Sunday, March 25, 2012

Wonder Woman #7 (Spoilers)

I probably wouldn't comment on the issue in question if so many others have, but the fact that I found out the spoiler on the day of publication wasn't so much due to carelessness on my part but omnipresence on the part of the spoiler.

The Wonder Woman #7 spoiler was released as a sensational description along with out of context scans of the pages. The pages showed a narrator describing the Amazon's crimes (with the Dave Sim-esque metaphor of them draining sailor's lives, which goes deeper into slanderous folklore than the evidence thus far in this reboot supports) and showing them going onto boats in the moonlight, seducing sailors, then attacking them and tossing them off of the side once they're finished with them.

I saw the initial annoyance on Twitter and found myself bombarded with requests for my opinion. I bookmarked and bypassed two articles ranting about Wonder Woman #7 before I stumbled across the spoiler. By this time, of course, the Amazons were guilty of rape and torture as well. I was greatly annoyed.

But not yet convinced.

This did not mesh well with the impression Steve Trevor had in Justice League #2's backmatter, where he insists that the Amazons were peaceful, helpful, and just wanted to be left alone. The idea that a single-sex culture that despises men but is desperate to continue their bloodlines would come upon the injured Steve Trevor, an attractive helpless man of fertile age, and nurse him back to life to let him go and give him the impression that they are "good people" is completely nonsensical.

On the other hand, completely nonsensical breakdowns of continuity do occur in the rebooted DCU on a regular basis, and this was the sort of thing a dark horror writer like Brian Azzarello would be excited to portray.

Of course, Diana was due a trip to Hades. Hades the god is a solemn and just deity that is maligned simply for doing his job and for that thing he did once that his brother did a few thousand times. Hades the Wonder Woman character is a completely different story. And Eros was to be introduced. He doesn't always come off a terribly friendly in Wonder Woman either. At the same time, Steve Trevor, the only mortal male character that had actual genuine contact (and not from a position of power) was the focus of Justice League #7. I broke down and bought the digital copies of both.

I'm very angry at all of you for making me so stressed out.

My first conclusion on seeing those pages in context, as a story told by Hephaestus, was that this is the exact way that Herakles and his men in the Perez reboot would have described their encounter with the Amazons. "We met them, had sex, and they turned on us right afterwards." We all know what happened in the Perez reboot, but that's part of the story. That the Amazons get maligned by the men they meet, warping their reputations in folklore. If I see a story in Wonder Woman and think "That's the way Herakles would have described the Amazons", I am instantly skeptical.

Hephaestus is the storyteller, and he is a generally trustworthy character but he's not a god renowned for the ability to see across vast distances or even just know stuff. He's not Athena, Hecate, or Hades or any of the deities of wisdom and secrets. He's the god of the forge, doing his job, making wonders. Someone else told him this story. He's also a guy who has a bad relationship with his mother Hera and his wife Aphrodite. Where even Ares has daughters and handmaidens hanging around in his entourage, Hepheastus is generally associated with men. He has had bad experiences with the opposite sex and has every inclination to assume the absolute worst about women.

Basically, if someone tells him the Amazons are black widow succubi who would kill their mates and male children, he's likely to believe them and pass that on.

You could ask how we can trust anyone in this run if you want (Granted, that seems to be the point of the run. The world is full of lies. Do you really think Zeus is dead?), but I'm particularly skeptical of Hephaestus here for several reasons:

1) As noted, Steve Trevor in Justice League #2, #3 and #7 acting like the opposite of a man who narrowly avoided death at the hands of black widow succubi who would kill their mates and male children. It'd be one thing if his loyalty to Diana was because she'd defended him against them, but he seems well-inclined towards the people as a whole. Diana's shock and disgust at the story told by Hephaestus suggests she had no indication from her sisters during Steve's time on the island that this is how they would behave. She clearly did not spend the entire time protecting him from attack.

2) Previous issues of Wonder Woman where a major reveal went like this: A goddess tells Diana her Dad was Zeus and her mother has been lying to her all her life, Diana reacts in shock and disbelief and confronts her mother, her mother's actions are understandable and she has a perfectly reasonable explanation for keeping her in the dark on this one, and Diana really regrets judging her so harshly when it's all said and done. I'm inclined to wait for Hippolyta's side of the story on these kinds of accusations now. ("But she's dead!" Oh please, either Hera's stone spell is reversible, or we'll see Hippolyta on the trip to the underworld next issue. Worst case scenario we'll hear her take on things secondhand through a character like Steve or Aphrodite.)

3) Hephaestus is not only a deity that is not omniscient, he is proven wrong in this very issue about an item that he created. He tells Diana the lasso is not a weapon. She soon demonstrates that it can be used as a weapon. Not only that, he tells Diana that her "real power is intimidation" and that the lasso only helps, while over in Justice League #7 Diana uses the lasso for comedic effect on Green Lantern, a character immune to intimidation. (The second is probably the lack of message discipline at DC, but it still makes two examples in this story of Hephaestus being wrong.)

4) The context of this issue, where the main theme is that "Perspective is everything." After telling about the Amazons being black widow succubi who kill their mates afterwards, Hephaestus explains that he saved the lives of the unwanted male children by trading them for weapons. Diana assumes that her family has been selling her brothers into slavery, and attempts to free them. She ties up Hephaestus and tells them they're free. Her brothers beg her to untie him, because they see him as a savior from cruel mothers who would leave them to die. That is how Hephaestus sees himself too, and the person Diana perceived as a villain gives her a pat on the back and tells her to get some sleep.

It's entirely possible that the only theme of this story is that previous assumptions about the peacefulness and compassion of women and the brutality and aggression of men are wrong. I'm not ready to take that as the sole conclusion, though. We haven't heard from the Amazons about that boat. We know that there are stories in folklore about seductive sirens and mermaids. You need LIVING sailors to tell such stories. The seductive maiden who turns on a man the morning after is one story. Another story is how Camelot was brought down when someone saw a snake on Camlann field and raised their sword. Was it policy to go, get laid, and systematically kill every man who saw them? Or was it a rule to periodically go out, get impregnated and disappear but sometimes things got out of hand. Was this just the Amazons turning on the sailors, or was this the Amazons taking to arms when an amorous sailor decided he wasn't satisfied, or wasn't letting go?

As for the boys, honestly I don't think that looks too bad. Ever read a Greek Myth? Unwanted children were left in the woods to die all the time. The Amazons are gender essentialists in all portrayals, like Marston they think that men are inherently aggressive and unwilling to submit to female rule. (Which makes the peaceful pleading of the Amazon brothers the most interesting part here.) They operate from the assumption that any male children would be the end of their civilization. Their philosophy prevented them from keeping the boys, so they cut a deal with the Smith and gave them to someone who would care for them. They no doubt considered themselves kidnder than patriarchal city-states that left girls out to die.

Just because Hephaestus thinks that without him those boys would perish doesn't mean the Amazons wouldn't have found another way around it. The deal with Hephaestus was finding a way around it. Everyone is mad at the Amazons for something they went out of their way not to do

5) Tone. I remember an annual from the Perez era, where it was revealed Julia Kapetalis was anb honorary Amazon. The Perez Amazons, bereft of children, would on occasion rescue shipwrecked chidlrne who washed up on the shores of Paradise Island. They would name them, play with them, feed them and bless them. After a few blissful days of motherhood they would take these children down to the shore and set them adrift so that the gods could guide them back to their families.

No, the Perez gods weren't actually much better behaved than the Azzarello gods.

The Azzarello Amazons actually have children periodically, keep the female children, and give the male children to Hephaestus, who is married to one of their patronesses and known for his gentle temperament.

The Perez Amazons are wise and noble, while the Azzarello Amazons are thoughtless mankillers, huh?

Tone plays a big part here. Everything Perez wrote, no matter how utterly illogical, had the tone that the Amazons were right and the rest of the world was wrong. Everything Azzarello writes has the tone that every except for Diana is up to something, and that something may be sinister. Even Hephaestus seems somewhat sinister in the early parts of these issues. In the Perez reboot Themiscyra is peace and truth while Man's world is lies and uncertainty. Diana is a beacon of truth because she was sheltered, raised in a romanticized past where they still believed in heroes (because despite all the bits about the Amazons having trouble with the Greeks, the Amazons are out of time, an idealized culture that stopped evolving in the Bronze Age), and is stunned at the uncertain world and holds tight to her sense of self against an assault from one direction. The sin of the Amazons in Perez is isolationism, repeatedly in fact. They withdraw from the world and took their wisdom with them. Therefore, everything that is revealed about the Amazons in the Perez run, no matter how objectively foolish it is, is presented as a positive revelation and proof of their nobility.

In Azzarello's reboot, Diana is a beacon of truth who finds lies and uncertainty in all parts of the world. She is a beacon of truth because she seeks the truth. She is being forced to examine not only the ideals of men and gods but also the ideals of her mother and sisters. She has to look at her own origins and hold tight to her sense of self while she is being made to question everything. As a result, everything in the Azzarello run is a negative revelation that shakes Diana to the core, warped to come off as horrifyingly as possible until we've heard both sides of the story.

That said, just because the initial revelation seems negative and horrible doesn't mean that there is no extended explanation for it, or that the characters are actually horrible people. Uncertainty and lies from all directions isn't the same as a certainty that lies are coming from all directions.

As such, I'm not quick to condemn any characters in Azzarello's run for any revealed actions until I get a complete picture. (And even then, Azzarello probably has something else up his sleeve.)

I may be wrong, of course, or in a couple runs I may be cursing Azzarello's name for putting these ideas out there. Because while Justice League is a poorly written book using very good ideas, Wonder Woman is a well-written book using some very bad ideas. But for this one I'm not angry or disgusted. (Yet. Hippolyta has some explaining to do) I'm actually delighted and intrigued at the chance that Diana might have a male relative who hates violence but is good at making/repairing weapons and armor for her.

And I'm hoping this will be used as a way to bring back Achilles from the Simone run.

18 comments:

  1. That is actually a very good take on this latest development in Wonder Woman.

    I must say I LOATHED the "black widow succubi Amazons", but I'm now hopeful it will be explained further in a better light. :)

    Best,
    J.

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  2. Yeah, I just sort of don't trust Azzarello, so I didn't really think through what he was doing, and assumed he had just fucked up again.

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  3. Good spin, but I don't agree.

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  4. All good points! I think the thing about Hephaestus talking about Diana's real power being intimidation wasn't in reference to her lasso, though. She said that her lasso compels people to tell the truth, and so she uses the truth as a weapon, but Hephaestus tells her that her real weapon is intimidation.

    So it's not that he says that the lasso doesn't compel people to tell the truth, he says that she only ever uses it and its magical properties as a tool for intimidation.

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  5. Well, I feel better now. When I first read it, I was startled, but I've been loving this book from the first, and I trust Azzarello. Then I felt guilty about liking it, especially after everyone else hated it. Because I am a leaf blown by the wind, apparently.

    Because there WAS that whole thing with the other Amazons calling her "Clay" that bothered Diana so much...which doesn't really make any sense if they had been out frolicking with the sailors, now does it? I'm anxious to see where this is all going to end up.

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  6. Oh honestly, Ragnell. There you go again with your 'being reasonable', and 'considering things in context' and 'actually knowing what you're talking about'.

    The men have already decided it's sexist for you, dear:

    http://www.tcj.com/the-best-female-power-fantasy-is-a-male-sexual-fantasy/

    See? No need for you to worry your pretty little head about having an opinion on the matter at all. I mean really, 'tone', context'... You'll be talking about 'characterization' next!

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  7. Oh this is good. I'm very glad I read this, I feel much more optimistic about this revelation now!

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  8. Honestly, given the way that this run of Wonder Woman has been consistently negative towards women.. I am sure that Azzarello meant to show that the Amazons were really man-killers, sirens, and baby-killers. Sorry, but nothing about this run gives me any hope and I can't wait for this WW to tank, so we can get a REAL Wonder Woman back.. one that isn't another bland demi-goddess who can only fight her own Gods and has no rogues gallery to speak of.

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  9. Nice writeup. I look forward to how Azzarello takes the story forward.

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  10. Interesting ideas! I love your optimism, but I suspect it's simply a case of Johns and Azzarello not communicating.

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  11. Finally got a chance to read this issue. Seems to be there's clearly another shoe that has to drop somewhere ... for example, how is it that Diana never saw any of her Amazon sisters pregnant, or even knew that such a thing would happen? If it happens thrice a century, surely she'd get wind of it? What about the missing sailors? In the age of GPS -- much less in the age of radio -- hell, in the age of telegraphs -- periodic attacks on ships that are within paddling distance of Themyscira would be found out.

    And, why aren't there any old Amazons, why don't they die of old age? Why aren't there "waves" of Amazons every 33 years, all of whom are born roughly the same day? There's a lot here that doesn't make sense.

    And wouldn't there be at least one sailor in the modern age who would smell a rat with all these women? One gay sailor, that's all it would take. One gay sailor with a gun? I could see things turning very bloody under those circumstances.

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  12. Martin -- You're even more optimistic than me. Because if Johns and Azzarello have differing views of the Amazons, which one do you think will be codified into the new DC Universe as a whole and carried into other franchises? (Which makes it actually really interesting that Steve and Etta are in Justice League while Azzarello plays with gods and original characters.)

    Anon -- Yeah, I'm thinking when we get the whole side of things we'll find out that story got ramped up to be the most monstrous thing possible and the Amazons see the end of the encounter as having been caused by the guys. Not even a gay sailor, just a sailor with a gun who didn't trust women at sea. (Men considered it bad luck to have women on ships for a long time.)

    I'm wondering if the new take on the Amazons might not just be that they tend to get into fights more often than not, through a combination of bad luck, bad choices and just having a bad diplomatic process with men, so they secluded themselves to avoid that. And even if that makes the Amazons flawed and sometimes at fault for causing the fights, I actually would prefer it a lot to even Marston's take where the goddesses blame them for becoming victims and exile them. It just seems more powerful, more responsible, and less awful on Athena's part.

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  13. Jan -- I agree with you on one start to one of your points, this run is very masculine. I've got some complex thoughts on that for later.

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  14. "... through a combination of bad luck, bad choices and just having a bad diplomatic process with men" ... I can get behind that. It isn't an indictment of their gender, just the weird way they live. Even if the stories are hugely overblown (and I could easily see them being so), the fact that the Amazons are so isolated allows the storytellers to get away with lurid one-sided tales, so that too has much to do with their weird way of living.

    And yeah, my value judgment of "weird" is deliberate: remaining that isolated isn't good for them, not if they still need to deal with the outside world to survive. Even the Amish commonly interact with the "English" world around them, they just don't make it their own world.

    Dig your blog, please keep up the good work.

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  15. Thanks for the great post. There's been a lot of thoughtful criticsm of the issue and lots of terrible arguments in the issue's favour but yours strikes a nice balance and comes at it from a position I hadn't read about yet.

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  16. It's been over a year since Wonder Woman #7, and Azzarello hasn't touched back on this plotline at all. No new revelations, no sudden justifications for an offensive storyline, nor does it seem like he'll get back to it any time soon; it's basically as if the scene has been completely forgotten by the book.

    I wonder if your inclinations of "wait and see" have changed a bit now that we've waited and we saw absolutely nothing? Certainly the Amazons will return at some point in Azzarello's run on this project, but having to wait literal years for a horribly sexist depiction to be acknowledged at all in the storyline, much less "justified," doesn't sit very well with me.

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  17. To be perfectly honest, Brian, I stopped giving a shit when they had her kiss Superman. This pains me a bit to say, because something in the phrasing of your comment suggests you feel superior to me because you didn't have the same inclination to give writers the benefit of the doubt and I'm personally insulted by that. We all have our lines and what Azzarello did here wasn't much different from the sainted Perez's take on HALF of the Amazons (the Banas), which poisoned the franchise enough to lead writers to the Themiscyran Civil War and Amazons Attack and all. Azzarello, again, makes them active and threatening rather than strip them of their power to be passive victims of fate so I am still of multiple minds, more inclined to accept this than Zeus as her father or the utter debacle that is Diana dating Clark. In the hierarchy of sins in the New 52, this still wasn't the dealbreaker for me and don't accuse me of not understanding the symbolism of Marston's run. I don't think I'd have liked much about Orion, but I'd lost interest in the entire rebooted universe (which had so much potential) by then anyway.

    Here the's thing, though. I'm not buying the series, nor am I buying the rest of the New 52. But I'm still inclined to "Wait and See" which you seem to be disgusted at. Because there are a lot of writers out there who do prefer the classic Amazons, and eventually someone will revert. I'll read then.

    But go ahead and feel superior because I've stopped reading if you want.

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  18. Brian is right, Lisa. You fucked up. you were definitively proven to be wrong and should just put your big girl panties on and own it. Why is it that female bloggers are so thin skinned and overly defensive? Jesus. YOU WERE WRONG, BITCH. Criticizing you because you were wrong isn't' a personal attack. What I am doing is a personal attack. See the difference?

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