Between Gail Simone’s statements about screenwriters tripping over the Amazons in various Wonder Woman screenplays and the various interviews Grant Morrison is doing about his Wonder Woman project the subject about the Amazons role has been talked about across the net a little more lately. Why are they so difficult? Their immortal warrior women on an island. That should be easy right? If you leave it at that they are. If you actually think about it things become difficult.
First off, the Amazons have had multiple iterations in DC comics. Most famously they are immortal women who live on Themyscira. Created by William Moulton Marston the basics were they were warriors who sought to promote peace. After being deceived and imprisoned by Hercules, Queen Hippolyta defeated Hercules (killed him in certain versions) and lead the Amazons against their captors. Aphrodite (or Athena in other versions) punished them for going off the righteous path by sending them to Paradise Island (Themyscira) and the gauntlets were reminders of their brief enslavement. They were made immortal and lived there peacefully. That’s the basic, and short of it.
Now we as comic fans assume their culture is simply an anachronism, stuck in a Greek look and design. They are immortal keeping to traditional ways, a place stuck in time. We know they have a queen, they have their warriors, we know they love peace, and other small niggets of information. They guard, in various versions, Dooms Doorway. They have old ancient animals on the island as well as in the sea (megalodon sharks guard their waters from trespassers). Now, due to the original creator, we assume they are all lesbians who tie each other up for fun. Based on what some people assume online, they are supposedly also man haters.
Truth is we only know vague details about them, window dressing really. No ones really written about the culture on Paradise Island. We get details, glimpses and focus on supporting players like Artemis of Philippus or Io but there we skim over what goes on. Usually used to advance plot points or as a getaway when Diana needs to recharge or just hang out. In Greg Rucka’s run we see the Amazons as being victims of Gods squabbles and then being put on the defensive against the US. Its mostly political. While George Perez has taken the reader into Themyscira multiple times during his run culture and society are never really addressed. Writers have introduced small details at times but for the most part we are left with the basics-island of immortal warrior women.
First off lets look at the sexuality, so we can get that out of the way. Everyone, or most people, assume the Amazons are all lesbians. I doubt it. I seriously doubt it. What about asexuality? Is there the possibility of transexuality? Amazon women who are closeted, or open, transmen? What of heterosexuality? Are there Amazons who long for men? I’m not asking this because I don’t believe in an island full of lesbians, I’m asking this because we only see a little bit. We only know so much. If they are all lesbians, hey cool-but can we entertain the thought maybe there are Amazon women who are not and wonder how they deal with their sexual or gender identities on the island.
Moving past sexuality lets talk about technology. Non fans, and new fans, look at Amazons as stuck in time but clearly they are not because they developed their own technological advancements. They have electricity. They have machines that cure diseases and heal. They have an invisible jet. Exactly how advanced are the Amazons? We are never really clear on that. To the best of my knowledge we have not actually seen too many Amazon engineers or scientists. I’m probably wrong but most views of Amazon life are soldiers or lounging around or games and competitions. What other technological advances does Themsycira have?
This opens up questions about other aspects like work or everyday life. We know there are soldiers. We know there has to be engineers and mechanics. Io is a blacksmith. You have builders and clothing designers obviously. Fisherwomen and farmers. How many jobs exist on the island? Have these women been in their roles for millennium? Or do some Amazonians grow tired after years of service and switch work? Is it possible that every Amazon learns every aspect of work on the island? Can you imagine doing the same job year after year, decade after decade, century after century? Going back around to clothing and architecture do the Amazons live through eras and trends? Maybe pink is fashion this year, next is orange. We don’t know. We don’t really know what they do for entertainment. I guess it makes sense that they would do some sports but what about music? Has it changed with the introduction of electricity? Does Theymiscira have authors and what kinds of stories do they write? They have advanced technology, could they possibly tune into the internet or television? If so is that banned on the island? I think about Marstons Amazon games, and while many look at the sexual subtext-has it ever been considered part of the reason these games exist is simply to create entertainment to distract? They have to invent games to keep themselves from getting bored. Lounging around a beautiful pond has to get tiring after a while.
Does Paradise Island even have seasons or is it Spring all the time?
One of the stories that I remember clicking was during Gail Simone’s run which involved the Circle. It was a scene involving an Amazon woman who made a doll and treated it like a child. Its been a while since I’ve read that issue but it brings up a question-how often does this happen? What happens to those women? Are they sent into rehab? Or maybe things get worse for them? What is immortality like for a person who is forced to stay put? In other stories with immortals-be they vampires or even Highlanders-the can travel, the world changes so rapidly around them. On Themysciria, even if their are new developments and changes, it moves at a slow pace and for someone who has lived decades those changes are even slower. Do Amazons try escaping? Do Amazons commit suicide? We know that Amazons can commit crimes because Themyscira has a prison. What is crime and punishment, or should I say rehab, like?
You would never ask these questions about Alien cultures because their Alien. Amazons, they are humans from a period of time that gave us great stories and myths. The situation they are in is unique and the mission statement and feminist views invite curiosity. Of course most that curiosity is about sex, which is short sighted. Once you get past that there are wave and wave of questions that have not been answered or their answers were either vague or have now been forgotten. Before I started thinking about why the Amazons are considered difficult, these questions never had occurred to me. Partly because I always felt Amazons and Themyscira should be a small part of WW’s stories, focus on her in Patriarchs World kicking ass, taking names, and showing everyone who to be a good person. I took the premise at its face value and “suspended by disbelief.” When I thought of obstacles facing the WW franchise my mind came to the fact Diana is always moved around, her supporting cast changes constantly, and how most writers don’t understand she has an interesting rogues gallery. Plus editorial directive and changes. The Amazons and Themyscira, they are farther from my mind because after the Contest (or whichever reason gets her off the Island) become a minor point. Yes it is an important part a but minor aspect of her ongoing narrative. Now that I sat there and thought about it for more than five minutes, thinking of what others might have troubles with I’m actually more confused by the Amazons. When you think about it like this it becomes obvious on how to handle the Amazons: Use them as little as possible.
So take it at face value and move on.