Today, Patrick and Drew are discussing Wonder Woman 26, originally released December 18th, 2013.
Patrick: On Brian Azzarello’s Mount Olympus, the gods and demigods all serve very specific purposes. When he shows up out of nowhere at the end of the issue, Dio identifies himself as the god of “the truffle harvest, tragedies, luxuries, parks and galleries.” That’s a weird concept, but one we always embrace when discussing mythological creatures: sure, I get why we need a god of the hunt (or wine or sword making or whatever). But, like, it’s a nonsense conceit, made all the more explicit by Zola asking “what’s a truffle?” Beyond being avatars of various nouns, the gods are also a family, and the roles they play within that family are just as indicative of the parts they play in this on-going drama. They are victims and bullies, martyrs and defenders, cousins, long-lost-sisters and little brothers. The mix of the divine and the human is sublime, making every turn of this series as surprising as it is inevitable.
Cassandra still has Milan on his knees and demands that he use his magic non-eyes to locate Zeus. Milan protests — he knows full well that he can’t divine that kind of information. Orion is the first to arrive to his friend’s rescue, but while he makes short work of Cassandra’s army of hyena-men, she’s got superior weapons-technology to put Orion in his place. Fortunately, Wonder Woman, Hermes and Siracca join the fray and manage to pry Milan out of Cassandra’s control. Unfortunately, Cassie straps a bomb to Milan’s chest on her way out. Left with very few options, Orion rushes his friend to New Genesis, where they can maybe — but only maybe — remove the bomb in time.
Orion is a great guy. I know it’s been months since he and Wonder Woman shared a “shut the fuck up” kiss, but I think it’s about time to excuse his swagger. Milan is basically the perfect character to put in danger to really test our heroes’ mettle — he’s an oracle, a family member, a friend to Orion, and a big ol’ weirdo. He’s the little brother, through and through, and my heart nearly broke when I realized what that thing was on his chest. We’re so used to cheering on Diana in this series, but how do you not stand up and holler for this moment?
At this point, both Orion and Wonder Woman have similarly noble goals — protect their friends, protect their families. Their little clan is a weird casualty in this battle for the throne of Olympus, and that’s a battle they appear to have very little interest in. You have to imagine that our heroes would never have gotten involved if Cassandra marched against Apollo. They can opt out of the power-struggle all they want, there’s always going to be someone that they care about caught as collateral damage.
Nowhere is this duality better demonstrated than in the Zola / Zeke pairing. We’ve been postulating (possibly forever) that Zeke is Zeus, which makes his existence the Key To Everything. But on the IMMEDIATE flip-side, we’ve got his mother, Zola, whose ambitions don’t rise above having a normal life with her baby. That’s not a life she’s going to be able to have, and whether she’s under Wonder Woman’s constant guard or sitting alone in a tube station, the fate of Olympus rests in her arms.
Let’s talk about Zola’s decision to leave for a second. Obviously, Strife tricked her into it, even if she did so by stating all true facts: both War and Lenox gave their lives in service of protecting them. That’s what Strife does — she tricks people without being dishonest. The thing is, I’m not totally clear on what her end-game is here. She’s damn near cheery when Wonder Woman and Hermes return from their semi-botched rescue mission. And there’s still the issue of Chekov’s hatpin.
Is this a reminder that she still has that thing? Or does this suggest that she’s accomplished everything she needed to without the pin? I trust that it’s still very much in play. There’s a scene earlier in the book where she’s talking to Zola, and the camera lingers on the pin, hidden conspicuously behind her back. Whatever that thing can do, Azzarello and Goran Sudzuka want to make sure that we associate that weapon with as much menace as possible. Menace accomplished.
Drew, what do you think Strife is up to? Does she want to put Zeke and Zola in danger to motivate Diana into a more active position in the war for Olympus? Or does she just want to take out the happy family? And does no one give a shit about the First Born? He is being tortured something fierce right now — being eaten alive by flies currently. It’s interesting that the two torture methods we’ve seen so far involve consuming him in one form or another. It’s not enough to hurt him, someone’s got to eat him. I guess sometimes you’re a terrifying warrior, and sometimes, you’re lunch.
Drew: One of the most intriguing things to me about Azzarello’s characterization of the gods is their personalities beyond their patronage. Like, sure, Dionysus is an unrepentant hedonist, but his motivations for allying with Apollo are much more complicated. The same could be said of Hermes’ allegiance to Diana. Azzarello has taken as many cues as possible from their mythology, but has also done a great deal of work to turn one-dimensional archetypes into living, breathing characters.
Except for Strife.
Let me be clear: I don’t mean that as a slight, just to say that her motivations are still a mystery. So far, she seems motivated only my the desire to maximize the suffering of those around her — totally appropriate for a puckish trickster-god, but incredibly difficult to get a read on. Of course, I think that’s the point. Battle after battle, this series has been about ever larger threats, and Azzarello seems to be shifting to another gear, suggesting that the biggest threat yet might take the form of a tiny pin — at least in the hands of a totally unpredictable character.
So what is she going to do with that pin? I like your idea that popping the balloon symbolizes what she has accomplished (or at least started to accomplish) — look at how much bigger the effect is than the effort she puts into it. She didn’t inflate the balloon, but by simply raising a pin, she can undo the work of whoever did — and the force of doing so can blow all of the other balloons away. To me, that kind of efficiency is way scarier than her desire to cause as much mayhem as possible — she might be able to undo all that Diana has done without so much as leaving that apartment.
Actually, on closer inspection, Strife might somehow be responsible for those balloons being in the air — they look pretty well table-bound on the previous page:
Not sure that that changes much of anything — it may suggest that she’s willing to expend some energy, though the mechanism isn’t revealed — but it’s certainly a strange detail.
Anyway, I totally agree about Orion’s heroism here. He’s made such an ass of himself throughout this series, he really needed this purely selfless act to earn the title of hero. I also agree about making Milan the one in distress — Orion putting himself in harms way to save someone would have been heroic no matter what, but it means something more because Milan is so emotionally unguarded. He may not be totally helpless, but he often comes across as a child.
It’s hard not to want to bring him whatever comfort we can.
Between a concealed weapon and a literal ticking time-bomb, Azzarello is working hard to keep the tension up here, but you can still feel the slackening of the pace a bit. Sure, Zola may have just fallen into the hands of Apollo (and Orion’s DNA-tracking technology is conveniently unavailable for the time being), but wasn’t Apollo already satisfied that the prophecy had been fulfilled? I’m not sure this issue could really replicate the urgency of having most of the gods gunning for one baby, so it was a smart choice to focus instead on the maybe-not-so-small dangers lurking at home. The adrenaline has been replaced with an aura of dread, which I think suits this series quite well.
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