Today, 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.
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.
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!
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