Hades isn't what Diana expects. Rather than a fiery place of screaming souls, it's a silent, twilight version of the London she calls home. But, Hermes explains, the dead are all around them, forming the very landscape, the buildings, reflecting the whims of Lord Hades.
And they're not unwilling - these souls are happy to serve Hades, happy to attack Diana and Hermes. With Diana fully equipped and Hermes no longer lame, though, they're no easy pickings. Diana is a spitfire, taking down the monstrous warriors with her sword, while Hermes shows just what the clawed feet of a bird can do.
Hermes persuades Diana to leave his side and find Zola. What she finds is Hades himself, hidden among a tableau of statues, horrific figures he leads against Diana. Impressive acrobatics and unerring aim with her blade see Diana more than hold her own until she's rejoined by Hermes. After seeing off Hades and friends, they follow a light and come across the wishworld version of Zola's backwoods home, and the woman herself.
While it's been days by Diana's estimation, Zola has spent the equivalent of several Earth months down here, and she's finally showing. She's desperate to get back home, but as Diana and Hermes lead her away, Hermes rises from the farm's fireplace, this time in his own, waxy-headed form. And he's not going to let Diana go without forging a bargain ...
And that's the bulk of the best issue to date of DC's relaunched Wonder Woman series. For the first time it feels as if Diana's the star of the show, front and centre in this latest encounter with a hostile Olympian. I'm not a fan of a sword-wielding Diana by any means, but given where she is, and what she's up against, it makes sense. I'm even less keen on the idea of Diana shooting folk, but must admit to disappointment that we don't get to see the loony cover scene played out inside the comic.
We do get to see beautifully drawn, very creepy scenes of conflict courtesy of artist Cliff Chiang, but my favourite moments are Diana and Hermes carefully making their way through the Underworld; there's real drama in their body language, their expressions. At the same time, Chiang cuts away to the 'statues' shedding their outer shell to reveal the sinewy beings beneath.
On a sartorial note, Chiang's version of Diana armour, as coloured by Matthew Wilson, is one of the best I've seen, giving us a Wonder Woman kitted out for war, yet blazing with optimism. It even looks good when he's drawing Diana tumbling into battle.
Writer Brian Azzarello doesn't come up with any moments to match last issue's controversy, seeming happy to give us a straightforward, satisfying, chunk of Diana's odyssey. His dialogue recalls the Wonder Woman I want to see, emphasising her intelligence, compassion and detemination. So far as the other characters go, he still has me trusting Hermes, despite the minor jibes Hephaestus sends his way. Zola comes alive at last, seeming like a woman who might attract the attention of a passing god. And Hades is a wonderfully twisted brat. What's more, Azzarello's ideas as to the nature of the Underworld are novel, and fit his vision of Wonder Woman's world.
While not the Wonder Woman series I want, this is a well done, entertaining instalment of the New 52 revamp. A gripping tale, told with no little flair, it's deserving of your attention.