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[Review] WONDER WOMAN HISTORIA: THE AMAZONS #3 (SPOILERS!)
The DC Comics Black Label limited series comes to its (possible) conclusion.
“War is not simple. It is not pure, or clean. But there is a structure to it. There are calculations, goals—rules, even. Absent those necessary fictions, a warrior will lose her way. She’ll lose herself. She will become rage…for rage is more bearable than grief.”
Kelly Sue DeConnick, Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons #3
SPOILERS!wrote the full shit out of Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons #3. Let me just put that right on out there.
What do I mean by “full shit”? Well, I mean she took her sweet damn time to ensure that each sentence had its place, every line hit the proper beat, and the underlying sociopolitical perspective was as dire and agonizing as real life. And for her efforts, she won the most prestigious prize available to bestow in the genre. This is something DeConnick is expert at: dwelling in the complicated liminal spaces, where right and wrong are often kaleidoscopic rather than binary; where evil has a little bit of human in it and good has a little bit of demon in it; where every action has a consequence, despite intention; where the goal—often thwarted by someone, including oneself—is liberation. Some folks who read DeConnick’s work (or, rather, who don’t read it or don’t know how to read it) often miss these nuances therein and, therefore, mischaracterize what she’s doing within her stories. What is she doing? Getting down in the muck. Because the muck is where the truth is.
Book Three of Historia deals with the war between the Amazons and the Gods of Olympus. There is an argument to be made that what kicks off the war is Zeus’s refusal to allow the Goddesses (Aphrodite, Artemis, Athena, Demeter, Hecate, Hera, and Hestia) to protect the women of Earth, but what jumpstarts the formal declaration of it are the actions of a young Amazon named Tarpeia. After being told by the elder Amazons that she shouldn’t seek vengeance against a boy who had abused and enslaved her because he, too, is a child, and still has the capacity for redemption, Tarpeia secretly says, fuck that shit, and goes after him anyway, murdering him in the temple of the god Apollo.
Appalled, Apollo runs to Zeus and demands retribution. Zeus is all surprised and what not because he had previously declared, in Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons #1, that the Goddesses should not interfere. From his perspective, violence, including misogyny, is a natural consequence of existence and one of the many possibilities in the universe. Therefore, mankind should be free to express it sans divine intervention. He has no explanation for Hera’s insinuation of other possibilities like equality and safety, other than to say, essentially, I’m the king and I said what I said!
Earlier in that exchange, Zeus dismissively refers to the Goddesses as “doves.” At the end of the discussion, Hera basically says, Oh word? Doves, huh? Okay. I got a dove for that ass. While the six other goddesses conspire to protect Earthly women by creating the Amazons, at least one of Hera’s “thousand-thousand” eyes is on a human woman named Hippolyta, and an infant girl that Hippolyta, as assistant midwife, helps deliver. She is subsequently charged with getting rid of the child since girls are considered of lesser social value in Ancient Greece and the family has three daughters already. Hippolyta does as she is told. After the deed is done, she regrets it, and is driven to enormous despair and guilt. For reasons that aren’t revealed until the end of Book Three, Hera retrieves the soul of that baby girl and keeps it with her in Olympus in the form of, you guessed it, a dove.
Back to Book Three: So, Zeus and Apollo are pissed off and decide that they are going to destroy the Amazons. In his opening salvo, Zeus sends Heracles to do away with the Amazon tribes. How does that go? Google tells me the heaviest metal on Earth is Osmium. Google is wrong. The heaviest metal is this scene where Heracles comes to commit genocide against the Amazons and the Amazons hand him his ass gift wrapped. If ever there was a time where don’t start none; won’t be none applied, it’s here.
And here, at this scene, is the perfect time to talk about the art for Historia. Book One contained the mind-bending work of Phil Jimenez, who won an Eisner for his inventions here. Book Two was drawn by Gene Ha, who mastered illusions and visual riddles in ways that will take years to unravel. And in Book Three, Nicola Scott drew for dear life! There is so much to say about what she does in these pages (along with colorist Annette Kwok). If there is any one person who was born to draw the Wonder Woman mythos, it’s Scott. Her work is luscious. It’s delicious. It’s luxe. It’s moonglow. It’s dream-worthy. And when it needs to be, it’s war. Thus, when the Amazons ultimately and gloriously lose their battle against the Gods, the anguish is three-dimensional.
And so is the betrayal.
Hippolyta is forced to make a choice that resurrects the defeated Amazons without their consent (keen readers will remember that in Book One, the Goddesses did get consent from the souls of the departed women to resurrect them as Amazons). But it comes with a grave price. The Amazons are condemned to Themyscira. They do not retreat to it for refuge as they do in other tellings of the DC Comics Amazons’ origins. No. These Amazons of Historia—of every race, varying abilities, multiple genders, every body type—would much rather be in the world, shielded by the cover of night, interrupting, intervening, intercepting the patriarchy, to prevent it from dissecting humankind and placing us into suffocating categories such that we might have a function, like a tool, but not a purpose, like a person.
The most heartbreaking scene for me was near the end. Hippolyta—after having betrayed the Amazons, after having the Amazons turn their backs on and walk away from her—is alone on the beach of their newfound prison. In an earlier scene, where the Amazons take a moment of reprieve before beginning the battle anew, Hippolyta had told another Amazon, Kallikrates, that she had intended for the Amazons to have their own theater so that Kallikrates’s extraordinary theatrical talents might always have a place to shine. And in this ending, on this new coast, Hippolyta keeps her promise with a performance of her own: reenacting her deepest shame, her grandest sin.
With the moist sand tested in her grip, she sculpts the figure of an infant in a cradle. After she completes the details, she looks down at it forlornly. Then, the sea intrudes; it rushes in and snatches away the infant’s head. Hippolyta, unlike the first time she set the infant adrift, is immediately aghast. Panicked, she chases after what has been taken. She casts herself into the waters, seeking, once again, what she knows will not be found. But this time, it is she who is condemned to drown. It is the fate she believes she deserves. A life for a life to set the scales of justice to balance.
What saves her are the sounds of an infant wailing. Because, you see, while Hippolyta was in ocean, the seven Goddesses came and remolded the figure. Further, Hera summoned the dove—that dove—from Olympus and placed the soul contained within it into the clay infant, bringing it to life.
Great Hera, indeed!
The other goddesses—most notably Demeter (who provides the child a drop of pomegranate juice from a seed), Aphrodite (who kisses the child on the forehead), and Artemis (who gives the child her name)—then bestow their own blessings upon the child.
When Hippolyta returns to the shore, she sees that there is a living baby in the spot where she left the clay one. Soon, she realizes that it is not just any baby. It is the baby. The one she helped bring into the world. The one she then helped discard. The one who she rationalized as being better off dead than living in a misogynist world. The one who sent her scrambling across the known world to find. The one whose disappearance has haunted her for all of her days.
Who the world will one day call Wonder Woman.
Hovering over this entire series is a kind of Morrisonian seriousness. I’m thinking, in particular, of Sethe’s quandary in Beloved, which a colleague of Morrison’s put thusly: “She did the right thing, but she had no right to do it.” I’m also reminded of Paradise, in which we learn that there can be no such thing.
I’m exceedingly curious how this foundational-origin shift (which includes the welcome and overdue redemption of Hera) revises how Diana might be seen by the other Amazons and how it will affect the circumstances of her journey. This retelling alters mightily—deepens, really—what is lost when an older Diana eventually leaves Themyscira after Steve Trevor lands on the island. The loss is now unbearable to imagine.
But might it also be that Hippolyta and the Amazons would be glad for Diana to be able to leave the dungeon they cannot? To finish the work they were abruptly snatched from? To, in a sense, right Hippolyta’s wrong? Could it be that this wonderfully reimagined Wonder Woman does not come to Patriarch’s World to save it, but to save women from it? Or perhaps to dismantle it outright? Most importantly, could she actually be Hera’s agent of disruption, created to not only turn Zeus’s own insults against him, but to dethrone him and set a new world order in motion? (Personally, I could not see this Wonder Woman joining a Justice Society or Justice League as the only woman, much less as their administrative assistant.)
What I find most satisfying about DeConnick’s work is how sensitive it is; how well-researched, careful, mature, subversive, and honest it is. How it makes me ponder and change and wonder and cackle with knowing. My goodness, this series is extraordinary! It would be a shame—a lowdown, dirty shame—if DC Comics didn’t greenlight the six additional issues that DeConnick has pitched. It doesn’t matter how long it might take for her to write them or for her chosen collaborators to draw them. We need them. We need them for art’s sake, yes. But we also need them for sociocultural enlightenment.
I’ve been reading comic books for 47 years and I have never read a series this exquisite or risky. Some have come close, but Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons is, in my opinion, undeniably the pinnacle of them all.
Bar officially raised.
Game forever changed.
DC Beyond the Panels: Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons by DC Comics
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Paradise by Toni Morrison
“Episode 168: Nicola Scott” interview with Big Story Podcast
“Kelly Sue DeConnick | The Making of Wonder Woman Historia” interview with Geek Sensei
“Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons (Book Three): ‘Born to Die’” by Dr. Paul Thomas