Wonder Woman 35

Alternating Currents: Wonder Woman 35, Patrick and DrewToday, Patrick and Drew are discussing Wonder Woman 35, originally released October 29th, 2014

Patrick: A lot has been made of Hollywood’s apparent inability to adapt Wonder Woman for the screen. Is that driven by the sexism inherent in action film-making? Probably, in part. But Diana, Princess of the Amazons, suffers from a pretty severe case of “what the hell is she about?” We have easily understandable slug lines for just about any other bankable superhero: Batman is the mortal knight of vengeance; Superman is invincible alien boy scout, etc. There’s a how and a why expressed in both of those descriptions. Those attitudes have aged well, but for some reason, the essential nature of Wonder Woman is harder for creators to assert in perpetuity throughout the decades. What Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang have done in their 37 (and a half) issues of Wonder Woman is reassert just who this character is, and why her fundamental qualities are every bit as iconic as truth, justice and the American way.

Alright, so what am I talking about? What is Wonder Woman’s guiding principle? It’s love. We’ve seen Diana’s ability to love unconditionally expressed as her trump card before — way back in issue 10 when she was able to escape from Hell because she loved her captor — and we’ve discussed up her extraordinary capacity for love in her friendship Zola. The enormous army that has come to support her in the final battle are all motivated by love. This is a thematic concept that can be a little bit troubling: why should the female superhero be assigned a virtue that can just as easily be credited as a weakness? Azzarello addresses this directly by having Diana list some of the less intimidating tenants of love as she thrashes The First Born. Mercy, compassion, nurturing, and then “above all” submission. Expertly, the story cuts away from this battle before we can get closure on what’s so powerful about submission.

In fact, the scene that we cut away to is arguably the climax of the plot of all 37.5 issues, as Zola places Zeke on the throne of Olympus. As soon as Zeke is installed as the new ruler, it becomes obvious that, yes, this son of Zeus is also Zeus himself reborn. I’d declare an I-told-you-so, but Azzarello and Chiang beat me to the punch.

I KNEW ITGood point, guys. Strife and I might have been able to call this development three years ago, but who cares? Last month we discussed how Strife might be a weird surrogate for both the audience and the comics industry at large, feeding off the un-ending misery of these characters, and this moment wherein we share her perspective is perfectly representative of how pithy and pointless plot really is. That’s the drama that goes through the grinder again and again, and is little more than a vehicle for the character truths we arrive at along the way.

Back to that truth — when we cut back to Wonder Woman and The First Born’s battle, the tables have turned completely and Diana expands on what makes submission so great. I think this is the most important moment in the whole run, so I’m posting the whole thing here.

that's the power of love“Submission is faith in the strength of others.” That’s beautiful, and moreover, it’s a resonant, honest statement about the power of love. As audiences, we’re too often presented with a Care Bears idea of love: basically, that the power of friendship prevails because shut-up-it-just-does. Consider the end of Guardians of the Galaxy — they can contain the infinity stone because… they love each other? It’s an insincere moment, and one that doesn’t concretely demonstrate the power of anything (other than the power of blind sentiment to end a movie).

All of this dovetails nicely with the final scene of the issue. The entire game is laid bare when Athena reveals herself to be lurking deep within Zola, and she explains that various gears were set in motion by Zeus himself. Why? Even our 11th-hour exposition-dump can’t quite wrap her head around it. She speculates that maybe Zeus wanted to be something different, or maybe he was just hoping the whole thing would be a good time. Intriguingly, those are both viable reasons for DC executing the New 52 in the first place.

But none of that ends up mattering. All Diana cares about in the end is having her friend back. Again, it’s Diana’s appeal for love that ends up saving the day, not her divine lineage, not her new found status as of God of War, and certainly not some silly prophecy. Athena vacates Zola’s body and the reward is a return to status quo, just with a little more love in the world.

Drew, I couldn’t have been much happier with the way this ended. I love the call back to the zero issue, and the acknowledgement that this is the same Minotaur from way back when. Those quick inserts do a great job of subtly reminding us why such acts of mercy are happening in the first place. It’s also remarkable how Chiang renders the beast so sympathetically.

Minotaur says goodbyeAmazingly, it’s all tied back to the idea that these characters should simply be themselves — Diana, Zola, the Minotaur. That idea extends to the platonic ideal of Wonder Woman: she should always be a creature of love.

Drew: Looking back, it’s easy to see submission (that is, faith in others) as one of Wonder Woman’s defining traits. It’s been a strength in bringing together her supporting cast — trust is a two-way street — but I’m actually struck by how often her faith in others has worked against her. She trusted Hermes, but he kidnapped Zeke in issue 12; she trusted Zola and Hera, but they refused to stay put in issue 15; she trusted Strife, but she drove Zola away in issue 26; she trusted Dessa, but she attempted to kill Zeke in issue 31; heck, much of the action of this run was set in motion by the reveal that Hippolyta had been lying to her for years — the point is, she’s been burned by her willingness to submit a lot. Remarkably, these experiences haven’t shaken her faith — indeed, she’s forgiven every single one of those trespasses — which speaks to the strength of her character.

In the end, that unyielding faith in humanity is perhaps Diana’s greatest — and most distinguishing — strength. I mean, sure, Superman believes in us, too, but he didn’t chose us. Diana believed that there was good in the world of men — she had faith — because she believed what she was taught about love and forgiveness more than what she was taught about the evils that lurk there. That the love that can unite us can be stronger than the fear that separates us is a powerful message, and one that is extremely timely, given the forces of increasing xenophobia and partisanship here in the U.S. In a world ever more divided, this series serves as a stirring reminder that we may find more strength in forgiving our differences.

That lesson also speaks to Wonder Woman’s feminist roots. Any level-headed feminist would agree that feminism is about uniting, rather than dividing, so it only makes sense that the feminist utopia of Paradise Island should be just as welcoming. The reintroduction of the male Amazons may be one of the more controversial changes to the mythology of Wonder Woman (lord knows the explanation of where they came from was), but I hope it’s one that lasts. If Wonder Woman truly loves everyone, and she truly learned that lesson on Paradise Island, it only makes sense that Paradise Island would be welcoming of everyone. It’s an update the character desperately needed in order to reflect modern feminism.

Otherwise, this issue is pretty light on gendered messaging. As Patrick noted, Diana’s listed strengths do emphasize feminine qualities like mercy and compassion, but ultimately, this conclusion all revolves around her friendship with Zola. Patrick cited Diana’s definition as submission as the most important moment of the whole run, and while I agree that it’s the most definitive moment for Wonder Woman, I think this particular story hinges on Diana’s plea to Athena:

That's the power of loveThis is heart-wrenching in a way this series rarely is, but Azzarello and Chiang prove more than capable. Indeed, the vulnerability of Diana here demonstrates that her greatest strength — love — is also her greatest weakness. The sorrow of lost love is a vastly more relatable weakness than radioactive meteorites or even a bullet in an alley. That that weakness springs forth naturally out of her greatest strength speaks to the power — and universality — of that slugline Patrick mentioned, one that is perhaps now the most clearly articulated of DC’s trinity. That’s a legacy this creative team should be very proud of.

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?

14 comments on “Wonder Woman 35

  1. Full disclosure: over the past two days, I went back and read the entire run, and it absolutely holds up. One of the things I noticed was that, while the artists would alternate (or trade breakdowns and finishing duties), colorist Matthew Wilson and letterer Jared K Fletcher haven’t missed a single issue. I’m always bad at appreciating exactly how a letterer contributes to the feel of a book, but man, I sure as hell can see what the colors have done for this series. Flipping between the early issues an the most recent ones, I’m most struck by the textures Wilson was using in those early issues and the color holds he was using on characters’s faces in the later issues. The latter one is an affect he mostly reserves for his collaborations with Chiang (and indeed, I think it’s something he picked up from the way Chiang colors the covers on this series). but it’s quite striking.

    These last few issues have also features a LOT more 9-panel grids (or at least layouts built off of 9 panel grids), which was not present in much of the rest of the run. I’ll resist drawing any conclusions about what that means, but it certainly gives the last three issues a remarkably cohesive feel.

  2. Leave it to me to focus on gender at the expense of all other readings. Do we think Azzarello’s elevation of “submission” (gods, I really do prefer “trust” or “faith in others”) is a comment on fandom? Azz has always kind of bristled at questions about what’s happening next, admirably wanting fans to read it rather than pre-judge. Criticisms about what he’s done often fall by the wayside in light of later developments, so an assurance to calm down and have a little faith seems totally warranted.

    • I think that’s also a solid read – you mentioned the whole Men of Amazon controversy, which seemed to really have people up in arms, but you’d never know it from the series treatment of the material. The work has always been able to speak for itself and aggressively requires no hype and no explanation. That plays to the idea that I was talking about where the prophecy doesn’t matter all that much: we know that there will be some kind of twisty plots that guides us for 37 issues. What we didn’t know is what that experience would be like. This is a very experiential series.

      • I think leaving the details of Zeus plan in the darkness not only adds much re-readability but also the feel that nothing had to do with him besides giving Hippolyta a bun in the oven. Which I think is fresh in a way, that the big picture didn’t matter much when compared to the smaller things between characters. Sort of how people loves LOST right?

        And also, since Zeke-Zeus is a baby now and there’s no clear idea what he intended, anythings possible. So not only is Diana reforming the amazonian society into equality, but also reforming their religion!

        And about the ending. Beautiful, just beautiful. Way Diana goes her way to convince Athena about finding a new “vessel” (interestingly a word used for the amazon sons in WW#7) and Zola then standing there asking Diana “Who?” about Athena. Amazing stuff. It didn’t bother me a bit then that there wasn’t some “glory-montage” of how the amazons won over First borns troops. There was Diana and Zola. And then that “Who?” leads into the secret origin issue, where Athena leads Diana of the island the plot in a full circle with WW#1… Just amazing. Knowing where Zola ends up and her telling Hermes that her life isn’t important… Really makes it hard not to start reading it all over again 🙂

  3. I like how Diana went full Marston Wonder Woman and started to tie First born up while preaching about submission haha.

    Also the minotaur with his horns sawn off was really good imagery. As if emasculated with his horns sawn off, and the helmet/mask with horns being sort of “substitute”. It almost dived into some questions of gender with it. Which went even further with Zola, who’s sole role was to carry a child but to Diana meant so much more than just a bodily function.

    The shame aspect is also REALLY interesting. Aleka’s love for Diana in Secret origin mirroring Diana’s feelings of being different.

    Alot of stuff easily translated into identity vs gender.

    • Not to mention Zeus giving birth to Athena, whom then gives birth to him. Some complicated stuff 😉

      And as for your reviews of the book (and others!). They’re great! Thank you very much for that.

      And btw. Do have a look at “Southern bastards”. A crime book that comes with saddening mano y mano bullshit and good food recipes 🙂

  4. Hello. I have participated in a few comment sections here, although always late to the article.

    This review and the comment section seem very small for this issue. I’m truly shocked. Previous reviews called this series

    – The best of the New 52.
    – Life changing.
    – So good I could scream.

    Yet the website kinda lets the series end in a whimper?

    I love retcon punch. Your articles are the smartest discussions about comics you can find ANYWHERE. I would love to hear some analysis about how DC has handled wonder woman after this issue (even if I could care less about individual issue reviews). I would love an over arching discussion about the series as a whole now that it ended. I would an like an article about why other comics can’t be as good as this one! I could go on and on.

    • CONSULTING!

      Thanks for the kind words – it’s always good to know that people are digging the type of review we do on Retcon Punch. But I have to take issue with the claim that we didn’t cover this enough.

      You’d be sorta hard-pressed to find a site that’s spilled more digital ink about this series than us. We try to keep each individual conversation tight for readability purposes, but also because some of these pieces are coming out pretty quickly after the issue’s release (this one was out the day after the issue hit the stands). But we’ve published pieces on every single issue of this series (as penned by Azz and drawn by Chiang et. al). Like, we had a lot to say about it, but, y’know, we’ve already said it.

      Also, as much fun as it is to sling shit, I don’t think any of us really have the heart to compare the Finch version of this series to this one. We talked about issue 36 in one of our Round-Ups, and it kinda keeps coming back to the same criticism over and over again: this isn’t the excellent thing that we once loved. That’s a predominantly negative conversation, and we gravitate toward positive conversations. One of our goals is always to explore how an issue expresses what it does, which usually means looking in to issues that do a good job of that. There’s really no joy in discussing how a piece of shit expresses itself, you know what I mean?

      And finally, as we’ve evolved, the one thing that we keep coming back to is our discussions of individual issues. That’s our bread and butter, and where Retcon Punch offers something that I don’t think you see on other sites. I can totally see where a conversation about a legacy or a story arc or an entire event could be fun, it’s just not consistent with what we do.

      All of which is to say that I’m sorry if this read like a whimper to you. If we could have kept the series going by shouting at the top of our lungs, we would have.

      Oh and the comments: right? I would have loved more comments in this one – people must not have been feeling that chatty. (Except for Carl of course, he loves coming out for an Azzarello joint.)

      [oh and i hope you’re reading Saga so my “Consulting Cat” joke makes sense… and because you should really be reading Saga.]

  5. I got to know your site because of this series,and i have to say it´s the most interesting critical view of comics i´ve ever seen,insightful,smart,fun,and the conversation format does wonders too. But now that some time has passed,i kind of want a retrospective on the series as whole,how survives re-readings,the strengths and weaknesses(it has… i think),and how distance could have changed your view,for better or worse.

    I´m relatively new to comics so i haven´t read many complete series,but i started this one last week because of all the noise it had behind(stupid most of it) and hooked me immediately. By the end i had fallen in love Diana,her values,her status as a symbol,and open my eyes in many ways concerning comics and feminism and love and many other things,this will go as one of my all time fav stories of any kind,and gave me a satisfaction i didn´t know comics could bring

    • Thanks Fer! It’s been great reading your observations on some of our other reviews this morning too. Thanks for the kind words about Retcon Punch – obviously analysis is something that we really strive for, and there was always so much to analyze in Wonder Woman that these pieces tend to shine.

      I talked a little bit in the comment above about why we haven’t done any large-format revisits of series – the long and the short of it being that we probably published about 75,000 words about this series, and have likely said what we’re ever going to be able to say. But! There might be some value in us revisiting the New 52 series that made that initiative special, now that it’s all but over. No promises, but that does give me some ideas.

      • NP! it´s a pleasure to read people that,beyond loving the medium,can make me see in a new way,and even teach me things about the medium in the process.
        I´d love a post about New 52,pretty sure it won´t be too nice though.
        P.D. what do you think of Rucka´s Wonder Woman´s run? i have it,but it scares me a bit with how horribly she is written in Justice League and other places…

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