Not wishing to sound too much like the late great Christopher Hitchens, this month’s issues of Wonder Woman and Justice League are all about eros and thanatos – aka (sort of) love and death. Well, Eros is certainly there in Wonder Woman, as is his mother Aphrodite; Thanatos isn’t, but in his place are Hades and his wife (or should that be wife-to-be) Wonder Woman. Meanwhile, over in Justice League, Steve Trevor has taken to drink over the love of a good woman (Wonder Woman, again) and there’s the threat of death, too.
Add to those two themes truth, because people want to know it rather urgently, and eros again in the form of bondage, because a certain golden lasso is going to be important in both titles. And because it’s Wonder Woman.
After the jump then, a brief rundown on each of the issues, plus a discussion of the general devaluation of women that will feature a guest appearance of the new nu52 parallel universe title Earth 2.
Wonder Woman #9
Wonder Woman is stuck in Hades/Hell, where she is set to marry Hades. She’s acquired a servant, somehow, who turns out to be Hades’ former wife, Persephone.
Meanwhile, Zola, Lennox, Hermes, Hephaestus and new arrival Aphrodite are working (at different speeds. Or not at all) on a plan to save Wonder Woman…
…and Ares and Strife are wondering whether to go to the wedding.
Hades, however, has doubts about Wonder Woman’s true intents and to find out whether she really loves him or not, he makes a hangman’s noose from her lasso, into which she must place her head. If she doesn’t love him, guess what happens next.
Is it any good?
After last month’s rather good issue, we have a perfect storm of the worst elements of the new title to deal with this issue.
For pencils, we have returning fill-in artist Tony Atkins, who does a decent enough but inferior and uglier imitation of Cliff Chiang’s work. As a result, the artwork, while resembling Chiang’s, fails to capture the more mythic qualities of his style. Even Aphrodite, what we see of her, is less than beautiful.
We’re also relatively action-free this issue, much of this being a Hades and Zola character study. Wonder Woman is even more passive than normal, getting the usual set of revelations that leave her open-mouthed, but nothing by way, it seems, of a plan of escape, assuming she does indeed want to.
Worse still, we have some real slip-ups in dialogue by writer Brian Azzarello. Although his use of double meanings for conversations can work well, Wonder Woman’s musing over the hole in her chest from Eros/Hades’s bullet is possibly the tackiest bit of double entendre I’ve ever had the misfortune of reading.
WW: It’s a hole… It aches.
P: Well… I’m sure my Lord will happily fill it in your wedding chamber.
WW: Yes, though I don’t know what makes him happy.
And Lennox is once again mouthing things that are supposedly cockney but are more like gibberish.
As impressive as Azzarello’s vision of the Land of the Dead may be, it’s also losing a little of its logic. Persephone is suggested to have tried to commit suicide to escape. Leaving aside the slight problem that she’s a goddess – the daughter of Zeus and Demeter – and therefore immortal, where exactly would she go to if she died? The same question needs to be asked about Wonder Woman’s noose dilemma at the end of the issue: if she hangs in Hades, can she die or will she just dangle there embarassingly?
For a title that is also supposed to be returning to greater fidelity to its Greek myth origins, it sure is playing fast and loose with them. In the Homeric Hymn to Demeter at least, Persephone famously ate seeds from the pomegranate while she was in the Land of the Dead for the first time, which meant she had to stay for several months each year, returning to Olympus the rest of the year. So why is she stuck there? Shouldn’t the whole world be consigned to eternal winter thanks to Demeter’s misery if she is?
Equally, shouldn’t Hades simply get Wondy to eat a fruit or two if he’s that worried about her truthfulness and wants her to stay against her will?
Coupled to that, we have golden Aphrodite as a brunette and claiming her husband, Hephaestus, ‘has his charms’, when hers was mythically an arranged marriage.
Kronos, who should be ruling over the Blessed Isles with Rhea, is now stuck behind his son Hades’ throne.
Lastly in our litany of flaws, we have the general devaluation of women in the title. Persephone, at least, was very powerful in myth – in The Odyssey, for example, Hades doesn’t even appear when Odysseus ventures into the underworld: everything is instigated by Persephone. Yet here she is relegated in status, seemingly becoming mortal and powerless, desperate to escape and forced into servitude as a result, even saying ‘I was Hades’ wife once’, rather than saying ‘I was once married to him’ (maybe battered goddess syndrome at work there?).
Wondy, as well as not getting much to do much, here she has own lasso used against her, where once it would only respond to her touch. That’s on top of her indestructible bracelets, formerly made from the aegis of Zeus itself, being smashed by one of Eros’s bullets last issue.
Aphrodite, formerly the powerful creator of the (now defunct) Amazons, is merely another of the many naked goddesses that populate the title. Indeed, we don’t even get to see her face, just parts of her naked body and the reactions of Zola and Hermes to her. Does she have a plan to save Wonder Woman? Of course not. That’s up to Lennox and the boys.
Indeed, name a female character, from Wonder Woman downwards, from the pre nu-52 universe and you can pretty much see a female character devalued and degraded and marginalised (or absent) in favour of one or more male, usually new, characters: Wondy/Lennox, Hera/Poseidon, Aphrodite/Eros, the Amazons/the Amazons’ brothers, Artemis/Apollo, Athena/Hephaestus and so on.
Yet, as always, it’s hard to criticise the title as a whole, particularly if you compare it to the rest of the current nu52 titles, since it’s head and shoulders above virtually all of them. As I’ve suggested before, this is Wonder Woman as if it were one of DC’s Vertigo titles and there’s a real sense of dread and danger to the writing. Okay, we’re only nine issues into the run and we’re already having to endure the usual plot trope faced by strong female characters – the threat of sexual violence and rape rather than just fantasy violence – but it is effectively done and the use of Wonder Woman’s lasso against her is an equally unsettling trope that actually works, unlike in some past stories I could mention.
I can’t help but wish we were getting some positive female characters (or even women with positive character traits, although Aphrodite is at least friendly in this, which actually, isn’t that true to myth either); I really want Cliff Chiang back; and I wish they’d stop messing with myth. But despite the flaws, it’s still the must-read title for me each month.
Justice League #9
Here, things are mostly about the boys, as well, but we get a little bit of romance and Wonder Woman showing us who’s boss. Green Lantern and co find themselves unable to get information out of someone so reluctantly call on the limber Wonder Woman for help.
Meanwhile, Steve Trevor is facing up to the fact that he’s now Wondy’s ex-, assuming he was ever her boyfriend as the world seems to think.
But does he know where she’s vulnerable? That’s what someone, at least, would like to know.
Not a lot actually happens in the issue, beyond fights, usually between members of the league, but there’s a continuing base of pleasing character development for everyone involved and it’s clearly setting something up, at least. It’s all more juvenile than in Wonder Woman, but it’s still enjoyable stuff and when Wonder Woman appears, it’s actually about her and she’s not miserable. At least in this one area, that’s something that might be nice to see again in her own title.
Earth 2 #1
So Earth 2 pulled something of a sucker-punch with everyone using its front cover. Everyone assumed it would be about alternate, pre-nu52 versions of ‘the trinity’ (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman) and other associated heroes. Indeed, in this universe, Wonder Woman worships the Roman gods, who look a lot like George Perez’s versions of the Greek gods from way back in the early issues of Volume 2 of Wonder Woman.
But, hey, guess what? After killing off everyone that the Trinity loves in backstory (Lois Lane, the Amazons, et al), the Trinity themselves get killed by the New Gods, leaving the rest of the superhero world – mainly the male ones, although Supergirl gets a look-in – to deal with super-problems in their stead.
Phew. That’s one title I don’t have to bother reading then.