Not All-Men:

On the Subject of “He” in Matt Fraction and Christian Ward’s ODY-C

When I last wrote on Matt Fraction and Christian Ward’s ODY-C in my article She Made Them in Their Image, I was attempting to focus on the Sebex – the third sex created in a universe where the male sex was all but extinct due to the wrath of the extra-dimensional goddess Zeus – and, by extension, the women that ruled it for over ten thousand years. In this gender-bent intergalactic Odyssey Homeric world, I pondered over what that society and gender relations would look like. Unfortunately, with regards to the Sebex there wasn’t much to say as there aren’t many that are overtly front and centre characters. However, there was one question that came up which, after a rereading of the current twelve issues of ODY-C, became a little more clear.

In my last article, I made something of an oversight. In Issue #4 of the series, Odyssia asks a number of crewwoman to stay behind to mate with and distract the demigod Aeolus so that she and the rest of her crew could escape him. She made it clear that, while she didn’t necessarily understand these women who seemed, to me anyway, to be attracted to men that she respected them for their work and for their sacrifice on behalf of the rest of them. But what I missed, at that time, was a key word: something that she called these particular women.

Odyssia called these volunteers “breeder girls all.” And it was only after rereading that point, perhaps lost in attempting to follow the pattern of the narrative’s dummy hexameter, that I began to have something of a realization. In “She Made Them in Their Image,” I wondered just how women could still be attracted to men if men had been extinct for over ten thousand years until the birth of He, Queen Ene’s husband, and the supposed cause of the Troiian War. But I made an assumption.

You see, in a post-male universe, the Titan goddess Promethene created the third sex – the Sebex – in order to continue the act and process of procreation. As such, these Sebex became the only mortal sentients capable of being impregnated and giving birth. Most biological women in this universe simply donate ova to their Sebex partners, much like a majority of biological men contributed sperm to their female partners before them. This is already treading on a thin line, of course, this emphasis on reproductive biology and binary sexual characteristics but then you also have to take into account that what the narrative of ODY-C might also be stating is that for these particular women, these female individuals, that unlike other women in this universe they still feel a need to carry a child: something a Sebex can’t give them, but a surviving sentient male person can do. So sexuality, straight or otherwise, might play a role in the identity of these women especially when you take the comments of Odyssia’s higher-ranked crewwomen on Aeolus’ planet into account, but it might not necessarily impact their need or interest in being with child.

However, before this subject can be considered further, you have to consider just who these “breeder girls,” and this is a line used in the text of ODY-C and not necessarily utilized as a pejorative as it can be in our own world, are and what their role is in this society: and what that makes of men in this specific universe.

When I talk about men in ODY-C. I want to emphasis – again – that I’m not referring to the men that survived in the sector of Q’af. Their area of space is sealed away by a curse created by the goddess Poseidon due to the twin kings there having slaughtered at least one of her children before the mass male extinction happened. As such, they were not affected by the curse of Zeus but they can’t leave Q’af either and, even disregarding that, they have been dealing with their own unfortunate, and horribly familiar, issues. For the moment, I am not going to talk about them, but perhaps they might relate to the rest of this exploration all too soon.

I have mentioned before that He was created by Zeus, and made male by other goddesses that were displeased with some of her previous actions. So what does this mean for Achaean society in this universe? Well, because they are so technologically advanced and probably kept considerable records – either through mechanisms or a strong oral storytelling and artistic culture – women still knew what men were. They probably also have knowledge of the ancient sexual congresses and reproductive cycles that went on between them. It is also more than possible that they have knowledge of the male gender and their various original roles. It also helps, depending on the perspective involved of course, that many of the goddesses possess fluid gender and sexuality, and occasionally like to take on masculine or male form to procreate with mortal females: ODY-C’s Semele analogue and her child with Zeus, Dionysus, as an excellent case in point from a flashback sequence in Issue #3.

So there is some precedent after the destruction of men for there still be “breeder women” in the majority of that universe. But He is the first mortal man to be born in this universe. It is made fairly clear in from the get-go in Issue #1 and even Issue #6 that He’s sperm – the “seed of the Great Bull” — has been sold to many other women: presumably of considerable wealth, status, and power. It also seems as though his sexual services as the Achaeans, and perhaps that whole universe, understand a man’s supposed reproductive role, were also arranged as such for particular women.

As such, these “services” or “gifts” do not come cheap. From my perspective these women would, as I have mentioned before, have to possess considerable political clout, economic resources, and even heroic renown to petition Ene, and perhaps He’s Queen mothers Tynda – perhaps the Sebex analogue to the Spartan king Tyndareus – and Leda – the latter of whom was raped by Zeus – before her, to even be considered to have time with one of the few men that exist in their universe.

It isn’t just sperm, of course, that is sold to these women: though I imagine that would cost a pretty gem or two. Part of it is the novelty of the experience, to copulate with a biological man after so many centuries. Also, it isn’t even a necessity. Rather, He’s genetic material and body are commodities and luxury items at that. After all, if these women wanted to have children, they could find Sebex partners of various ranks to bear those offspring for them. No, it is the novelty and scarcity of He and men that fuels this economy, and perhaps to some extent even the political ties of various Achaean worlds: much like the marriage of Helen in Greek mythology united all the Achaean factions and made the legendary Trojan War possible due to Odysseus’ own previous machinations.

And this isn’t even mentioning the fact that, while it hasn’t happened according to Issue #1, if one of these women going through the privilege of sex with a rare man and carrying his child happened to give birth to a boy, that boy could be utilized in a similar way to He. For while being able to mate with a man is a symbol of status and privilege in this universe, having a male child that you could cultivate to do something similar with in the hierarchy is a “gift that keeps on giving.” As unpalatable and horrid as this concept seems, I believe it’s designed by Matt Fraction and Christian Ward to make you seriously look at how women have been treated in Western culture for centuries: only the gender-bending is supposed to illustrate just how ridiculous it truly is, and with the Sebex just how little men actually matter in a species reproductive sense. Male redundancy is made into luxury and class privilege for women in this space-fantasy.

At the same time, like women with regards to men in our history, He represents his wife: much like property symbolizes the power of their owner. So you can imagine the potential dishonour that He brought to Ene after leaving with Paris for Troiia, despite any psychic interference from Aphrodite’s part. I mean, if Helen – He’s Classical Greek counterpart – couldn’t get out of being held responsible for her actions, why should He?

As a result, He is on a leash and has apparently had Ene’s name branded onto his face: though we as readers can’t see either way due to his latex-like BDSM mask. At first, I thought the mask and the entire suit was the result of his punishment: that in Troiia and even before he was allowed to go about bold and confident in regalia and suit until he lost those “privileges.” Certainly, a story featuring him like that would have been interesting. But I suspect – based on how he was pampered and prepared later by Sebex-in-waiting for his introduction to Q’af in Issue #6, in addition to cosmetic ornaments that emphasize his parts to the masculine point of hyper-sexuality and value as property, this is He’s usual attire: at least in a public-politic setting. It is also very clear that he is used to this treatment and to being submissive and owned by his spouse. This no way takes away from his treatment by Ene or even the society he grew up in, as this – to him – is seen as the norm. Even if she hadn’t marked his face, as she remarked to Odyssia and her sister Gamem, he still reflects her power as property: at least, while she still keeps him. Perhaps her comment above also illustrates the fact that she intends to only ship out his genetic material and keep him for herself: with her mark on him. This bravado and treatment says a lot about their society, and ours when you look at the treatment of women as well.

But before I go more into He’s personal experiences, there is the matter of the precedent that his birth has caused Achaean society for those that have come after him: specifically Keles, Telem, and Orestes. It’s hard to say much about Keles, as by the time the series begins, he’s already dead. But what is notable are a few things that he shares with his ancient Greek counterpart the demigod Achilles. Thetis, his nymph mother, was prophesied to mate with Zeus and create a child that would overthrow her and possibly the other Olympians as well: though Hera and the others had been banking on this Prophecy occurring. Like the male Zeus of Classical Greece, ODY-C’s Zeus used cunning and manipulation, and the aid of Aphrodite to get Thetis to the Sebex Queen Pelenus to marry her instead. Unfortunately for Zeus, their child Keles was male.

In fact, not only was Keles male, but he was a warrior. Unlike He and his courtly duties as a sperm-donor and possible prostitute, Keles like Achilles fought in battles. And if he was anything like his Mediterranean counterpart, he would have been a holy terror onto a force of death itself. Perhaps Keles represented the destructive, aggressive side of masculinity that, combined with his demigod status, made even the rulers of Achaean Space hesitant to challenge him. It does make you wonder, though, just how he and the other Achaean rulers cooperated during the Troiian War. Did Gamem attempt to take his potential war trophy concubine Briseis? Was Patroclus’ analogue a warrior woman or a Sebex and also Keles’ lover and friend? Just how did this story play out? And did Zeus engineer aspects of the whole Troiian War just to make sure that Keles died: much in the way that Achilles had to choose between having a long but normal life or a short and glorious one trapping him into one prophecy or another?

At the very least, if we go by The Odyssey, Keles’ shade in the Underworld – possibly Nuna-Nix – might show us a very impressive flashback: as even the Fall of the House of Atreus gets its time in this work. These questions just reinforce my wish that Fraction and Ward would make a prequel comic miniseries, or expand on their 2014 Tumblr Prologue comic with regards to what happened during the War. Perhaps they could even call it Troiia-VII.

And we know even less about Gamem and Menstra’s son Orestes, who seems to be about the same age as Odyssia and Penelope’s son Telem. While Telem is introduced in the first issue of ODY-C, Orestes comes at the end of Issue #12 after his mother has murdered his other mother and seized control of their system with her lover Aegis. Both are young men at this point in time. Odyssia only recalls Telem as a baby boy after she left for war and we, the readers, get to see him as a young man grown with his mother Penelope looking after him worriedly.

Yet both have another element in common. They are not covered in a suit: neither their faces nor their bodies. Perhaps this is because they aren’t married yet, or necessarily of breeding age. It may also be that their parents have different standards and customs for them than those of He’s. I also get the feeling that even though Odyssia was furious at He for the deaths caused in the Troiian War, she might be less than enthusiastic to see her son treated the way that Ene treats He.

It is also fairly clear that both young men are going to have some issues with regards to their birthright: more than their Odyssey analogues ever had. Telem, for instance is not only going to have to deal with the many suitors – women and possibly Sebex – attempting to marry his “widow” mother, but instead of killing him like the suitors of The Odyssey had planned they might also want to control him: and make him the next He for breeding and political purposes. This may well be why it’s told in the narrative that Penelope is “hiding” him, and perhaps the real reason why Odyssia didn’t want to go to war in the first place if she is anything like her male counterpart: save that she didn’t want anyone to know Telem was male, not even her Sebex concubine Ero whom she lets believe is “almost bleeding-aged now.”

It is also uncertain whether not Orestes would have inherited Gamem’s rule, or even had military training from her: so it is possible his mother is attempting to take any hope of rulership and dynasty away from him and his current siblings. And Orestes may really get some powerful fallout from Achaean society when he kills his royal mother and her lover. For the first time in aeons, in Achaean Space, a man will finally kill a woman once again – even though she had also killed her spouse – and there will be mortal and divine repercussions. I also look forward to seeing future chapters with these two young men and seeing how they navigate this current landscape: if Athena – who seems to really favour her masculine Mentor form in this world – will continue to help Telem after engineering his biological sex with Hera, and if Athena will also aid Orestes in placating the Eumenides and perhaps create a new form of galactic law that changes up the current social order in the process.

I have been hesitant in bringing up the subject of Aeolus. Aeolus seems to be yet another child of Poseidon’s and possesses his own isolated world of Aeolia: complete with nymphets that he has bred with and discarded like so much trash. By virtue of being the only man on his planet, or indeed in that whole sector if he wasn’t a god before, he is worshipped as one now. His ultimate plan, despite all the resources and luxury at his disposal is to escape with the crew of ODY-C and one day create a male child who will be his heir. It is even possible that he thinks by virtue of being one of the few men in existence, and by possessing the immense knowledge and power that he has, he could rule the universe as it is. Obviously, due to Zeus’ edict and actions, this has not been possible but he hasn’t stopped for lack of trying: no matter how many women he has ejected into space in piques of rage or apathy for having more daughters. It is due to him and the crewwomen that seek out his attentions in the night that makes Odyssia aware of her “breeder girls,” if she hadn’t already somehow suspected and known about their proclivities before hand. It is a stereotypical male fantasy played out and turned grimly sour.

But there are other, perhaps even darker masculine-identified fantasies at play in ODY-C, and they go deeper. Imagine Aeolia as something of a bubble, as a minor representation of stereotypical male or patriarchal power. Aeolus, however disturbing and horrible he is, only rules one planet and is isolated from the rest of the universe. And then, finally, we come to Q’af, the seeming counterpoint to the rest of the galaxy: a place ruled by men.

And in Part II of this article, we will look at a part of the universe still ruled by men and masculinity, and see just how different and how far from different Q’af truly is from ODY-C’s cosmic and sentient order.

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Matthew Kirshenblatt is a graduate from York University, Toronto, Ontario, and is a writer and blogger living in the city of Thornhill. He is a comics and mythology fanatic; having written his Master's thesis, "The Spirit of Herodotus in Gaiman and Moore: Narrative Spaces and their Relationships in Mythic World-Building," he also contributes science-fiction, horror, and revisionist short stories to Gil Williamson's online Mythaxis Magazine. Nowadays, he can be found writing for G33kPr0n, and creating and maintaining his Mythic Bios: a Writer's Blog, in which he describes his creative process and makes weird stories, strange articles, reviews, overall geek opinion pieces and other writing experiments.

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