Another small thing that isn’t enough of a thought for The Mary Sue. I’m dropping Wonder Woman from my badly-in-need-of-pruning pull list because I’m tired of thinking of ways in which it could be a better book while I’m in the middle of reading it. I actually read two issues of it this week, 23.1 and 23.2. One was actually, genuinely not just a story about a woman but a story about women and gender roles and feminine mythology. (Naturally, it wasn’t written by the core writer of Wonder Woman.)
The other was an origin story for the First Born, the unnamed first child of Zeus and Hera, sentenced to die because of a prophecy that he’d overthrow his father, saved by the witch ordered to kill him who instead left him in the wilderness to be raised by hyenas. My problem here is not in what was done, but what wasn’t done, not in the energy that was expended but in the energy not expended, the attention not paid, the ideas not followed up on, and yeah, when you’re writing the main title of one of the DC trinity, I feel like that’s a legitimate criticism to make. Writing a Wonder Woman story that doesn’t play with gender themes is like writing a Batman story and abandoning opportunities to talk about gun violence, parenting, or loss.
But back to the First Born. He’s not a character who is built with anything to say, metatextually, about gender or the feminine. Okay, whatever. The only greek gods who gave him any sympathy were women, but I can understand him not find a source of particular respect or admiration for the feminine because he hates all the gods. Fine. But Azarello made a specific, non assumptive “lets play with archetypes” choice when he decided to craft the First Born’s childhood as raised by African beasts. Take a mythological standard and, in keeping with multicultural design of the comic, relocate it some where non-European. Instead of wolves, have him raised by Africa’s most recognizable canines: hyenas. The First Born also clearly has some respect and affection for the species that raised him, since he, in typical greek god fashion, has children with them and populates his army with hyena headed humanoid soldiers.
Which is all very thematically confused because hyenas are a matriarchal species. Female hyenas have these structures called pseudopenises that only become erect when they are aroused, which basically means they only have sex or puppies when they want to; their packs are led by a dominant female, usually the one with the most impressive pseudopenis. Unlike Zeus and a lot of his demi-god babies, the First Born could have been written as a villain who was out there enjoying banging ladies whose very physicality demands consensual sex. How much more fascinating would the First Born be if in addition to just hating the heck out of the greek gods and having to fight Wonder Woman to get at them, his one point of honorable behavior was that he respected female authority and warriorhood?
That is a Wonder Woman villain who actually speaks to the dominant themes that are associated with Wonder Woman. The whole reveal of him being raised by hyenas felt like it was a decision made “because it’s cool” when it could have been made to actually talk about gender roles and character archetypes. A decision made “because it’s cool” but without any real investigation into what it might mean. And I’m just tired of seeing these themes abandoned on the table while reading Wonder Woman, even if, as I’ve said before, it’s actually a pretty decent superhero book. So I’m going to stop reading her comic.