With so many Villains Month issues feeling like a random fill-in (and it's a fair assessment to say that's what's happened), it was a relief to read "Wonder Woman #23.2: First Born" and find that for all intents and purposes, this was really "Wonder Woman" #24. Brian Azzarello and new guest artist ACO take the opportunity to explain the past of the villainous First Born, and in doing so this issue clicks in with the rest of the series perfectly.
It feels like Azzarello's approach to "Wonder Woman" #23.2 was that due to the Villains Month sidestep, it meant he should continue writing the series but just have Wonder Woman herself absent this issue. It works quite well; as Apollo tries to puzzle together who the First Born is, there's more than enough story to fill this comic's pages, to the point that I think Wonder Woman would have actually been a detriment to the comic rather than a plus.
As more is learned about the First Born and why Zeus and Hera abandoned him, Azzarello walks a fine line with fleshing out the character. Readers see exactly what turned him into the monstrous being that he is today, but at the same time it's also easy to actually drum up a little sympathy. Does this make him a great guy that we should cheer on? Not at all, and I think Azzarello is careful to keep us from ever getting too attached to him. Yes, he's been given nothing but abuse, but at the same time Azzarello also keeps showing the amount of abuse that the First Born heaps back onto everyone else. We know where the First Born is coming from, but at the same time that doesn't make it right.
ACO's art reminds a lot of regular series artist Cliff Chiang, and that's a good thing. He's got that smooth style that makes characters like Apollo just pop right off the page. It doesn't hurt that Matthew Wilson is coloring this issue too, with the beautiful flat tones that bring a certain level of continuity to the visuals. What's especially nice is how well ACO lays out pages. From the shifting back-and-forth stacked panels of the First Born's early days, to the intricate, interlocking panel structure of the ones where he rises to power, each page both flows smoothly and easily while still coming across as inventive and interesting. And when we finally get a big two-page splash of the First Born declaring war? Well, it's breathtaking, and not just because of the war elephant.
"Wonder Woman" #23.2 is one of the real winners of Villains Month, but that's perhaps because it ultimately ignores a lot of the failings of the initiative. With the issue slotting in quite nicely to the series' regular narrative, "Wonder Woman" fans have a lot to enjoy here. In an ideal world, Azzarello and ACO's attention to craft and detail would have been the norm, not the exception.