Patrick: Friday night, I was at a bar with some friends and — after the second round — the topic of conversation turned to “panty raids.” None of us had even participated in one nor had any of us been victim of one, but we all had these half-formed ideas from 80s college movies (and anything parodying 80s college movies). We all understood the same broad strokes: a group of men, probably a fraternity, steals underpants from a group of girls, probably a sorority. The purpose of a panty raid was still sort of elusive, and even among our small group, our perceptions of the gender and sexuality politics involved were all over the map. Is it a harmless prank? An anarchic expression of teenage sexuality? A skeezy male sexual power fantasy? That last thought hung with me through the weekend: no matter how panty raids were intended, the end result is at least a little rapey. Even something as stupid and frivolous as a panty raid has overtones of rape. Modern feminism has an awful lot to say about this prevalent rape culture, especially as a particularly glaring example of how far we really are from gender equality. As DC’s de facto symbol of feminism, Wonder Woman was bound to address the issue eventually, and the subtlety and grace of the conclusion to Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s masterpiece was the perfect place for it to happen.
Diana starts the issue completely powerless, bound and taunted by the First Born. Very quickly, a drama plays out between First Born and Wonder Woman that hits all the greatest hits of Shitty Things Guys Do. First, he claims Diana as his own. Then, when the Minotaur simply glances at Diana, the First Born slaps him around for daring to look at his “chosen.” The First Born continues to be alarmingly forward, explicitly saying that he’s going to impregnate Diana. Then, when Diana asserts a definitive “No,” the First Born goes ahead and penetrates her anyway. He does it with his horrifying wrist-blades, and stabs her through the stomach but the basic act is the same — she says no, but the no isn’t honored.
I don’t believe that this is “the point” of the series, or even this issue necessarily, but the efficiency with which Azzarello moves through a sadly familiar domestic drama tells an interesting story about Diana and her role as a feminist icon. We’ve gotten in pretty intense arguments on this site about how explicitly Diana has to express this feminism. Generally, I’d say that Retcon Punch editorial is happy to see her leading by example, rather than didactically addressing inequality. As this series has moved into its end game, the nods to more overtly feminist ideals — like equality and inclusion — have become frequent. With Diana’s rebuffed refusal of First Born’s advances, Azzarello is playing the biggest card in the deck. We hardly need another reason to call for First Born’s blood, but now he’s the definitive anti-Wonder Woman — a boorish champion of anti-feminist values. I cannot wait to see that motherfucker get what’s coming to him.
That’s one of the masterful things about this story — even in expressing its most innate thematic material, the narrative is always always always building toward a more exciting conclusion. That’s what’s happening on the ground on Paradise Island. The battle is packed with more stand-up-and-cheer moments than just about any other issue in recent memory. Hera putting Orion in his place? Amazing. Aleka’s rousing Independence Day-esque speech? Zeke somehow reanimating Hippolyta? Yes yes yes! In between those stirring moments, there is an alarming amount of content. Chiang establishes a three by three panel-grid a the outset of the issue.
This is the visual primer for the rest of the issue. Chiang returns to this layout over and over again, sometimes packing even more panels in, but always orderly and at right angles. The only exceptions are the two one-page splashes that feature the First Born and Hippolyta. Also, check out that sixth panel — the tight shot of Diana’s face in profile. Not only do we get a lot of that perspective on her face, but that position in the middle of the right side of the page is frequently dominated by our hero’s face. Like, no bullshit, a quarter of the pages in this issue put Diana’s face in that panel. In the very last of those panels, the determined look we see in this first page has all but disappeared as her eyes roll back in her head, apparently defeated.
Also notice the parallel structure of these two pages, with Diana in the even numbered panels. There’s is so much chaos on the battlefield of Themyscira that the order Chiang imposes on the page is much appreciated. It’s not even like this orderliness prevents Chiang from using spacial relationships to his advantage. I love this moment when the spears are raining down on Aleka and Zola, the first tall panel expressing the downward momentum of these weapons, and the three wide panels expressing just how long they had to endure this onslaught.
Drew, I obviously enjoyed the hell out of this issue. How do you feel about the more expressly voiced feminist ideas as this series comes to a close? What’s your favorite action beat in this brawl? And because this is probably the last time we’ll be able to bring it up: remember how we still don’t know where Zeus is?
Drew: Speaking of things we’ve been wondering about since issue 1: remember the prophecy? The one that talked about a god ruling in fire, wearing a crown of horns and a cape of blood? Well, we finally see the first born grow that crown of horns to complete his ensemble. The oracles also warned us about one of Zeus’ children killing another in order to take their place, and we saw that happen way back in issue 23. It seems the only bits of the prophecy we haven’t sussed out is the identity of the naked woman who lays at the First Born’s feet — is it Hera? Aphrodite? — as well as the whereabouts of Zeus, who we were told didn’t exist “yet.”
But maybe we have more information than we thought about those. When Apollo visited his second group of oracles in issue 23.2, they suggested that following the battle for Olympus “the naked woman is there, but she’s too late” and that this woman is Apollo’s sister. That leaves only Diana and Artemis as potential candidates, and I think we may have already seen it happen. Sure, when Diana is wounded at the First Born’s feet, she’s not literally naked, but she is arguably figuratively naked. She’s utterly powerless, and if we’re going to accept Patrick’s reading of that scene as a symbolic rape (which I do), than I think it’s appropriate to understand that Diana is symbolically naked. Hell, Azzarello even makes a point of having her shed her titles prior to the stabbing — she no longer has the gowns of a princess or the uniform of a superhero or the armor of a god, she’s just Diana.
My read on the where Zeus is, I’m sticking to my guns on Zeke being Zeus (or eventually becoming Zeus or something). It’s not the most exciting read, and I can’t give you an explanation for how or why that may end up being thematically relevant, but Zeke is the only character who has come into existence since the first issue. Unless, of course, that “existence” is also symbolic, in which case, Zeus could manifest himself in the selflessness of Orion, or the compassion of Hera, or even in the sympathy of the First Born.
Wait. Did I just suggest that the First Born displays sympathy? Don’t get me wrong — he’s absolutely a monster — but there are hints here that he’s experienced more growth than his actions let on. The very fact that he respects Diana speaks to something we might not have assumed about him. Heck, he even respects that “no” — it pisses him off, for sure, but only because he cares at all what Diana’s response was. The biggest tell, though, lies in that first page (the first one Patrick included), where First Born’s face is fractured and elongated by Diana’s presence. Cut out panels 4,6, and 8, and you get a complete portrait of the First Born.
That his facade is broken up by Diana’s presence is telling — heck, even in this image where I aimed to cut her out, she still occupies some real estate in his head. He casts her aside to save face after she refuses, but that only reveals how much he cares.
That’s not to say First Born is in any way a sympathetic character — he really isn’t — but I think it’s intriguing that our symbol of violent machismo holds our symbol of feminism in some esteem. Sure, he may not respect her on the terms that she wants, ultimately leading him to act like even more of an uber-macho dick, but I think that that’s actually a story that has played out since the dawn of time. That is, men fail to truly understand the basic humanity of women (even the ones they like), turn them into objects, then assure themselves that they were objects all along. Because here’s the thing: what is it about Diana that First Born is “respecting” in the first place? He fixates on her titles and his desire for a partner, but never speaks about her in any kind of personal way. He can respect her as a warrior, and maybe even as a god, but not as a person.
You know, I’ve seen folks griping about how many men are now part of Wonder Woman‘s extended cast, but doesn’t that make sense? Feminism doesn’t exist in a vaccuum, and any comprehensive exploration of the subject is going to have to address how women interact with different types of men, from the out-and-out rapists like First Born to the gentler but still too alpha Orion to the totally passive stances of Hermes and Dio, who watch the armies of the First Born and the Amazons lay waste to each other with utter detachment. I’m honestly not sure which of those attitudes is the most damaging, or what to make of Zeke’s act of…puppeteering? Life-giving? It’s possible that he’s Azzarello’s new surrogate, but it’s also interesting that the least damaging action we see a male take in this issue might have him literally controlling a woman. At any rate, I’m excited to continue this discussion in the comments!
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?