Andrew A. Smith
Scripps Howard News Service
Some things never change. One is human nature. Another is the vivid way writer Brian Azzarello brings human nature to life.
“I go back to the same poisoned well over and over,” laughed Azzarello, writer of the critically acclaimed crime noir 100 Bullets, the upcoming dystopian Spaceman and the critically praised relaunch of Wonder Woman.
The Amazing Amazon, despite being the world’s best-known superheroine, has had uneven sales and quality over the decades. DC Entertainment is attempting to rectify that with the new Wonder Woman #1 ($2.99), released Sept. 21 as part of the publisher’s 52-title, one-month relaunch of its entire superhero line.
Early buzz labeled the new Wonder Woman a horror book, but Azzarello disagreed with that assessment. “You need the good to define the bad,” he said. “And that’s where she comes in.” DC editor-in-chief Bob Harras also rejected the label in an interview last week, saying that the presence of horror elements just means “there’s more at stake.”
And there’s no question that the first issue is a shocker. We see Diana – that’s what she asks to be called – in a bloody battle with a mythological twist. Meanwhile, a Greco-Roman god is impaled on a spear. Another uses human sacrifice to achieve his aims.
All that mythology in the first issue promises to play a strong role in the series as a whole. The Greco-Romans are sort of the “original” crime noir stories, Azzarello said, full of “selfish” and “twisted” motivations. “What a family, huh?” he laughed about Zeus and his brood.
Of Diana herself we learn very little in the first issue. Azzarello did warn that Wonder Woman’s usual romantic interest, Steve Trevor, won’t play any role in his version. There will be a Paradise Island, he said, but hinted darkly, “It’s paradise only in name. … It’s not a happy place.”
Azzarello has proved resoundingly that “not happy” is something he does very well. His intricate crime noir 100 Bullets ran for 100 issues, and has proven popular enough to be reprinted once already in 13 trade paperbacks, and is now scheduled to be reprinted again in five oversized, hardcover collections, with volume one arriving in October ($49.99). That 10-year monthly grind was hard on artist Eduardo Risso, but Azzarello himself loved immersing himself in murky criminal thoughts and vile, selfish motivations.
“Oh, I miss those days!” he laughed. “It was so much fun to write those characters.”
But while 100 Bullets is a story with a definite end, it’s not the end of those types of characters. Azzarello is “taking them out again,” not only in Wonder Woman but in a new series titled Spaceman beginning Oct. 26.
Spaceman is set in a near future where children bred for a trip to Mars never go, due to an economic and environmental collapse. It’s not science fiction, Azzarello said, so much as it is “science hell.”
One of those Earth-bound “Martians” is Orson (named for Orson Welles), a huge, lonely loser collecting scrap, who gets caught up in a child-kidnapping case. He “has a good heart,” Azzarello said, “but only Mother Teresa has never given in to temptation.”
Azzarello is paired on Spaceman with his 100 Bullets artist, and he couldn’t be happier. Azzarello said “nobody can touch” Risso’s layouts and “acting” – body posture and facial expressions. “And when you see this sort of crummy world” that Risso depicts in Spaceman, “it’s inspiring.”
Azzarello also brags on his artist on Wonder Woman, Cliff Chiang. “He’s really killing it,” the writer said. “I’m so proud of these books. I’m in love with Wonder Woman!”
Although it didn’t start that way. Azzarello said he went to dinner with DC co-publisher Dan DiDio to pitch a different character. But when he heard the plans for Wonder Woman, he found himself arguing to use his ideas for the Amazon princess instead.
Now he finds himself complicating her life with the most ancient of crime families – the Greco-Roman pantheon.
“Some of those Gods have on one hand the most honorable of intentions,” he said, “and on the other absolute selfishness.” Because whether it’s ancient Greece, Wonder Woman’s present, or a grim future, human nature simply doesn’t improve.
“Those things haven’t changed,” Azzarello said gleefully. “People get just as jealous today as they did then. Emotionally I don’t think we’ve changed. … In Spaceman, in the future, emotionally we’re not going to change.”
Which gives the new Wonder Woman writer a lot to work with.
Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at email@example.com.