So as I mentioned this weekend, I had some problems with the brutal torture Apollo inflicts on the First Born of Zeus in Wonder Woman: Flesh. And my problems got worse with the final volume of the Azzarello/Chiang run, Bones (cover by Chiang, all rights remain with current holder)
Some background: the First Born was Zeus and Hera’s son, hurled out of Olympus for various reasons. Angry at the gods, he waged war across the world to trigger a confrontation with them. They ignored him. Finally he attacked Olympus itself; Zeus struck him down like a bug and condemned him to Tartarus.
In Flesh, the First Born returns to take the throne of Olympus (Zeus lost it a while back). Apollo captures him and subjects the First Born to assorted tortures. But wouldn’t you know, the First Born breaks free, kills Apollo, and seizes the throne, preparatory to ravaging the whole Earth. And he dishes out his own torture, for example forcing Zeus to eat pieces of himself which pass through him, undigested, so he can be made to eat them again.
I gotta say, I found that part underwhelming. It made me think of the way Geoff Johns shows how monstrous his villains are by having them threaten to rip out liver and eat it in front of you as you die, or to pick the skin of your flesh from between their teeth. It just doesn’t impress me, and it doesn’t make me think the villain in question is particularly bad-ass or evil. Being creative in your tortures doesn’t really make someone more sadistic or awful than the everyday mundane torturer (so to speak).
As the film director Ernst Lubitsch once put it, it no more takes sadism to run a death camp than to run a laundromat. For me there’s more horror in someone who deals death casually, even a hero, than someone who actually cares how much you suffer. That’s not to say graphic torture or blood lust can’t be effective — I love Silence of the Lambs — but whatever trick it takes to make it so, neither Johns nor Azzarello seem to have it.
That’s unfortunate because the book spends a lot of time on the monstrous monstrousness of the First Born (I think I’m inflating the page space in my memory) which drops the quality below Flesh. Plus we have the New 52’s horrible, sexist version of Orion of the New Gods. And ultimately Diana’s punishment of the First Born feels disproportionate — Apollo tortured the First Born and tried to kill Zola’s baby, but Wonder Woman didn’t throw him back into Hell.
The good stuff is still well done, but the sadism and the other weaknesses kept this from being as good a finish to the Azzarello/Chiang run as I’d hoped for.