When Orion shows up to join forces with Diana, he has nothing in common with the character Jack Kirby created. Which might be okay if Azzarello had done anything interesting with him. Alas, despite saying he wanted to make Orion a “three dimensional character,” Azzarello gave us Orion as a surly, sexist frat boy who can’t see Wonder Woman as anything but a piece of ass — which he slaps the first time they meet. He leers at her. He makes sexist double entendres. When Diana criticizes him in one scene, she worries she was too harsh. Not to worry, Orion says — he never listens when she talks.
I’ve been seeing characters like this since modern feminism became a thing. The sexist cop paired with the feminist firebrand. Black Canary sputtering at Green Arrow’s sexism (even when he was far left on almost everything, he was still a sexist jerk). It’s an easy way to generate conflict or sexual tension (opposites attract!) or for the female lead to prove herself by putting the guy in her place (which Diana does with Orion a couple of times). It’s also a big pile of bullshit.
In the first place, Wonder Woman’s been a superhero longer than I’ve been around. She doesn’t have to prove herself to this jerk version of Orion. Like Carol in Captain Marvel she has nothing to prove to anyone. Even if she were a spanking new character I’d sooner see her proving herself by, you know, doing cool, amazing stuff than dealing with a jerk who’s supposedly on her side.
It’s true that the Wonder Woman issues show Orion’s sexism is wrong (so do most such stories). But I already know that; lots of readers do. Having someone mouth sexist bullshit and then have to eat their words isn’t enlightening or liberating, it’s just a character mouthing sexist bullshit. It’s hard to imagine saddling T’Challa with a racist sidekick or ally (“Sorry, I never listen when a black guy speaks.”) and expecting readers to find it amusing. No, not even if T’Challa proved them wrong. If anyone treated John Stewart or Cyborg with as much racism as GA had for Black Canary back in the day, they’d be written as a villain. So let it be with misogynists.
Part of the problem, I think, is that discussions of feminism and sexism frame the poles of the debate as “full equality” and “Men control everything.” By the default assumption that the truth is in the middle, the truth must therefore be “well women should have some rights but full equality? Too extreme” That makes sexism look reasonable. As long as it’s just Orion grabbing Diana’s ass or a cop who doesn’t think his female partner should be in police work, hey that’s not so bad! It’s not like they’re the kind of creep who thinks marital rape should be legal or women shouldn’t have the vote (both depressingly popular viewpoints in conservative circles), just a little bit sexist.
The thing is, though, that equality isn’t an extreme position. It’s the middle ground between women having all the power and men having all the power. Presenting characters who can’t grasp that as likeable, albeit mistaken heroes, is never going to sit well with me.
#SFWApro. Cover by Cliff Chiang.