Speaking with writer Brian Azzarello about his and artist Cliff Chiang’s new take on Wonder Woman — and the first issue, which hits stands today — is kind of like chatting with a man about to tell his girlfriend’s parents that they’ve eloped; he’s confident in his decision, but can’t say for certain what response he’ll get. In fact, the only thing that’s clear for the moment is that nobody’s sure if he can possibly live up to the task before him. After all, this isn’t just any girl he’s committing too — it’s the world’s number one female super heroine, a beloved icon who, for all her popularity, has gone through no less than three narrative upheavals in the past five years, and just saw a television pilot sink like a stone, to say nothing of DC Comics’ back-and-forth-ing regarding her attire (pants vs no pants?). Clearly, something new is needed in order for the Amazing Amazon to regain her dignity and fly again. But is it Azzarello?
At the recent Fan Expo in Toronto, the writer spoke with CBR News about this question, revealing some insecurities as well as a curious ambivalence to much of what has come before. Azzarello gave short answers, he gave long answers, he even played around with Dan DiDio. Through it all, he kept his cards close, and in times like these, who can blame him?
CBR News: How did you get the Wonder Woman gig? It sounds like the revamp was planned far in advance, though it isn’t clear if you were attached to it from the start.
Brian Azzarello: I think I was attached to Wonder Woman before the revamp, actually. I’m still not sure whether I was supposed to write Wonder Woman or not, meaning — I was having dinner with Dan DiDio and he was talking about some of the things they were working on developing. “So this is what we’re going to do with Wonder Woman.” And I said, “‘Ugh!'” I didn’t like what they were going to do. So, “You know what you should do?” I said. “You should do this, this, this, this and this.”
Around when was this?
Probably a year ago, maybe a little bit more.
So they had other plans in mind.
They had other plans in mind with what they wanted to do with the character. I didn’t like their plans. Now, I’m not sure if he deliberately told me an idea I would disagree with to get me to do Wonder Woman, or if they were really going to do that, but…
What was it about the idea DiDio presented that so repulsed you?
Oh, I don’t want to talk about that idea. I didn’t like it. I didn’t like it at all. I came up with some story beats. “This with her and this with her and this with her” — and by the end of dinner, I’m writing “Wonder Woman.”
And the date was set at that point?
You mean as far as September goes?
No, no, no — nothing like that. Dan was like, “This is a good idea for a story. Brian, if we can work it out schedule-wise.”
Is Wonder Woman a character you’d been interested in for a long time? Was there a run of the book that you really liked? Ever?
[Shakes head] No.
Never. I liked the early stuff. I liked the Marston stuff a lot. Yeah, I liked that stuff. I think that stuff’s fun.
I know Wonder Woman fans are really curious to know how much of the George Perez origin will still apply once the new #1 hits stands. Is it non-applicable in this case, or did you take bits and pieces?
I don’t know. I haven’t read it.
[Laughs] Her origin’s intact, okay? This is a real soft reboot.
Her origin’s intact, so…
It’s intact. Listen, her origin’s intact. [Laughs] I’m not doing anything with her origin in issue one. Maybe later.
It seems like the gods are going to be much more adversarial in your series, or at least Hera will be in this case.
I think the gods are going to be much more fearsome. You’re not going to see a white toga anywhere near this book.
You were saying a moment ago, before the interview, that you don’t want the gods to sound the way they’ve sounded for the last couple of years. You really want them to have a different voice.
Yeah. I think that they should, so that they don’t become cliches where everybody knows what they’re going to do, how they’re going to respond, all that kind of stuff, before they even read the book. I think that’s a real problem with some of these things. Wonder Woman’s a myth, just like the gods, and I put her in the same boat as Superman or Batman. It’s more of a modern myth. These things have to be revitalized. New stories have to be told, made up around these icons. You just have to keep the core. Hercules remains relevant because, what is Hercules? He’s a strong man who made terrible mistakes. There’s tons of stories you can tell around that kind of myth. Nobody screamed bloody murder when people were making up different stories continuity-wise back then, like now. We’ll be fine! We’ll be fine.
Will Wonder Woman’s traditional supporting cast — Etta Candy, Steve Trevor, Hippolyta — be involved in yours and Cliff’s take on the character?
Her mother’s in the book.
Has she met Steve?
At this point, Dan DiDio approaches, grinning at Azzarello.
Azzarello:[To DiDio] I’m going to say something really bad about Wonder Woman right now!
DiDio: Wait, wait — I want to get a picture! I want to memorialize the moment!
Azzarello:[to CBR] Steve Trevor will be in the book later on.
DiDio: Thank you! It’s been a pleasure Mr. Azzarello! Big fan of your work!
Azzarello:Thanks Mr. DiDio!
DiDio: Thank you!
Azzarello: Thanks for signing my checks, sir! [Laughs]
What kind of personality is your Hera going to have?
I’m not going to tell you anything about that kind of thing. That’s very specific. That’s the kind of stuff I want you to read the damn book [to find out].
Do you want to talk pants?
I want to talk no pants. I prefer my women with no pants, so [Wonder Woman] has no pants. [Laughs]
Was there any kind of scramble behind-the-scenes after the pants were shown because it seemed like…
Listen, I have no idea. I’m not concerned about the way she’s dressed at all. It’s all about the story with me, you know? The costume redesign, again, I had nothing to do with that and it really doesn’t matter. I’m much more concerned with what goes on behind her eyes than what goes on, what goes on her thighs. That’s nice! [Laughs]
Did you read the “Odyssey” storyline that’s been running in “Wonder Woman” over the past year?
No. I really — I can’t say that I don’t like it or like it or anything like that. When I’m going to do one of these characters, I pretty much divorce myself from reading anything about them.
You want to bring something unique.
Yeah, and hopefully the editors that are working on the book will say, “You know, this is a lot like something else that somebody did,” but I don’t want to get into the nuts and bolts continuity with things. I don’t think it does service to the book itself.
What do you like about this new version of Wonder Woman you’ve created — what’s in her that’s interesting to you?
There’s conflict. She’s not perfect, and she knows it.
Did you approach the project with any sense of trepidation? Because it is Wonder Woman. People are going to talk about it. People are going to scrutinize it.
No, no, no, no, no. Both Cliff and I approached this thing, balls-out. That’s the only way we could do something that we think is meaningful. We’re not half-assing this.
It seems you and Cliff are getting a lot of freedom with the relaunch. Wonder Woman is refreshed every couple of years, so I can’t help but wonder if, behind-the-scenes there’s a sense of concern over the fact that she doesn’t sell as well as she should. Then they get to you and say, “Do whatever you want, but make it a hit!”
No, that’s not what happened. What happened was, “Wow — that’s a hell of a take and that sounds new, and we’ll get behind that 100%.” That’s what happened. It wasn’t like, “This thing’s broken. Fix it, and if you don’t fix it, leave it at the side of the road.”
You’ve used the word horror to describe the mood of the book.
My approach to the book, yeah.
What elements should we be expecting, because playing the horror card brings to mind a lot of gore.
There will be some gore.
Lots of shocking surprises?
There will be some shocks, there will be some thrills. Hopefully there’s an element of fear. There’s a very clear sense that what’s happening to these characters actually means something. Some of them are in real danger, and why are they in danger? Because they’re up against something that is much more powerful and immoral than they are. I always shy away from the word “evil,” but let’s just say there’s some big evils in this book.
Will Wonder Woman have one main villain as the focus, or will it be more like various forces coming at her or internal conflict? What’s going to be the driving force behind the stories?
I’m not going to tell you. [Laughs]
Can you say anything about the new characters that you’ve brought in, supporting cast or otherwise?
I think you’ll find them interesting! [Laughs] I think her supporting cast is going to be really different from what you’ve gotten in the past.
But how can you know that if you haven’t read all these other runs?
I don’t have to read ’em all. You read stuff. Have I read some of the George Perez stuff? Sure. Some of the Gail [Simone] stuff? Yeah. Some of the JMS stuff? Yeah. But have I read an extended run on this stuff? No. I’m familiar with the character.
Do you have an end-game in mind?
We are telling a very epic story, so, yes.
If at some point during your run DC Comics says, “You have six more issues left,” do you know where you would want to leave the character off?
If that happens?
Yeah, because sometimes a publisher brings in writers for two or three years and then they change their minds. Do you have a place where you want to leave her if that were to happen?
Two or three years? Oh God — don’t, don’t — give me a year right now, okay? Let’s not go that far.
Well, being optimistic…
Maybe we’ll go further. We definitely have — we’re good. We’re good.
Jill [Thompson, your wife] worked on Wonder Woman in the early ’90s, and I know she wants to do a graphic novel with the character. Do you two compare notes? Has she influenced your run at all?
Yes, she has influenced my run and I’ve talked to her. I’ve bounced a lot of ideas off of her. We do that regularly, anyway, but is her take on the character similar to mine? No. They’re two different takes, but both viable. Yeah.
Will your run include the invisible jet?
I don’t know — do you think that fits with her?
No, I don’t.
Well, then why should I use it? [Laughs]
Can Wonder Woman fly?
Can she fly? No — but maybe she can. I’ve really been avoiding that. She is able to hover. Maybe I’m just using her ability to fly judiciously. She’s using her ability to fly judiciously! I’ve been really trying to take some of the powers that she has that I think are redundancies in other characters, and claim them back. There are things about that character that make her unique from other characters that need to be pushed to the forefront. I think a lot of what makes her unique is like I said, it’s behind her eyes. That’s what she needs. So when I fail [Laughs] it’ll be spectacular.
Do you feel like that’s likely?
No. Am I going to please everybody? Listen, I feel great when 50% of the people like what I’m going and 50% of the people hate what I’m doing. Then I know I’m doing something right. When everybody likes what I’m doing, I’m doing something wrong.
Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s “Wonder Woman” #1 hits stands Wednesday, September 21