A Hell of a Good Read
Wonder Woman Volume 1 left a lot of plot ribbons hanging in the air, with little being clear as to how this series might progress and if the readers would be left in the dark. Luckily, this book sheds some light (hellfire, if you will) on the story as a whole, to great affect, making this novel much more effective and enjoyable.
To start, the characters feel a bit stronger in this one. Hermes is, more or less, shown to have an actual reason to hang around, although it's still somewhat unclear. Lennox, still a supposed illegitimate son of Zeus (he is not from Greek mythology though...), continues to have a strong personality, but not much to do. However, seeing how these books are reading, I'm sure he's meant to have a stronger role later on (as is proven here by others). Various gods, both ones that we've seen (Apollo, Hades) and newcomers (such as Hephaestus) contribute to this story arch. As usual, character designs are hit-and-miss, although I did enjoy a larger majority of them this time around. Yet, now that we've gotten a feel for the series, it's much clearer as to what Azzarello is trying to do. He really aims to captures the innate nature of these gods with their characters, which can at times make them feel flat and one-sided, but makes much more sense in the broader scheme of things, especially in terms of respect for the source material. The random cameos from certain figures are more fitting under this mindset, and it shows that this isn't all about Wonder Woman and her problems; this is about Olympus and the Greek gods as a whole reacting to the untimely demise of their king. Through this understanding, the book becomes fluent thematically, and thus a more successful read.
The art, again, feels a bit varied. Much of it is good, but, from time to time, there are pages that really make me cringe and wonder if the poor art was intentional to prove a point to the reader. Whether or not it's intentional, some of the art just isn't good here, feeling strained and difficult to look at, which is a shame considering the caliber presented here. Something to note, though, is that there are some really clever design choices, both for characters and places, that made me appreciate the imaginative nature of the story as a whole.
Something that is a big issue, though, is clarification. Azzarello expects that the audience has a deep and fluent understanding of Greek mythology, something that most people don't. So, when Eros is presented as a character, it's not clearly explained that he is the Greek version of Cupid. This is made even less clear by the fact that he carries pistols, not a bow and arrow. This can become confusing for readers, especially when a huge plot point hinges on this understanding. I'm very familiar with Greek mythology, but even I forgot about who Eros was until late in the story, and it made some of the plot make no sense for me until after the fact. It feels like, in his adjusting or recreating these gods for the modern time, Azzarello has forgotten to clue his readers in on who these figures now represent, which is a huge issue in overall comprehension. It doesn't cripple the book for me, but for others, such as my girlfriend (who owns this), it becomes difficult to follow along.
Also, despite how surprising this book can be at times, it is VERY formulaic, particularly the endings on any story arch. Though the journeys we have taken with Wonder Woman have been great, the end result hasn't been terribly pleasing to me, as each time it feels kind of like Azzarello just kind of makes up some bullshit so he can move on. The endings of these two archs in particular are REALLY frustratingly dumb for me on a lot of levels. For such a smart book, it feels like the story could be thought out a lot more clearly at times. Also, there's a clear pattern for how the archs start; almost immediately after the end of one issue, another one immediately sprouts up, leaving us with a half-hearted "to be continued." This is understandable, as it's a solid marketing technique, but it makes me feel a little cheated at the end of the day. There was a nice conclusion for a moment, and you just HAD to take it away, didn't you, Azzarello? Yes, there's the overall arch, and that won't be concluded for a while, but I wish we could take a moment at least to relish the urgency of that rather than making another immediate issue that needs to be solved immediately.
The combat here is a mixed bag in my opinion. There's some really cool fights to watch and relish, while some are just so one-sided you wish they would just move on. I find it really irritating when this happens, as it feels like no progress is being made, and thus my time is being wasted. However, these frequently are brief, and they do generally make sense to the plot (even if the plot itself is flawed at times).
I give this book a begrudging three out of five once again, even though I really don't want to. But the fact of the matter is that the ball is just dropped too often. I want so much more from this series, and I like it in many ways, but the issues keep jumping up in my face and preventing me from enjoying this in its entirety. My girlfriend plans on getting the next one, so we'll see soon enough if Azzarello gets his shit together, or if he leaves us to rot in hell.