Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Defending Hercules

Hercules (or Herakles, if you prefer) didn't rape Hippolyta.

Now, I'll admit that I would prefer that Hercules be portrayed as a hero. That's not because I like the character personally, but because he's a perfect potential addition to the Wonder Woman dynasty.

Although her plots have been going nowhere for a while, her Dynastic Centerpiece Model has been developing...
  • Her connections to her Junior Counterpart (Donna Troy) and
  • Kid Sidekick (Wonder Girl) have been reaffirmed,
  • her Elder Stateswoman (Hippolyta) has been brought back (although Polly hasn't been much of a stateswoman since her return, huh?),
  • she's acquired a Civilian Authority Figure (Sarge Steel of the Department of Metahuman Affairs),
  • a Civilian Companion (Tom Tresser), and
  • a Contextualizing City (Washington; hey, it's not fictional, but it is artificial!).

Okay, so it may not be perfect yet. I myself wouldn't have chosen to give her male characters to fill out the civilian roles in her dynasty, but, hey, at least they aren't reporters. There are a lot of reporters in Washington. I mean, they have their own bars here, for pity's sake. And two former Dynasty members (Artemis the Black Sheep and Pegasus the Animal Companion) have been lost. But, on the whole, WW's dynasty is gaining heft. And Hercules would be a perfect addition as Male Counterpart, particularly since his approach (tactical) would complement Wonder Woman's (strategic).

But writers seems intent on using Hercules as a bad guy. Maybe that's because, as much as she needs friends, WW needs enemies even more. Personally, I blame George Perez, who needed a cheap and easy Overbearing Male Bad Guy from myth to use in the version of the Amazons' origin he wanted to tell. Instead of using the traditional version of Amazons (the one used by both the Ancients and Marston) -- buttkicking women warriors who founded a society that didn't need men -- Perez chose to make them victims.

Why? Because in Perez's mind and time, the only people with virtue are victims, and all villains are victimizers. If you remember, Perez's Amazons were formed from the souls of women who'd been the victims of male aggression and violence. Because, you know, gods forbid women should decide to do anything except as a reaction to or consequence of men!

So he made Hercules an Evil Male, who deceived Hippolyta (et al.) with promises of love, then drugged, enslaved, and raped her. So that the gods could criticize the Amazons for being soft-hearted, trusting, and open to love; women's weaknesses! So the gods could punish them for being equally open to both war and love; so the gods could punish them for being well-rounded people instead of axe-wielding mankillers (so blame Perez the Scythian for that, not Pfeiffer). Once again, Perez paints the Amazons not as exemplars, but as victims.

How shallow. But don't be deceived by Perez the Evil Male into thinking his tawdry tale of date-drugs is the real story!

In most versions of the classical myth in which Herakles meets Hippolyte, she is simply impressed with him as a fellow warrior, and is happy to give him her girdle as a token of friendship and honor. Thing were just peachy until Hera inflamed the Amazons with rumors that Herakles was out to get them. The Amazons attacked Herc & Co., and in the process of defending themselves, Herakles killed Hippolyte.
That's a general schtick in Greek myth; people don't come into conflict simply because one is Bad and the one Good, they come into conflict because of tragic misunderstandings brought about by the gods/fate/the world/circumstances. Mortals are all victims; it is the universe (the gods) that is the victimizer.

Marston's Amazons, while very creepily into bondage, were otherwise darned cool. They were focused on self-improvement, physical development, scientific study, and the joy of accomplishment that can flourish during peace. They were not wussy, whiny victims (Perez) nor violent vicious victimizers (Pfeiffer). The Golden Age Wonder Woman championed the idea that being peace-loving doesn't mean being weak, and that feminism isn't just anti-male-ism. That's part of our childhood that Perez raped, not Herakles.

So, writers: lay off Hercules.


Anonymous said...

In most versions of the classical myth, Hippolyta certainly sleeps with Hercules, and gives him the girdle both because she's impressed with him as a fellow warrior and implicitly because she's impressed with him as a lover. Don't forget that in some versions of the Amazon myth, they were explicitly imagined as an inversion of phallocratic Greece, where women were citizens and warriors and men were domestic, passive, private. Just as at least some classical Greek men exalted sexual connections between men as a more ennobling kind of sex but recognized male-female sex as important for the reproduction of society and property, implicitly the Amazon myth suggested that this could easily be reversed.

So Hippolyta giving the girdle to Hercules was a recognition that he was both her sexual and martial equal--but you're right, it's not at all about submission or violation. In a lot of versions of the story, Hippolyta is then killed strictly by accident after rumors about Hercules spread through the Amazon military--he's sorry about it, the women warriors are sorry about it, but it's not really anybody's fault.

Anonymous said...

I don't think that was Perez' doing. The idea of the Amazons being enslaved by Hercules and his men goes at least as far back as the 1970's. The bracelets the Amazons wore were the remnants of the shackles from that time, and they couldn't be removed without the Amazon going insane.

I guess its possible that Perez was the one who added the rape angle, and if that's what you meant then well never mind then.

Brushwood said...

Well, the misunderstanding did make for a funny scene between WW and Marvel's Hercules in JLA/Avengers.

Brushwood said...

Which hey I forgot was drawn by Perez too! I guess he's not ignorant of the different interpretation - maybe it's just an Earth-0 thing.

Anonymous said...

"So he made Hercules an Evil Male, who deceived Hippolyta (et al.) with promises of love, then drugged, enslaved, and raped her."

That's pretty much how it went down in Marston's version too:


Derek said...

Okay, I see the deception, but not the drugs, enslavement, or rape.

Scott said...

Clearly coming in the next couple panels - the Amazons *do* get put in chains in Moulton's version of the story.

Anonymous said...

Clearly coming in the next couple panels - the Amazons *do* get put in chains in Moulton's version of the story.

If they are being put into chains by Moulton, it just means it's after lunch.

Jon Hex said...

Marvel's Hercules is basically a super-powered frat boy, but he doesn't use ruffies to get women. Unless Starfox counts.

I would like to see Hercules in a Wonder Woman-esque costume that he spins to get into. It would be hilarious.

Anonymous said...

But don't Batman and Superman complement Wonder Woman in the Male role you stated?

If Wonder Woman is Strategic, then Superman is Tactical Force.

If Wonder Woman is the Warrior who fights openly, then Batman is the dirty tricks ninja.

If Wonder Woman is the Princess, then Batman is the aristocrat and Superman is the farm boy god.

If Wonder Woman is the permier Heroine of the DCU, then Both Superman and batman fill the roles of premier Hero (excepting Vibe of course).

I understand your defense of Herakles but in may ways, Wondy doesn't need an equal male counter part; she already has two.

Anonymous said...

Batman and Superman can't be members of the Wonder Woman dynasty because they have their own dynasties to head. As I understand Scipio's system, dynasties don't overlap like that, rather, the rest of the dynasty forms supporting cast to the head of the dynasty.

John Biles

Scipio said...

Exactly, John.

Michael Jones said...

I just can't picture Hercules raping anyone. Xena on the other hand...

Anonymous said...

First of all *de-lurk* thank you Scipio for the hours of entertainment that you have brought not only myself but my friends (also heroclix and comic book nuts) as we've sat around discussing your articles.
As a woman who reads comics I have also despaired at my geeky sisters reading every bad thing that happens to a female character as women in fridges, but this particular situation got my goat for the exact reasons you've mentioned, the concept that is impossible to have a strong female character without her being a product of man, WW was always a reaction to man in the same way the original amazons were a reaction to the ancient Greeks, but the recent re-contextualizing has led her to victim status, which is just icky.
It does amuse me that the DC universe will allow an elder stateswoman like Hippolyta to be drugged and raped, but not to have a free and equal sexual relationship, which would have made more sense in the story up to that point, (in my opinion anyway).
I agree, that although Bats and Supes do compliment WW, they have their female equivalents, and therefore saying that WW doesn't need one is a cop-out, it just means that they don't want to put in a male hero specifically junior to WW.
Anyway, thanks again Scipio, none of the guys will even talk to me about WW anymore.
kit f

Scipio said...

You're welcome, Kit, and thank you for speaking up and out.

We should acknowledge that Geoff Johns did portray Hippolyta in just such a free and equal sexual relationship (with Wildcat), when she was Wonder Woman.

Audie said...

Apologies if you've answered this before, but who would be the elder statesman in the Bats & Superman dynasties? Or are they special cases since they've (almost) never handed down their cowls to a new gen?

Scipio said...

Not every dynasty is going to have every "slot" occupied, for variety's sake, if for no other reason. I would consider those slots empty in the Batman and Superman dynasties.

While no character permanent occupies the Elder Statesman slot in either dynasty, there have characters who have loosely and temporarily done so for particular stories (such as Alan Scott, who has done so for both Batman and Superman).

Anonymous said...

If Hercules/Herakles can please please please fill whatEVER billet in the DCM.WW that was vacated by that embarassingly claremontesque smoochy-woochy douchebag Trevor, I'm down with it! NO MORE TREVORS !!

Anonymous said...

Kal-L has gotta be the elder statesman in the Superman dynasty. Assuming he comes back from the dead, of course.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't Alfred or Commissioner Gordon be the Elder Statesman for the Batdynasty?

J.C. "W.S. Asian Boy"

Scipio said...

No, the "Elder Statesman" is someone who used to fill a role similar to the Dynastic Centerpiece. Alfred is a Civilian Companion (technically, he's an evolved Fat Funny Friend!), and Commissioner Gordon is a Civilian Authority.

Brushwood said...

I seem to recall a few Batman stories in the 70s where the Shadow was almost treated like an Elder Statesman. Not that I've seen the Shadow in any DC stories lately.

Squashua said...

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I couldn't find an e-mail for you or any other way to contact you with additional details, but the relevant website is:


Anonymous said...

The Perez revamp was glorious, a brilliant reinvention of a character who, despite her iconic status, had usually been pretty half-baked in the execution, at least after the Marston kinkfest era.

Yes, the Amazons were victims who built their strength, independence and strong moral code after having suffered a horrible crime. Um, so's Batman. Tony Stark? Used as slave labor in a Vietnam prison camp, with a potentially fatal coronary injury. Hawkman and Hawkgirl? Murder victims. Daredevil? Crippled. Lots of adventure characters come out of tragedies. And while the Amazons' involved sexual victimization, it was not lurid in presentation, not used for cheap angst in the present day, and not excessively referred to.

Also, Greek myth? Maybe the Amazons weren't raped, but Zeus and other gods were pretty free with the sexual assault, don't forget, so it's not out of bounds for Perez to have acknowledged some unflattering context to the gods of the Amazons, to have set them as victims in a mythology where women were very often victims, and then raised them to heroic status from that environment.

I like that Perez's version acknowledged the injustices women had suffered over the years, but presented Diana as the strong, healthy and, at the start, innocent child of the beautiful society those women built in contrast. Also, why had the Amazons been portrayed as turning their backs on "Man's World"? Perez chose to acknowledge the historic sufferings of women in eras when they had little or no rights, rather than gloss over that or invent some unrelated reason. To me, that added texture, and I welcomed it because it was not dwelt on -- it was literally all in the past -- and was in Diana's background, but not part of her personal experience.

I agree that comics so often treat women badly and casually impose (often sexualized) suffering for cheap drama ('fridging) or misogynist thrills (cough-Tigra-cough), but George Perez's Wonder Woman, which made Etta Candy a strong woman who won Steve Trevor, gave us Julia Kapatellis as a realistic older woman who was not designed as a supermodel, and Vanessa, who was a gawky and likable girl rather than any kind of tarted up fantasy figure, is not such a book.

Anonymous said...

That doesnt really changed the wrong Perez did to this character in particular.

Zeus was known to do that. Then again, no one would retaliate for spreading the seed.

Heracles didnt. And thats why (Marston) or Perez take, makes no sense whatsoever. More, it weaknens the perspective that in order to empower Women you have to depower Men.

And that doesnt work.

L winters said...

George perez is a very political guy. Big time liberal. That's made very clear in his wonder woman run. A serious anti military vibe ran through his book , but everything he did in the book revolved around his gay fixation. That includes the rape in issue # 1.

Anonymous said...

Hercules did rape one woman I could find Deianira.