“What kind of madness?”
“Men sometimes generate a good kind…you’ll see.”
Aleka and Zola, Wonder Woman 31
Scott: Zola issues this reassurance to the Amazons, whose world is about to be turned upside down by the arrival of men on Paradise Island. It’s interesting that Zola feels this way; most of the trouble in her life has been caused by men. She was impregnated by Zeus (who’s still missing, by the way), held captive by Hades, and had her baby nearly killed by Apollo. She could easily have turned against men, but she’s wise enough to realize these are anomalies, and far more men have helped her along the way. Men, like many other groups, often get a bad rap because of the actions of a select few. As Wonder Woman 31 shows, sometimes those actions are unspeakably horrific, but prejudice will do nothing to overcome them. The good, both men and women, must unite to defeat the evil.
On Paradise Island, the Amazons are resistant to the social changes Diana wants to implement (i.e. allowing men on the island), but Dessa, Diana’s trusted advisor, agrees to trust Diana. Zola likes the idea of finally having a place she and Zeke can call home, but is soon shocked to discover Zeke has gone missing…again. Diana investigates, heading to the cliffs, where she finds Zeke in the arms of Dessa, who intends to sacrifice the child to preserve the Amazons’ long-standing ideology. Diana talks Dessa out of it, resulting in a whirlwind of emotions.
Stealing and nearly killing Zeke are drastic actions, but Azzarello doesn’t turn Dessa into a monster. As rousing as Diana’s call on the Amazons to protect Zeke in Wonder Woman 30 was, it’s hard to believe that all the Amazons, or even most of them, would so quickly abandon a principle they’ve held their entire lives. What really surprised me was that Dessa was acting alone. Surely other Amazons share her hesitancy to accept a boy in their world, essentially giving up their sense of identity as a society. Then again, dropping a baby off a cliff is a pretty horrific idea and likely a tough sell, even to fellow Amazons, but the fact that Dessa goes this far shows just how frightening Diana’s proposed changes are to her sisters.
What I like most about the cliff scene (the above panels in particular) is the way Goran Sudzuka gives us a false sense of security before pulling the rug out. Our main concern as readers is making sure Zeke stays safe, and by keeping Zeke in view throughout the scene, Sudzuka constantly keeps the suspense high. When Dessa finally hands Zeke to Diana we can breathe a sigh of relief, right? Wrong. There goes Dessa over the cliff. It shouldn’t be surprising — Azzarello wouldn’t introduce a cliff and not have someone jump off — but by virtue of of alleviating our primary worry a moment earlier, the creative team makes what could have been a very predictable outcome into a surprising one.
If the Amazons are worried about the madness men can generate, hopefully no one tells them about the other half of this issue. The other storyline follows Hermes and Dionysus, who are chillin’ in London when they notice a bunch of dead people walking around. They go Hell to see what’s up, and immediately regret it. Last issue showed the First Born blowing out Hades’ candles, and had us wondering if that spelled Hades’ demise. It’s far worse than that. Hades has been fed alive to his own father, Kronos, and Cassandra has been forced to take Hades’ remains from Kronos’ open stomach and feed them to him again and again.
These aren’t the most grotesque panels of the sequence, but the panels that turn the grotesque into outright horror. Cassandra’s words coupled with Hades’ garments and candles on the floor leaves no doubt that Hades has met a fate worse than death. Being immortal, he can still feel everything that is happening to his body. It’s especially cruel of the First Born to have chosen these three victims for this particular abuse; the reason Kronos’ stomach is open in the first place is because he ate his newborn children, Hades included, and Zeus cut them out of him. Meanwhile, by feeding Hades to Kronos, Cassandra is constantly reminded of another sick bit of torture the First Born subjected her to — feeding her a piece of her friend Cheever.
This might be the most grizzly sequence I’ve ever seen, in this title or any other. After such a scene, it isn’t hard to side with Dessa — maybe the Amazons are better off without the madness brought on by men. But that’s an unfair generalization. This madness wasn’t brought on by “men”, it’s the work of one hyper-masculine psychopath. Drew, I really can’t wait to see Diana and the Amazons kick the snot out of the First Born, can you?
Drew: You know, as cathartic as a knock-down drag-out with the First Born might be, I half suspect that Diana’s eventual victory won’t come in the form of a fist fight. It’s simply too masculine — the way Ares (or the First Born himself) might have chosen to win, but clearly not Diana’s style. That’s not to say that Diana can’t hold her own in a throw-down, we’ve seen time and time again that she’s more than capable on the battlefield. Indeed, Azzarello takes the care to remind us of in the form of her sparring match with Artemis.
The exchange also emphasizes the differences between Ares and Diana when it comes to restraint — what has become one of the central themes of the series. Of course, we have seen Diana remove her cuffs before, though that decision led directly to her killing Ares. That Diana may not be willing to cross that line again is a testament to the way Azzarello has slowly built her character as a growing, changing, human being (even if she is half-god). She’s tried giving herself over to the “ichor of Zeus”, as Artemis puts it, and it seems she would rather hold on to her compassion.
That compassion has also become a defining characteristic of this series, though it has come out in force as Diana has attempted to impart it to her Amazonian sisters. In the comments of the previous issue, we discussed how Diana is effectively clarifying her particular brand of feminism as wholly inclusive, equally supportive of men and women — in contrast to the openly anti-male feminism practiced by some of her sisters. That second type may very well be what William Moulton had in mind when developing her character (though discussing Moulton’s intentions with the character may overcomplicate the point here), but Azzarello is very specifically giving Diana the strength of character to see beyond the transgressions of her male enemies (let’s not forget that she’s been at odds with plenty of women in this series, too).
That inclusion has made some uncomfortable — I recently saw a twitter exchange where Wonder Woman fans were lamenting Azzarello’s decision to give Diana a father/father figure as perverting a female story by including men — but it’s clear that that’s the point. Dessa also struggles with the changes here, but Diana is able to win her over with her acknowledgement that they’re in this together.
This seems like an open appeal to those naysaying fans. This series truly is a love-letter to Wonder Woman — the kind that mines special meaning in the hearts of longtime fans, so their dissenting opinions may be important to the health of this series, but only if they stick around to have their voices heard (that is, throwing themselves from the cliffs of readership is no way to react). It’s a rousing call for open-mindendess that seems impossible to refuse. Including men may seem like madness, but it might just be the good kind.
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?