Cliff Chiang's cover for "Wonder Woman" No. 35, the last of his and writer Brian Azzarello's run, shows a forward-looking Diana leading Amazons, Olympians and Zola (in Wonder Woman tank top). (DC Entertainment)Link
Aaron Lopresti's variant cover for "Wonder Woman" No. 35. (DC Entertainment)Link
Poseidon addresses Wonder Woman and Hermes in Olympus on Page 1 of "Wonder Woman" No. 35, written by Brian Azzarello, with art by Cliff Chiang and colors by Matthew Wilson. (DC Entertainment)Link
Zola protects her son by Zeus, Zeke, on Page 2 of "Wonder Woman" No. 35. (Cliff Chiang / DC Entertainment)Link
A changed Zola attacks Poseidon on Page 3 of "Wonder Woman" No. 35. (Cliff Chiang / DC Entertainment)Link
The First Born arrives on Page 4 of "Wonder Woman" No. 35. (Cliff Chiang / DC Entertainment)Link
Wonder Woman battles the Minotaur on Page 5 of "Wonder Woman" No. 35. (Cliff Chiang / DC Entertainment)Link
Wonder Woman is an epic character, and writer Brian Azzarello and artist Cliff Chiang promise a suitably epic ending to the saga they’ve created during the last three years.
The duo, who have guided the superheroine’s solo adventures since DC’s New 52 reality reset in fall 2011, have memorably taken Diana of Themyscira’s classic origin as a girl made from clay and remolded it to make her the biological daughter of Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, and Zeus (born of a love affair, not one of the Greek god’s tricky trysts).
Tying Wonder Woman into the Greek pantheon — eventually replacing the felled Ares as god of war — has given her an extended family with whom every reunion is rife with conflict.
In the final issue of Azzarello and Chiang’s acclaimed run (which also featured art by Tony Akins and Goran Sudzuka), out Wednesday, Wonder Woman faces off against the genocidal First Born of Zeus and Hera, with the fate of Olympus; her youngest half brother, Zeke; his human mother, Zola; and life on Earth in the balance.
In a recent phone interview, Azzarello and Chiang looked back over their run and discussed their hopes for the finale and how their Wonder Woman epic might be remembered.
Hero Complex: This series started with 23-year-old Diana learning she’d been lied to about how she was born, and since then readers have seen her learning how to lead through failing and misunderstanding certain situations. What did you want to do with showing the school-of-hard-knocks education of Wonder Woman?
Brian Azzarello: That’s not something set out to do, actually. She made mistakes. We made her fallible. She learned from her mistakes, which was good. It was her character arc, really.
Cliff Chiang: I don’t know if we specifically set out to do any of that. It was sort of like the story grew. What we wanted to do from the beginning – Brian was pretty specific about it – was we wanted to give her a family and then that makes problems of its own, and to see how she would react to that. I think in a way she’s surprised us in how true she’s stayed to her character throughout.
HC: What were your guiding principles in writing and drawing the character of Diana during the last three years?
BA: No cheesecake, pretty much. That’s about our only guiding principle: No cheesecake. She’s strong, she’s confident, she’s the brightest light in the room. And she’s been that way. That’s the way we’ve handled her, I think.
HC: She recently told the First Born that “Wonder Woman,” “Queen of the Amazons” and “God of War” are descriptions, not names, and that she is Diana. What was the storytelling appeal to you of developing her concept of herself?
BA: What we set out to do was to make her unique from most other characters. I think a lot of superheroes seem to have the same value system, they just have a different costume. They’re all doing exactly the same thing. We really wanted her to be unique, to make her stand on her own.
HC: Cliff, during the series you’ve drawn some very nuanced depictions of friends’ reactions and also some startling moments of real horror. Can you talk about balancing those in your art style?
CC: You want, whenever you’re telling a story, to have a certain amount of range, and you want to be able to take the audience on that ride with you. Getting the scripts and reading them, it was always this challenge of, “How do we tell this story? How do we bring out the best of it?” Sometimes it would be, for the epic action, a lot of really rough fighting, and other times it’d be kind of quieter moments, a quieter, emotional beat that needed a different kind of storytelling…. I feel like I’ve grown a lot in the process.
HC: Diana had spared the First Born and Minotaur in earlier stories and it came back to haunt her. And in that earlier fight with the First Born, she took off the cuffs that suppress her divine power – and subdued him. Can you talk about the tension of whether she could take off the cuffs again and still be true to herself?
BA: It’s [our] last issue. Do you think she’s going to leave those cuffs on? That’s like when you put a gun in a scene, somebody had better use the gun. You’re going to have to read the issue to find out. I think you’ll be pleasantly, pleasantly surprised with how she handles things.
HC: After Hades, the First Born is second god to try to make her his bride. Back in the wedding issues with Hades, she memorably said, “I love everyone,” and, well, the First Born pretty much hates everybody. What does he see in her?
BA: He’s the antithesis of her. He’s her opposite. When we were conceiving this character, we were like, “We need something that can go up against her.” I don’t think she’s really had a really great, epic villain. Doctor Psycho has really nothing to do with her. Or Cheetah. “Why is Cheetah her villain?” “Oh, well, Cheetah’s a woman too.” That’s not a good reason. We needed somebody who was at least physically, morally [her equal] and could go to toe-to-toe with her – well, not morally; anti-morally, I guess is the word. Just somebody epic. She’s epic. She needed an epic villain. So we gave her a brother. [Laughs]
CC: One of the funny things about Wonder Woman is that everybody does love her. She does win everybody over at some point. She’s won over the First Born to the point where he wants to kill everybody else in the world except for her. He wants her to be with him. In a weird way, she’s even affected him.
CC: We’ve been playing it by ear. We started off with this giant mountain man, basically, and then slowly packed away his hair, and then gave him a costume that we then destroyed as well. Visually, he represents exactly what he is inside: He’s this charred husk of a person. There’s really no heart to him. It’s been fun to uncover that as we’ve been going through each issue trying to find what’s the next visual stage of the First Born.
HC: Diana had a big rebound last issue after her conversation with a vision of Ares. How did you see that as progressing her character?
BA: Her vision with Ares – he asked her to come with him. He asked her to die, and to stop fighting. She couldn’t do it. He held his hand out, and she couldn’t take his hand. She had to keep fighting.
HC: Cliff, that battle last issue. Can you discuss designing those mechanical elephants?
CC: All we knew is that we wanted Hephaestus to [have a plan] for trying to defend Paradise Island that was going to come with these giant mechanical tanks of some sort. Brian and I talked about it and thought about, well, what if they looked like animals and had this steam-punk vibe that [Hephaestus] always gives off. We settled on elephants. There’s something kind of mythic, there’s something historical about it too, with Hannibal. They were just the right animals. They were the right size. What put it over the top were the Gatling gun tusks.
HC: Speaking of Paradise Island – of all the major changes that you two have made over the last three years, I wondered if you’d go back a few issues and talk about Wonder Woman’s decision to integrate Paradise Island [with men] – and why that felt true.
BA: Because integration leads to conflict, and conflict leads to story. There is no story in Paradise.
HC: Cliff, would you discuss your design for the cover of 35, with a number of her former foes behind her and Zola in that Wonder Woman tank top?
CC: We were kicking around a bunch of ideas for the last cover. It seemed like it would be hard to just show a moment from the last issue. What we needed to do was say goodbye. Brian and I wanted to say goodbye to the readers and the characters. We settled on the idea of Wonder Woman and the rest of the female cast, that there was a point that we wanted to see all of them and celebrate the story that we told and each other. All of them are basically wearing Wonder Woman’s colors. They’re all wearing red and gold. They’re all different versions of her. It’s kind of like an “I am Spartacus” moment as well. They’re all Wonder Woman. And to then say goodbye but also look to the future. She’s not looking away. It’s not a sad moment. It’s accepting. It’s embracing change and what’s to come.
HC: I wanted to ask about two members of the female cast. First, choosing Zola – having a character like her as the human amid all this divine madness. What was the appeal of that kind of character from that background in this story?
BA: We needed a human in the middle of all this divine madness. [Laughs] She’s the gateway – just in a way I thought people could relate to, you know. She spouts of all this crazy … and how she would deal with it. She pretty much kept her head through the whole thing.
CC: Visually, she needed to be very different from Wonder Woman as well. She’s short, she’s blond…. Overall, she doesn’t look like any of the other characters. Zola’s really human and casual and relatable. Whenever she shows up, it’s always great — she’s a bright spot. She and Strife, I think, were some of my favorites to draw.
HC: And Hera, who went from being the initial major villain in this series to a member of Wonder Woman’s inner circle and friends with the mother whose baby she was trying to slaughter. Could you talk about developing that character arc?
BA: Well, it went exactly the way we planned…. Once she lost her powers and became human, we were able to change her personality. It’s addressed in one of the issues, I forget which one, where she says she thinks about things differently. She feels there’s something missing in her when she doesn’t have the divinity. That was like there’s this god gene that makes gods [jerks].
CC: It’s that power and that immunity – she doesn’t have any fear when she’s a god, so there’s no consequences. And once she becomes human, she automatically begins to wonder about how she’s going to survive and how fleeting everything is. It brings her down to earth.
BA: Her and Zola made a great team.
HC: How do the two of you hope that this three-year run is remembered?
BA: In an omnibus. [Laughs]
CC: In a trilogy of movies. [Laughs]
HC: What do you think you’ve contributed to his 70-plus-year history of Wonder Woman?
BA: Oh, I don’t know what we’ve contributed yet. I think it’s a little too soon to say, and I don’t think that’s for us to say. I thought it was interesting when the producer of the Batman-Superman film when describing Wonder Woman said she was a demigod, the daughter of Zeus. I said, “Well, that stuck.” I guess we contributed that.
CC: I think there are other characters who’ve had really different interpretations over the years. You look at Batman and you’ve got the Bob Kane-Bill Finger Batman, you’ve got the smiley, happy Dick Sprang Batman, then you get to the ’70s hairy-chested Neal Adams Batman and the grim-and-gritty Dark Knight from Frank Miller. So there’s been this real wide range of interpretations for the character. People all have their favorites and they pick what they like, but it’s all Batman. And I hope what we’ve done is expand the idea of what a Wonder Woman story can be….
BA: Yeah, I think we really opened up her world. Hopefully, some other creators are going to take what we’ve done and expand on that themselves.
HC: Any last things you’d like readers to know heading into 35?
BA: It’s been nice to know you. [Laughs]. It’s big. It’s epic. It’s our ending, and we’re both pretty happy with it. We told the story we set out to tell. It was a good run. We’re leaving the party early.
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