The first volume of “Wonder Woman” by writer Brian Azzarello and artists Cliff Chiang and Tony Akins was one of the best surprises of the “New 52.” Azzarello is a writer who rarely aims to give readers what they want and usually shoots for trying to give us something that we didn’t know we needed. Making “Wonder Woman” into a modern-day saga of the Greek Gods and eschewing a lot of the trappings of the superhero genre turned out to be exactly what we, and the character, needed. That continues here in “Wonder Woman vol. 2: Guts” as the title character, Hermes and Lennox prepare to descend into Hades to rescue Zola who is still pregnant with Zeus’ child.
Of course, that’s only the start of the events in this volume as the journey to the underworld leads to a shotgun wedding and a subsequent intervention by Apollo with Hera still scheming in the background. There’s a lot going on here and Azzarello makes sure events have space to breathe while keeping things moving along at a steady clip and showing off plenty of his signature wordplay. Chiang and Akins also keep things looking great, and while the former may be the star of the show with his effortlessly clean and stylish work, the latter also shows that he can hold his own with some imaginative vistas of Hades and Aphrodite’s “nude” scene. It all ends with the re-introduction of a notable concept from the old DCU that fits in seamlessly here. What else can I say? This is easily one of the best titles the company has running right now.
“Animal Man vol. 2: Animal vs. Man” doesn’t quite hit those heights, but it continues to be compellingly weird and creepy in its own way as the war between the Rot and the Red heats up. With Buddy Baker and his family now on the run, their goal is to join up with the avatar of the Green, Swamp Thing, so that the counterattack can finally begin. That’s not going to be easy when the Rot can infect all decaying matter and has an army of zombie animals at its beck and call. There’s also the occasional human too as Buddy finds out firsthand. Steve Pugh provides the art for the majority of the book and does a great job with all of the weirdness coming from these realms and while the other artists are decent, they do foster a sense of artistic chaos that does yank you out of the narrative when the styles change.
It’s still writer Jeff Lemire’s show, though, and he manages the task of getting us to care about Buddy and his family no matter how bizarre the circumstances get. That they involve flying dog warriors helping our hero out as he battles a sea of rotlings in a floating mass of flesh in the sea should be a pretty good example of that. However, there’s still plenty of family drama to balance this out, and it winds up being more engaging than off-putting as the character’s concerns really do feel like they stem from their circumstances than as a means to generate artificial drama. Fans of Grant Morrison’s definitive run will also notice parts of it being acknowledged and repurposed for use here. Rather than a reminder of better times, these nods come off as a fitting tribute to the writer who gave Animal Man the freedom to be weird from the latest writer to push that advantage to its fullest.