Saturday, March 24, 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.

Quick Links

The Women Write About Comics Carnival is going on right now and I may not have time to get a post in myself, but here's the first couple sets.