Special Topic: Wonder Woman

Being an unrepentant comic book geek and especially a fan of DC, the Trinity are of great importance to me.  My mother purchased a pair of Superman pajamas for me when I was a child and I wore them every night and sometimes under my clothes during the day.  After school in the second through fourth grade I would religiously watch “Batman the Animated Series” on Fox.  Come the Reboot I wasn’t worried about Batman, as he remained almost untouched.  Superman and Wonder Woman, however, worried me greatly.  Worrying about Wonder Woman wasn’t symptomatic of the Reboot, though.  I think that Wonder Woman has always teetered on the edge, simply because she is a strong, independent woman and its hard for writers in the business to write her, or perhaps conversely, to market her.  Its hard for a lot of writers, male and female, to get her just right, and when they do readership of the male audience can be resistant.  I think that the problem of Wonder Woman see-saws on the fulcrum of this conundrum.

There are two extremes that Wonder Woman has fallen into in the past.  On one side, which I think she has fallen more times than not, she comes off as a misandrous, overly aggressive women’s lib stereotype.  This is probably what the mythic Amazons were like, but if you want to go with the concept that the Amazons are a warrior race who seek peace and enlightenment in a Paradise of their making, this Wonder Woman would not fit the bill and reads very flat.  On the polar opposite end, she has also been portrayed as nemish and wonderstruck, like a stranger in a strange land.  This is also realistic to an extent, but veers too far off the mark.  Somewhere in between is the character that fans have latched onto.

Before the Reboot even came on the radar, DC tried reinventing Wonder Woman and tapped comic legend, J. Michael Straczynski to do it.  I respect Straczynski a great deal, but the Wonder Woman in his books was very far off the mark.  Mostly her costume was off, in my humble opinion.  I’m not saying she has to be in the iconic one piece she’s famous for, but the leather pants, red bustier, and leather jacket made her look like a biker chick.  Not what I would associate with the Princess of the noble Amazons.  Also, the post apocalyptic way they dealt with the rape and pillaging of Themyscira, her island home, and the genocide of the Amazons felt very wrong and unappealing.  The Reboot has garnered equal discord with fans and I find myself torn on where I stand.

Admittedly, I was up in arms with the first issue, but most of it was the result of a review I read lionizing Wonder Woman #1 as a feminist opus and demonizing Catwoman #1, a series I greatly enjoyed, as chauvinistic and exploitative.  Feminists who read my statement might agree with the reviewer, but I would disagree with that man’s assertion on these grounds.  While Catwoman #1 was attacked by him and others for starting off showing Selina Kyle in her underwear and flaunting her bra, the entire issue was narrated by her giving us a very intimate view of her character as an independent woman who uses her body and sexuality with the same prowess as her thieving skill and intellect.  We are shown Selina as a thinking, feeling, passionate woman.  In Wonder Woman #1, however, the reader sees Wonder Woman, but doesn’t get to know her at all.  She is just there and almost as soon as we meet her she is thrown head first into a fight with two centaurs in which she dismembers them in a bloody battle that has almost no significance to her personally.  In that light, I would say that seeing a hot woman in a singlet chopping up sentient, albeit mythical creatures is much more objectifying than seeing a woman in her underwear, who we are actually introduced to and who is treated like an actual thinking person.

Since then I have come to like certain aspects of the rebooted series.  Getting to the mythic roots of the character is very important and the inclusion of new and highly stylized takes on the gods and heroes of Greek mythology is paramount to that.  Once this has firmly been laid out and explored, they can get to Cheetah, Silver Swan, Dr. Psycho, Doctor Poison, and all the rest of her panoply.  There are also things I do not like, which I know others share my views on.  I dislike Zeus being Diana’s father.  The origin of her being shaped out of clay bears so much rich allusion and significance to who and what she is.  It smacks of Greek mythology, making her origin very authentic and meaningful.  Although being the illicit love child of Zeus is also quite mythological.   The Amazon’s raping men and killing them once they have stolen their progenitive “materials” is also kind of grating to me.  However, my indignation on this last point may stem more from the emasculating aspect of it than from the moral indignation on the part of the Amazon’s character.  I’m not good at self evaluation, but either way I found that to be hard to swallow.

But though this happened in issue #7, I actually like the rest of the issue and the consequences of that issue’s revelation.  Though I dislike how the Amazons attack innocent men and murder them simply for procreative purposes, as well as their infanticide of male children, the part of the story where Hephaestus trades weapons for the children was something that I liked.  Yes, it seems that he is buying them and forcing them into slavery, but that is incorrect and I agree with writer Brian Azzarello in what he did with this topic, because it balanced Diana in a way that I feel makes her a fuller character.  She has been portrayed as a man-hater in the past and that is not a good representation of her.  In this issue we see that when confronted with her brothers being put into forced bondage, she feels deep compassion for them and tries to free them.  This is fantastic.  However, in her haste she oversteps herself and she is confronted by her brothers who inform her that Hephaestus is like a father to them.  He wanted them, whereas their birth mothers wanted only to get rid of them by any means with murder or enslavement.  Even if his motives were selfish, Hephaestus gave them purpose and a life of artistry, beauty, and innovation.  They are truly happy.  Diana is wrong and she is forced to admit it.  Several times to promote her as a strong, decisive woman, Wonder Woman does brash things, but lacks culpability.  That is also a giant misstep.  I think that in this issue she makes a leap to action, trying to do right by her brothers, but miscalculates and in admitting that she made a mistake proves that she is a very, VERY strong woman who can do the hardest thing ever: take responsibility and make amends for her mistakes.

I don’t think that this series is perfect, but underneath the harsh, sometimes over reaching aspects, Azzarello is doing interesting things.  Don’t get me wrong, I am still incredibly annoyed by Zeus being her father and the loss of the “molded from clay” origin, as well as the callous portrayal of a noble race of warrior women.  Yet, I feel that this is okay as long as Azzarello does something good with it.  As I stated above, he did an interesting thing with the forsaken sons, which I respect.  And with the degradation of the Amazonian morals, I can think of an interesting analogy.  America is the ‘Land of the Free’ and a country of Equality, but for some reason we were one of the last to implement Civil Rights and are currently attacking the reproductive rights of women.  I am often sickened to my core by my fellow Americans and their lack of compassion for one another.  But you want to know what?  I fight every day to rectify that and sway the course of this country by trying to be a positive light of tolerance and signing petitions to stop assaults on Gay rights, inequality, and corruption.  Its not much, being that I am just one working class young man, but I try.  Diana is just one woman who has been exiled from her homeland, but if she can somehow change the Amazon culture and make it what we as reader wish it already was, then perhaps the stories Brian Azzarello is writing will be all the better for that hard fight that Wonder Woman is waging on people she loves, not hates.  Perhaps that isn’t going to happen and perhaps Azzarello has no intention of going there, but what can I say, I have faith in what he has already done to give him the benefit of the doubt.