Review: WONDER WOMAN #24

WONDER WOMAN #24
Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Goran Sudzuka
Published by DC Comics
Release Date: October 16, 2013

WonderWoman24I can understand why long term Wonder Woman fans might be unhappy with the direction Brian Azzarello has taken Diana’s story. For all its strengths — and there are many — Azzarello’s Wonder Woman is increasingly defined by her relationships to men, and while she holds her own (and then some), it’s hard not to compare the current version of Wonder Woman to, say, Gail Simone’s treatment of Diana as a whole character formed in a world of women, and not shaped by a lack of relationships to men.

There’s an element of the epic in Azzarello’s story of Diana’s clandestine paternity, of the lie that was told to protect her from the consequences of her illicit birth, and the way her own community still sensed her difference and never entirely accepted her. Recent events, which have forced Diana to assume the mantle of her estranged mentor and surrogate father figure, Ares, put a twist on the classic story of the son struggling to live up to the example of his father while forging an identity of his own by substituting a daughter in place of the son.

And yet, while there are echoes of Themyscira in the refuge Diana seems to be building for Hera and Zola, it’s hard to ignore the fact that even here it is a male child whose safety is at stake, and that he is threatened by Apollo, the upstart king of Olympus, and Zeus’s nihilistic, renegade son First Born. It’s hard to ignore that Wonder Woman 24’s most memorable moments come when the former queen of the gods is explicitly compared to a crying infant, and when the reader is asked to sympathize with a male character who complains that his betrayal hasn’t been met with the same empathy afforded to a woman.

What makes this observation all the more difficult is that there’s nothing inherently lacking in Azzarello’s female characters. Zola in particular has always been a strong, flawed, self-driven character entirely unapologetic about what exactly it is that she does or doesn’t want from men. Hera’s transition from deity to mortal has been convincingly portrayed and interesting to follow.

But even the comedy and pathos of Azzarello’s Hera — and the way in which portrayal of her character as impetuous and vengeful have allowed the comic to incorporate elements of classical mythology — have to placed in context of the fact that a figure who has traditionally operated as Diana’s patron has been recast as her enemy, a figure of a woman scorned rather than the feminine aspects of the divine.

This might be the inherent trade off in Azzarello’s narrative choices. It’s been fascinating to spend two years with Diana in an explicitly mythological world, but linking Diana to the old stories links her to the world that created those stories, the old gods and the old men who fought over them. As we enjoy the story Azzarello is telling — and in case it’s not clear, I have — it’s worth keeping in mind that it has come at the cost of the Amazons themselves.

I imagine that one day Diana will get the opportunity fight for her sisters the way she tried to fight for their brothers in Hephaestus’s forge. I look forward to reading that story.

Verdict: 8.5/10

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4 Comments

  1. clint said:

    It seems that the criticisms of the series as stated here are because of the book’s title: Wonder Woman. She is, without a doubt, the most famous of female heroes in all of the comics world. However, being the most famous seems to bring with it the chore of extreme feminism, exaggerated to the extent that it is no longer about equality but instead about required political statements.
    Hera has changed and Diana and Zola accepted her because of her transformation. Not because she is a woman. Hermes betrayed them and has not right to have their trust again. That was not sexist. Zeke is no longer in immediate danger and I don’t think it offensive that he is a male baby. Women have traditionally been the weak and hostage characters in comics. Having a male child play that role is actually a progressive step. Not to mention, my favorite character, Lennox, was incredibly weak and repeatedly useless in battle. Unrelated: I also thought Hera’s decoration with his head was hilarious. As you mentioned, the female supporting cast are very well characterized. Hera, Strife, and Zola especially. Only Orion and Lennox have characterizations of comparable levels. I understand that you are enjoying the book. I am too. I just think that your male-centric criticisms are reaching for something that isn’t there.

  2. Gavin said:

    Clint, thanks for your response. I would like to emphasize that I never use the words “sexist” or “offensive” because I’m not arguing that the title is either sexist or offensive. There’s a lot going on in Hermes’ appeal for forgiveness, which is why Diana is clearly affected by it and doesn’t simply reject it out of hand — and as you seem to be indicating, a big part of the reason Hera is part of Diana’s household is that she’s in need of Diana’s protection, which Hermes is not — but it’s also an indication of Hermes’ character that he seems blind to this.

    Similarly, I’m not sure that a male baby as a “hostage character” is all that unusual. Arguably, the first half of the Harry Potter series is built on Harry as a character in need of protection (and his slow growth out of his need to be protected — the key point may be whether female infant characters are usually presented as growing into the ability to protect themselves, or as staying in need of protection even as adults). The current struggle at the center of Wonder Woman is a contest between Apollo and the the First Born for the throne abandoned by Zeus, and their expectation that Zeke will eventually make a claim on that throne. Azzarello plays with this in interesting ways from time to time, like the possibility in #24 that the prophecy might refer to Diana taking Ares’ place as the god of war, but I’m not sure that the overall premise would work if Zeke were a girl — would Apollo or the First Born even consider her a rival? — and that’s the center of my argument. The mythological focus has let Azzarello tell some great stories, but like the myths themselves, they tend to be male-focused stories. (This tendency is even clearer, I think if you compare the past year of Azzarello’s Wonder Woman to even his first six issues. It’s absolutely not that Azzarello is limited to male-focused stories, it’s that the material itself pushes in a certain direction.)

    Not that there’s anything wrong in and of themselves with male-focused stories. But I also don’t think that there’s anything “extreme” about looking for stories that aren’t male-focused as well.

  3. clint said:

    Thanks for the thoughtful response. You made good counter points. My overall argument is that 1) I don’t think the story is male focused, or, at least, it does a good job of balancing between the male and female characters even if they are concentrated into distinct story arcs. I have a feeling that Strife is going to be the major “villain” for the next chunk of issues and there we will have woman vs woman. I say that because Plus, it seems Cassandra is plotting some mischief, too. Apollo has never been portrayed as serious threat. It seems more like he happens to be in control currently because he is a good schemer but will easily fall to a determined opponent (Wonder Woman or the First Born).
    I get what you’re saying: by using mythology for inspiration, Azzarello’s story inevitably becomes male-centric. Zeus, Apollo, First Born, and Zeke. All males and all powerful (or in Zeke’s case potentially powerful). However, the only one of them that gets comparable levels of characterization to Diana, Hera, or Zola is the First Born. Zeus is as background as they get, Apollo does two things: sits at throne or uses random women as oracles.

    And Zeke is really nothing more than a prop right now.
    If power levels or ranks are the interesting part of the book, then yes, the series is male centric. However, if characterization is what makes the readers interested, then I reaffirm that the book is female focused (or equally balanced).
    By the time I wrote all of that, I forgot what my “2)” point was supposed to be…
    I reread your response just now and I feel like we are discussing points that do not directly oppose each other. I focus on characterizations and you focus on plot lines. Both are crucial to the story. I concede that the main plot line of WW (who claims the throne?) is male centric. However, I think that the sub plots and effort put into characterizations are female centric or, at least, balanced.
    Sorry for assuming you were taking a “sexist” or “offended” angle. I’ve seen lots of arguments about those topics and Azzarello’s WW, so I was primed to think you were accusing it of sexism.

  4. clint said:

    Oh yeah! My second point is that the series is held up to standards that other books are not, simply because the title is Wonder Woman. I wonder if we would be discussing the male or female focus if it were any other book.

    Now that I think about it, Batgirl, Batwoman, and Red Sonja all have disproportionately female villain rosters – maybe that why we don’t consider them male centric. Do girls have to fight girls and boys fight boys, with only rare co-ed battles? Comic books certainly think so. Azzarello is actually going against the grain by having First Born as Diana’s main enemy. Maybe that does make it more male centric than its female-starring peers, but it also makes a better case for equality.

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