I was about to say "Holy battle sequences, Batman!" in reference to this issue, but who needs to bring up the Bat when Wonder Woman is around and rocking it in a most serious way? So, "Holy battle sequences, Wonder Woman!" it is; War's influence on Diana is cemented in a most spectacular way.
First Born is a formidable foe, and it's no accident that he's posed not just as an adversary for Wonder Woman, but also as a diametric opposite (and self-selected heir apparent) for War. At odds with War, he's a force of youth, inexperienced drive, and unrelenting bloodlust; things that the older god has tamed and refined. Against Wonder Woman, he's more of a mirror, albeit one that doesn't completely hold up. Whereas First Born's "family" of monsters is raring to battle at the start, it's Wonder Woman who stands with Hera and Zola at the end (bringing things beautifully full-circle from First Born's opening line).
War himself is phenomenal, and operating in appropriately god-like form despite his noted, visible age. Calling upon his army in a moment that rivals the most epic of cinematic battles (largely thanks to Cliff Chiang's stunning and varied pencils), he emerges as a truly commanding force, living up to his name in every regard. To the very end, he is an exemplary warrior, and it's a real treat to see him battle alongside Wonder Woman and nurture her inner brute.
Solicits being what they are, I was skeptical about the line, If Diana is truly War’s greatest student, then now is the time to prove it! but, my goodness, this issue delivers. The gutting climax (pun intended) is pitch-perfect on so many levels, not the least of which is Diana's instinct that War would endorse her decisive action. This is a story of legacies, and of torch-passing, even if the shifts that we expect at the beginning of the issue aren't quite the ones we leave with.
I have little to criticize about this issue; perhaps the only remark to make in this section is that War shines so abundantly that, for a few moments, Wonder Woman feels almost secondary in her own title. Given the circumstances, I'm not even mad about it.
#23 is a positively incredible issue of WONDER WOMAN; if not one of the best issues of all-time, it's certainly a stand-out in an already powerful New 52 run. Azzarello and Chiang have brought their A-game, and there's no turning back. By the numbers, it's a fantastically-executed superhero comic -- action, heroics, character evolution, emotional pull, a gripping climax, an ending that begs for more -- but beyond anything a formula alone can deliver, there's truly masterful storytelling at play.