Eisner Award winner Brian Azzarello says that if you would have told him five years ago that he would be coming off a three-year run on “Wonder Woman” in 2014, he would have laughed in your face. And artist Cliff Chiang admits that until he heard Azzarello’s pitch to land “Wonder Woman,” he was indifferent about the iconic superhero as well.
But with the dawn of The New 52, came “Wonder Woman” by Azzarello and Chiang. The New York Times best-selling series became the critical hit of DC Comics‘ 2011 line-wide relaunch, and will no doubt be considered one of the successes of era when comic book historians look back on the game-changing event years from now.
Azzarello and Chiang, who previously collaborated on DC’s “Doctor 13: Architecture and Morality” in 2006-07, reinvigorated the Amazonian princess by grounding her as Diana first and foremost. Titles like Wonder Woman, God of War and even Queen of the Amazons were just that — titles. By setting their story in a dysfunctional family dynamic of old gods and New Gods, the creative team gave birth to countless stories of tension, tyranny and humor for Diana, now reimagined as the daughter of Queen Hippolyta and Zeus.
As their epic three-year run comes to a close this week with the release of “Wonder Woman” #35, CBR News connected with Azzarello and Chiang to discuss the series’ highlights, including the bombastic boldness of Orion, developing a supervillain that was the complete opposite of Diana and the unexpected model that inspired the character design of Ares.
CBR News: In a 1943 issue of “The American Scholar,” “Wonder Woman” creator William Marston wrote, “Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. Not wanting to be girls, they don’t want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.” Did this original description of Wonder Woman drive/influence your run with the character?
Brian Azzarello: Yeah, we tied her up a few times. [Laughs] Honestly, we were respectful of the original concept, but we weren’t beholden to it. Those stories have been told already. We wanted to tell something new.
Cliff Chiang: Marston was the person to tell Marston stories; we wanted to do ours.
In “Wonder Woman” #33, First Born welcomes Diana to Olympus with the following: “God of War… or perhaps I should call you Queen of the Amazons… or Wonder Woman… Your choice would be?” And your main character responds, “My name is Diana.” How important was it to your run to keep the character grounded as Diana while still maintaining her status as Wonder Woman?
Azzarello: Those changes were obviously all built into the story that we were telling. We knew where she was going to be at the end of the first year, where she was going to be at the end of the second year. We knew all of these points along the road that we were on. And she took on those new roles, both of them, reluctantly. But later, when she became comfortable being God of War, she was still Diana.
Chiang: There is something about her character that she’s always going to go back to. These other roles are merely other people’s expectations of her. She’s going to do what she’s going to do. Keeping Diana grounded was only the way that we could have done it. It kept her approachable for readers, and for us too.
Azzarello: If you would have told me five years ago that I would be coming off a three-year run on “Wonder Woman” in 2014, I would have laughed at you. [Laughs]
Chiang: I was just thinking about that the other day, The time we first talked about it — it was in the studio, in January, and we were just talking about it. We were already working on a Batman project and you said, “What do you think of Wonder Woman?”
And what did you think of Wonder Woman?
Chiang: I didn’t have an answer until Brian told me his pitch. I like the character. I like what she stands for, but at the same time, I didn’t have a perspective of her, and then Brian had a take. He had something that people hadn’t thought about, and a way of approaching her, at least to me, that made her really interesting and creatively challenging. When he told me his pitch, I knew we had to do it. There was such an opportunity of building this world up and giving her a family and the whole host of problems that come with it. It just sounded like a great, timeless story.
I am glad you brought up her family as family and family function and dysfunction truly have driven this story.
Azzarello: Yeah, it really was the key element of this story. That’s what we were trying to do. We were trying to create something that she really hasn’t had. She’s had the Amazons and a pretty tight supporting cast in the past, but we really set out to give her a world that was really unique. We wanted to do something that no one had really touched on before.
You introduced a number of new characters to the mythos, but none stands taller, or more ferocious, than First Born. There is a great line in “Wonder Woman” #33 where Diana declares, “You are everything that I am not… the fire that burns in you consumes, while mine inspires.” What were you trying to create with First Born, and do you think that you delivered the goods?
Chiang: We always thought of First Born as being her opposite. In the past, she’s fought gods and monsters and here’s a guy that was in the same position as she was. He’s a demi-god but you talk about Marston and wanting to create an alternative to a certain type of masculinity, First Born is that masculinity. He’s a monster. He consumes. He hasn’t been shown any love in his life before and this is what happens. And conversely, Wonder Woman was raised with nothing but love and if you put those two against each other, you’re going to get fireworks. That was pretty much the whole point of First Born.
Visually, we started with this hulking man and gave him different types of armor and slowly, we stripped it all away. And we were left with the visual personification of what he is — this giant hulk of a person.
Was he modeled after anyone?
Chiang: His current look? [Laughs] There was a movie poster that Brian told me to look at, “The Abominable Dr. Phibes.” That partially played into it. He really, really just won’t stop. He’s kind of a zombie in a way. You can throw anything at him but his hate is so strong that he can’t be stopped. In the same way that Wonder Woman’s love is so strong that she can’t be stopped. And we’re putting these two opposing forces against each other.
Azzarello: I think originally, I just said, “Think of Conan.”
Chiang: That’s right. And we had to shave him because he looked too much like Vandal Savage.
Azzarello: He’s really been through so many iterations.
Unlike traditional crossovers and tie-ins, your run on “Wonder Woman” has been completely contained. How important was that brand of storytelling to your run’s success?
Azzarello: Of course it helped. Some of these crossovers that were going on, we didn’t have to pay attention to, but at the same time, when they were doing the September event months, we did them. “Wonder Woman” #0 was supposed to be an origin, and at first, we were really reticent to do it. It was like, “No, we’re not going to do this because we’re telling our story.” And DC was pretty cool with that. They were, “That’s cool. You’re sticking with your outline. That’s fine. You don’t have to do this.” But then we talked about it and it was like, “Why don’t we do it as a fill-in issue? And we can make it real Silver Age-y.” And once we had a hook on how we wanted to do it, then we had to do it.
And the stuff told in the Villains’ Month issue was going to be parceled out in different issues of the regular title. But with the Villains’ Month issue, we could throw it all in at once. We were able to tap into the September event months and not miss a beat with our regular story.
Your one true bit of, let’s call it stunt casting — the New God Orion — was brilliant. Why did Orion work so well for what you were trying to accomplish, and how did you manage to minimize the New God-liness as to not have it take over the series?
Azzarello: I disagree that it was stunt casting, because we were going to bring Orion in at the end of the first year before we even started. That was part of the pitch.
Chiang: Yep. Old gods and new gods.
Azzarello: It was our chance to change this character a little bit and make him unique. I don’t think there is anyone in the DCU that has the attitude of Orion. He’s such a prick. He says stuff that just pisses people off. It’s cool to have a hero that pisses people off. [Laughs]
Chiang: Just when you think that he is going to turn a corner, he still says the wrong thing. [Laughs] He always has to push things a little bit too far, which makes him a great character to write and draw.
This is probably politically incorrect, but I laughed out loud every time that he called Wonder Woman “Legs.” [Laughs] I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you about one of my favorite runs with a character in recent memory, and that’s Ares. What made him an ideal mentor to Little One? And Cliff, I have to ask, did Azz tell you that he was Ares, so model the character after him?
Chiang: [Laughs] He was actually supposed to be modeled after John Hurt. But as we did with all of the designs, it started off with a phone call to talk about the character and see what we wanted to bring out personality-wise in the visual. Trying to find a hook for them. When Brian described him, he said that he was looking for a tired, old guy. And then I wanted to poke the bear a little bit, so I said, “Like you, right?” [Laughs]
I sent him a sketch where I gave him Brian’s beard and holes for eyes. I thought, “I don’t know what he’s going to say when he sees this.” But I sent it to him and I got a text message right back from him that said, “Cool.”
Is there one that you really miss writing and drawing in “Wonder Woman”?
Azzarello: I guess I’ll miss them all — some more than others, I suppose. Doing Strife was a blast. Whenever she showed up, it was always fun.
Chiang: But at the same time, you couldn’t do a Strife monthly. I would burn you out. I’ll miss all of the characters, together. The way they played off each other was really great so you kind need all of them.
Azzarello: That’s what a family is. [Laughs]
Cliff, you talked about your design for Azz [Laughs], sorry, I mean Ares, and your design for First Born, but what about drawing Wonder Woman these past three years? Do you think you figured her out? I remember when we talked at the start of your run, you were still figuring her out.
Chiang: Even ’til the end, I was never really sure if I had gotten her right. And that’s okay. That’s part of the appeal of the character, in some way. She’s a bit of a moving target. There was a couple of times where I was like, “That’s a good shot.” Overall, you’re always trying to adjust to do what’s right for the story. It was a great challenge, and it comes with responsibility too, when you draw a character like Wonder Woman. When you draw a book that says “Wonder Woman” on it, you have a responsibility to show her in a certain light.
For those who haven’t yet read it, what can readers expect from the big finale?
Azzarello: They can expect us to leave when we’re done with it. [Laughs] They can the unexpected. And some tears.
Chiang: And Wonder Woman is in it. Honestly, I think they can expect an emotional, heart felt ending.
Azzarello: It’s a satisfying finish. We left it all on the page.
“Wonder Woman” #5, by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang, is on sale now.
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