Odyssey of the Amazons is a Throwback, All Right

1

Odyssey of the Amazons #1

Kevin Grevioux (story and script), Ryan Benjamin (pencils), Richard Friend (inks), Tony Washington (colours), Tony Aviña (colours pp21-24)
DC Comics
January 2017

It’s great that DC is making an effort to provide more and different Wonder Woman content in her seventy-fifth year. Legends of Wonder Woman and Bombshells, not to mention several standalone graphic novels and collections, give her a wider audience. But nothing raises profile like multiple books on the stands. Unfortunately, the first issue of the Odyssey of the Amazons mini doesn’t stand up to the quality of her other appearances. I found it actively off-putting.

The book takes place before Wonder Woman’s birth and focuses on a group of Amazons who have been traveling the world, seeking others of their kind, that is, immortal warrior women, which in this book is all that “Amazon” seems to mean. From the first page, I was skeptical. Benjamin and Friend’s art is bold and Washington’s colours strong, their scenes of battle full of energy, but the skimpy armour and broke-back poses immediately convey that these Amazons are sex symbols first and warriors second. We get an upskirt shot in the very first panel, and this level of objectification is prevalent throughout the book.

More, the writing is heavy-handed and confusing. Grevioux begins the narration with the invocation “Sing, O Muse,” invoking Homer’s Classical Greek epics, but the actual text leans on Old Norse and Old English poetic traditions of alliterative verse while ignoring their equally important elements of metre. A small point, yes, still this illustrates the confusion and disorder that characterizes the writing. It stretches for appropriately archaic language, but trips into pulp instead, at least where it doesn’t either get tangled in a thesaurus or repeat itself carelessly. Much of the narration is entirely unnecessary: it merely tells us what the panels show. Except in cases where it labels a character or place, it could be removed without affecting the plot, and even that information could be conveyed less intrusively.

The plot is relatively standard mythological sword and sorcery fare, populated by stereotypical characters: reluctant allies from different cultures whose traditions will no doubt clash, uppity youths who know better than their elders, the seasoned general who yearns for glory. The central question of the miniseries–what does it mean to be an Amazon–is presented artlessly by a character who asks outright, “What does it mean to truly be an Amazon?” There’s a literal deus ex machina in the appearance of the Fates, by whose urging the Amazons set out on a rescue mission after two of their number are abducted by Jotuns.

The abduction scenes are excruciatingly sexualized, Amazons Gone Wild: Beach Edition meets Neanderthal Man, and the threat of assault is not merely left subtextual but made explicit by the Fates. Why? The Amazons are warriors whose enemies could seek to ransom them or cripple their strategic knowledge, if we must have an abduction plot. But they are women–as nearly every belly-baring battle armour design reminds us–and so there is only one real threat they can face. I’ll direct you to Seanan McGuire’s excellent thoughts on rape as narrative device for my feelings on why this is lazy storytelling; I am particularly annoyed that given a book about a band of warrior women, the first thing Grevioux does is subject them to sexual violence. The DC Universe Amazons are often positioned as survivors, but this iteration seems so far to focus less on the challenges of the patriarchal power structure and more on the Amazons’ punishment for going to war.

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Wonder Woman and the current run specifically. I’ve tried to be fair, and I think I would have the above criticisms were this book unconnected to Wonder Woman at all. There are elements of it, however, that baffle me as a Wonder Woman fan. How does it fit in her mythos? These Amazons are, apparently, already immortal, but didn’t that gift come from their gods? If so, how are there non-Amazon immortals around the world? Their home is Themyscira, but how can they leave it and yet expect to return home? The Wonder Woman storylines right now make clear that no Amazon can do so and return. If Themyscira has yet to be granted that protection, then how do they have immortality? I go in circles about this, because I am genuinely confused. Some of these questions may be answered as the mini progresses; if you keep reading, feel free to update me.

It’s hard to trace a line from these Amazons to the Amazons of Wonder Woman. Their uneasy balance as warriors who seek peace is lamp-shaded heavily enough that I expect it to recur as a theme, and perhaps we’re meant to find out that this mission is a turning point for Amazon philosophy. But presenting Amazons as so tired and whiny that they would rather return home than rescue their kidnapped sisters from what has been characterized as a lifetime of sexual slavery? That’s a distance too far to easily bridge. Their arguments seem like petty infighting rather than tactical disagreements, governed by emotions instead of logic and without any grounding in what we see on the page. I’m not entirely sure why this has to be a Wonder Woman tie-in at all; very little would change were the Amazons suddenly the Valkyries, for example, so what’s the point?

The story is led and populated by women of colour, but that doesn’t automatically make it progressive or feminist. The artwork takes pains to depict different cultures and as the story goes further we may see those elements developed, but given that this issue included “swarthy, sun-kissed” savages, a samurai, and an Aztec goddess, and that we’re working within the limited confines of a miniseries run, I don’t expect nuanced, thoughtful portrayals.

This book is bad, and it’s bad in sexualized, stereotypical ways that conflict greatly with what the current main Wonder Woman run–and other appearances in Legends of WW and Bombshells–make of the character. I’m honestly surprised that it was greenlit in an atmosphere that has seemed genuinely respectful of Diana and her meaning and legacy. Granted this is only the first issue; still, there are enough problems that I can’t see how they could be fixed in a meaningful, effective enough way to send a different message. I’ll usually buy anything associated with Wonder Woman, but I won’t be spending any more money on this mini, and I don’t think I’ll miss much.

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About Author

Karen holds an MA in English, an MPhil in Media and Cultural Studies, and a lot of opinions on The State Of These Sorts Of Things. She's talked #cdntv on Canadaland and been published on pop culture, most recently in Companion Piece, an anthology of essays examining the companions of Doctor Who. Find her on twitter for up-to-date Thoughts and Feelings (caps merited).

1 Comment

  1. Skimming the second issue in the shop, it seemed better, but not by much. Both issues have a similar problem that I have with Keith Giffen’s writing in general: trying very hard to make every line “punch” in some way, like a never-ending stream witty retorts. The kind of thing that people who dislike Whedon’s work are always criticizing. Even ignoring that, there’s still obnoxious narration captions, the multiculturalism as presented renders the characters painfully anachronistic, and while overall likeability is slightly better, there’s still limited characterization for characters that amount to muscly fantasy pin-ups.

    We lost the second volume of Legend of Wonder Woman for THIS???