I normally don’t write text pieces for this tumblr, but hey, it’s 2:45 am and I have nowhere to be.
I gave up the Azzarello/Chiang Wonder Woman with issue #3, so I can’t speak in an informed way about the revelation that has been so controversial on Tumblr this week. I have heard enough to get the gist.
In interviews before the launch and in the first months of it, Azzarello made a big deal about not taking previous incarnations of the character or her world as his model. He talked about not having read the Perez run or the Silver Age material. Though he has endorsed the Golden Age stories in interviews, he refered to it as the “bondage stuff,” which—while accurate to a point—didn’t give me hope that he took from it the same joys that actual fans of the character do.
I like continuity. I like history. Without it, none of our most prized characters would be worth a damn. If the present runs of Superman, Action Comics,and Justice League were all that “counted,” no one would care about Superman. We read these new stories in light of the old ones. (Azzarello does too, as anyone who has read his fabulous Dr. Thirteen series can attest.)
So while I applaud Azzarello for his intention to bring fresh ideas to Wonder Woman’s world, his lack of interest in her past set the alarms off in my head.
Especially since, different from Superman or Batman, Wonder Woman is one of the few characters who was originally created with a very specific ideological core. William Moulton Marston was a neo-Freudian who used his comic books to promote his idiosyncratic beliefs about “love leadership”—basically, that women were naturally more loving than men and therefore if they achieved dominance over them, they would be able to educate men in the ways of love, and therefore bring progress to the world.
Marston literalized this ideology in Wonder Woman.The Amazons are literally ruled over by Love itself, Aphrodite; whereas Man’s World is falling into the snares of Mars, the God of War. So their princess travels to our world to educate us in the ways of love. Key to this is Wonder Woman’s refusal to use weapons. Whereas Mars-worshiping men use guns, Wonder Woman restrains people with her lasso, rendering them harmless without harming them. Instead of killing her opponents, she tries to reform them: her greatest success in this is the reformation of a Nazi spy, Baroness Von Gunther.
Importantly, to tell this story of a Love Leader dominating our world in order to reform it, Marston uses Greek mythology UNFAITHFULLY. The Amazons of classical legend were wild, savage warriors who threatened the moral order. Marston’s Amazons were peaceable, though athletic, women whose bad reputation is the fault of their oppressor, Hercules. Marston’s Aphrodite is not the capricious narcissist of legend: she is the embodiment of the kind of love that can save the world.
If you don’t know this, if you haven’t read these stories, Wonder Woman can appear to be a contradiction: a woman from a warrior society who is in our world to promote peace. But if you know that Wonder Woman’s Amazons are NOT warriors but Love Leaders, it makes a heck of a lot more sense.
But Azzarello either doesn’t know this or doesn’t care. Instead, to him the Amazons are warriors; in fact, they are, like his Gods, intentionally modernized versions of the classical Amazons. They are savage and warlike. They don’t use lassos: they use spears and swords and axes. They are more creatures of Mars than of Venus. Not knowing (or not caring for) the history of DCU Amazons, he assumes they are basically the Amazons of Greek myth.
He makes them warriors when they should be lovers.
Any writer who fails to understand the chief paradox of Wonder Woman—that her series uses Greek myths only as a superficial gloss over the real, love leadership ideology that is its core—is bound to make Azzarello’s mistake.
This is not unique to him. Amazons Attack! and Flashpoint operated under the same principle: that Amazons are fundamentally a race of warrior women, which makes them prone to villainy in a modern world.
What is needed is a writer more like Perez, or like Phil Jimenez or Greg Rucka, who understood how to update the core ideology that drives Wonder Woman. It doesn’t have to be weirdly Freudian or reductive like Marston’s. Stress her roles as diplomat, as educator, as reformer. Make her a force for progress and revolution. Make her dynamic and charismatic.
Just don’t make her Xena.
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