A War on Heaven
Since DC’s Villain’s Month in September has meant no issue of Superman Unchained has come out, I thought I’d review another DC book instead. One of the few Villain’ Month issues I have bought since it pertains to my favourite DC series and perhaps my favourite title on my pull list. Azzarello’s Wonder Woman has been nothing short of a consistently exemplary series despite the reservations and criticisms mounted against it. This series provides complex well juggled plots, excellent characterisation and utilising of the supporting cast, intelligent scripting of dialogue and awesome themes on top of the horror filled, mythologically inspired action fantasy we get in here too. I’ve never scored any issue I’ve read of this series below a 7 in my mental scoring of the issues. So you can see why I decided to review this series instead of Unchained this month. Obviously there will be SPOILERS in this review so turn away now if you don’t want to read them.
On an off hand start, Azzarello has said in interviews that this issue was already planned to come out this month before he’d even heard of Villain’s Month and that he just tweaked it a bit to fit the parameters of the event. Here we see Azzarello adjusting to the flexible demands of DC whilst keeping his own distinct story intact. And what a story it is this month. We start with a symmetry between the first issue as Apollo brings the First Born to a random trio of girls he possesses with his oracles. Just as Apollo used some helpless females to find out about the latest son of Zeus, so too does he use the same technique to learn about the First Born son of Zeus. It’s a good reflection on Azzarello’s run and brings things full circle. What’s more, the flashback sequence is something that can come off as a bit bland and clichéd since it’s been done so many times before. But Azzarello keeps things interesting with obviously the content of the story but also by having the Oracles possessing the Los Angeles girls speak in their own voices. This keeps the narrative of the flashback flowing quite well with slang such as multiple uses of the word “like” and mentioning how the gods ignoring the First Born “really p****ed him off” as it keeps the narrative from being too ordinary or dull in any way which can hamper the writing of an issue. The first few pages of the flashback segway into what those who have been reading Wonder Woman for the past 10 issues or so already know about the First Born. He was the first son of Zeus who a witch prophesised would rule Olympus alone, resulting in Zeus sentencing his son to die by the witch’s hand and the witch leaving him in what seems to be an African desert to let nature decide the boy’s fate. The extra addition we see in this expanded sequence is that although nature is filled with predators and death for those not fit to survive, it is also full of family and chances of life. This is well represented by the First Born being saved a female jackal acting on its maternal instinct to protect a young cub.
The First Born being adopted by a Jackal pack is a strong sign of Azzarello borrowing some influence from The Jungle Book and Tarzan, two classic stories of wild men being raised amongst animals. It’s not straight in your face obvious but it’s clearly present in Azzarello’s time looking at the First Born growing up with animals. That’s also a good touch he works into his story. And it’s here we see the genesis of the First Born’s inner anger problems as his manifestation of his loathing of his life and those who’ve caused him suffering throughout his life. As a result, he lashes out at almost every living thing, surrounding himself with dead animals who may pose a threat in the natural world but are lifeless corpses once the First Born is through with them. I say almost every living thing because the First Born seems to have a soft spot for his Jackal army. We do get to see the origins behind that and believe me, Azzarello ramps up the perverse answer for it in keeping with the perversity of Greek mythology. If you’ve read about what Zeus gets up to in animal form, you might see what I’m implying though that does not diminish the fact the First Born’s into bestiality. The result of the Jackal army spurs the twisted nature of the First Born and how even to those he kinda likes, he still screws over.
Azzarello’s trademark quality writing comes into play in a number of pivotal moments in this First Born issue. For instance, during a fight sequence with a dragon, Azzarello peppers the awesome sequence of the First Born fighting the dragon with describing the dragon as “a champion of life” who the First Born “views as an affront” and is used to fuel his own self loathing of every living thing. This makes his fight with the dragon pack even more of a punch. Azzarello’s dialogue helps to spice up the action events of the issue with eloquence in dialogue and giving extra meaning to the story at hand rather than just simply being action for action’s sake. What’s more, after the First Born decides to wage war on heaven, his army is described as “a river of razors” cutting away all who oppose him on his march on Olympus. But perhaps one of the strangest things about this issue is that Azzarello creates a sense of sympathy for the First Born somewhat. See, he didn’t ask to be part of the prophecy to rule Olympus alone yet has had to suffer for it due to Zeus’ arrogance. And as a result, his cruelty, malice and downright evil actions have been a cry of attention from a wayward son to his father and a depraved plea for acceptance. If the First Born weren’t such a sadistic monster who takes far too much joy in his actions, one may almost feel sorry for him. This strong characterisation on what makes the First Born the absolute sadistic evil monster he is really helps the quality of the story.
This is then juxtaposed by the highlight of the issue. Azzarello has built up the First Born’s anger, army and plans yet in one fell swoop over two pages, the gods literally wash the First Born’s plans for war and taking the throne of Olympus away. Most of the issue has built up the First Born’s anger, pride and resources yet without much effort , the gods take it all away from him and Zeus leaves him with a glimmer of a chance to retake the throne if he can escape his imprisonment. Azzarello really makes the gods themselves seem just as villainous as the First Born through their lack of action on the First Born’s crimes and the cruelty of the First Born’s punishment being wiped from the face of existence. This was my favourite part of the issue. However, there are two things which kept me from fully enjoying the issue. Firstly, there’s a big lack of dialogue in this issue. Most of the story is told through the narrative of the Oracles which hampers the personal touch Azzarello could have given this issue as having it told through the First Born’s eyes rather than an outside source looking in on his life. Secondly, this issue felt short in what it delivered. Don’t get me wrong, I really liked what Azzarello provided in this issue. But it felt like a short read and he could have fleshed out some more aspects of the issue to provide a more well rounded read.
Wonder Woman has had a distinct art style since the start of the New 52. Cliff Chiang’s smooth yet graceful pencils have been my favourite followed by Sudzuka’s own take on it. Now Aco brings his style to the table and I must say I am impressed with it being in keeping with what this book has looked like. The bloodier sequences are executed with a noticeable touch that highlights the brutality of what has occurred in this book. As for the scale sequences, Aco manages to render these in decent detail. They don’t blow you away but they are good. And his facial expressions are rather impressive too. This is complemented by the unique colouring Wonder Woman has on its panels that makes the title stand out in art as well as story.
So, in my humble opinion, despite not being asked to write a Villain’s Month issue, Azzarello’s pre planned First Born story proves to be amongst the best of what I’ve read from Villain’s Month so far. It unravels the mystery behind the First Born’s cloudy origins, deepens his character without losing his appeal from earlier in the series and provides foreshadowing for what’s to come at the end of the issue. All in all, this is definitely well worth spending some money on to check out. A definite recommendation from me.