It’s November 22, 1997. The top song is still “Candle in the Wind”; the top movie is Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, with Anastasia and The Rainmaker opening at 2 and 3 respectively. In the news, a terrorist attack outside the Temple of Hatshepsut in Luxor, Egypt kills more than 60 people; and the McCaughey septuplets–the first documented case in which all seven survived infancy–are born in Des Moines, Iowa.
“Warrior Queen” marks the third consecutive episode we’ve covered by Hilary Bader, a prolific writer who would end up penning more than a dozen episode of Superman: The Animated Series and more than 30 throughout the DCAU. Most of her best work, however, was in Batman Beyond; at this earlier point in her career she is a generally reliable source of episodes which are entertaining enough but not particularly memorable, like “Target,” “Prototype,” and, well, “Warrior Queen.”
Like her The New Batman Adventures episode “You Scratch My Back,” “Warrior Queen” explores an intersection between sex and power, albeit a far less healthy one. That episode looked at BDSM, but this one is (rather like “The Main Man,” which it references at the very end) about sexual hegemony. But where the earlier episode tied it explicitly to masculinity (as it generally is in our culture), “Warrior Queen” tries to look at it in isolation–essentially, to focus its interrogation of hegemonic masculinity on the first word rather than the second. Its goal is to interrogate the perspective from which the phrase “sexual conquest” is possible to parse.
In any kind of consensus-based model of sexuality, the phrase is utterly nonsensical: if conquest is involved, then what’s happening isn’t sex, it’s rape. But what we see of Almerac isn’t consensus-based: Maxima is by all appearances a hereditary tyrant, interested in and respecting only power. Again, just like Lobo: she even surrounds herself with scantily clad, conventionally attractive female attendants. (Though at least from what we see, only her temporary successor De’Cine makes them dance for his entertainment and, presumably, titillation.) This is one of the (many) ways the episode stumbles, because despite its attempt to focus on the unhealthy sexualization of power, it still comes from a culture that regards power as a masculinized trait, and slips into depicting it as such.
Specifically, Lobo seeks to conquer, to express his power through sex. He finds Lois Lane attractive, for example, because he sees conquering her as a challenge, and hence an opportunity to demonstrate his power more than a “lesser conquest” would. By contrast, Maxima seeks to be conquered: she finds powerful men attractive because she wants to be defeated by them. She is a powerful woman in her own right, but her lamentation at having to “remain a maiden forever” because no man is her match is an expression of rigid, toxic ideas of gender roles. She means “maiden” in the sense of “virgin,” but ultimately she’s looking to trade one maidenhood for another, to go from virgin to victim, because her culture says she has to be one or the other.
We’ll discuss these kinds of binary traps, particularly where women are concerned, more in a coming entry. The key point to make here is that, in her own way, Maxima is echoing Lucille, the elderly, married bystander who responds with incredulity to Superman’s description of marriage as a willing partnership between equals. What little we see of Almeracian culture is a rigid hierarchy, a structure of royalty, noble courtiers, maids-in-waiting and palace guards, with the general populace locked out of the places of power; it’s no surprise that even when Maxima says she wants an equal, what she’s really looking for is a conqueror, because every relationship we see in her world is about power and status.
And she is looking for a conqueror. That much becomes clear when, after deciding Superman is the one and kidnapping him to her world, she obediently follows his instructions and listens to his lessons. (They don’t seem to stick very well, but she listens.) She is used to being obeyed as queen, but she clearly also expects to obey her husband (which is, frankly, worrisome for the people of Almerac, given the implication at the end of the episode that she will be pursuing Lobo next). The equation is simple: a worthy husband is a powerful one, because power is worth. (One wonders what she would do if defeated by a woman, but I’m sure fanfiction has it covered.)
That, ultimately, is the problem. Even if we set aside heteropatriarchy, the idea that power is worth–that having power makes one worthy of power–is intensely toxic. That is, essentially, the logic of Maxima resuming the throne at the end of the episode: despite the very good point that the people were quite happy to see the tyrant overthrown, albeit less happy when she was replaced by just another tyrant, neither Superman nor anyone else raises any objection to her resuming the throne after De’Cine is defeated. Her power–her defeat of De’Cine in combat–is equated to the worthiness to lead, even though we already know she isn’t worthy. Indeed, no one can be worthy of that kind of power, benign dictatorship being an oxymoron, but even aside from that Maxima has demonstrated herself particularly unworthy with her selfish behavior.
But that’s not a question this episode is willing to explore; it doesn’t really want to explore any questions at all, which is where Bader’s work often falls short. It is content with surfaces–and as I said, a much better opportunity to look at the intertwined structures of power, gender, and sexuality will be here in just a couple more entries. We need wait only a little longer for the next revolution of the world to begin.
Current status of the Patreon:
- Latest gaming video ($1+/mo patrons can view): Let’s Play Undertale [Blind] Episode 13
- Latest Near-Apocalypse article ($2+/mo patrons can view): Retroactive Continuity: Devilman Crybaby Episode 6
- Latest vlog ($5+/mo patrons can view): Vlog Review: Star vs. the Forces of Evil S2E14
- Latest Milestone: $150/mo: More bonus vlogs! Two bonus vlogs a month instead of just one!
- Next Milestone: $300/mo (only $108 away!): Third bonus monthly vlog–that’s almost two vlogs a week!