Taylor: The internet is an amazing tool. The rhetorical nature of that comment is almost so great that it’s remarkable, but I think it’s occasionally a good exercise to step back and take stock of the amazing things that make up our world. In the recent past the internet has caused real social change given its ability to unite people behind a singular cause. In particular, the movement for gender equality seems to be gaining more and more steam, as both women and men are able to voice their experiences with prejudice in their daily lives. Comics, being a reflection of the world of which gave them birth, are also picking up on this trend. It seems only natural that Wonder Woman, a title which features an empowered female lead, would eventually weigh in on this subject. However, the subtlety and grace with which it broaches this topic in issue 30 is both unexpected and wonderfully wrought, making for an memorably understated episode.
The First Born has taken over Olympus, bringing the promise of a reign of death and destruction. As Poseidon notes, Heaven no longer lives up to its name. On Olympus the First Born torments Cassandra by feeding her parts of Cheever before he pays a little visit to Hades in the underworld. Hades is contemplating attacking Olympus with his army, but he is caught off guard by the First Born, with what could be deadly results.
Meanwhile on Paradise Island Diana struggles with her newfound duties as acting Queen of the Amazons. While all of the warrior women have returned to their human forms, Diana’s mother, for unknown reasons, remains a statue. This leaves Diana in charge of her tribe, but the transition is not as smooth as one might hope. Diana struggles with how to win over her compatriots and get them to help her in her quest against the First Born. The results are a bit surprising.
Diana, above all else, is a pragmatist. She knows danger when she sees it and she knows that sometimes you have to do everything in your power to defeat it, even if that means compromising some of your long-held beliefs. Having witnessed the power and evil of the First Born first hand, Diana knows she’ll need an army to defeat him. Naturally, this falls on the shoulders of her kinswomen. But the Amazons aren’t so keen on helping Diana out. This trepidation on their part stems from the troubled past the two share and a slight difference of ideologies. See, the Amazon’s aren’t so keen on allowing men into their enclave, a stance which Wonder Woman has renounced because she recognizes it as antiquated and counterproductive. In urging her fellow warrior women to come to her aid, Diana asks the Amazons to move beyond their traditional ways of thinking.
In short, Diana is asking the Amazons to help her protect a baby boy, the thought of which isn’t exactly popular on Paradise Island. In her speech, however, Wonder Woman urges the Amazons to evolve their views, move beyond their sexist beliefs, and help protect the world. This entire episode is a wonderful inversion of what is happening in our own world today. We live in a world where women aren’t held in as high esteem as their male counterparts. One has only to look at the gap in income between men and women in the same job to understand that basic inequality. Frankly it’s a dumb and broken system that needs fixing. Writer Brian Azzarello, having penned such a gender-aware hero as Wonder Woman is surely aware of this, and flips the entire situation upside down. Now men are persecuted for no good reason and things need to change to ensure the survival of mankind. It’s a subtle commentary but one that carries a lot of meaning.
In addition to this commentary there was one panel in this issue that really stood out to me. It comes while we’re in Hades, as the entity for which the place is named muses to his father, Cronus.
There is something especially striking about the layout of this panel. I simply love how Cronus is dead-center of the panel which lends the page a wonderful symmetry. Having Hades head cover the grotesque image of Cronus open stomach saves the viewer from too much gore while also creating a bit of comedy as we wait for the grape eaten by Cronus to plop out of his body one he swallows it. The fruits and other food at the bottom of the table set off some wonderful baroque shadowing that lends the panel a mysterious feeling which is perfect for the climax of this scene. All in all, a strong showing by artist Goran Sudzuka.
Your thoughts, Drew, on social commentary or artistic renderings in this issue? What does all of the positioning in this issue mean for the future? If you blow out all of Hades candles, do you get a wish?
For me, the biggest support for the gender-swapped reading you described is the way it contrasts with the First Born’s über-macho approach to ruling. He takes everything he wants, humiliates those beneath him — heck, he even turned Olympus into a giant fleshy phallus.
Actually, that that phallus is streaked with blood may be an ugly symbol of the way the First Born takes whatever he wants. When Cassandra fears that he may want to assault her, he suggests that she’s flattering herself. He never rapes anyone, but the issue makes it absolutely clear that he’s a rapist — even if only an emotional one.
It’s entirely coincidental that this issue was released in the wake of the fallout of Janelle Asselin’s comments, but it’s very fitting. The First Born represents the kind of power and privilege that leads to the threats and posturing that Asselin and other females in the comics community have had to deal with. It’s an ugly portrait of the comics community, but also the world at large, where might too often still makes right.
But Azzarello has brilliantly positioned Diana as a beacon of hope. In contrast to the first born, she is a remarkably caring leader, concerning herself with the thoughts and wishes of her subjects, addressing them as her sister, and generally asking rather than telling. She doesn’t just have strength in numbers, but in loyalty — while the First Born is able to threaten Cassandra into cooperation, Diana does the work to actually win over her suspicious countrywomen. She may need to convince them, but the fact that their feelings matter at all is incredibly powerful.
But the truly important piece is that she isn’t replacing one form of sexism with another. The story here isn’t that women are better than men, but that inclusion is better than exclusion. As Azzarello ramps into his endgame, seeds planted years ago are beginning to bear fruit, and one of the key pieces is how Diana has come to know, care about, and trust men. Sure, there have been hiccups along the way (Hermes’ betrayal and Orion’s douchebaggery spring to mind), but she’s also met father-figures, brothers, friends, and even a son-figure of sorts.
In many ways, it’s easy to read this series as a kind of after-school special, where Diana is a member of a xenophobic, prejudiced family, but spends some time on the other side of the tracks, and returns to her family espousing the value of diversity. That sounds like it could be super corny, but Azzarello sells the holy living snot out of it.
This is as rousing a call to action as any I’ve seen addressing the very same issue (albeit gender-swapped) in the comics community. That it takes place within William Moulton’s all-female Utopia is important. The Amazons are represented as racially diverse, but are made up exclusively of women. Azzarello posits that that exclusivity is a weakness just the same as when it’s men excluding women. For Wonder Woman to be a truly strong leader, she needs to lead man and woman alike.
Realizing that this series may revolve around how Diana relates to the men in her life — she’s been a student, and object, a friend, a sister, a sucessor, a leader, and so much more — lends a whole new depth to her journey. It seems Azzarello is tilting at changing (or “evolving,” as Diana puts it) some of Wonder Woman’s core tenants — or at least resolving some of the hypocrisy within them. Turning that evolution into the story itself is his true stroke of genius, pulling Diana into modernity with much more grace than the rest of the New 52. The story is only going to get richer from here, and I can’t wait to see how he wraps this up.
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 download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?