As anyone who is reading the “New 52″ relaunch of Wonder Woman can tell you, this isn’t your grandmother’s Wonder Woman.
Brian Azzerello and Cliff Chiang have created a vital, modern, vibrant hero. The art has been absolutely gorgeous, the plotting and writing superb. Azzerello stated repeatedly that he wanted to veer from the standard “superhero” story, and write a horror story starring Wonder Woman. In doing so, he’s rewritten her history. In Wonder Woman #7 he rewrites the entire history of the Amazons, Princess Diana’s all women tribe. This has been an extremely controversial change, so I wanted to weigh in. I don’t normally do cuts in my posts, but there are so many spoilers in this post, I feel it’s only fair. So only continue if you’ve already read it or don’t care about spoilers.
Traditionally, the Amazons in the DC Universe were “perfect women.” They were noble women who raised Diana to be noble and moral and good, and these were the morals that these women themselves held in their near-angelic hearts. Sure, individual Amazons would go psychologically crazy and become bad (see Gail Simone’s run) but the Amazon tribe as a whole were pure of heart.
In WW#7, Wonder Woman discovers the dark secret of “how Amazons are made.” Far from noble, in order to repopulate the island the Amazons seduce sailors and discard them afterwards (presumably to keep themselves hidden) and then only select the girl babies for their tribe. So what about the boys? In what is clearly shown to be a painful choice for the mothers, they are discarded. However, they are not simply tossed into the sea, they’re sold to another god as slave labor.
When Wonder Woman discovers this, she is, as you might imagine, both shocked and horrified. Remember, this is a horror story Azzerello is writing.
I’m sure you can see why many comics readers are upset by this. First Azzerello gives Princess Diana a father, when previously her origin story was that she was made out of clay. Now, he’s rewritten the Amazons into sirens, amoral at best and temptress/seducer/harlots at worst. As other comics commenters have pointed out, this couldn’t possibly come at a worse time for women in America. Women using contraception are openly called sluts and prostitutes by the top radio personality in the country. Laws are being past to force doctors to rape women (and brave doctors are objecting vociferously to carrying out said patient rape). In this context, Wonder Woman #7 is perceived as one more denigration against women, taking away the purity of one of their role models and turning the Amazons into “just another band of wicked sluts.”
I don’t wish to take anything away from the disappointment of these commentators. I certainly can see where they’re coming from. And the timing for the issue couldn’t have been worse. But I do see things differently. I really do look at this as Brian Azzerello writing a horror story, with each issue bringing new, terrible revelations. Obviously, it could all be undone in a few issues, but even if it stands, I don’t believe this revision is done out of sexism or attempt to increase readership. These changes (Zeus as dad, Amazons as sirens) are not out of nowhere, they in fact bring the Wonder Woman story, always steeped in Greek mythology, closer to the actual myths. Greek stories were always very morally ambiguous, and the actions Brian ascribes to the Amazons and Zeus are completely in keeping with historical fiction.
Clearly, the timing of Wonder Woman #7 is a deeply unfortunate accident. When this issue was created and scheduled, nobody had any idea that various states in the Union would make degrading women a legislative priority, or that contraception would become an issue. I say this not to counter any of the disappointment and fatigue felt by other (excellent) blogs* that put the two together, but simply to point out that while saying that the two issues coincided in time is a legitimate complaint, I don’t hold the current American political climate against the book. And I’m willing to admit that as a man, while I’m deeply opposed to playing political football with women’s health issues, it’s not the kind of thing that would influence my enjoyment of a comic (unless the comic itself was a politically right-wing manifesto).
So taking Brian Azzerello and Cliff Chiang’s Wonder Woman as a whole, I am still very intrigued and entertained by their story arc, and where it’s going. I think that Wonder Woman stands as one of the very best of the New 52, and one of my favorite monthly comics. Brian Azzerello is asking us to go along with him on this ride, and I’m still on board. I understand and appreciate how the major rewrites affect different readers differently. But so far, even though this paints the Amazon in a far more morally compromised light, I’m still in. Let’s see where the team is going with all this. I think it’s been worth it so far, and will continue to be.
* While I link to a couple of these blogs, I’m not naming them on purpose. Both posts I link to happen to be written by women, but I don’t think that the only objections come from women alone.