Today, Taylor and Drew are discussing Wonder Woman 30, originally released April 16th, 2014.
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?
Drew: Man, I sure hope the First Born isn’t entitled to some kind of birthday wish (though maybe it’s a deathday if it’s Hades’ candles you blow out?).
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.
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Hey, would you look at that! Even Brian Azzarello had a problem with the Amazon practice of throwing male babies to their deaths. I know some people were ALL up in arms about that development, but it turns out that it’s not just some edgy thing Azz was using to shock people. That practice, like fucking everything in this series, was put in there to make a point, serving a greater thematic purpose. I don’t know that there’s a more patient, thoughtful comic out there right now.
What I really like is that Azzarello is so quiet (when compared to the likes of Dan Slott) about it. So many other writers, when confronted with those objections are quick to shout “WAIT!” from the hilltops, which I think often undercuts the significance of the discomfort in the first place. Azzarello is pretty clearly of the mindset that a work of art is best evaluated when it’s done (most of his interviews amount to “You’ll have to read it to find out”), which I love, but can grind against those who want a consistent issue-by-issue message from a series.
What struck me about this issue is how clearly it lays out Diana’s journey as one of growth and worldliness. She’s spent the last few years learning about other cultures (and learning more about her own), and has come back with a perspective that is obviously lacking within the xenophobic ranks of the Amazons. I love the idea that these series may amount (at least in part) to an indictment of Moulton’s notion of an all-female utopia. Diversity is good! Openness is good! These are the ideals Diana represents in the New 52. This series may very well stand as the most thorough and thoughtful reimagining of the relaunch. Would that the rest of DC’s line would canonize it.
Another thing that just got it’s explanation why it was in there, the candles on Hades freaking head. For First Born to blow them out.
Him being a little kid, I think those where his “light in the darkness” of sorts. I’m thinking he’ll live (FBs meet with Sea should insure this) but will be afraid since his lights went out. But perhaps Wondy’s “shoot through the heart” of his with the silver mirror will be of help?
I find it interesting how closely this week’s issue of “Batman and Wonder Woman” ties into the status quo of this issue — the returned Amazons, Hippolyta’s remaining a statue, Diana’s difficulties ruling her subjects, and even the anti-man sentiment coming from Aleka in particular — hell, R’as finding Themyscara even comes about because of the “breeding practices” of the Amazons in the past that Azzarello seems to be discrying in this issue. Looks like Tomasi reached out to Azarello (or at least his editor) before writing his issue, which makes me a very happy camper.
Tomasi is for sure the master of incorporating the continuities of other series. It’s not the flashiest skill, but it makes him an important piece of the glue that holds the Universe together. If anyone could pull something like tying into this series off, it’s him.
Great point. I love how it worked out that the very month after the reintroduction of the Amazons that they got such a thorough appearance in a Tomasi book. For all it’s glories, Azz’ WW has never felt as integrated as Tomasi managed. The Orion appearances were great, though.
This comic has been a dense, graceful, and beautiful work. It’s just as much literature and art as it is Saturday morning cartoon action spectacular. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever read and I’m dying to see how it finishes. And then read it again. I LOVE the Morrison/Paquette team, and I really am excited to see their take, but as rabid as I am for that I can’t imagine it living up to this three year long epic that completely reimagined almost everything about the property.
“Dense, graceful, and beautiful,” is exactly how I’d describe basically everything of Azzarello’s I’ve ever read. The fact that this has been running straight through for almost three years now marks it as one of the most assured, breathless, and consistently great serialized narratives I’ve ever experienced. I can’t wait to reread every issue. This is just good comics.
Drew, since we started this, I have made many pledges to go back and re-read stuff, but I seldom make good on those threats. But once Azz’ Wonder Woman wraps up, I would like to read the whole thing, back to front. I know that’s going to be hard (what with the 10,000 other comics we read), but I want to experience the whole narrative SO BADLY. I honestly can’t think of a current (or even recent) series that I’d have the patience to do that with.
Or one that promises to reward that patience so thoroughly. I haven’t picked up any collections of any series I’ve ever read in monthlies, but I could totally see picking up some kind of deluxe omnibus of this run if DC ever saw fit to release such a thing.
If it get’s an omnibus/absolute treatment (8-900 pages?) I’d so get one and lock the door and just read the thing. Then I’d order some more and give to my friends. Then I’d read it again.
Or perhaps three collections 1=1-12, 2= Zero-23, 3= FB-34something would be the best way. Perhaps three Absolute books collecting the story that way… Yeah-zeus All-fucking-mighty!
Such a great book. While it’s half way through the last act it I don’t mind it ending, since it’s so good. And I bet the ending will be too.
A cool thing about this issue how things became very meta, in a way the amazons being feminists. How they are seen as a group and thought about as individuals.
When Strife (the one in the cape) speaks to them one replies that “we aren’t a collective mind” and goes on about how they actually are more often in disagreement than agreeing with each other. This being how feminists are seen by some, as if a big sect or something. And also the way things are, that each one is an individual.
And from a personal plane to a bigger broader one. Diana telling Hermes and Dio about the separatism thing was also really in line with this. That the amazons are angry at the moment and being sensitive to their wishes can be a good way of starting things. This is then taken further when Hera tells the WW army that the barriers must be taken away for Diana to be able to move forward.
I really think this made the amazons really interesting. While I dig the “amazon who hate men” thing, this really made it much more heavy and tragic. Also love the whole feminist thing it’s getting at. Really feels that Azzarello will make them even more interesting for every chapter up till the end 🙂
Also. With the next chapter named “This monster turned to eleven”. Do have a look at a song by The pixies that’s called “This monkey gone to heaven”, and see if the lyrics doesn’t indicate a little homage 😉
When I write “amazons being feminists” I mean that they can be seen as representing them in the story in different ways. I’m not suggesting that sexy murder raids and baby give aways are signs of feminism 😉
Absolutely. I think Diana has long been a feminist symbol, but the face of feminism has changed (and in many ways, splintered) significantly since she was created. I think this series will ultimately redefine what kind of feminist Diana is, and I think contrasting her with characters like the Amazons, Strife, Hera, and Zola has been extremely important to that end.
I think an important aspect to bring about feminism is the “spread”, that not every person in on the same idea. Where’s most are for equality, some think, through their feminism, perhaps think women should get “more” to be able to catch up, others dislike porn, some LOVE porn while others just “be what you want, as long as you treating others equal.”
There was a debate in one of the public service channels about this, showing that there was almost a different version of feminism per person in the audience. And this debate actually helped the feminist political party in my country to gain ground, and it looks like they’ll even be able to score a seat or two in a couple of years.
And about “EQUAL”. I think one big aim with the book will be to show that when alot comes down to it -human- nature is one big improvise, but there’s alot we can do to improve it. If ideas are put into work now by nurture, then they’ll become traditions later and even easier to put to work.
Absolutely. Aleka clearly represents a subset of feminism that is openly anti-men (an attitude that some associate with all feminism, unfortunately), while Diana clearly represents a more inclusive focus on equality. They’re both strong, capable characters, and I actually love that Azzarello has taken the care to show that the Amazons aren’t all of one mind when it comes to their own definitions of feminism.