Going into its second year, I’m curious to see if Brian Azzarello has a real plan for Wonder Woman. The first had a general direction, Diana protecting a woman and her unborn child from the Greek gods, but started becoming more labored as it drew near the finish. Amazingly, little of it was memorable, and the things that were either were detrimental to the character (issue seven’s revelation of the Amazons as rapists/murderers/slavers) or stuck in there for fanboy watercooler discussion (Orion on the last page of issue twelve). A lot of those issues were filler, at that. Often very good-looking filler, thanks to Cliff Chiang’s pencils, but filler nonetheless.
Wonder Woman #13 continues this trend. Light and breezy on plot, while Tony Akins provides disposable pop art, which has been the series’ specialty. The issue’s best scene (also its most baffling) pits Wonder Woman against Libyan soldiers. In the sequence, she’s wearing a hooded cloak, and then does the whole “bouncing bullets off her bracelets” thing when the soldiers open fire. Akins’ storytelling is very economical: the sudden, jarring shift from the previous page’s suite to a war-torn village; the three-tiered reveal of Wonder Woman’s arrival; the iconic image of the heroine in the cloak itself all happen in quick succession and without heavy emphasis on the layouts. It’s also worth noting that the soldiers’ reaction to “a woman approach[ing]” quickly goes from curiosity to hostility when Wonder Woman flips her cloak behind her shoulders, revealing her in her costume. If there’s a commentary on the Middle East there, it’s rather dumb, but as pop it is undeniably cool.
Considering how rudderless Brian Azzarello’s script is, it wouldn’t be unfathomable to think he thought more of that image than of plot progression. Half the comic is devoted to it. The other half has lengthy exposition, a “girl fight,” and the introduction of a man-eating giant who doesn’t appear again in the comic. Some of it is compelling (Zola so enraged with Hera she spits on the goddess), while others just seem designed as shock moments (the giant biting someone’s head off), but all of it is padded out. While this image-centric thinking has led the comic to having more iconic moments in its first year than most of the New 52 line–the Underworld paved with souls, Poseidon, and the revelation of Wonder Woman as Zeus’ daughter coming to mind–it has lost anything resembling momentum. If anything, Azzarello’s writing tries too hard to ape Matt Fraction. However, where Fraction was able to turn his weaknesses (dialogue by one-liner and shallow plotting) into strengths on Hawkeye, Azzarello can’t stop overcomplicating Wonder Woman’s quest. Like a bad video game, most of it involves fetching something or someone, which is immediately invalidated by the villains. Previously, it was going to Hephaestus for weapons or Poseidon and Hades for protection, now it’s yet another daughter of Zeus (who, of course, immediately tries to kill Wonder Woman).
Probably the best analog is the series’ seventh issue: both occur right after a game-changing abduction, both involve Wonder Woman going to a previously unknown third party for help, and both have wholly unecessary conflicts. The only difference between the two is that, where #7 was controversial, it’s doubtful anyone will remember#13.