Friday, October 19

“Don't be clever, boy” – Hephaestus, Wonder Woman #7 p. 13

I guess I owe a big “Thank you” to Brian Azzarello for giving me the perfect opening line for this post, because that's pretty much how I felt most of the time when I would hit one of the various examples of “clever” word play over the course of his first dozen issues of the New 52 Wonder Woman.

They were something that started to grate on me early, and increasingly dominated my perception of the books. Compounded with the fact that, for all the promise I saw in the basic premise of the first issue, which I picked up mainly “just because” – specifically because Wonder Woman is the third member of the DC “trinity” of iconic super heroes – I found issue after issue increasingly problematic on several levels, most importantly that the individual issues didn't seem to be telling any kind of coherent story, but also that I found the portrayal of some of the Greek gods downright bizarre. To be fair, in rereading through these issues all at once I came away with a much better appreciation for the overall story, which I found when read at one sitting to be quite engaging, and considerable easing of the disdain – downright anger, really – that I was feeling toward Azzarello only a few short weeks ago. Again, most importantly, the story makes sense and I enjoyed it enough – despite some other aspects of this reimagining – that I'll likely continue reading his Wonder Woman … in collections. I will not be picking up the individual issues, however. I'd much rather buy a collection every six months or so and enjoy it than endure the monthly frustration that this book had become for me, fairly early on.

Having said all that, as I reread those issues a couple weeks ago I noted some of the verbal malefactions that struck me as committed by various characters, and with mid terms finally out of the way and this week's task of catching up on other things I'd gotten behind on due to mid semester grading, I was able to sit down and lay into some scanning to compile a blog entry presenting some – not all – of the to various degrees unlikely word play offenses Azzarello inflicted on the reader over his first year as Wonder Woman scribe.

The most obvious way to do this is to start at the very beginning – because that indeed is when it started, on the very first page of Wonder Woman #1 (Nov 2011) …
Issue #1 p. 1
Not only do we have the perhaps clichéd response of Apollo to a young lady's awe-stricken wonder at the vista from his penthouse atop a building in Singapore – “Oh... / / ...god...” – “Yes?” (hasn't that joke been overused, even just on Stargate?) – but we also have at the bottom of the page a pun that absolutely would not work in spoken conversation. It looks all kind of clever when seen in writing, on the page, but think about whether the homophonic substitution of “sun” for the contextually understood “son” would be in any way perceptible by the listener. I would say not. Only Apollo would possibly appreciate his own wit. Then again, I guess these gods are portrayed as being very full of themselves....

Actually, that being the only example that I caught in the first issue, I don't remember being bothered by it. I probably, on first reading, didn't perceive that here we had a pun that only would work in writing, not orally. And I don't remember being bothered by – even noticing – Diana's witty riposte toward the end of the second issue to Strife's warning that “I don't take kindly to a charge” with “Unless you're leading it.”
Issue #2 p. 18
No, the verbal offense that first made me sit up and say, “Oh, come on!,” was Apollo's response on the opening page of issue #4 to his brother Ares' greeting in a bar-cum-charnelhouse in Darfur:
Issue #4 p. 1
Hell low, indeed.” And this one is, as you'll see, more representative of the level of the humor being attempted here than not.

Actually Strife does manage a much funnier pun on page 8 of the same issue. As context, Strife hit Diana with the shocking revelation over the past couple of issues that the story of her own origins that she (and we) had always known was just not so – that Diana was instead the product of a secret tryst between Queen Hippolyta and Zeus – news that had caused a rift between the princess and her mother, indeed between her and her Amazonian sisters. Strife ends up hanging with Diana and her new charge Zola – pregnant with another demigod progeny of that old tomcat Zeus and thus target number one for Hera – and Hermes, who warns her that it would be best not to keep “trifling” with Diana. Hermes is sceptical that Strife's intentions are anything but antagonistic – “Please. You split a daughter from her mother.” – Strife can't see what's wrong – “I exposed the truth... // … split happens.”
Issue #4 p. 8
Now, that's clever! – Or maybe not, but it seems like a very realistic pun to me.

[As an aside, this next is not an example of bad word play, but rather something that has puzzled me since I read it in issue #5:
Issue #5 p. 7
By now, Hera having been temporarily distracted from her vendetta against Zola by the revelation of Diana's true paternity, and having loosed her wrath on Hippolyta and the Amazons – transforming the latter into serpents and the former into a clay (?) statue – and Diana having now been approached in London by a hitherto unknown half-brother, semi-divine son of Zeus, she and Zola seem to have a fundamental misconception regarding what their own newly discovered “familial” relationship is. Hera throughout seems pretty adamant that Zeus' dalliances with mortal women such as Hippolyta (well, semi-mortal since she's the daughter of Ares [who is the son of Zeus, which makes her impregnation by Zeus especially creepy!] ) and Zola are offenses against herself because she is Zeus' legitimate wife. So, in her mind at least Zola and Hippolyta are mistresses, at best concubines. Which to my mind would make Zola more or less Diana's step-mother rather than “aunt”? Or, if you want to go with popular terminology (e.g. the TV show, but having a usage history going back at least to the 19th century and I would imaging much longer) Zola and Hippolyta might be considered “sister-wives” along with Hera, which I guess would make Zola in that sense Diana's “aunt”.... I don't think Hera would agree, however.

Incidentally, I tried sketching out the relationships for clarity … here's the woeful result:

Which brings us to the source for my post title...
Issue #7 p. 13
Oh, boy, two in rapid succession, the second seemingly Eros poking Hephaestus in the eye! The context of this is Diana learning how Amazonian babies were really made according to Azzarello: “Wonder Woman,” Hephaestus explains beginning on the preceding page, “your people, thrice a century … /// … Go on raids. Like pirates, they take to the sea – ” – “For booty,” interjects Eros, provoking Hephaestus' rebuke. – Okay, to be fair, I've used that one in my own lectures regarding the Vikings' preying on nunneries in the Middle Ages, and I can even see an inveterate punster using Eros' followup when Hephaestus continues, “Mortal vessels are their targets – ” – “Seminal mortal vessels.” Because the Amazons play “black widow” in a sense, or succubus, using the men for impregnation before killing them and casting their “drained” bodies into the cold waters.

And then there's issue #9 … Strife meeting with her uncle Ares, wanting him to attend the imminent nuptials of … Diana and Hades.
Issue #9 pp. 2-3
I'm not even going to try to explain, except that Diana has managed to get herself shot through the heart by Hades wielding Eros' “love-gun.” I so wish I could have written “sex-pistol,” but that's so not what it was about...
Issue #9 p. 7
or maybe it was, because that's not the hole the prospective groom intends to “happily fill,” I'm sure.  One problem I've had with most of these puns is that they only work in English, which some of these characters I would imagine not really to be speaking. They're Greek gods, after all. This one, on the other hand, I imagine works in any language whatsoever. ... Unlike the pun of “paws” and “pause” that the Strife's word play depends on:
Issue #9 p. 13
By the way, the kid with the candelabra head is Hades, one of the more bizarre depictions in this series. Hey, at least he doesn't look like Boss Nass from Star Wars Episode One … like Poseidon does (issue#5 cover):

Maybe it's just me, but the frequency of these verbal malefactions seems to be picking up. Issue #10, Diana gets back into the game as she makes her break from Hell. Hades' dog-ugly gorgonesque daughters are bent on punishing her for the affront against their father, but Diana pun-ishes them instead:
Issue #10 p. 7
In issue #11, in fairly rapid succession:
Issue #11 p. 10
Apollo declares his intention to “face down” the coming storm even as his kick to the jaw plants Diana “face down” in the mud.
Issue #11 p. 16
Issue #11 p. 20
In the climactic issue – which ends on a cliffhanger that I won't spoil – we get one more:
Issue #12 p. 10
Commentary overall on Azzarello's run on the New 52 Wonder Woman has been quite polarized. Many fans hate it, primarily because they don't see this depiction of Wonder Woman and her world as in any way consistent with previous portrayals. I am sympathetic to that position. Many other fans like it very much and some point to how cleverly Azzarello writes it as one of the reasons. I don't really find this so clever, however. Although, as I said above, a single-sitting reading through of a year's worth of monthly issues was a much more satisfying experience for me – even enjoyable on many levels (enough to have me pretty committed to continuing with the story in collected format henceforth) – at the same time I found any effect rendered by the unlikely word play considerably watered down by the sheer frequency. And it had become tiresome being hit by them month after month, being knocked out of the story time and again which is not a good thing especially when the story itself seemed not to be progressing in any coherent fashion. When the author's attempts to be clever interfere so significantly with the simple process of telling the story, then it's time to heed Hephaestus' advice and “Don't be clever, boy.”

As usual, this is just my opinion, for what it's worth. Thanks for reading – Cheers!

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