There have been a million words dedicated to the failures and successes of Wonder Woman as a female comic book icon over the years. She has been lauded equally as an example of male objectification and female empowerment since her development in the 1940’s. Yet recent rewrites of Wonder Woman’s story in DC Comics’ New 52 relaunch have female fans raising an eyebrow. There was the rewrite of Wonder Woman’s parentage that had everyone (yours truly) up in arms. Now, writer Brian Azzarello and DC have done it again in Wonder Woman #7 with their rewrite of the history of the Amazon women. Where once Paradise Island was populated by cultured warrior women, dedicated as much to art and beauty as they were warfare, the new history of the Amazons has a much more disturbing twist.
In the original DC history, Wonder Woman is raised by the immortal Amazon women as the only child on Paradise Island, daughter of their Queen Hippolytta. Her sister Amazons live isolated from men pursuing perfection of their culture without having children, focused on their own interests and largely happy. This history has largely stood untouched until the drastic recent rewrite. In Wonder Woman #7, Wonder Woman is still reeling from the discovery that she is in fact the daughter of Zeus from an extra-marital affair with the queen of the Amazons when she is forced to plan an invasion of the underworld to rescue a woman also bearing Zeus’s child. When she goes to the god Hephaestus for help, he reveals that all the men working in his forge are in fact the offspring of Amazons, sold as unwanted male children for weapons.
Let me repeat that: the Amazons sell their unwanted male children into slavery to Hephaestus for weapons. And where do these children come from, you might ask, when the Amazons are a purely female culture? In the new rewrite, Hephaestus explains that the Amazons go to sea every once in a while to force men to procreate with them. When they are done with the unsuspecting sailors, they murder them and dump their bodies overboard. Nine months later, some have daughters and are very happy while the rest give up their sons to be sold into slavery.
You read that correctly, folks. Welcome to the Amazon culture, newly rewritten to include rape, murder and slavery. They went from this…
The change between the old story and the new is staggering. The barbarity introduced in this storyline raises a million questions for readers, the least of which is simply: whose idea was this? Who believed it was honestly a good idea to rewrite an empowering female culture for one of the most iconic DC characters into marauding murderers and rapists?
Not only is the entire story insulting, it smacks of poor storytelling. We are to believe that after growing to adulthood among the Amazons, Wonder Woman is shocked upon hearing how her culture reproduces itself. Are we expecting that she’s naive, stupid, or deluding herself, her head in the sand while all this murdering is going on? I’d imagine that a canny woman would have had the “where do babies come from” conversation way before she was allowed to go out and become a super hero. So we are either expected to believe one of DC’s greatest heroes has been tricked her entire adult life or that she’s simply too dumb to discover this on her own until she’s blatantly told.
That glaring plot hole aside, the entire premise for this rewrite is staggeringly inappropriate to the original history set up by the Amazons previously seen in Wonder Woman comics. Folks may argue that the comic is trying to mirror Greek myth, in which the Amazons did go out and reproduce this way. Yet that is not the history of the Amazons in the comics previous to the New 52 rewrite. These Amazons are not the enlightened women-warriors readers have grown up with and many cherished as positive female images. It smacks of another chance for a “gritty upgrade” to a fan favorite that is neither needed nor an earnest homage to what came before. And beyond all that, it is a glaring example of disrespect to the original stories of one of the only strong female headliners of the DC Universe.
This rewrite proves a fundamental misunderstanding of the Wonder Woman fan base by the current creative team. From the perspective of a fan who has read Wonder Woman since before I was in high school, I am saddened that a positive female image like the Amazons should be so twisted for no apparent reason. And while this rewrite might appeal to those who wanted more sex, blood and death, it forgets about the built-in fan base of women who might just find the idea of rapist/murderer Amazons insulting and contrary to the Wonder Woman spirit. If we are to accept that all the mythologies embedded in DC Comics ought to go grittier, then what’s next? Kryptonian cattle mutilations and probing in all the wrong places?
When at this past New York Comic Con, I got a chance to ask writer Brian Azzarello why the changes to Wonder Woman’s backstory during the preview panel for the New 52. The answer I was given was to “just read the book” to see why. Well, I have read and I have waited for explanations for why these unnecessary changes have taken place, as a fan I think I’ve seen enough. Wonder Woman #7 is an example of a comic relaunch that has missed the point of the legacy and though I should be angry, I can’t say that I’m surprised by the recent turn of events.
Instead I’ll say this: I’m not mad, DC Comics, I’m simply disappointed.
Shoshana Kessock is a comics fan, photographer, game developer, LARPer and all around geek girl. She’s the creator of Phoenix Outlaw Productions and ReImaginedReality.com