In this week's Wonder Woman #3, someone refers to the iconic character with the apparently derogatory nickname, "Clay."
But by the end of the issue, that moniker clearly doesn't fit.
"Don't call me 'Clay' ever again," Wonder Woman yells as the issue concludes.
Previously, Wonder Woman's origin was that she was a mythical creature who had been molded from clay. But with this week's issue, writer Brian Azzarello and artist Cliff Chiang have given the character a new origin: She's actually the birth daughter of the god Zeus and the Queen of the Amazons, Hippolyta.
The alteration to the character's origin — which has been around since 1959 — is one of the biggest changes made DC's relaunched universe. While Batman's still the son of murdered Gothamites, and Superman's still a boy rocketed from Krypton to Smallville, Wonder Woman is no longer a mythical creature formed from clay."The change of her origin was something everyone wanted from the get-go," Azzarello told Newsarama yesterday, after the issue had been released. "The origin of Cliff and I doing Wonder Woman was that idea. I found out they were going to change her origin, and I didn't like the way they were going to change it. So I came up with something different. And this is what you get."
In Wonder Woman #3, the character learns that the original story of her "birth-by-clay" was all a lie, concocted by her mother to protect her from the jealous rage of Zeus' wife, Hera.
And now that her true origin has been revealed, Wonder Woman and her entire family have to figure out what that discovery means."What's interesting about it is that it forces you to re-examine the character, through her origin," Chiang told Newsarama. "It's all tied in, and it's such a sea-change that it makes you think, what defines Wonder Woman?
"And that is a big question in this run," he said.
Azzarello emphasized that Wonder Woman's new origin story doesn't eliminate the old one. It keeps the stories that have been told in the past, but adds a new layer to them. "We're not changing her origin," Azzarello said. "We're enhancing it. The story of her original origin is still there. We're not hurting her at all. We're making her better."According to Chiang, this new origin — and Wonder Woman's angry, confused reaction when she hears about it in issue #3 — makes the character more relatable.
"Wonder Woman feels like she's been put on a pedestal for so long, and it's hard to write that character because they're perfect and they can't do anything wrong," Chiang said. "And now, we've made her more human and understandable. Maybe lashing out at the end [of the comic] wasn't what you might expect."
"She has had a ton of bricks dropped on her," Azzarello added, speaking of the character's realization that she had been lied to for so many years. "And is she going to react a little hostily? I think so. I think anybody would. In this particular issue, at the end, she's reacting in the moment. She's pissed off. That's why she knocked down all those trees."The writer said he actually knew someone who dealt with a similar situation, and he drew upon that experience as he wrote Wonder Woman's emotional reaction.
"Have you ever met anyone that's happened to?" Azzarello asked. "I have. They didn't find out until their late 20's that they were adopted. It was confusing, you know? Talk about shaking your foundation."
Chiang said that another benefit of the change to Wonder Woman's character is that her roots are much more closely tied to the gods. In fact, she's one of them.
"It made sense in terms of Greek mythology. If we're trying to tie her into that, giving her a father, it just made real clean sense to me that it would be Zeus," Chiang said. "It also makes sense for the story. The whole reason for all this stuff is story, and adding this stuff to the origin gives us a huge family of hers to play with. She has responsibilities. This is blood we're talking about now. And it gives her a supporting cast that's tied so closely with her that it provides lots of story for us. And I think that's the most important thing."
"It brings the stakes home," Azzarello added. "She's got a family now, you know? She's got a dysfunctional family now, and it's not all women. And how she deals with that family is what we're going to be dealing with for the next year."
Of course, this isn't the first story within Greek mythology where Zeus has "strayed." But this time, instead of using his powers to dally with an unknowing human, Zeus and Hippolyta actually fell in love.
That idea of "love" was important to Azzarello as he rewrote Wonder Woman's origin. "I wanted her to come out of a place of love," he said. "People have been accusing us, assuming that Zeus was going to rape Hippolyta. And that really pisses me off. She's not a creation of violence. She's a creation of people who really cared about each other."She fell for him, right? But things couldn't work out," he added. "One of them is a philanderer and the other one had an island to run, and there was a jealous wife involved. So what Hippolyta did was not to deceive anybody other than Hera. It was to save her child."
Chiang said that scene only worked after he and Azzarello worked to make Zeus appear to be someone Hippolyta would actually love.
"The first version I drew of Zeus had him looking like a big, burly hedgehog of a man, and it just didn't work," the artist said with a laugh. "So then we went more handsome and, you know, classically beautiful with him.
"He's not this creepy old guy with a white ringlet beard," he said. "Here's a younger, god-man, and it just makes sense."The artist said he and Azzarello spend time discussing the way the gods look, and the resulting designs of other-worldly creatures has won them critical praise.
"We'll think about what the character needs. Brian might have an idea about what kind of aspect we should bring out about it, and we'll go back and forth," Chiang said. "So it's a process. But usually, at some point, we'll hit upon the right version of things."
Chiang said that readers will soon see designs by Tony Akins for Poseidon and Hades. And there will be more gods come into play over the next year."What we're going for is externalizing their personalities, or what they stand for," Azzarello said of the way the gods look, adding that, for example, "I think Strife works pretty well. That character has 'strife' written all over her." "And Hermes too, as the embodiment of speed," Chiang said.
But one design element of Wonder Woman #3 that stood out was the presumably metaphorical presence of a crab who has lost its claw. Just as Wonder Woman appears to become severed from her Amazonian family, leaving in a fit of anger and disdain for her mother and once-trusted friends, one crab tears the claw from another.
Azzarello said the crab and the claw were Chiang's idea.
"That was my attempt at doing one of those little storytelling tricks that Eduardo did so well in 100 Bullets," Chiang said with a laugh.
So is Wonder Woman the crab? Or the claw?
"That's something that's open for the readers' interpretation," Azzarello said.
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