Rape, Murder, Slavery, and Infanticide: Examining Azzarello’s ‘Wonder Woman’ Part 4

Wonder Woman #7 by  Brian Azzarello and Cliff ChiangThis 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.

Hephaestus tells Diana of Amazonian mating practices

Diana learns the truth about the Amazons from Hephaestus

Hephaestus tells Dian that the Amazons are slaversFrom 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.”

Wonder Woman #28 demonstrates Marston's belief of loving submissionAs 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.

Wonder Woman beats Hephaestus to free male slaves

Male Amazon slaves demonstrate "loving submission" to HephaestusFrom 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.)

Hephaestus after manipulating DianaThe credibility of the story’s narrator aside, I’m a bit torn about this revelation.

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.

New 52 Paradise Island

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.

Amazon fights to save her newborn son

An Amazonian mother struggles to save her newborn son

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.

4 Responses to “Rape, Murder, Slavery, and Infanticide: Examining Azzarello’s ‘Wonder Woman’ Part 4”

  1. 1 nicolarwhite February 5, 2014 at 6:29 am

    That storyline is incredible! I haven’t bothered with Wonder Woman in a long time, but I hadn’t realized how much things have changed. Your comments are spot-on, and I was nodding in agreement with your conclusion (“The Problems Therein”) as I read.

  2. 2 Malcolm September 10, 2014 at 2:02 am

    I am sorry Daniel but I strongly disagree with the following statement:

    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.

    How exactly has Azzerello created a well rounded society when he has shown almost nothing admirable about his Amazons? The Amazons of the New 52 lack both technology and magic. In 3000 thousand years they haven’t even surpassed the Flinestones. With the exception to Hippolyta, all the Amazons have been shown to be cruel to and mistrustful of Diana. In one of the more recent issues, an Amazon tried to toss Zeke over a cliff, because in her mind, that is one of the defining characteristics of being an Amazon.

    I would be much more accepting of this whole “well balanced” argument if Azzarello had even attempted to present the Amazons in a somewhat decent light. So far everything positive about them I learned from other books. Demon Knights told me that the Amazons are still superhuman and immortal, not Azzerello. Batwoman showed me that they still protected the world from Doom’s Doorway, not Azzarello. By the time Azzarello dropped this man raping, baby killing bombshell, the only good thing he had shown us about the Amazons is that they are loyal to their Queen.

  3. 3 Michael Brown January 11, 2016 at 8:16 pm

    Small detail…..the Zamarons are also a matriarchal society.

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