Wonder Woman 23.2: First Born

Alternating Currents: Wonder Woman 23.2: First Born, Drew and ScottToday, Drew and Scott are discussing Wonder Woman 23.2: First Born, originally released September 25th, 2013. This issue is part of the Villain’s Month event. Click here for our Villains Month coverage.

What comes before anything? What have we always said is the most important thing?

Michael Bluth, Arrested Development

Drew: Family. What would we be without them? No, seriously: they’re there from the start, and they have a profound effect on the people we eventually become. For better or for worse, who they are and how they interact with us largely shape who we are and how we act. The same can be said of who they aren’t — perhaps in spite of what we want them to be — which can have just as significant effect on the people we become. As a character, the First Born is far more defined by the absence of his family, but how that manifests is just as subtle and specific as any other family dynamic.

The issue opens with the First Born collapsing at Apollo’s feet — Apollo had either requested his presence, or furnished his escape, but the First Born is half-dead after his fight with Diana in issue 23. Fortunately, the First Born doesn’t really need to talk; Apollo is more interested in getting the scoop from his oracles. They detail an appropriately classical myth of Zeus and Hera’s first child, who Zeus condemns to death for fear of a prophecy that suggests that the baby would eventually take Zeus’ throne. The witch tasked with killing the boy, sympathetic to Hera’s heartbreak, can’t bring herself to do the deed, and leaves him on the African savannah, where he is adopted by a mother hyena. From that point on, the First Born seems consumed with getting his parents’ attention, eventually declaring war on Heaven itself. The gods ably brush away his army, but Zeus is impressed enough by the First Born’s defiance to let him live…but also sentences him to the center of the Earth until he vacates the throne. Apollo is a bit concerned what that means for him, and the Oracles make it clear that either he or the First Born will be standing at the end of a terrible war. From there, Apollo packs the First Born away, threatening to continue his life of torture.

At the heart of the story is a kid desperate for his parents’ attention. It’s a story we’ve seen a million times before, only instead of being distracted by their high-powered jobs, his parents actually tried to kill him. Actually, they were so disinterested in him, they couldn’t even be bothered to do it themselves (which, being the subjects of Greek mythology, they should have known was a surefire way for whatever they need doing not to get done — especially with a prophecy on the line). The situation is exaggerated to mythic proportions, but is essentially relatable to anyone who ever stood on a diving board, calling for their mom to “watch this.”

The mythic quality of this story owes a great deal to the framing device: a prophecy, almost entirely dictated in voiceover. It puts some distance between us and the action, and forces the story to read a bit more like a picture book than a comic — all of which makes it feel like a Greek myth. That trick that worked to similar effect in Wonder Woman 1, which introduced the prophecy that set this whole series in motion. That first prophecy featured some slang-y language from the women Apollo taps as Oracles, but writer Brian Azzarello leans a bit harder on that effect here, making us acutely aware of the oral history of this myth.

Damn.

The only time Azzarello breaks the narration-only rule in the prophecy is when the First Born finally lays his challenge to the gods of Mount Olympus. Allowing the First Born to speak them imbues them with emotion, but it also makes them feel monumental. These are the first words we see the First Born speak — perhaps the first words he has ever spoken — making us actually feel his demand to be heard.

The prophecy featured here feels more like a refresher than anything, complete with reminders about the hazy uncertainty of who will wear the crown, and something about a naked woman. We do get clarification that the woman is Apollo’s sister — anyone betting on series nudist Hera is out of luck — but that still leaves plenty of options (including the other series nudist, Aphrodite). In many ways, the parallels with issue 1 make this issue feel very much like a formal break — perhaps the start of the third act? With Ares and Lennox both dead, I think it would be fair to say Diana is at her lowest point, but it looks like the same is true for the first born and Apollo. This issue served as a palate-cleanser of sorts, a much-needed breather before we leap back into the fray next month.

It’s a heartbreaking story, one told with enough style and grace to keep it from devolving into the soap operas to which both comics and Greek myths are so closely related. Scott, were you as moved by the First Born’s plight as I was, or did you think it was a little predictable that his goth style was just a desperate cry for attention?

Scott: I really feel for the guy. We all just want to be loved, right? Validated? I can’t imagine what it would be like to know your parents did away with you on the day you were born. I think it’s admirable that the First Born even sought his parents’ attention, working hard to make them proud. I don’t know, maybe I’m more vengeful than most, but I would have started planning a stealth attack on Zeus the moment I found out he sentenced me to death.

It’s hard to believe Apollo didn’t learn anything from the First Born’s story. If someone is gunning for your throne, it’s probably in your best interest to eliminate them right away. The First Born’s agenda is pretty straightforward — he wants to kill everyone — and keeping him around can only be bad news for Apollo’s job security. Then again, maybe Apollo just understands how prophecies work. If the First Born is destined to rule Olympus, maybe there’s nothing Apollo can do about it except to delay the inevitable as long as possible. Why shouldn’t Apollo just keep the First Born locked up and under control until he’s had his fill ruling Olympus? Or at least until golf shirts go out of style.

That look is on par!

Getting back to the First Born, his story is equal parts tragic, scary and bad ass. He’s a forgotten son, he lives amongst hyenas, he even slays a lion, all as he attempts to seize a throne he feels rightfully belongs to him. Wait a second- he’s Scar from The Lion King! Would Apollo be Simba in this analogy? I’m not sure, but either way, it’s likely good news for him. I’m not sure if you remember Scar’s final scene, but it leaves surprisingly little to the imagination for a kids movie, and ends with Scar burning, just like the Oracles say will happen to either Apollo or the First Born.

Like Drew said, that prophecy is more of a refresher than anything. Really, this whole issue is merely a more in-depth look at stuff we pretty much already knew. Still, it’s an enjoyable read and a great looking issue. Most importantly, it moves along the ongoing arc of Wonder Woman. I’m especially excited to see Apollo’s version of torture, which apparently starts with loading your victim into the back of a stretch-Hummer. Maybe he’s making the First Born pay for gas. HEY-OH!

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page.  Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore.  If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and and download issues there.  There’s no need to pirate, right?

36 comments on “Wonder Woman 23.2: First Born

  1. I know we’ve talked before about how little time this series has spend in the U.S. – and even less time in typically DC places (we’ve never been to Metropolis or Gotham, for example), but it’s worth nothing that we’re in LA right now. What’s that about? Apollo usually likes him some high-class atmosphere (look how he molded Olympus), but it looks like he’s hanging out in some of the least glitzy parts of Los Angeles. Scott where’s that look like to you? East side for sure – maybe Eaglerock? ‘Course it could also be closer to downtown. The point is, it seems like Apollo is deliberately slumming in a city known for its decadence.

    • He’s definitely slumming it. I figured it was so he could deal with a giant, shirtless, bleeding guy without anybody sticking their noses in his business. I should add that my sense of how desensitized Angelinos are to violence is based largely on Tarantino movies.

      • He does love to throw around chicano slang, doesn’t he? (see 100 Bullets for examples of this love.) It’s just weird that he’d been resisting it for so long in this series (which spends most of its time in Europe, and specifically in London (or, y’know, Hell).

        • Azz seems like the kinda-guy who hates gimmicks – so maybe this is his way of having fun with them, remember his Zero-Month issue is the style of 1940 comic or the Gatefold month when he had Diana grab Orion’s balls or his refusal to acknowledge that Dians & Clark are dating.

  2. Drew, you mention that the First Born’s story feels like a myth – which it totally does. But we’ve encountered a fair number of that kind of origin story this month. What do you think it is that separates this one from the chaff? Like it’s definitely more engaging – is that because the story is more intense? Maybe because we have all kinds of questions about the character? Maybe it’s the art? Or maybe Azz just writes tidier prose than the rest of these jokers. I’m convinced that the success here is 100% in the execution, because the pitch sounds like a lot of comics I dislike.

    • I really think it’s the framing device. Giving a logical in-universe reason for this story to be told makes a huge difference, and never letting us forget that the story is being told by these three chicas keeps us aligned with Apollo throughout the issue — effectively pulling us in. So many of the “narration over quasi-related images” issues never identify the narrator, which emphasizes the artifice of the story. Who is being told this? Why? Azzarello gets that stuff out of the way right up front, benefiting from the inherent artifice, rather than being bogged down by it.

    • Patrick, I know this questions was for Drew but I’m going to answer as well! 😛
      I think the framing devise for why we got this origin story was unique and in character for Sun. Also, it did feel different to me that the other origin stories which were almost all about physically abusing parents.

  3. We can all agree that First Born totally had sex with the female Hyena’s right? I mean his army on page 8 are clearly man/hyena hybrids right?

  4. I thought it was interesting how the First Born is essentially the god of Primitivism/Animalism. It indeed sets him apart from the other gods who reflect human culture or abstract nature.

      • He could also just be the god of Entitlement. What’s interesting is that he hasn’t been able to practice ANYTHING for like 7000 years (an oddly specific number). I guess the question to ask is: are these gods born with their skillsets (powers) or do they develop them through their lives? Like, was Poseidon always a big fish-monster or did he turn into that because he loved the sea so much?

        • We haven’t seem Apollo change since gaining the Throne but maybe we’ll see some changes in Diana over the next few months. We did notice that War allowed himself to age, Poseidon became more humanoid to talk with the First Born, and Zeus has taken many forms over the years so I’m going with Poseidon being a Big-Fish because he loves Fish.

        • Yeah, this seems spot-on. It seems like the gods are capable of changing their appearances, at least to some degree. At the very least, Poseidon can scale himself down to human size when he wants to. Of course, if they can change how they look, you have to wonder why Haephestus looks like he does (no offense, Haephy).

        • X is a recently started series published by Dark Horse Comics. It has all the things I love most in comics: urban setting, dark atmosphere, street level and non super-powered leading character, action packed scenes, a highly entertaining yet very simple plot, a fast paced narration… X is a 5 stars series, that’s for sure. Read it: you’ll thank me. Thank you for your reply! : )

        • Young Avengers is a series I’m interested in, but I haven’t read it so far. I’ll let you know what I think about it when I buy the first issues. Thank you for your reply! : )

    • Yeah, Azz is easily my favorite writer, and I don’t really think you can beat the Azzarello/Chang dynamic on this series. I think criticisms that Diana is often overshadowed by her supporting players are pretty valid, but Azzarello wields an ensemble cast like nobody else in comics. The only series I’m reading that can even touch the consistently high quality of Wonder Woman is Saga — I’ve never been disappointed by an issue of either.

  5. Loved the fact that first born more or less destroyed the world, and the gods didn’t care a bit.

    But yeah. Felt like it could have been told in a couple of pages instead. When collected in the War tbp (will buy in HC) it’ll probably work better. But as a single issue it felt a bit empty. But at least it had a cool story, and set things up for what’s next.

    Can’t wait till Strife makes a return or what will become of Wonder woman as the god of war!

    • Also. About Strife. Ponder this.

      In #17 when she’s tells Ares: “I’m on to your game.”

      What if this didn’t mean “I’v figured out what your game is.” but instead “as in “I’m on to work.”.

      Ares isn’t bothered, he only suggests that the game isn’t his (and on the sound of Posedion in #19, it’s his and Hades). Hade’s plan to wed WW got a reaction out of him and this should have too, at least if it Strife was a threat to what he’d planned.

      Other things includes

      -She was the cause of Wonder Woman getting to know her true origin (just in time of the first born to get out of his hell according to #23.1) in #2. Essentially putting things on motion.

      -She seems quite aware of what to come in #3. Telling Diana “So lets not play anymore Diana, lets be.” when Diana mentions children being refered as “playing gods.”. More or less telling Diana that she’ll become a God.

      -In #4 she puts her hand on Zola’s stummick. Echoing Ares with Harvest in #18.

      -She helped Wonder Woman get out of hell in #10. Why she do that?

      -She’s shocked in #12 when Hera throws the baby of the mountain. As with helping Wondy out of hell, there should be a reason to that right? She also seem to cough a bullshit when Apollo says the throne is his birth right! Which suggests that she knew about First born (who Ares used to make WW kill him and become GoW)

      Any thoughts on this?

      • You know, we’ve spent a lot of time with a lot of the gods, but we’ve yet to really focus on Strife — she’s flown a bit below the radar this whole time. Indeed, we’ve never even looked into her mythological history — unlike the other gods, we’ve always referred to her as “Strife,” never “Eris.” I think you’re definitely on to something when it comes to her importance in the final act of this epic.

        • I figure #19-23.1 will be “War” (Blood, guts, iron, WAR!) and seriously hope #24-29 will be “Strife” 😉

          One of my favourite trouble makers ever.

      • Hope you do, with a lengthy talk!

        Also. Strife and Wondy fighting on the of the cover of #25. Hope the next arc is focused on her, Strife, and perhaps even named Strife. 🙂

        • Oh heavens no. I’ve been kinda resting with that assumption since the first issue. We’ve also seen his eyes light up, as if to suggest he’s powerful as fuck. But then, all of Zeus’ children are powerful as fuck.

        • The child already seems aware that he’s being watched through magical means. Some baby! It’s clever really, coz Zeus can survive the prophecy by becoming the child that takes the fathers throne. He’s both the father and the son. He will then inherit his own throne. In that case the First Born (or any other son of his) then ceases to be a long term threat to Zeus.

        • I hadn’t considered it until you articulated it just now, but I wonder if there’s any comparison that we’ll be able to make to Christianity, what with Zeus being both Father and Son in one. I don’t totally know how to unpack that just yet, but the seed is definitely planted.

  6. Pingback: Wonder Woman 25 | Retcon Punch

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