AMAZONS STEP BACK!
by Martin Gray
The Amazons are the backbone of Wonder Woman's story. This race of peace-loving warrior women gave Man's World their most precious asset, Diana, their daughter. So it's only right that we see something of them in her strip.
But heck, do we see a lot of them.
And I'm not just talking flesh, although there have been moments in their comic book history (the Seventies WW Spectacular and the Mike Deodato years, for example) when there's been an awful lot of prime pulchritude on display.
I'm talking numbers, not near nudes.
When William Moulton Marston and HG Peter created Wonder Woman, Paradise Island was populated by demure debutantes, identikit Amazons who liked nothing better than to ride kangas and play bullets & bracelets. Maybe a spot of girl roping, if all parties were up for it. While one or two – most notably Diana's best friend, Mala – had speaking parts, they were mainly background color. The Golden Age Amazons' lack of sparkling personalities allowed Diana to stand out. It wasn't simply that she was the most interesting Amazon, the stories seemed to say, she was the only one worth spending any time with.
In the early Silver Age, the Amazons pretty much disappeared as Diana's adventures centred on such lunatic threats as lava creatures, giant amoebas, wacky aliens and a marriage-mad Steve Trevor. The only Amazons we saw with any regularity were the Wonder Family – Wonder Tot, Wonder Girl, Wonder Woman and Wonder Queen – in their "Impossible" tales.
The late Silver Age saw the Amazons vanish into another dimension to reconnect with their powers, leaving Wonder Woman mortal and free to develop, for the first time, the Diana Prince side of her personality. Gone was the mousey secretary, replaced by a self-reliant, globe-trotting adventuress. Today, Diana has a secret identity as a super spy which echoes those times, but super-intricate story arcs mean that there's little time to see her in action or enjoying downtime. And the regular scenes with the Amazons and, lately, the "Manazons" ensure that there's even less story room for the supposed star of the show, in or out of costume.
The Seventies saw the powers and Amazons return, and we met a couple of interesting additions to the mythos in Nubia, Wonder Woman's black sister, and Orana, an upstart wannabe Wonder Woman. For the most part, though, the women of Themiscyra (spelling copyright: pre-Crisis) never threatened to outshine Diana in her own book.
In the Eighties, George Perez, the man who rebooted Diana while taking away her heels, liked nothing better than to invent Amazons – Pythia, Philippus, Aella, Menalippe, Chipolata...he gave us page after page of gorgeous, talented women, each in their own way almost as wonderful as Wonder Woman.
When he was running out of Amazons for Themyscira (that would be the post-Crisis spelling), Perez came up with an entire lost tribe, the Bana-Mighdall. There were more Amazons than ever, and the new lot's bad tempers made them no fun to have around..
After Perez left, we met the only Amazon with less than Cindy Crawford looks, Magala. Poor old Magala, the crone whose main purpose was to make the rest of the Amazons look even more stunning.
One Amazon, Artemis of the Bana, even took over Diana's role as Wonder Woman for a time, echoing the Orana plotline. Another, Io, not content to sound like a song from Snow White, had a crush on Diana. Each had something to offer, with Artemis being super-assertive/obnoxious and Io, a shy/spineless weapons mistress whose very dullness made her stand out. And they tended not to bring hordes of sisters when they showed up, so the spotlight still remained on Diana.
Since the reboot we've seen the Amazons open up their island to the outside world, and welcome scholars from the far reaches of the universe; we've seen them pray to Darkseid during an attack on Earth, and be preyed on by OMAC creatures; we've seen them raise their island into the sky and get kicked back down to earth by a grumpy goddess; we've seen them at war with themselves and declare war on Patriarch's World for perceived wrongs committed against Diana. Boy, have we seen them. Some readers lobby for a Tales of the Amazons book, but it feels as if we've had just that for years.
Most recently we've been introduced to the Circle, the former Royal Guard to Diana's mother, Queen Hippolyte. They've been positioned as a thorn in the side of Wonder Woman due to their belief that she's a bringer of destruction. The most prominent Circler, the Machiavellian Alkyone, is currently the latest queen in town, having taken up with Manazon leader Achilles, the Olympian, so you can bet her bald head we're seeing a lot of Alkyone and chums.
Unlike earlier times, it's safe to say there's scarcely been an issue over the last few years in which we haven't seen a whole bunch of these strapping lasses. It would be unfair to suggest that they don't add to the drama of Wonder Woman's life - Alkyone, for example, is a fascinating creation.
But I am soooooo sick of seeing quite so many of them. When I was growing up, the Amazons were rarely around. Blonde and gorgeous Queen Hippolyte would show up occasionally, a MILF long before anyone came up with the term, but the arrival of a whole bunch of Amazons felt like a treat. Issues such as "Wonder Woman" v1 #183-184, in which the powerless Diana leads the Amazons into war against Ares, or "Wonder Woman" v1 #270-271, wherein a disgruntled Diana abandons Man's World to rejoin her sisters, were special events.
Nowadays, not so much. I thought we'd seen the back of them for awhile when Diana renounced her Amazon status after the latest argy bargy with her modern moody mother a few months ago, but although Diana returned to the outside world, we're constantly flashing over to Chippendales Island, home of Achilles and his undead-and-loving-it army.
To my mind, the Amazons should be simple color for the legend of Diana. They formed her as surely as Hippolyte formed Diana from soil. They embody Diana's ideals and represent the haven to which she can return – but only on rare occasions.
For if Diana can see the girls regularly, where's the big sacrifice inherent in her going to Man's World? She's not going to yearn for the day her mission is over, the time she can return to Paradise, if she can pop over there every other day. I like the Themyscira that can be accessed only occasionally. Current writer Gail Simone reinstated this aspect of the island a couple of years ago, forcing Diana to beg help from Polynesian god Kane to reach the latest version. Now if only we can get all the other Amazons on it and keep them there, hidden behind the Bermuda Triangle
Even Queen Hippolyte. Yes, she's spent an awful lot of time in Man's World over the last couple of decades, both as a substitute Wonder Woman and a mad queen. But now it's time for her to gather Diana's second-best tiara and go home. Be the wise, warm mother a superheroine deserves. This doesn't mean she can't be a strong warrior; again, Gail has shown her as a fierce defender of Paradise Island. But that's where she should stay, ruling the Amazons wisely.
Some might say that rather than retiring the Amazons, they should be out there in the world, making reparations for their sins. I say thee, nah. In Amazons Attack they slaughtered innocents in Diana's name. Logically, Diana should have grabbed them by the collar and made them answer for their crimes. But she hasn't.
Sure, we could say that the memory wipe performed on the Amazon army at the close of the awful mini-series made questioning them a waste of time, but Diana should at least be trying to find answers. That she isn't is an elephant in the room even bigger than Achilles' twin-trunked tusker.
Never mind. Amazons Attack can be forgotten as easily as other DCU disasters, such as the devastation of Montevideo during DC One Million, and something more recent in Australia that was ignored so quickly it's already faded from my pea brain. Or we can explain it as magical mind meddling and the Amazons can send out care packages before locking their doors in embarrassment.
And of course, having the Amazons front and center tempts writers to slaughter the dear ladies. Their numbers have been slimmed down regularly since the Perez era, so much so that you wonder how Diana can justify spending so much time in superhero-packed Patriarch's World when her sisters need her protection more than most.
To sum up, the Amazons must be kept in their place – Paradise Island. When we do see them they should be problem solvers and capable warriors, not victims. They should be having raucous fun on Themyscira involving kangas, not slicing and dicing kiddies in the outside world. They should be there to back up Diana in her direst moments, not detract from her on a daily basis. They're just like Diana, only less so. Less skillful, less loving, less . . . wonderful. So let's see less of them.
Martin Gray is a journalist in Edinburgh. He's a regular comics reviewer for, er, himself at Too Dangerous for a Girl: dangermart.blogspot.com