder Woman herself and the backstory we’ve done. But another parallel with “100 Bullets” and “Wonder Woman” is — it’s not going to go 100 issues, but it’s a long story and its something that we had mapped out from the get-go. We’re telling kind of a pretty long story here, but we have an ending, we’re going to get there.
Wonder Woman herself is different from a lot of the characters you’ve written before, both male and female. At this point in the story with the First Born and the New Gods, where do you think Wonder Woman’s head is at?
She’s the emotional and moral center of the book and of the story we’re telling. I think a lot of what happens to her is happening to the reader as well, where we’re experiencing things through her. I think some of the readers’ reactions are based on the way she reacts. Her, and I’d definitely say to some extent Zola, too, because Zola is the human character. You can’t help but that relate to that.
Although Zola’s been roped into the group, the book has been an even bigger journey for Diana since she’s had a whole family tree thrust upon her. Are the gods something that she’s going to start getting firmer control over? Or do you never really come to grips with the machinations of your family?
No, you never do, do you? [Laughter] Family always surprises.
I got to say Brian, your family reunions sound like they must be pretty interesting.
Yeah, well, once a year, huh? [Laughter]
Let’s turn to “Brother Lono,” which starts about four years after “100 Bullets” ended. You’ve said before that this came out of you and Eduardo Risso talking about it and Eduardo wanting to do more with Lono, but for you, as the writer, what interests you in Lono? Why does he have a chance for redemption while so many of the other “100 Bullets” characters didn’t?
Why do you think he has a chance?
Well it seems like he’s tried to turn his life around with the church — though that could be all a lie.
It could be, and I suppose that’s the story, huh? Here’s this guy who’s trying to turn his life around. Can he do it?
Lono is one of the more popular characters to emerge from “100 Bullets.” Why do you think readers glommed onto him, even though he’s one of the, I think, more irredeemable people in that book?
Yes, he is absolutely the most irredeemable character in “100 Bullets,” and that is why readers made him the most popular. Why? Don’t ask me, ask yourself! [Laughs] We could not do anything to get readers to despise him.
Was there a point in the story where you were throwing things in to try to do that?
No — I mean, we were throwing things in, but there were certain points in the story where he was going to have an impact on events, and we thought, “After Lono does this, people will see him for what he is — something despicable.” No, never happened. We couldn’t do anything to make you hate him! So, in that regard, because he was just so terrible and so awful and he was such a beloved character in “100 Bullets,” we decided to turn him into a good guy in his own series so then you can hate him.
[Laughs] If Lono’s starting out as the good guy would you say the bad guys of “Brother Lono” are more brutal or have a bigger agenda than those of the Trust and the Minutemen in the original “100 Bullets?”
I think it’s definitely more brutal, yeah. Our approach to the series is very visceral in what we’re doing. In “100 Bullets,” a lot of the actual violence took place in between panels, you know. You didn’t really see it. You saw the repercussions of it, you saw guns being fired, but very rarely did you see a head explode. Well, you’re going to get that in this book. Eduardo’s really, like I said, visceral, and so am I, as far as the story goes. We did not want to do what we had done before.
In the first issue, we see Lono in Mexico, with the crime element happening in the background. As a writer, you put a lot of effort into getting the details, the slang and language right, so what type of research did you do for “Brother Lono?”
Well, I wasn’t going to write it in Spanish — it would be too hard to read, so most of my research just came from the location. With the language, really I’m using gang slang and stuff. They’re not speaking Mexican Spanish.
Right now, drug cartels and gangs are a huge part of what’s going on in Mexico. Were there specific drawn from the headlines stories or gangs you looked to for inspiration when you were putting this together?
Yes, but I’m not going to incriminate myself by saying what specific gangs or things I looked at! [Laughs] Again, we have the greatest library in history at our disposal right now. Everything’s cataloged. If you look for it, you can find it. That’s pretty much what I did. I spent some time on some not-safe-for-work sites; there’s a lot out there in terms of what people do to each other.
Looking at the miniseries as a whole, you’ve said before this really isn’t a sequel it’s a spinoff. Would you want to do more miniseries like “Brother Lono” where you look at other characters or you at the Trust going through time?
No, I’m not really that interested in doing anything that happens before the story we told. Of course, it’s all there and there’s some really interesting things we could do, but right now we want to move forward.
So much of your work has been in that pulp/crime genre, and there are a lot of comic books and writers who have also tackled that genre in recent years, like Darwyn Cooke’s “Parker” adaptations or Greg Rucka’s work. What do you think it is about the comic book medium that has allowed the crime genre to flourish lately?
Man, I don’t think that it is that big of a genre in comics. It’s there, sure, but there’s not that many books. Unless you go get a superhero book, which I suppose is just cops and robbers with just different uniforms on. But as for actual serial or true crime, there’s not a lot. There’s a handful, really. So the handful has to be something really good. I think then you ask, how do comics flourish? It flourishes just like a book series, like a film or a television series. If it’s good, people will gravitate towards it. As long as you’re telling compelling stories with interesting characters, that’s what people read.
“Brother Lono” #1 and “Wonder Woman” #21 are in stores now.