Since the Wonder Woman title relaunched in 2011, Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang have been revamping the heroine's world with a revised origin story, a new batch of supporting characters, and a modern visual approach to those always-meddling Olympian gods.
In this week's Wonder Woman #28, the comic introduced the latest shake-up to Wonder Woman mythology, as Apollo, the god of the sun, apparently sacrificed his own life to stop the villainous First Born from taking over Olympus.
And it's all spiraling toward a war over the control of Olympus, with Wonder Woman heading toward battle, along with most of the main players from the Azzarello/Chiang run so far.
According to Azzarello and Chiang, this summer's battle for Olympus will mark the end of their run on Wonder Woman.
By the time they leave the book, they will have accomplished some significant additions to the character's mythology, including a new "daughter-of-Zeus" origin, a link to Jack Kirby's New Genesis, and the death of Diana's nemesis, the God of War.
With the death of Apollo, the next chapter of Wonder Woman will force her to embrace her own nature as a warrior, and will challenge her ideas about compassion and hope.
Newsarama: OK, point blank, Brian — was the fire at the end of issue #28 Apollo's death?
Brian Azzarello: That was Olympus blowing up.
Nrama: But Apollo made it clear that he was sacrificing himself in order to blow up Olympus, right?
Azzarello: To take out the First Born. I think his intentions are kind of clear, you know? He's not going to let the First Born take over Olympus, so he destroyed it.
Nrama: "Over my dead body."
Nrama: If he sacrificed himself, it seems like there might be a bit of a theme going on, because didn't War pretty much sacrifice himself to stop the First Born as well?
Azzarello: Yeah. Although… did he, or did War put himself in a position where Wonder Woman had to sacrifice him? You know? Was there some manipulation going on in that?
Nrama: So he made the sacrifice, but he was getting what he wanted.
Azzarello: Yeah. But are we dealing with those kind of themes? Yes, we are. We actually have themes in a comic. [Laughs.]
Nrama: Go figure.
Nrama: But, Cliff, these themes that Brian keeps exploring rely heavily on the art. How important are subtle things like body language, and looks between characters, and facial expressions to your visual storytelling in Wonder Woman?
Cliff Chiang: I think it's really important. It's about not overdoing things. It's not being over-the-top. Really, subtlety is what is really important to me and my work.
That's one of the things that we bring as a team to it, is like, working together to try to bring out those smaller moments and make them bigger, and make them meaningful. It's not just, you know, superheroes flying straight at the reader, with a bunch of characters dying. You know?
You need these things to bring natural weight to the story, and feel like you know the characters.
Nrama: Yeah, and gives it emotional resonance.
Azzarello: Yeah. And most recently, like, when Wonder Woman submitted to Artemis. That last panel, she's got a little smile on her face — people understood. It's like, "Oh, she lost on purpose." That's without us having to have her say, "I just lost on purpose."
Not to mention, how radical is it in a superhero comic book that a superhero loses on purpose?
Nrama: She's smart.
Azzarello: Yeah, she is smart.
Nrama: Diana spared the First Born a few issues ago, though. Will she regret that now?
Azzarello: Yeah. Yes, she's going to regret it.
A lot of people are going to regret it.
Nrama: On the same line of thinking, she also spared the Minotaur back in Wonder Woman #0.
Azzarello: Yes, she did.
She might regret that too.
Nrama: She might. But she also might not. But this idea of sparing lives bring us to another theme, because the last time we talked, you discussed how Wonder Woman was going to be faced with the need to embrace her true nature. Is that part of what she's struggling with here, as she sees the results of sparing people's lives? That's the core struggle for her, isn't it? This idea of fighting and killing juxtaposed with having hope in people and sparing them?
Chiang: Yeah, I think that's the big issue for the character. If she's a warrior, if she's the god of war, how do you balance that with compassion, and her natural tendency to kind of believe in people? To believe in rehabilitation?
Nrama: It seems like the First Born is almost an manifestation of hatred, but Wonder Woman's almost a manifestation of hope, or hope in people. She's influenced a lot of people that way during your run.
Chiang: Yeah, against all odds, you know, she's turned some of her greatest enemies into her allies. All you have to do is look at Hera, you know? The book started with her putting Zola in danger, and now, she's part of the team.
So that's part of Wonder Woman's superpowers, really… being able to turn people around.
Nrama: OK, let's talk about the prophesy that we saw in Wonder Woman: First Born #23.2. The oracles talked about a "great fire." I assume this burning of Olympus by Apollo is the great fire?
Azzarello: It's a great fire, all right.
Nrama: But the oracle's warning said the "great fire" will be followed by a "great war." So that's what's coming up next in the comic?
Azzarello: Sounds like a pretty good arc, doesn't it?
Nrama: It does!
Azzarello: Yeah, that's a good idea, Vaneta. Yeah, that's going to be our story arc.
Nrama: Is that coming up in #31 or #32? I think the May solicitation teased a battle over Olympus.
Azzarello: Yeah, that's where we're going next. We're in the home stretch, right now, as far as our run on the book.
Nrama: So everything that's been building since issue #1 — and issue #0, since you've got the Minotaur showing up again — it's all been building toward this big battle over Olympus.
Azzarello: Yeah, we've had a plan.
Nrama: I want to come back to this idea of Wonder Woman embracing her true nature, because, as Cliff mentioned, she is the god of war. She's been denying that title so far, but having to battle over Olympus will surely require her to embrace that part of herself, won't it?
Azzarello: It would make sense, yeah. But I think… if you read any sort of, like, military general autobiographies or biographies, most of them never wanted to fight, you know? It's necessary. War is necessary.
It's depicted in comics as, like, this gung-ho, "let's die in battle, in glory" idea, because that's just the genre we're in. But that's not what war really is.
She's not the god of killing and murder. She's the god of war. So what is war?
And that's what we're going to be exploring.
Nrama: It seems like, last time we talked, it was mentioned that the god of war has a ghost army. If she's the god of war…. does she?
Azzarello: Well, one of them did.
Nrama: OK, no spoilers there. But you talked before about how this is building up toward the end of the arc you guys have been working on. Am I hearing in there that you guys are heading toward the end of your run on Wonder Woman?
Azzarello: Yeah! I think, I mean, we've never said anything other than, we were going to do about three years. It's been out there.
Nrama: And we're heading toward the end of three years on the book.
Nrama: Cliff, since it's a three-year project, which I think is one of your longer runs, do you feel that you've grown over the course of it? Has your collaboration evolved, or your approach to the book?
Chiang: Yeah, this is probably one of the longest projects I've been on. And the way I approach it now, being comfortable with the characters and the whole team, it's good. I feel like everybody's firing on all cylinders, you know?
Even the scripts are different. We're just so comfortable with each other. So to see that develop over the last few years has been great.
It seems like, yeah, it's rewarding. We feel like we've been setting up all these things.
We've put a bunch of dominos together, and we're finally going to knock them over, you know? We've been doing that for a couple years, and now, we're starting to see things fall. And it's really satisfying to see the pattern that it's making, and the other things that we've been able to bring out, adding certain kinds of symbolism, certain kinds of beings, as we go along.
It's been a lot of pressure as well. I mean, we have to deliver three years worth of stories that have to pay off.
Nrama: Then to finish up, Brian, any final words as we head toward the big showdown for Olympus? And warnings you want to tell readers? Even if it's your customary one or two words about what people should look out for?
Azzarello: There are more bodies that are going to fall when this is all over. And, you know, we're not done sending souls to Hades.