As much as I can’t believe it, 2021 marks the ten year anniversary of the DC Comics publishing initiative known as The New 52. For a variety of reasons, DC made a clean break from the previous continuity by blowing it up and starting it all over from scratch — except when they didn’t. Over the course of a year, I’m going to go back and re-read every single debut issue from The New 52 line-up to see how much it changes things from the way they were before, how much of this new status quo stuck around and just how well the comic holds up ten years later.
What a lot of people forget about Wonder Woman is that out of DC’s highest profile characters, she was probably in the worst place prior to Flashpoint and was most in need of a fresh start. Batman had Batman Incorporated which breathed new life into the line; The Flash was starred a recently resurrected Barry Allen and featured breathtaking art by Francis Manapul; Green Lantern was in the middle of its eight year run under the supervision of Geoff Johns and Aquaman had just come back to life in Brightest Day and had a renewed sense of purpose heading into the relaunch. Wonder Woman and Superman had J. Michael Stracyzinski.
JMS came onto Superman and Wonder Woman with a lot of fanfare and big ideas. Superman began a storyline titled “Grounded” which saw the Man of Tomorrow walking across America while Wonder Woman began a storyline called “Odyssey” which completely rebooted Diana to a point that no-one knew who she was and she no longer had a place in the DC Universe. Then, Straczynski left both titles in the wind and bailed. Superman was kind of okay because Chris Roberson came in to finish off “Grounded” and Superman also has another ongoing series that JMS didn’t get his hands on. Phil Hester came on to finish “Odyssey” in Wonder Woman and did the best he could, but prior to Flashpoint, Wonder Woman was desperately in need of a reset button.
Looking back, Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s run on Wonder Woman ended up being quite divisive but just judging by this issue, it is exactly what the character and the franchise needed in 2011. As a debut issue, it walks the line incredibly well between introducing a completely new take on Wonder Woman while making the character feel like she’s existed in this version of the DC Universe for the past five years. Wonder Woman #1 is a story that starts in medias res and the reader is expected to catch up; we don’t need to know everything about everyone all at once, Azzarello and Chiang trust us to get the gist.
The heart of Wonder Woman is Zola, the smalltown girl who is thrust into Wonder Woman’s world when she learns she is pregnant with Zeus’ child. It’s a great 21st century take on a classic Greek story and Zola serves as a great window into Diana’s world. We don’t need to know everything what’s going on or even understand who everyone is and what they’re relationship is with Wonder Woman because Zola is our viewpoint character and we only need to know what she knows as the story progresses.
When we meet Diana in this issue, she’s fully formed and incredibly self-assured in herself and her role in man’s world. We don’t need another take on Steve Trevor landing on Paradise Island and Diana’s first voyage outside of Themyscira, we need to see Wonder Woman kicking ass and taking names. Chiang’s depiction of Wonder Woman is one of my favourites as she just carries herself in such a powerful way; she’s a woman of few words but her body language says everything. There was some debate around her costume prior to The New 52 as she was originally going to have trousers as she did in the JMS run but DC went back to more classic shorts and I think Chiang’s final design is one of Diana’s strongest.
The big reinvention in Wonder Woman #1 isn’t so much Diana herself but the world she inhabits. Wonder Woman has always had a contentious history with the Greek pantheon but Azzarello and Chiang reinvent those gods for the 21st century in some really interesting ways. We only get to meet two of them in Wonder Woman #1, but what we see is a great sign of things to come. Traditionally, DC’s take on the Greek pantheon have depicted as universally white, with blonde hair and blue eyes; a very 20th century idea on what gods look like. The New 52’s Olympians aren’t even limited by traditional human form which opens the door to some spectacular designs.
Apollo is introduced to us as a living embodiment of the sun, with a design similar to Marvel’s Sunspot of the New Mutants; almost like a walking void. Hermes, meanwhile, is more avian than he’s ever looked in any interpretation that I’ve seen before. His pallid grey/blue complexion, deep black eyes and talons for feet mark him as alien against the smalltown Americana. Chiang’s designs are immediately striking and the absolute highlight of this entire run and regardless of what you think of where the story goes from here, you can’t deny it’s possibly the best Wonder Woman has ever looked.
As it progresses, Azzarello and Chiang’s Wonder Woman is going to introduce some changes and make some decisions that proved to be extremely unpopular with traditional Wonder Woman fans and a large chunk of it ended up being retconned away as part of DC Rebirth. However, this specific comic is exactly the kind of debut issue that The New 52 needed more of as part of The New 52. It’s a strong, dynamic introduction to a character that feels instantly familiar while being remarkably new. Regardless of what came later, Wonder Woman #1 is a standout issue from The New 52’s inaugural month and ten years later remains a great example of how to kick off a series featuring one of the most famous characters in the world.