Have the values and concepts that have traditionally shaped Wonder Woman survived the transition into DC’s New 52? With the one year anniversary of the reboot upon us, I think we have enough material to start to answer that question. So with a new arc about to launch us into her second year, let’s take a look at the last. One of the most recent storylines saw Wonder Woman traveling into the underworld itself to rescue a captured ally. The first two issues were met with a bit of controversy, and out of that controversy is actually where I found some of my best evidence.
Issue seven introduced a new origin for many of the Amazons. We learn that in this take, all of the Amazons are female because the male children are ripped from their mothers and sold away into slavery, and in fact all Amazon children are born from the violent actions of this warrior race. It’s a grim genesis, but Wonder Woman’s response is classic. The enslaved males all work in the weapon maker’s forge, where she had recently traveled to gear up for her mission into hell. Upon learning this new truth, Diana promptly marches off to free her brothers from this bondage, even if it endangers her mission. That idealistic righteousness is perfect for the character, and being the star of the book I’m most concerned with her portrayal. It’s a simple but important aspect, and one I’m of course glad to see honored. The real surprise comes though when her Amazonian brothers refuse to be saved, or to put it more accurately, they reveal that they already have been saved. Had they not been rescued by the weapons smith and given work in his forge, they would have surely been left to die. They now have a new chance for life, and he has given them a purpose in it. This ties the new book back brilliantly to the old Marston ideals that originally gave birth to Wonder Woman, with the message that some forms of bondage can be beneficial.
Themes and concepts related to bondage were key to early Wonder Woman stories, and written into them in a variety of ways. Her bracelets themselves tied directly into this – they could be one of her greatest strengths when she used them to deflect bullets, or her greatest weakness when they were bound by man. This idea continues to be visited in issue eight, when we learn that the underworld is literally made of souls, and that the very ground she walks on is composed of them. The damned are not used in this way completely unwillingly, as the alternative is a true death, and ceasing to be. The afterlife offers the otherwise mortal being a taste of immortality, and a chance to exist in some way, or in fact many ways. Once again we have the message that there can be a kind of happiness in slavery. In issue ten she triumphs through love, and tries to save a villain who was already defeated. Add in the themes of trust in bondage and you have about as close to a traditional Wonder Woman story as you’re going to get! One of the best things about the DC reboot is that it gave writers the flexibility to be creative in their stories without being bound by the old continuity – unless they chose to be, and I’m glad to see that in some ways Azzarello has chosen to be here.