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In essays on the subject of centricity, I've most often used the image of a geometrical circle, which, as I explained here,  owes someth...

Monday, July 15, 2019


Despite the many diverse iterations of Wonder Woman since creator Marston shuffled off this coil in 1947, few later interpretations have shown a sense of historical perspective with regard to the feature's feminist message.

Marston, of course, conceived of his Amazons as a reaction against the patriarchy of ancient Greece. After establishing this backdrop for the origin of Wonder Woman's lost Amazon isle, he then brought the heroiine and her people into contact with the modern world, particularly with 1940s America, so that Marston's idealized matriarchy could function as tutelary spirits to the young democracy, guiding it away from extreme patriarchy and toward gender equity.

AMAZONIA follows in the footsteps of earlier projects under the Elseworlds imprint by transporting one of DC's venerable characters into a new historical milieu: that of Victorian England. The graphic novel's setup dispenses with Marston's meliorating approach, by showing a domneering patriarchy reducing the idyllic Amazon isle to a shambles, and turning Princess Diana, as well as the mortal women of Great Britain, into mere chattels.

As far as the story's rhetorical argument is concerned, it hardly matters whether or not the real Victorian England was the ultimate expression of patriarchy, either in comparison with other contemporaneous cultures or with England in other eras. Writer William Messner-Loebs and artist Phil Winslade are concerned with a literary myth of Victorian England, even if the creators demolish one of the keystones of that matrix: a mass assassination of the Victoria and most of the British Royal Family. Thus AMAZONIA's version of Victorian England is an alternate history not only for having Amazons in it, but because the world is historically changed on its own terms. Further, after getting rid of most of the Royals, Loebs and Winslade choose to embody the patriarchy of the era in one historical-yet-legendary figure: the same one featured in Alan Moore's FROM HELL.

There had been assorted English serial killers before Jack the Ripper gained infamy. Yet if there's any single figure who has come to embody British patriarchy to modern minds, it probably would be Saucy Jack. His infamy springs not from simply killing women, but from both mutilating and sometimes dissecting them-- thus making him a cardinal representative of male misogyny.

But later for the Ripper: AMAZONIA opens with a scene clearly riffing on a similar setup in Marston's 1942 origin-tale, wherein Princess Diana gets a job showing off her amazing skills on stage. In Alternate-England, long after the demolition of her Amazonian homeland, Diana has grown to maturity as an orphan waif in England, and, upon reaching maturity, she's discovered by an evil (and British) version of Steve Trevor, who marries her, spawns her children, and exhibits her supernormal strength in stage-plays for the wonderment of audiences. Moreover, though Diana does not know it at the time, Trevor is also the reason her homeland was devastated by the English military, thus inverting his original role as a conduit between the Americans and the Amazons.

But the real source of misogyny in Alternate-England is not Trevor. Though the nascent Wonder Woman is the star of the story, she's too far from the seat of power to provide an overview of the situation. Thus the Loebs-Winslade tale is narrated throughout by one of the few survivors of the death of England's aristocracy; Edward, Duke of Clarence. Ripperologists will be familiar with this historical personage as a frequent candidate for Britain's most famous serial killer. Here, he is saved from the (apparent) accident that claims the lives of the other Royals, but reduced to a cripple who nevertheless becomes a near-transcendent spirit who chronicles all that happens in the narrative. But though this Edward is not the Ripper, his survival makes possible the improbable ascension of an American adventurer to the throne of Alternate-England-- and though his surname, "Planters," is supposed to signal his ties to the Plantagenet family, the reader will immediately guess his real nature through his given name: Jack.

Apparently not content with being the King of England, King Jack's rampant misogyny brings about new customs, like having Englishwomen forced to wear chains on their wrists as signs of their submission (another transparent Marston-borrowing). And though he's no longer in a position to go around stalking scarlet women in Whitechapel himself, he has a group of misogynistic nobles run around in masks and stovepipe hats, attacking women. By so doing, King Jack unwittingly brings forth his own nemesis, as Diana defends women against such attacks, and slowly begins to remember her buried history.

Like many a villain before him, King Jack takes steps against his heroic enemy, capturing her but foolishly not killing her. Instead, he takes her to the remnants of the Amazons' devastated island home, which Diana hazily remembers as "Amazonia," and prepares to execute her, along with some other Amazon survivors that the King has kept around, just for this dramatic finish. The Amazons' opponents are none other than Trevor and various Jack-imitators, given a "distillate of masculinity," so that they all change into musclebound monsters reminiscent of the many boulder-shouldered brutes seen in Golden Age WONDER WOMAN.

Naturally, not only does Wonder Woman marshal her own strength against these foes, she also inspires her fellow Amazons to action, while indirectly moving enslaved Enlgishwomen to rise up against their oppressors. Nevertheless, following the defeat of odious males like Jack and Trevor, Loebs and Winslade end the story with an image of a hieros gamos between the world of patriarchy and that of matriarchy, as the Princess Diana becomes wedded to the good son of evil Jack, who just happens to be named Charles-- and yes, Loebs makes the most of the real-world wordplay.

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