This is the fourth of a multi-part examination of Brian Azzarello’s current run on “Wonder Woman.” It’s recommended that you go back and read the series from the beginning.
SPOILERS for Wonder Woman #0-20 ahead.
Rape, Murder, Slavery, and Infanticide
Even more controversial than the changes made to Wonder Woman’s origins are these pages from the now infamous Wonder Woman #7.
From a purely storytelling standpoint, Hephaestus’ revelation regarding Amazonian mating practices (as well as his subsequent purchase of the male children) beautifully combines tales of the Amazons of Greek myth with Golden Age Wonder Woman‘s exploration of the master/slave relationship and emphasis on “loving submission.”
As previously discussed in part 2 of this series, Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston believed that society would be better with men living in a state of submission to caring female masters. Aside from being male, Azzarello’s Hephaestus certainly embodies the kind of loving master that Marston would be approve of.
From a feminist point of view, this issue becomes much more complicated as it tarnishes the idealistic notion of a female-lead Paradise Island and vilifies the Amazons. (To be fair, the reliability of Hephaestus’ tale is questionable as he clearly suffers abandonment issues of his own, is later shown to be willing and capable of manipulating Diana, and the simple fact that the Amazons are unable to respond to any of the accusations directed at them.)
This particular story has already been extensively criticized elsewhere, and I encourage you to read Is the Destruction of The Amazons The Destruction of Feminism in DC Comics? as Kelly Thompson makes some compelling arguments. Her views represent a very popular and largely valid interpretation, but I would like to offer an alternate reading.
An Alternate Reading
What if this revelation isn’t intended to demonize the Amazonian people, but rather to illustrate a conflict between individual Amazons and a negative cultural norm?
As I discussed before, Paradise Island was never intended to demonstrate women’s ability to govern but rather Marston’s belief in women’s superiority. The notion that women are inherently more caring and better leaders is sexist, as it attempts to confine women’s behaviors, interests, and personalities into “approved” modes of being. Simply put, Paradise Island is not a feminist utopia, but rather one man’s outdated, sexist, over-simplified propaganda on how women “ought” to be.
By deconstructing Themyscira, Azzarello has created a flawed, well-rounded, and complex society rather than perpetuating one man’s incredibly problematic model of a utopia based on stereotypes of women.
Furthermore, it’s possible that we’re not meant to interpret this institutionalized problem as proof of all Amazons as heartless monsters, but rather as evidence that a female-lead society is capable of committing the same atrocities as that of a male-lead society (i.e. neither sex is superior to the other).
Notice that not all of the Amazons fully embrace this cultural practice.
The 23 year-old Diana is completely unaware of this custom since it only takes place every 33 years. It’s also likely that this ignorance extends to her entire generation, since they all grew up together. Hippolyta goes against the tradition by engaging in a consenting relationship with Zeus.
Finally, the most powerful example is the unnamed Amazonian mother. The issue clearly depicts this new mother fighting in vain to save her newborn son while another Amazon forcefully restrains her as a third absconds with the infant. This third example is particularly important as it blatantly depicts an individual (the mother) struggling against the many (her culture).
The Problems Therein
That’s not to say that this interpretation is all sunshine and rainbows.
Regardless of whether you accept the alternate reading or the more widely held interpretation represented by the Thompson article, there are still some major problems with the practical ramifications of this issue’s revelation.
It’s a false equivalency to compare a female-lead Paradise Island to that of a male-led society on a one-to-one ratio. Paradise Island is the only female-led society in the DCU. Sadly, it solely bears the burden of representing women leading themselves. When that sole representation is soiled, it soils the entire notion.
If Hephaestus’ story is to be believed, it also distances Diana from other strong women and crafts a narrative where powerful and moral women are an exceptional phenomenon. It makes them a rarity and ignores Wonder Woman’s central theme of women’s camaraderie.
That leads me to our next topic, so join me next time for Sisters in Arms.