Monday, 23 April 2012

On Wonder Woman #8, Fanboy Flakkers & The Sanctity Of Myth (Part 1 of 2)

What's happened to all that apologist outrage? Last month’s revelation that the Amazons are now to be regarded as a nation of men-murdering, midnight-naked canoeists brought a phalanx of fanboy flakkers bent on defending the historical validity of the revisionism. With all the passion of the deeply committed matched with the knowledge and understanding of the unknowingly ignorant, the decision to recast Wonder Woman’s people as every male chauvinist’s worst nightmare/sexual fantasy was deemed to be perfectly in line with the original depictions of the Amazons in the myths and legends of the Ancient Greeks. It was a totally misguided contention, of course, but the principle was clear; a Wonder Woman story which reflects the ideology and narrative details of the folk-tales of the long-distant past is an ethically unchallengeable, artistically superior comicbook. 

We might logically expect that the opposite of this would be true, and that any Wonder Woman tale which ignored the great mass of the beliefs from the Greece of so many tens of centuries ago would be regarded as an outrageously inferior and offensive desecration. After all, if it’s unacceptable to expect Azzarello’s work to reflect a modern-era feminist perspective because of the loathing for women expressed in those old, old  stories from the Eastern end of the Mediterranean, then it must be equally unacceptable for any other radical 21st century reworking to be superimposed over the culture of Hellas and her peoples. Yet Wonder Woman #8 presents us with an innovative version of Hades and the Greek underworld which bears no relation to anything in ancient records. Surely this must be a source of considerable ire to the flakkers, so concerned as they are to respect, protect and propagate the form and content of the culture of so very long ago?

Apparently not. It seems that Azzarello has been granted free reign by the flakkers to reinterpret anything at all except for those aspects which serve to perpetuate misogyny. The supposed vileness of Queen Hippolyta and her brutally emasculating sex-killers ought to be forever respected, it seems, but everything else is apparently up for grabs. And so, there’s been not a murmur of discontent - let alone any spittle-flecked raging - about the innovative if hyper-real rendition of the Greek underworld and its ruler in this month's Chasing Shadows. It’s something which really does leave the suspicion that all that rage and indignation about the sanctity of those old myths, about the necessary rightness of portraying the Amazons as despicable man-murderers, was nothing more than a desperate attempt to shout down anyone who might have pointed out how unpleasantly sexist, and indeed profoundly stupid, Wonder Woman #7 was. 

Or: it was never about the sexist myths of times gone by and everything about the sexist myths of 2012.

Eros's love pistols? A hell whose landscape is physically constructed from the changeling souls of the dead? Hades as a malicious little boy with his head crowned by burning candles, the wax from which has melted across his eyes? As shocking as it might be for the inexpert, obstinate and righteous flakker to realise, I really don’t think any of it’s to be found in Homer, Hesiod or Herodotus. 

Quick, fanboys, push away those unsettlingly enticing panels of naked, beautiful women paddling across the moonlit oceans at night in search of semen and blood-letting. The hallowed continuity of the myths and legends of Ancient Greece is being desecrated in Wonder Woman #8!

None of the above is to suggest that Wonder Woman # 8 lacks quality, or indeed, problems too: on the whole, I enjoyed it. Perhaps you might care to pop back on Wednesday, when TooBusyThinking will be chatting about "Casting Shadows", or tomorrow, where the blog discusses one of the greatest space heroes ever.



  1. Perhaps if I wasn't a reader of Wonder Woman before the reboot and had no prior investment in the character, I might find this entertaining. It isn't the sort of book I'd be inclined to seek out now.

    Long term readers of the Wonder Woman title just endured a 14 issue long, dark, weird storyline involving the destruction of the Amazons. Of course, evil gods were involved. Rucka had Hera trying to destroy Themiscyra again. Then we got Amazons Attack, and Themiscyra was destroyed again.

    Even if this is better written than the similar story immediately previous, to a committed fan of the character it seems incredibly stale as well as offensive. I didn't think the day would come when I'd take Wonder Woman off my pull list, but it has.

    1. Hello Steve:- Despite the fact that I was - shall I say - appalled by issue #7 of the new Wonder Woman, it has generally been a run which is far, far better than the JMS reboot/no-reboot. I have a great deal of sympathy for the folks who had to run with that set-up when JMS decided that the monthly grind that he'd committed himself to wasn't worth his time and effort, but the New 52 version is often well worth the reading. It's not a book which I warm to, but it has ideas, which few of the New 52 do.

      But I understand exactly the point you're making. There is a point at which (a) poor stories matched with (b) constant reboots/reinventions just elbows readers away from caring, and I suspect that Wonder Woman has suffered gravely from that process. Not as bad as the poor Legion Of Super-Heroes, mind you, but it's not been a good way to try to keep a character alive. Good runs - albeit with editorial interference dragging them down - get broken up with pap, and worse.

  2. Hello Colin;

    I've been a reader for quite some time, and it was also your post regarding WW#7 which convinced me that I had to give some small comment as a measurement of appreciation of the analysis that you do here.

    In truth I had the luck to grow into the medium of comics ,after my time away from them during my teenage years, inside the feminist community of the famous scans_daily, and it was thankful that I did so, because otherwise I would have hardly stayed a reader of its superhero branches despite being a white male for whom supposedly the medium was catering to. The characters and perspectives were just too similar and all along the same basic building blocks of what was considered 'normal' and 'safe', so it took me some scouring to find titles that interested me with characters I could finally see as something new and exciting.

    As such when the new 52 brought with it the new WW title I was extremely enthusiastic, both for the concept of a story which I could pick up easily(when the arc of WW which was going on at the time when I found my LCS finished it entered that silly Odyssey year-long arc) and for the art. Cliff Chiang managed from my perspective what was seen so many times as an impossible task, to conceptualize and drawn a Wonder Woman whose character and form both reflected her role, and did not shy away in any way from her sexual identity as a woman while not satisfying the male gaze and perspective that I could not stand any more. The fact that the first issue was pretty well knitted together even got me to claim that it probably would be the best new title of the 52, something which didn't last long unfortunately as I dropped it as soon as I saw the news of #7.

    As you put so well both before and now, this idea that an horrible portrayal should be defended through the banner of keeping it true to its roots and origins is the kind of idea which endures by some kind of volatile logic which seemingly does not apply in any other kind of situation. In very similar terms I also heard defenders of the evil matriarchy as proclaiming it as being far more original than the 'perfect portrayals often found in fiction' and yet as far as I might cast my mind most of the portrayals of Amazons I have seen have been anything but kind, jumping at the chance to push down the idea of female empowerment as nothing more than evil and totalitarian.

    It's a shame really, because like I said before, Chiang's art managed to attract my attention in a way that few artists have done before and the plot although not particularly as grandiose as I thought it in the beginning did seem to walk a fine line within competence and interest. A pity though that respect was not within its boundaries and that the small things that slowly accrued across its pages gave birth to such an horrible manifestation of blatant sexism.

    I am not following this title any more other than for a small perspective and view upon how far it will go in its blinded way. But I'm sorry to say that a small part of me is happy that you are continuing to follow it, not because of the facepalms it might be inducing you to perform, but because at the very least those straight and non-apologizing posts of yours are a small piece of mental recuperation.

    Do keep up the great work;

    1. Hello Drexer:- Thank you for your kind words, they really are most appreciated.

      I wish the Big Two had somebody in power who’d listen to what you’ve said about being a white male alienated by the whitebread malestream content of the vast majority of super-books. That’s constantly been my experience too. As the market for comics continues as the most narrow of niche, you’d think more of those at the top of the corporate tree would realise that there’s a world of other audiences and more compelling products there for the taking.

      I was more cynical about the New 52 than you, but I was determined not to give in to a lack of faith. I squirreled away enough to buy the first month’s worth of issues and I certainly didn’t spend that money in order to moan. I was heartened by the declarations that DC would now be promoting far more actively issues of diversity, I was pleased to see that comics would no longer be written for the trade and constructed in a way that excluded new viewers. Still, I found it hard to believe that what was being promised would arrive; I’ve reluctantly come to the opinion that folk’s words are pretty much worthless, and deeds are all. By that, I don’t mean “folks at DC”, but “everyone”, and I couldn’t see how a company which could produce the pap – and often excluding and socially insensitive pap – of Flashpoint could then turn on a penny and produce work that was exactly the opposite. I first heard about the New 52 a couple of months before, and the reports were of ambitious chaos; how could things possibly change in those circumstances? And sadly, they haven’t, or rather, they haven’t in most of the important areas. There is a new storytelling ethos in place for most titles, but it’s a shocktastic, whitebread method for the most part.
      Wonder Woman was one of the better revamps, it seemed. It wasn’t enjoyable enough for me to stick with it after a few issues, though I have gone back since. Grim and charmless, it seemed fit for purpose, but hardly compelling. Still, I loved the art, admired the craftsmanship in general and thought it was a brave if misguided shot at squaring the commercial circle that’s Wonder Woman. But issue 7 was, as of course you know, something else entirely. I think DC would be insane not to make sure that the whole naked-canoeist backstory isn’t revealed to be a deception IF BA hadn’t intended that to be so right from the beginning, which he may well have. But even so, presenting that isolated issue in that way was a sickener. No company which was concerned with gender issues in any progressive sense would have allowed that tale to reach the stands under the banner of a social-just and diverse line of books.

      I of course share your – shall we say – disappointment at the way the myths of the past were suddenly fired up in order to defend BA’s reworking of the Amazons, and I do share your concerns. Though there have been feminists who’ve defended BA’s decisions on quite ethical grounds – which I disagree with, but fully respect – the mass of support by the flakkers has been based on nothing but bile, ignorance and sexism. At the very least, BA, regardless of whether the Amazon’s really are now man-killing monsters or not, should have pegged that he was throwing ammunition to some thoroughly mean-minded people.

      I do understand why you wouldn’t be following the book. I felt – for all that the flakking community would find such a statement pathetic in the unlikely event they ever saw it – that I owed it to the comic to see what comes next and try to be as unbiased as possible. I’m glad I did too, because reading #8 finally helped me grasp why there was such a gap between my thoughts – lukewarm- and my feelings – sometimes engaged - about the title when it’s not dealing with the nudist paddlers of Amazonia.

      Thanks again for your generous words.

    2. Print comics are a small number of stores servicing a shrinking and conservative number of fans, so while I don't think DC are entirely wrong as (primarily) a print comics company in pursuing that narrow niche you allude to, Colin, I suggest that we - the fans and consumers - are to blame for expecting meaningful change from New 52. I know it sounds like I'm being flippant but I'm really not: our expectations of a paradigm shift were unreasonable and short-sighted because it was still DC making these books in the same way they always have, and thus the best we could really hope for was that Grant Morrison would be as reliable as ever with Superman and Gail Simone would give us a silk purse again from whatever hog's ear she got assigned. That's what we got, so really, we're doing okay so far, even before you get to surprise hits like Animal Man.

      Not to say that WW isn't a disappointment, of course, but anything that isn't a carbon copy of the camp 1970s tv series was always going to disappoint. Any man who thinks he make a success of Wonder Woman while distancing the character from that theme tune is a damned fool, and again I am not being flippant because that is some serious pop-culture cache that DC could do well with having and they just need to sit down and make it happen instead of indulging every new writer's need to reinvent the character as something else. Unless I disastrously misunderstand capitalism, I think there's probably some value in owning the most recognizable female superhero* in the world.

      * I of course mean "superhero" as opposed to "violent female thug"

    3. Hello Brigonis:- You're right, of course. And yet, there was always a small chance that all that hype actually reflected the reality of the situation. The irony is that Didio and Lee really did talk as if they got it. They talked about inclusion and diversity, value for money and innovation; they actually nailed pretty much all that was wrong with the sub-genre, and then they went on to ignore them all and produce an even worse line of books than before! (Are you enjoying Animal Man? Boy, it's a read-it-in-a-minute comic book, but that doesn't mean that I haven't missed its virtues.)

      I love the idea that you adore the 70's WW. I'm defeated why there isn't a range of books starring WW using a variety of mediums and genres, and a really good and fun 70s one would be one that could surely sell.

      But not to the flakkers, ah? Now you're a professional comics creator, it's up to you to save the industry. So we slightly-professional comics reviewers can have something to cheer about again!

    4. May be of interest to you, Colin, but as a post-script to my comments about the DC production process, I've just listened to the latest War Rocket Ajax podcast (109) that interviews Atomic Robo's Brian Clevinger, and he relates his tale of pitching for the Firestorm series. It's quite frank how he tells of being bluntly lied to by the editorial bods, but he also shares an anecdote about Geoff Johns trying and failing to grasp the idea of comics that are objectively fun.

    5. Hello Brigonos:- That is of genuine interest to me, and I fully intend to listen to that today. Historyman has often recommended that I listen to WRA and that sounds fascinating.

      If it's so that lying went on in the way that a considerable number of sources - public and a few private, I will say - have described, it's a shameful, shameful business. I would hear a few things in the time leading up to the re-launch from the other side of the pond and they sounded ... bad. And if someone as peripheral as me was picking things up ... Still I remember thinking how remarkable it was that so much - including even the basic facts of things - was staying out of the press despite it apparently being common knowledge at a certain level. In any other field of entertainment, that stuff would've been leaked. Here it wasn't. Comics is a very small world, and power is entrenched, for ill and good.

  3. In fairness, we've all gone canoeing naked in our quest for semen, Colin. If I've reached a Monday morning without doing so, the weekend is pretty much a write-off.

    1. Hello Brigonos:- I'm relieved that the keep-fit campaigns you've referenced on your blog are being maintained. They say that rowing is some of the best exercise a body can get, and I suppose it's easier to motivate yourself if there's a reward of some kind at the end of your efforts. Good for you, Mr B, good for you.

  4. I see the concerns with the current run and its depiction of the Amazons, but I don't know if I can buy into the claim that DC shouldn't have released a chapter that looked that way even if it was going to be revealed as a lie or a mistake later on. Even if comic book singles were longer than 22 pages, aren't you essentially arguing that controversy or suspense are to be so suspect that you must shut them down as soon as possible? It would be like reading Ann Radcliffe's Gothic novels, in which she suggests there's a ghost but then assures you it was just the wind a page later.

    But I'm not particularly riled up about this: your blog is currently the very best comic blog out there, bar none.

    1. Hello Cory:- It's a fair question, I've no problem with it at all. I'm not trying to make a statement about misdirections in individual comics as a whole. It's just that I retain my faith that Wonder Woman exists at least in part to comfort and inspire girls and women according to a feminist vision of the world. In that particular issue, the comfort and inspiration was far, far out-weighed by the apparent reinvention of the Amazons in a way which would've left anyone of any gender who was in need of inspiration feeling ... less than inspired :)

      At the least, BA ought to - in my wholly subjective opinion, of course - have shaped the story so that there were compensations which counter-balanced the apparent misogyny of it all.

      So, I do understand the question, and, no, I'm not suggesting that controversy and suspense are in themselves so suspect that they must be shut down. I do think, however, that there are certain circumstances - certain books, certain ethical issues - where a great deal more care ought to be taken. But its a specific and not a general rule, or rather, my own version of a rule.

      Thanks for the kind words. I hope the above reads as your comment did; not as an expression of being riled up, but as a way of trying to come to a more precise understanding of an opinion :) I know my opinion is exactly that and no more, but hopefully that will make it clearer if no more compelling!

  5. I've just re-read Ragnell's post at Written World on this, and it seems to me to be very perceptive, pointing to things that might be what you're calling for: evidence in the issue itself that Hephaestus has the story wrong, that the entire arc has been about perception and rumour. But at the same time I see your point that some narratives/franchises are too important culturally to risk misunderstanding, which I see as part of your overall concern with how any single issue of any title looks to someone reading it for the first time.

    What's great for me with this arc is that I've just finished teaching a course on medieval versions of Troy and Thebes, and the Amazons were a constant presence in our discussions (even the first two issues of Azarello's run itself).

    1. Hello Cory;- I would agree entirely with your reading of Ragnell's post. It's a dead good post, isn't it? I look forward to see how everything plays out. I'd like to think that even if R's reading wasn't originally right, it will be in a few months time. DC could do worse, if her ideas didn't reflect their intentions, than to make sure they do.

      I used to love it when my teaching crossed over with the comics I loved. Didn't happen often, mind you, but when it did, it was a gas. I'm smiling at the very thought :)