Throughout my childhood, my father told the stories of him growing up, and life before my sister and me, so many times, with so much detail, I can retell them myself today—several years past his death, many decades since I was a child.
Not a literary person, my father returned again and again to telling us about his courtship with my mother. They married in secret during her lunch break from her job working at a Winn-Dixie checkout counter.
We tell stories, often over and over, in an effort to understand better our lives, understand better what it means to be human. But I think, especially for my father, we tell stories of our lives to hold onto those moments and years that slip farther and farther into our past, fading.
As I read Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons (Book Two), Kelly Sue DeConnick’s telling and retelling of mythology grounded in the Wonder Woman universe, I thought about my father’s storytelling as well as why we have myths. I explained that Book One, with artist Phil Jimenez, offers not just a beautiful and compelling superhero narrative, but also vivid and urgent messages for our lives today.
DeConnick joins artist Gene Ha in Book Two. Ha’s “Behind the Panels” shares DeConnick’s charge for Ha and her as co-creators of Book Two: “The scripts that follow should be considered more of a roadmap than a set of blueprints.”
DeConnick continues: “I’ve beaten this metaphor into the ground but my point is this: this is a collaborative process.”
This continuing story of Hippolyta and the Amazons, then, begins with the tensions of stories told (lies) and stories not told (truths).
Amazons demonized as monsters overshadows Amazons as savior-warriors: “No one speaks of the dead girls we avenged. Nor are there portraits of the ones we saved.”
Representation matters also.
This narrative tension speaks, of course, to the cultural tensions in the U.S. in 2022—an aggressive political Right running roughshod across the country decrying manufactured threats (Critical Race Theory) and demonizing educators as “groomers” in their Holy War against LGBTQ+ humanity.
Stories matter. But power matters more.
Hippolyta’s story is a story about stories, but it also is a story about another tension between Goddesses/Gods and mortals. When she comes upon Artemis, Hippolyta confesses her ultimate goal: “I need to be an Amazon.”
Marked by Artemis, Hippolyta is left to confront enslavers, introducing central themes of Book Two—the conditions of being women and children. Saved by Amazons, the enslaved children and Hippolyta are set free. However, Hippolyta challenges that freedom—not just for this moment, but “There is nowhere in this world of men for a woman to be free.”
Hippolyta’s outburst echoes Queen Hera’s anger earlier in Book Two: “There will be no justice for women. Not now. Not a hundred years from now. Not a thousand!”
Goddesses and mortal women, women and children—for them, Book Two establishes elements of shared existential realities around justice and freedom.
The plot of Book Two builds to a new Seventh Tribe of Amazons with Hippolyta as the leader, chosen by “consensus,” fitting seamlessly into the “collaboration” commitment from DeConnick in Ha’s “Behind the Panels.”
The new tribe, mortals, train and then experience their own mission against enslavers. Those who were freed now free others, but also confront the weight of “great power,” the ability to take life. Tarpeia, however, is restrained from killing a boy. “But he is one of them. He would have killed me!” she argues.
The Amazonian response is powerful and haunting: “He’s just a boy. He shouldn’t die for the sins of his father.”
In terms of contemporary relevance, I find this focus one of the key moments of Book Two.
A cultural and political narrative in the U.S. in 2022 involves centering parental rights over their children, an idealized view of parenting paired with denying the autonomy and humanity of children. States are passing legislation directly pronouncing that parents have primary authority over their children’s education.
However, as Book Two dramatizes, “Children only know the world they’ve seen, the world their parents have shown them. To be an adult, they think, is to do as they’ve seen done. It feels like a choice to them, but it isn’t.”
The fate of the boy becomes the ominous final conflict of Book Two, harkening Book Three with “Unleash hell upon them.”
Here, I come back to my father, and mother, and the “world” they showed me. As I have written about often, I was told many wrong stories, corrupting stories, and I could have been trapped in those narratives of racism and ignorance.
Until I learned otherwise—in science fiction and comic books, in comedy albums, and in classrooms where teachers were free to teach.
Again, stories matter.
But who controls them often matters more.