History of Violence: WONDER WOMAN, The Blue Snowman, and “Gender Issues”

One aspect of Wonder Woman’s mythology that’s always drawn my attention was her plethora of bizarre, colorful villains during the Golden Age. While she fought against more commonly known enemies such as Giganta and the original Cheetah, Wonder Woman also tangled against the likes of Baroness Paula von Gunther, Doctor Psycho, the Duke of Deception, Doctor Poison, the Blue Snowman, Hypnota, Queen Clea, Zara of the Crimson Flame, and Eviless of Saturn. You also had one-shot villains such as King Neptune, the Great Blue Father, Queen Atomia, Badra of Hator, and American Adolph.

While, over the last couple of decades, DC Comics has still consistently given roles to updated versions of Cheetah, Giganta, Doctor Poison, and Doctor Psycho, the majority of Wonder Woman’s immense rogues galley sadly has been ignored in favor of hyping up her roots in Greek Mythology.

Art by Harry G. Peter

One of my favorite villains of Wonder Woman’s Golden Age stories is Byrna Brilyant, a.k.a. the Blue Snowman. Debuting in Sensation Comics #59 — and later acting as a founding member of Villainy Incorporated, possibly the first female supervillain team — Byrna’s unfortunately been a repeated target of mockery from modern day readers. To wit, their modern day reintroduction in Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner’s Power Girl #7 had Blue Snowman captioned as “C-List Wonder Woman villain with gender issues.”

Aside from that, Byrna’s made a total of three appearances since: in the pages of the Wonder Woman comic itself, DC Super Friends, and All-New Batman: The Brave and the Bold. So imagine my surprise upon reading the new DC: Love is a Battlefield anthology and seeing writer Crystal Frasier, penciller Juan Gedeon, and sensitivity reader Tea Berry-Blue, include Blue Snowman as the antagonist of their Wonder Woman story.

And not only that! The creative team finally addressed the jokes about Byrna’s “gender issues” by making the character gender-fluid.

This delighted me not only because it makes an effort to put an end to the jokes about Blue Snowman either being a cross-dresser or “confused,” but because I myself have been asking questions about my gender identity. It’s been a rare occasion in the past decade where a story published by DC Comics has resonated with me in a positive manner, so I thought of writing about Blue Snowman’s history and how far the incredibly minor character has come to reach this point.

Art by Harry G. Peter

Byrna Brilyant first debuted in Sensation Comics #59 in 1946 by Joye Murchison and Harry G. Peter, though they were originally called “The Snowman.” Their father was a scientist who created a substance called “blue snow” which he wanted to use to benefit mankind (but died before he could). It’s never clarified how Byrna’s father thought to use blue snow to help mankind, but in this day and age it’s easy to assume it could’ve been used to reverse the damage done to Arctic regions by climate change.

Originally working as a school teacher in Fair Weather Valley, Byrna decided to use their father’s invention to terrorize the town in exchange for protection money. Crafting a masculine disguise as “The Snowman” and constructing both a “telescopic freeze ray” and a small army of robotic snowmen to carry out their dirty work, Byrna used the blue snow to ruin crops and freeze anyone in their way. Throughout the story several people are frozen into statues and almost killed thanks to Byrna’s blue ice.

Art by Harry G. Peter

Byrna was not the first female-presenting Wonder Woman enemy to hide behind a masculine persona. The original Doctor Poison used a full body suit and ugly fright mask to conceal her identity as Princess Maru, though she was given away due to her “delicate hands.” Hypnota the stage magician wore fake facial hair and presented herself as male as part of her stage act, allowing her to swap places with her twin sister Serva. King Neptune was also the fully disguised Leona Masters, a.k.a. the Mermaid Queen.

Wonder Woman found out about Byrna’s plot when Byrna targeted the homestead of Patsy Peters, one of the Holliday College girls who was friends with WW’s bestie Etta Candy. Byrna kept their identity as the Snowman hidden under their day job as a mild-mannered school teacher with a slight stutter. The one clue that gave the Snowman’s identity away before the unmasking was them having the same stutter as Byrna Brilyant.

After being unmasked and exposed to the people of Fair Weather Valley, Byrna was taken to Transformation Island where Wonder Woman and her Amazon sisters tried to reform their enemies using Venus Girdles to make them feel love and compassion (as a temporary measure, mind you).

In their debut appearance, Byrna Brilyant was essentially some sort of evil proto-combination of Iron Man and Mr. Freeze due to their technological brilliance and ice-themed gimmicks.

Wonder Woman #28 by William Moulton Marston and Harry G. Peter saw Byrna’s return alongside several other WW villains. When Saturnian slaver Eviless got free of her capture, she led a revolt against the Amazon jailers with her fellow Saturnians. Eviless tried to rouse the prisoners on Transformation Island to rise against Wonder Woman and the Amazons, but most refused. However, a handful of women actively wanted revenge against Wonder Woman despite having the Venus Girdles locked onto their bodies.

As Blue Snowman once again, Byrna joined with Eviless, Giganta, Priscilla Rich the first Cheetah, Zara the mastermind of the Crimson Flame cult, Hypnota the Great, Princess Maru the first Doctor Poison, and Queen Clea of Atlantis to form Villainy Incorporated.

Villainy Incorporated’s first move was to capture Wonder Woman’s mother Queen Hippolyta and take over Paradise Island. Byrna, alongside Hypnota and Doctor Poison, got the drop on Hippolyta by using their costumes to make Hippolyta believe men had gotten onto the island.

After capturing Hippolyta by using Wonder Woman’s stolen lasso on her, Villainy Incorporated tried to lure Wonder Woman back to the island. Byrna used their blue snow as the first attack on Wonder Woman’s invisible jet as soon as she reached Paradise Island. However, that was about it for Byrna’s contribution to the fight against Wonder Woman and they were defeated alongside one half of Villainy Inc. before the story ended.

This was Byrna Brilyant’s last appearance in any comic for several decades. Blue Snowman has remained something of a joke among Wonder Woman and comic fans due to the basic goofiness of their appearance and their “gender confusion.” Some may unflatteringly compare Blue Snowman to the more ridiculous portrayal by Arnold Schwarzenegger of Mr. Freeze from “Batman & Robin.” Byrna’s admittedly not the only WW character to receive such a response.

Art by Dick Giordano

In the case of Mike Sekowsky’s infamous “mod” era, Sekowsky and Dick Giordano included a trio of female villains referred to as THEM! who were coded as abusive and drug-addicted lesbians using a young woman named Cathy for a slave. One member of the group, Moose Mama, had a large, muscular frame and masculine facial features; it was painfully implied she may actually be a drag queen.

Art by Cliff Chiang

Despite being an original member of Villainy Incorporated, Bryna was removed from Villainy Inc’s modern day reintroduction alongside Eviless. In the Post-Crisis DCU, Queen Clea became the founder of Villainy Inc.. Clea originally fought Hippolyta during the 1940s and her daughter Diana in the modern day with a version of Villainy Inc. for each era.

Art by Phil Jimenez

The new “original” Villainy Inc. had no Blue Snowman while the masculine attributes of Dr. Poison and Hypnota were dropped. In fact, Hypnota was renamed “Hypnotic Woman” to emphasize her gender. In the modern day iteration of Villainy Inc. there was once again no Blue Snowman in the line-up.

Art by Dario Brizuela

As it stands, Byrna continued to be seen as a joke character when even Eviless would eventually be reintroduced as “Saturnia” in the Wonder Woman: Steve Trevor one-shot. Byrna’s first official reappearance after so many years absent occurred in DC Super Friends #16 by Sholly Fisch and Dario Brizuela. Byrna was part of the Ice Pack, a team of ice-themed villains including fellow obscure WW villain Minister Blizzard.

Art by Dario Brizuela

The ice villains argued among each other who’d be considered the top bad guy, with Byrna against Killer Frost over who’d be the “Queen.” The two were eventually defeated when they fought over stealing a diamond, and froze each other just in time for Aquaman and Superman to find them.

DC Super Friends was an out-of-continuity series published by the kid-focused Johnny DC imprint. Byrna’s introduction to the modern day DCU happened in the pages of Power Girl by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Amanda Conner a year after their appearance in DC Super Friends.

Art by Amanda Conner

Power Girl #7 featured Blue Snowman fighting against Power Girl and Doctor Mid-Nite. The captions credit the character as “Former Wonder Woman foe with gender issues” and a life expectancy of several pages. Sadly, Blue Snowman would indeed be killed before the issue’s end when they’re eaten alive by an alien creature brought by Vartox of Valeron.

Art by Paulo Siqueira

Byrna’s given a modern redesign so their costume’s now a more robotic-looking suit of armor including a pipe and bowler hat that fire chunks of ice. The humor is built around Byrna’s general lack of menace (such as them being kicked out of the Ice Pack for “not being cool enough” (Geddit?)) and Power Girl’s confusion when Byrna’s unmasked. “Wait. You’re a chick?”

Byrna would once again languish in comic book limbo for several years, making only two more minor appearances nearly four years apart from one another. In Superman/Wonder Woman #4 by Charles Soule, Tony S Daniel, and Paolo Siqueira, Byrna’s beaten off panel by Wonder Woman and later gets backhanded when they try to get the drop on her. In this appearance, Byrna had the same robotic armor from their Power Girl appearance.

Art by Steven Segovia

Wonder Woman #41 by James Robinson and Stephen Segovia introduced a radically altered version of Blue Snowman, but one that was once again C-List cannon fodder. Briefly discussed as a past opponent hired by businesswoman Veronica Cale, Blue Snowman was now an unnamed giant mech suit that terrorized Washington D.C. before being subdued by Wonder Woman.

Unfortunately, it turned out Byrna Brilyant had their brain wired into the suit directly to control it. Byrna was rendered comatose after Wonder Woman shut the machine down. Disturbingly, Wonder Woman didn’t seem to care that much.

Unpublished art by Renae De Liz

Renae De Liz redesigned Blue Snowman for the pitched follow-up to The Legend Of Wonder Woman, with Byrna Brilyant as an arctic researcher and their costumed persona resembling more of an abominable snowman type of thing instead of a cutesy snowman. It’s currently unknown as to what sort of role Byrna would’ve played in this series and it’s still incredibly disappointing the story wasn’t greenlit.

So throughout the years Bryna Brilyant’s been consistently viewed as a joke character with very little chance to shine. Yes, there’s room to joke about the character due to the general ridiculousness of many of Wonder Woman’s villains (of course the same can be said about ANY comic villain). However, the jokes can get pretty frustrating when all it amounts to is “She’s a girl calling herself a man.”

Art by Juan Gedeon

Which finally brings us to DC: Love Is A Battlefield and the story “Bittersweet” by Crystal Frasier and Juan Gedeon, with Tea Berry-Blue as its sensitivity reader. The story is framed as Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor going out to eat on Valentine’s Day when Blue Snowman shows up in the Conner-based armor from Power Girl looking to rob the place. While the story is centered around WW and Steve’s relationship ups and downs, Blue Snowman repeatedly voices their dislike of Valentine’s Day. They refer to it as “A day to celebrate shackling yourself to someone else’s shallow opinions,” and talk about being treated like garbage when you can’t fit into someone’s box or stereotype.

Art by Juan Gedeon

By the end of the story we’ve reached the point where Byrna’s unmasked and once again we get the “Snowman’s a girl” comments, but Byrna reacts differently this time. Surprisingly, Byrna snaps at Steve Trevor’s remark by exclaiming “I didn’t name myself Blue SnowMAN because I wanna be called a girl. Sometimes I know I’m a guy, okay? Sometimes I’m not.”

And with that, the dynamic behind Blue Snowman is completely changed and the idea of them having “gender issues” is redefined not as some bad joke, but because the character is gender-fluid.

While at first, the character Byrna Brilyant used the male identity of Blue Snowman solely as a disguise but after years of borderline transphobic jokes about “being a woman who pretends to be a guy,” Frasier, Gedeon, and Berry-Blue have taken the jokes and turned Byrna into a complex individual on the subject of gender. Byrna’s anger at people not understanding who they are and feeling wrong could also be interpreted as commentary on all the transphobic jokes made at the character over the decades. In fact, the story makes it a point of having one of the waiters at the restaurant inform Byrna that they are gender-fluid as well and Byrna’s genuine shock at learning of a word to describe what they are.

Kudos to the waiter character who acknowledges that Byrna’s situation is rough, but states gender-fluid individuals like themselves are not “freaks.” It should be noted this was Berry-Blue’s contribution to the story, by suggesting the waiter be gender-fluid themselves instead of dating someone who is.

Art by Juan Gedeon

Interestingly while Byrna holds real hatred against Valentine’s Day and what’s implied to be a past of rejection due to people not understanding who they are, the story doesn’t necessarily imply they became a criminal because of those issues. Byrna’s foremost concern at robbing the restaurant patrons is their money, and they’re not interested in robbing the place solely as some stance against the holiday.

To me this feels very refreshing as if to say a character can have issues about their gender or sexual identity without those issues being their sole motivation in becoming a hero or villain. It’s a breath of fresh air compared to a story going “I’m transgender and for most of my life people considered me a freak, so I’m gonna blow up this building” or “My family couldn’t respect that I’m bisexual so I killed them all last Thanksgiving.”

While backstories like that can be tragic or at least slightly sympathetic, it gets frustrating when the same old “I was abused so I became evil” cliches are applied to situations like this.

The part where Byrna’s shocked at hearing the word “gender-fluid” struck a chord with me due to situations I went through myself. I was amazed several years ago when I discovered what asexuality was and how it applied so much better to my sexual orientation after years of thinking I was gay.

Likewise, I’ve been spending a long time questioning my gender identity because I don’t fully feel like I’m a man, but at the same time I can’t go far enough to think I’m a woman deep down. I don’t know if that makes me nonbinary or gender-fluid as well.

Regardless, seeing one of my favorite characters have a similar epiphany and be treated with more open-mindedness after nearly 80 years of getting used for trashy jokes was immensely satisfying.

Commission by Chaotic Kiss

As it stands, this is also significant to both Wonder Woman’s cast and DC overall due to their general lack of gender-fluid, transgender, and nonbinary characters. While there are currently a handful such as Porcelain (gender-fluid), Earth-11’s Kid Quick/Flash (nonbinary), Danny the Street (genderqueer), and several others, it’s telling Wonder Woman’s cast has nearly no characters, heroic or villainous, who really fall under those headers.

I have no clue if this change to Blue Snowman’s character will be applied to the main DC continuity or if outside this story Robinson’s version of Byrna Brilyant is still the main one and still comatose. I hope moving forward with DC we’ll see more of Wonder Woman’s original villains get a chance to shine, and that more of these types of changes are thought out with skill and grace and then properly implemented.


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