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Friday, March 23, 2012

Wonder Woman #7 (spoilers)

So, Wonder Woman. I talk about her every now and then. The seventh issue in her new title came out this week and lots of people are discussing it, so I might as well add my voice to the chatter. Warning: this is going to be looooong.

WW #7 is an incredibly well-written comic. Brian Azzarello is one of the most talented writers working for DC (or any comics company), and I was very glad to see Cliff Chiang back for the art too. There is quite a lot about it that I loved--the updating of Eros and Hephaestus, the continuing interaction between Diana, Hermes, and Lennox (though I already miss Zola!). It is also a problematic issue, one that I read twice and have been picking over in my brain for some time. I'm a mythology nut, and when I was a kid I was all Greek myth, all the time. Those are the myths I know best. I still love them, but as I've gotten older, read analyses of them and retellings, and considered them in their own time, I have naturally begun to view them with a more critical eye, because they are largely male-centered. Goddesses and women do not come off well in Greek myth. Unsurprising. And I have been disappointed to see Wonder Woman fall back on the trope of Hera as Queen Vengeful Nag, with no updating or changes at all, especially in light of how very interestingly Hermes, Eris, and other deities have been written.

Amazons are a feature of a few Greek myths, and an idealized form of them is found in the Wonder Woman mythos as a community of immortal women living on a paradisaical island. Other writers have reworked the Amazons as well (Xena comes to mind); when I was reading WW#7, the portions wherein Hephaestus explains the "real story" of the Amazons reminded me of The Firebrand, a retelling of the story of Troy by Marion Zimmer Bradley. In this book the Amazons are a tribe of women who meet once or twice a year with a male tribe, the Kentaurs, to get busy and further the people. If the babies produced from these meetings are female, they stay with the Amazons. If they are male, they go with the Kentaurs. For all the problems with The Firebrand, this still seems like the best possible way of formulating such a sex-segregated tribal structure. In WW#7, something similar happens, but in this case, the Amazons seduce male sailors and then kill them; if male babies are born, the Amazon women throw them into the ocean, as Hera threw Hephaestus into the ocean. Having strong feelings about this sort of thing, Hephaestus rescues the boys and raises them to work in his forge.

Now. Seeing the Amazons portrayed as heartless succubi and infanticidal, uncaring mothers bothers me...a lot. I felt for Hephaestus, as I always have (and LOVED the way he was drawn!), and I liked that the men of his forge were happy to be there and felt that their lives had purpose. I loved that Diana embraced her legions of newfound brothers and cousins as family and tried to help them. I didn't even particularly mind that the Amazons occasionally had sex with men and sometimes produced male children (although I still have fiery feels about Diana's own birth story). I do mind that the Amazons are recast in a nightmare role, the role which history has always accused and suspected us of: as soul-sucking succubi, as man-eaters only interested in sperm donors, as lethal temptresses who literally get away with murder. There are also undertones of rape in the way that the Amazons deal with the male sailors. Perhaps if I were reading this story in a vacuum, I would not be as bothered, but I'm not. I'm reading this story after weeks--hell, years--of hearing that I am a slut and a prostitute, that my body is not mine to make decisions about, that men far removed from me will continue to make decisions for me. I'm reading this story after hearing about more of the pernicious racism and cruelty which continues to murder innocents in our country. I am a female reader in a world which wars on women and sexual and ethnic "others" constantly and with intent. I am a woman in a country where a serious candidate for president is actively attempting to bring about a theocracy.

I like reading about the possibilities of a peaceful society. I like reading about relationships between women which are good and helpful and positive and healing. I like reading about powerful women, and quite frankly, I occasionally like to read about women who have absolutely no male influence in their lives. So to see the Amazons brought down to the same old bloodthirstiness, to see them saddled with the sins of using male bodies and discarding them (something which has been done to women throughout history and continues to be done), was disheartening. What is DC afraid of? Why is the idea of a women's society so threatening? Are we really still in a time where the concept of women thriving without male approval and input is terrifying? Most of the news bulletins and congressional blathering these days say a resounding YES. The white men are scared and it reflects in our art and culture. Maybe that's why on Earth-2, in a few of DC's new upcoming titles, the Amazons are all dead. Maybe that's why in the recent Flashpoint event, the Amazons were castrating, murdering harpies.

I continue to think that there is editorial fiat at work here. I do think that DC's top people have a real problem with unfettered greatness around their female characters. I think that DC would never even consider changing Batman or Superman's histories so radically and in a canon, flagship title. I think that DC has never cared much for Wonder Woman, period (especially given the wildly varying levels of time and devotion in terms of creative teams and promotion they've given her). I think DC thought Diana needed to be made "cooler." Well, news for you, bigwigs: she was already cool. She was already inspirational and amazing, smart, strong, powerful, and complex. She will continue to be so no matter what you throw at her, and make no mistake: I will not stop reading this book. I will support this book because she's mine and no one can take her from me. I continue to hold out hope and trust for this creative team and I hope--exercising naivete like only nerds can--that I'll be rewarded for that. I think Wonder Woman will rise above her new origins; I think she will understand that it is how we were raised and the choices that we make, not our biology or our family history, that shapes us. But that doesn't mean that I have to like these changes that have been made to her family and her people.

(Now, Moon Knight #10, the other comic I alluded to in an earlier post this week...that's just classic fridging, nothing complex or noteworthy about it.)

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