Et Tu, Azzarello? Debating the New 52 Amazons

This is not the post where I dive headfirst into superheroine backstory. On that day, I’ll swim through pop-history like Aquaman swims through water: masterfully, beautifully, heroically. (The coffee shop is out of decaf, and so I find myself supremely self-assured, if shaky of hand.)

For today, I’m trying to understand the negativity generated by Wonder Woman 7, and so will share only a small bit of her traditional back story.

But first, a note: There are different versions of WW’s original mythology reported online. Which speaks to the great importance of fact checking. Triple-check those facts people! So says the former fact-checker.

Right now, I’m going with fast and easy, Google-led research. Will save the hard-core fact checking for later.

Wonder Woman’s original mythology, circa 1940s

The all-female Amazonian warriors lived in Ancient Greece, and were led by mighty Hippolyta, made even mightier by her magic girdle, a gift from Aphrodite. (I too have a magic girdle, a purchase from Spanx.)

Buff and insecure, Hercules takes on the Amazons, seduces Hippolyta, steals her girdle, and imprisons a bevy of warrior-women. Aphrodite helps the women escape to far-off, man-less Paradise Island, but forces them to wear silver bracelets as a constant reminder of the foolishness of submitting to man.

On Paradise Island, the Amazons retain their warrior skills in case of attack, but also create a peaceful society, invent technologically superior devices, and achieve eternal youth. Today, they’d have a PR person and be the stars of “Keeping Up with the Amazons.”

Though Hippolyta is surrounded by an army of sisters, she wants a child. For lack of a sperm donor, she fashions a baby of clay. Sympathetic Aphrodite brings the child to life. Hippolyta names her after Diana (actually her Roman name; known as Artemis in Greece), goddess of the hunt, the moon, and, interestingly, childbirth.

The New 52 Mythology, circa Right Now

Brian Azzarello’s New 52 Wonder Woman smashes this mythology to bits.

A few issues back Diana discovered that she was not born of clay, but rather of a hot-and-heavy illicit commingling of Hippolyta and Zeus. Not only did Hippolyta break the Amazonian vow of manlessness, but she also betrayed a woman, Zeus’ wife Hera.

Some readers found this as unsettling as Diana did, but I’m the Virgin, not the Historian. I didn’t read it as a change because it was all new to me. Also, the storyline made for more drama, especially where Hera was concerned.

Finally, while I wish Hera hadn’t obliterated Hippolyta and every last Amazon except Diana, I am too enamored of the Olympians to miss the Amazons very much.

The bigger change, and the source of the loudest complaints, occurred in last week’s issue. The Amazons were revealed (to Diana’s horror and mine) to be a band of succubi, who thrice a century lured seafaring men into bed for sperm-harvesting. The men were then dumped overboard to watery deaths.

Wham, Bam, Drown You, Sam.

Those Amazons who bore female babies 9 months later were celebrated. Male babies were ripped from their mothers’ arms and delivered to Hephaestus (the Smith) in exchange for weapons.

Some phallic commerce going on here – exchanging men for swords – but never mind that for now.

Their Take

Azzarello really changes the back story, but does changing up = f***ing up?

A few arguments that it does (quoting directly – I suggest reading these in full, all excellent and highlighting positives as well as criticisms):

Tim Hanley of Straitened Circumstances, “Wonder Woman #7 Review OR That Was An Odd Choice

• I mean, how does Wonder Woman not know about this?  Was she literally JUST born?  Or did she just not notice all the babies, and everyone ducking out every 33 years?  It’s not a big island. 

• The Amazons are strong and independent women who have been a remarkably progressive and feminist presence in the DC universe since it began. And now they’re jerks. 

• … Wonder Woman was never dark or tortured or trying to deal with a screwed up history.  That’s what made her different.  She wasn’t a hero to excise her demons or because of a psychological break cause by serious parental issues, she was a hero because she’s an Amazon and that’s just what they do.  But now she’s a hero despite being an Amazon, and that’s bumming me out some.

Susana Polo of The Mary Sue, “How Wonder Woman #7 Left A Bad Taste In My Mouth

• Presenting the Amazons as murderers and slavers of men … fails to subvert the, yes, still pervasive notion that if you put a woman in charge of something she’s going to oppress men (with more regularity than if the genders were reversed).

Kelly Thompson of Comic Book Resources, “Wonder Woman #7

• How can Diana be who we know her to be -- good and proud, strong and brave, honest and true, full of compassion and power -- and come from and/or agree with the supposed ways of Azzarello's Amazons? … If Diana did not know, as Azzarello's story seems to imply, then we must assume Diana to be a naïve fool at best and galactically stupid at worst. If Diana is a naïve fool unaware she was raised by killers, rapists, liars and abandoners, how can we believe that she would she (sic) grow into the honorable, heroic and compassionate person she is when these are the people who raised her?

My Take

As I’ve stated before, one of the beauties of this comic book universe is the constant riffing.

Brian Azzarello’s riff is bold and allows him/us to explore a different Diana.

I still love her. I still want to be her. I don’t find her any weaker or stronger as a result of the changes in mythology. I’m still extremely interested in future issues.

And now for a Big Old But (not mine – I’m wearing my girdle!):

Diana stood out from my other four reads because of her mythological background, and also because she was, I thought, raised by women who told her she was morally and physically strong, who were themselves morally and physically strong, and who instilled in her the idea that she was the bomb.

The women in Batwoman’s life were murdered by men.

Batgirl’s mother deserted her.

Supergirl’s mother is dead, and all she talks about is her dad anyway.

I loved that Wonder Woman was part of a larger family of strong women. Even when she learned the truth about her birth, even when she felt let down by her mother and her sisters, she was still of them in some sense, and they were still admirable, if flawed.

Now they’re reprehensible.

This serves to isolate Diana further, and in doing so, to bring her into the 21st century lonely-hero pantheon, a group of mighties who turn personal tragedy into world-saving triumph, who spend quiet hours soul-searching and who also avoid soul-searching by kapowing villains.

But does Diana need to be like all the other superheroes? I loved that she wasn’t. That she was allowed to have a semi-functioning, super supportive super family.

(I say “semi” because those Amazons who were cursed to be born heterosexual were just SOL, and discounting heterosexuality is just as repressive as discounting homosexuality. Hear that Aphrodite? I mean, I don’t condone Hippolyta’s sleeping with a married man, but the poor thing hadn’t had heterosexual intercourse for centuries.)

Upshot: Like the folks I've quoted above, I don't like these particular changes, but until I'm more grounded in the Wonder-verse, I'm objecting on grounds of personal preference (my personal preferences shaped, in part, by my feminism).

I loved the Mighty Brave Warrior Amazons. I do not like the Cheesy Murdering Kidnapper Amazons.

Upside: Now that the Amazons have proved vicious, I’m okay with Hera turning them to snakes.