You like your girls insane“Born to Die,” Lana Del Rey
So choose your last words, this is the last time
‘Cause you and I, we were born to die
Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons (Book Three) continues exploring the tensions between gods and mortals as well as between men and women. “Born to die” proves to be a chilling and powerful refrain (establishing the duality of birth/death) throughout this chapter concluding a three-issue arc written by Kelly Sue DeConnick with art from Nicola Scott.
Scott continues the awe inspiring artwork by Phil Jimenez (Book One) and Gene Ha (Book Two) with DeConnick weaving an allusive and powerful re-imagining of the Amazons as well as speaking to enduring themes about humanity and human frailties as well as triumphs.
“She Believes Her Sin Set the War in Motion”
While Book Three offers an incredibly compelling narrative both in the writing and the visual dynamics, here I want to focus on the rich allusive and referential elements that reach out beyond that story.
Book Three opens with stunning spreads, the artwork and coloring invite the reader to linger on pages in order to grasp the grandeur that envelopes this world, this story of the Amazons.
The opening scenes include a serpent theme, complicating and flipping the Garden of Eden iconography with Demeter as the serpent transforming to talk with Hera and then the ultimate human frailty, sin, and of course human guilt: “She believes her sin set the war in motion.”
Dualities build, then, throughout adding innocence versus experience to birth/death, gods/mortals, and men/women. And now, “[s]omething terrible is coming.”
The next duality is both a dramatic element of this story and a new duality that reinforces the man/woman tensions—the rugged individual versus collective power wrapped in the classic theme of hubris. DeConnick works elegantly within mythological archetypes and turns them into lenses for our contemporary realities.
Heracles, son of Zeus, represents masculine hubris and serves as a catalyst for the disaster to come because the Amazons embody a higher form of power in their shared commitments.
Using dynamic ant imagery, this scene reminds me of Adrienne Rich’s poem confronting “the book of myths” and masculine/feminine power:
my mask is powerful“Diving into the Wreck,” Adrienne Rich
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
In victory, the Amazons show respect and care for the vanquished:
But the consequences of these women and their power are monumental since they invoke the ire of the god of gods:
At the core of the story of gods versus mortals, DeConnick and Scott show readers that death begets death—and that “might makes right” remains when men rule over all, especially when women assert their power.
DeConnick also includes literary nods to Aristophanes, with the Amazons performing Thesmophoriazusae, a play about women subverting patriarchy, and quoting Euripides:
Death and honor are framed against the greatest of powers, the will of the gods, echoing the Garden of Eden allusion from the beginning and raising the issue of power again:
This leads us to the key refrain: “We are—all of us—born to die.”
“You Treat Us as Livestock”
It is this issue of power within masculine/feminine dualities that DeConnick continues to explore through the lion/sheep duality:
The Amazons find power in being a community but also in the mentoring relationship (not antagonism) between those who are innocent and those with experience.
Just as a different kind of power is detailed among the women, the Amazons, so is a different way to interrogate the classic motif of hubris found in Greek tragedy:
The hubris/humility duality reveals the “complicating” consequences of aging, experience, which sets adults apart from children.
The central tension of Book Three is the wrath of Zeus and the consequences of the Amazons’ power and resistance. This ultimately creates the duality of life versus freedom:
Of course this is a fabricated duality because of the capriciousness and shallowness of a god who represents patriarchy and misogyny:
The shepherd/sheep duality fits into a literary history of confronting patriarchy and misogyny through using women-as-animal imagery (see Zora Neale Hurston’s mule imagery in Their Eyes Were Watching God).
Power in the hands of gods, the patriarchy, is exposed as capricious and cruel versus the contrast of justice and mercy:
Here the sacrificing nature of women along with the death/birth duality begins to build to the climax of these tensions:
Wonder Woman Historia across three books proves to be a work that portrays and confronts dualities in ways that force readers to rethink enduring motifs and themes within and beyond mythology.
While there is great loss and often violence, Book Three ends with triumph, hope, and birth/rebirth rising out of that loss:
By the end of Book Three, even “born to die” is turned onto itself as a superhero is born into the matriarchy of goddesses and Amazons—although the very real threats of the world and beyond remain ever in the background.
Books 1-3 of Wonder Woman Historia offer a compelling and visually stunning exploration of heroism that is solidly situated in superhero royalty (Wonder Woman among DC’s Big Three), yet this is not predictable superhero story.
DeConnick along with Jimenez, Ha, and Scott tells stories of dualities and confrontations by turning those dualities around and inviting readers to rethink those tensions in ways that speak to the very real world we walk in today.
Thomas, P.L. (2018). Wonder Woman: Reading and teaching feminism with an Amazonian princess in an era of Jessica Jones. In S. Eckard (ed.), Comic connections: Reflecting on women in popular culture (pp. 21-37). New York, NY: Rowman and Littlefield.
[Review] WONDER WOMAN HISTORIA: THE AMAZONS #3 (SPOILERS!), Robert Jones, Jr.