By Drew Baumgartner and Ryan Mogge
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Drew: I think it’s safe to say our society is obsessed with patrilineage. Our last names (generally) come from our fathers. We have sayings about the sins of the father. And daddy issues abound in modern storytelling. This holds very true for superhero comics, where characters like Batman and Superman only survived their initial tragedies thanks to the heroic efforts of their fathers (at least in some versions). But Wonder Woman has always been different in that regard. As an Amazon born of clay, she has no father, nor a father-like figure in her life — this is a character poised to emphasize the roles of mothers. With issue 27, Shea Fontana and Mirka Andolfo do just that, albeit in unexpected ways.
Diana’s mother, Hippolyta, does feature in this issue in a key flashback, but for me, the theme of motherhood mostly focuses on nature rather than nurture. That is, this issue focuses largely on genetic gifts — specifically those we get from our mothers. This first comes up as Dr. Crawford reveals why she needs Diana’s blood.
It’s classic sympathetic villain motivation (the kind that probably wouldn’t need villainy at all if Dr. Crawford just, you know, asked Diana about maybe donating her blood to this cause), but tying it into the themes of matrilineage that Fontana and Andolfo already set up in the previous issue gives it new energy. Dr. Crawford isn’t just siphoning off Diana’s powers — she’s correcting the genetic legacy she got from her own mother by borrowing the one Diana received from hers.
But, of course, Dr. Crawford is ill-suited to the power of the gods. Again, it’s the kind of turn you might expect of a well-meaning doctor tapping into powers they don’t know how to control, but Fontana again turns it back to genetics.
But then things start to get a little icky for me. Diana is ultimately able to defeat Dr. Crawford with the lasso of truth because “stolen genes could not be her truth,” but the emphasis on genes (specifically X-chromosome genes) and “truth” veered dangerously close to transphobia for my tastes. Let me be clear: I don’t mean to accuse Fontana or Andolfo of transphobia, but the issues of identity and body modification that underpin this are wielded in ways that ignore the very real stigmas trans people face. Diana tells Dr. Crawford her mind is lying to her, and offers her “treatment” in lieu of the changes her body had already underwent (which, incidentally, made her more muscular and aggressive). To Diana, any solution that ignores the “truth” of Dr. Crawfords chromosomes is a lie.
(Again, I don’t suspect Fontana and Andolfo meant for this theme to emerge from this issue, but once I saw it, it was hard for me to ignore. I’m not entirely sure how to react to objectionable themes I think are unintentional, but I felt compelled to mention it.)
Otherwise, Fontana and Andolfo’s more modest, flashback-driven approach to Diana’s relationship with her mother is charming. We only get the briefest glimpse of Hippolyta in this issue, imparting a hard lesson on perseverance to young Diana.
It builds to a great scene cut as Diana bolts awake, but I wish the lesson Hippolyta was imparting helped distinguish Diana from an overpowered Dr. Crawford. That is, I wish Diana was learning how to control her powers here, and that it was the guiding influence of Hippolyta that distinguished Diana from Dr. Crawford. As it is, we simply understand that Diana is somehow more worthy of her powers, and the role of her mother in establishing that worthiness is entirely unexplored. It felt like a missed opportunity.
So, I guess I had some problems with this issue. I think it treats its characters well enough, and I find Fontana and Andolfo’s Diana to be sufficiently charming, but it also felt like its themes weren’t always sufficiently considered. I don’t know, Ryan, am I making too much out of my own reactions and expectations? Were you satisfied with this issue?
Ryan M: You’re definitely not making too much of anything. Once a piece of art is outside an artist’s hands, their intentions can only be considered to a point. I had a similar reaction to the depiction of Dr. Crawford’s transformation and subsequent devolution to her “true” self. I’m sure that you’re right and that there is no reason to think that this was intentionally stepping into bigoted gender issues. What plagues this issue is that we are left looking for thematic resonance.
On its face, the plot seems to be fairly simple. A desperate and ill woman finds a way to gain Diana’s powers, cannot handle them and chooses suicide rather than live out her short natural life. Fontana adds to this bookend scenes about a bombing at Etta’s brother’s wedding and a flashback to Themyscira. It leads to a story that never really has the emotional weight that it could.
The cliffhanger from the last issue is Diana bonding with a little girl who is standing next to a bomb one second before it explodes. This issue opens with an explosion, yet there is not tension or stakes to the fallout. Little Destiny is no worse for wear, even smiling to her father moments after the explosion. Even the name Destiny functions as a tease since she is no more that a moppet with the incredible luck to be saved by Wonder Woman. Then, we find Etta impaled with a table leg. This could be the emotional core of the issue. Here is one of Diana’s closest friends, hurt in an act of terrorism that Diana soon realizes was aimed at her.
It’s a pretty upsetting moment, made more so by the image of Etta curled in on herself in the lower right. Once Diana knows that this injury is collateral damage, the reader is set up to expect the story to be about Diana’s guilt or Etta’s fear or their relationship but instead it’s about Dr. Crawford. It’s fine that that story takes a turn and Fontana creates an arc that wraps itself up nicely, but that final scene with Diana and Etta in the hospital doesn’t feel earned.
What did either of them learn from this? Are they changed? With the answer to both those questions being “not really” the reader is left with a story that is a diversion at best and an unfocused exercise at worst.
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 Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?