Among the DCnU 52 released this week, will be Wonder Woman by Brian Azzarello (100 Bullets, Lex Luthor: Man of Steel
) and with art by Cliff Chiang. I quite liked their previous work together, Doctor 13: Architecture & Mortality
, so as a Wonder Woman fan was happy to see them reunited on the title.
The book seems to be getting a lot of good press, with a number of people pointing to it (alongside Animal Man) as one of the best books of the relaunch. Or, the first issue at least. Who are these many people? Well, Tim Callahan is one and I don't know who he is and don't really care to look. But he tweeted that his top five/bottom five were:
1. Wonder Woman
2-5 some order of Animal Man, Batman, Batwoman, Frankenstein.
48-52 some order of Batwing, Detective, Green Arrow, Mister Terrific, Suicide Squad.
Did you like those books and hate those other books? Then you may want to get excited for Wonder Woman!
What does Azzarello have to say about the new book? Well, he hasn't given too much info away, but here's a bit:
"I'll tell you this though, the first issue's all done and we're running right up to the edge, as far as what we can get away with. We're pushing the envelope with this one. I firmly believe that that's what this character needs right now."
"I can only speak for myself, were doing a soft reboot, we're not getting rid of her history or anything like that."
"People need to relax, she's not wearing pants. But it's not going to be a superhero book. I can guarantee you that, it's not a superhero book. It's a horror book."
Quick, let's look at some preview art:
Uh-oh, someone tore off one of Hermes' foot wings. Interesting choice to make him actually have rooster feet (roosters being Hermes' bird).
Why Hera, what a pretty Peacock dress. And cleavage.
Here's some more concept art from Chiang, a centaur and Apollo:
I guess Apollo doesn't have a bird associated with him.
So let's have a new thread about the old girl, with a big new opening post which I seem to have turned into an essay. Sorry about that. Feel free to skip.
Would you like to know more?
Well, that could be a problem. Unlike her fellow Trinity members, Wonder Woman has not enjoyed multiple books. As such, her universe has been almost entirely constrained to her own title, and when she is in team books she almost never features in a prominent role (lip-service notwithstanding). And she never
gets original graphic novels a la All-Star Superman or Batman: Year One.
As a result, her villains are almost never used. Writers will often come on to the title and make up their own new ones, because "Wonder Woman's villains are lame". Well, yes. If they last appeared in the seventies, chances are they are lame. Why don't you fix that instead of making up someone who will be forgotten the minute you leave the book?
Also, how could you not like Ares. Ares is a boss. I mean, look how many skulls he has on him.
So many skulls
Similar things happen to Diana's support cast, location, powers, goals, etc. Writers seem to have this bizarre fetish about "fixing" Wonder Woman. And they're going to "fix" Wonder Woman by going in an all-new direction. They of course don't actually respect the character enough to research her past, or they'd realise that five of the previous six writers on the title had the exact same idea, and in all likelihood, so will the next (see: JMS's run).
This makes recommending Wonder Woman stories difficult because she just flat out doesn't have that one thing you can give to someone and say, this is why I think Wonder Woman is cool. But, here's what I'd suggest if you're interested:
- The Wonder Woman Chronicles Vol 1 by William Moulton Marston: Full colour reprints of the original All-Star Comics/Sensation Comics/Wonder Woman issues. It suffers from the usual Golden Age problems, but has all the good stuff too. Just a whirlwind of creativity, it's also when the core of the character was strongest (and was when she was most popular). Vol 2 is out in a couple of months.
- The Perez Run: Collected in Gods and Mortals, Challenge of the Gods, Beauty and the Beasts, Destiny Calling
. Not my favourite, but a lot of Wonder Woman fans love it and it sets up what used to be the modern continuity. Is generally very detailed, with nice complex plots and characterisations. But too often for my tastes it goes past nicely complex and ends up being kind of numbing. There's just too much. Her origin has like three origins.
- The Rucka Run: Collected in the OGN The Hiketeia
, followed by Down to Earth, Bitter Rivals, Eyes of the Gorgon, Land of the Dead, Mission's End
. Rucka blends the three aspects that are usually around when Wonder Woman's at her best: mythology, politics and supervillainy. Diana is working as Themiscyran ambassador with a recently published book, navigating the plots of Olympians as Athena finally gets around to overthrowing Zeus, and having to deal with new and classic villains like Veronica Cale and Dr. Psycho. The only complaint is there's a little bit too much of "at the whim of the Gods" which denigrates her character somewhat. This is the run that made me a fan of the character, and would be that "one book" to give you, if 'twere not for the fact that it's six books. And you do need to read all of it to get the full oomph. A lot of set ups and pay offs.
- The early Simone Run: The Circle
is a really good arc which focuses on the other Amazons' response to Diana's birth so long after they had given up man's world. Not everyone thought it was a good idea. Plus Nazis and gorillas. This is followed by Ends of the Earth
which is a fantastic team up with some older sword and sorcery characters Stalker, Beowulf, and Claw the Unconquered. It produced one of my favourite Wonder Woman images:
Unfortunately, the wheels kind of fell off her run after that. Note for those who continue to read it: Genocide was originally supposed to be a resurrected, corrupted Knockout (the New God of Superboy
and Secret Six
fame). DC told Simone she couldn't use Knockout (due to Death of the New Gods
) after she'd already started, hence the reveal of who Genocide is being totally nonsensical.
Wonder Woman has recently been fortunate in her animated appearances, though. James Tucker (show runner for Batman: the Brave and the Bold
and other DC shows) is admittedly a big fan, and "...personally storyboarded this teaser because I’m a huge Wonder Woman fan, so it was a lot of fun and one of the perks of being the producer! I tried to cram as much Wonder Woman-centric stuff into the teaser as possible including some very nostalgic references to the old TV series."
Lauren Montgomery (director on a number of the DCAU direct to DVD movies) is also a fan. Which is probably why Wonder Woman easily has the best end fight in Crisis on Two Earths
and how the Diana/Big Barda vs the Female Furies fight was the best moment in Superman/Batman: Apocalypse. She also had her own movie, which was pretty good until an underwhelming climax (plus there's some needless out-of-date gender politics that were injected into Gail Simone's script in re-writes).
So who is Wonder Woman?
Well, let's see what her creator had to say:
Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. Not wanting to be girls, they don't want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women's strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.
Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world... What woman lacks is the dominance or self assertive power to put over and enforce her love desires. I have given Wonder Woman this dominant force but have kept her loving, tender, maternal and feminine in every other way.
So basically, Diana was the one character Seduction of the Innocent
was kind of right about. Its claims that Batman and Robin was promoting paedophilia and that Superman was Un-American and fascist are somewhat silly - they were by and large just supposed to be cool. Diana is a character who is supposed to have all the daring-do and heroics that people like to read about in adventure stories while maintaining the feminine features usually reserved for the love interest. In this way, the bondage elements and ideas of feminine strength would gradually be accepted as normal by the main audience (boys).
In order to get where Wonder Woman comes from, one should probably have some background on Diana's creator William Moulton Marston (who wrote his comics under the pen name of Charles Moulton). Marston was a doctor of psychology, having studied at Harvard and taught at AU in Washington and Tufts near Boston. He had fairly broad interests - he came up with and promoted the systolic blood pressure test which would become a key part of lie-detector test - but his main focus was studying women. And by studying women, I of course mean hanging around sorority houses. Being paid to hang around sorority houses.
Anyway, his wife Elizabeth Holloway had a similar education to him. They were both BAs in psych, then went to law school (though Elizabeth had to go to Boston U as Harvard didn't accept women) before she mastered in psych at Radcliffe while Marston doctored at Harvard. This is 1921 by the way, making Elizabeth one of that new concept: the professional women. See, the Marstons were super progressive. They were so
progressive that when Bill came home one day and said "Liz, honey. This is one of my students. Her name is Olive Byrne and we should totally live in a polyamorous three-way" she said "sounds good to me." They had four children (two each) and after William died Elizabeth and Olive continued to live together so it probably wasn't a creepy harem type deal.
Marston started his story with the classical Greek concept of the all female Amazon society. But whereas Amazons had always been depicted as a warrior culture who worshipped Ares, Marston flipped this on its head. While Marston's Amazons knew how to kick ass and take names, they were a reversal of the classic tales. Not Ares' marauding terrors - that was just propaganda by the Greeks who kept getting spanked by them. They knew war, but did not seek it. They were a society of women who realised that when one considers the meaning of life, it is a struggle between alternative viewpoints of life itself. And without the ability to defend one's own viewpoint against other perhaps more aggressive ideologies, then reasonableness and moderation could, quite simply, disappear! That is why we'll always need an army, and may God strike me down were it to be otherwise.
Anywho, Ares was pissed off that the Amazons were better then his armies, so he convinced Hercules to go after them. After being unable to beat them in battle, he tricked and enslaved the Amazons. Feeling bad, Aphrodite freed them and guided those who would agree to war-no-more to the magically protected paradise island (Themiscyra). Here, they created a utopian society. The Amazons who said screw that, we're gonna get us some revenge and stayed behind in man's world created the known myths and would become the Bana-Mighdall.
After a while the Queen, Hippolyta, wanted a child. So she went down to the beach and carved a sand vagina, used some clay to sculpt a child and the gods gave it life. This is Diana.
Fast forward and she's a young adult labouring under some serious wanderlust, having lived all of her life in paradise. Col. Steve Trevor, of military intelligence, crash lands on Themiscyra. He needs to get back to man's world to stop some sort of dickery being caused by Ares. So it's decided that a contest will be held to determine who has to take him and, with his assistance, stop Ares. Hippolyta being very "mom" refuses to allow Diana to participate, so she masks her identity, wins, and is off to kick some ass.
It's pretty long and event specific, which makes it less iconic then your Batman and Superman origins. Those, you can play with the details more without messing up.
Originally, every issue of Sensation Comics started with the claims "As lovely as Aphrodite - as wise as Athena - with the speed of Mercury and the strength of Hercules." Back then Diana's powers were the result of "Amazon training" which gave her increased strength and speed far surpassing untrained people. And while she couldn't fly, she could "glide on air currents" (aka falling with style). You'll note that all this would be common to every Amazon - originally Diana was just the best of them. It was also something anyone could achieve if taught.
What may be surprising to people is that Diana was very much a tech hero. In order to save Steve Trevor's life she used the mechanical purple healing ray, had a "mental radio" which allowed her to transmit her thoughts over extreme long distance (like back home to Themiscyra), and of course the invisible jet. Amazonian society, while originating in the classical Greek world, had advanced over the last two thousand years and that included their grasp on technologies.
After Crisis, George Perez's run on the title changed this fairly heavily. One of the big differences was that the Amazons had become "frozen in time" in regards to their tech, the way they dressed, etc. And where in Marston's original story Aphrodite had breathed life into Diana, this time she had a team of Gods get in on the act. And as these Olympians gave a bit of themselves into her, Diana naturally has powers to reflect that (and no, writers, just because she was given life by the Gods they can't casually take it away. And no, she's not a golem. Stop trying to write that story). Those Gods/powers are:
Demeter: "...grant her power and strength..." Self explanatory.
Aphrodite: "...great beauty and a loving heart..." God-given hotness.
Athena: "...grant her wisdom..." Character cheat.
Artemis: "...the eye of the hunter and unity with the beasts..." Super-vision, talks to animals.
Hestia: "...sisterhood with fire..." Immune to flamethrowers? I guess that useful. Thanks Hestia.
Hermes: "...speed and the power of flight..." Checking off generic hero powers.
Gaea: "...LIFE!" Diana's connection to mother Earth generally gets represented as an ability to take a lot of blunt force trauma, but leaves her vulnerable to piercing weapons. This is an excuse to allow her to take hits from your Supermans and Darkseids while still needing to use the cool bullets and bracelets visuals.
Other tools she uses are her bracers (hard metal capable of deflecting projectiles), her tiara which somehow is like a boomerang and comes back when she throws it and is sometimes very sharp but doesn't cut her and is often her official tiara as the Princess of Themiscyra which begs the question of why the official headware of the Amazonian monarchy is boomerangable... oh, and she has a magic lasso.
One of Wonder Woman's most famous features is what has become known as "The Lasso of Truth". In pretty much any sort of behind the scenes thing you read about the character you will no doubt be told that Marston based the lasso on his other famous invention, the lie detector. Something like this:
Anyone caught in the lasso found it impossible to lie. And because Wonder Woman used it to extract confessions and compel obedience, the golden lasso was of course nothing less than a lie detector... Like the lie detector upon which it was modelled, Wonder Woman's Golden Lasso produced truth - and by implication justice and freedom too - through coercion.
This is actually somewhat false; a connection is made between the two because it seems reasonable, but it's not true. When originally created her lasso did not compel truth, but forced the bound to submit to the user's will. (Diana had been allowed to use it by Aphrodite because she had shown that she had the love and wisdom needed to wield so powerful a concept.) It was not a fancy polygraph, but instead a stand-in for the power of feminine allure.
Olive Byrne: "Now, Wonder Woman has magic powers. You wouldn't claim, I suppose, that we ordinary mortals have any such fantastic weapons as bracelets that repel bullets or her magic lasso that compels whomever it binds to obey her commands?"
William Moulton Marston: "Of course all women have those two powers. Wonder Woman is actually a dramatized symbol of her sex... Her magic lasso is merely a symbol of feminine charm, allure, oomph, attraction - every woman uses that power on people of both sexes whom she wants to influence or control in any way. Instead of tossing a rope, the average woman tosses words, glances, gestures, laughter, and vivacious behaviour. If her aim is accurate, she snares the attention of her would-be victim, man or woman, and proceeds to bind him or her with her charm."
This is actually one of the more interesting aspects of the character for me; reading Marston's thoughts on the use of coercion by force vs charm and the responsibility of its use. One must remember that Wonder Woman was created in 1942 with the Nazis in physical control of Europe. A core theme of the character, featured over and over again in Marston's stories, is her being bound and breaking free.
WMM: "Woman's charm is the one bond that can be made strong enough to hold a man against all logic, common sense, or counterattack. The fact that many women fail to make strong enough lassos for themselves doesn't deprive the lasso material of its native magic..."
OB: "The chains that the Nazis forge on conquered people seem a whole lot stronger than the bonds of personal charm!"
WMM: "Ah, they only seem that way. Chains of force are always broken sooner or later. No human being can put another's soul or spirit in bondage, only his body. And in the end the inner self triumphs over the outer; mind and personality win back their control over flesh. Nazi chains already are beginning to snap in "conquered" France, Holland, Belgium, Norway, Czechoslovakia - sabotage and killing of oppressors goes on increasingly. But the real turn of the tide will come when Hitler loses his persuasive charm control over the German people.
"Hitler gained his initial power by stirring oratory and personal magnetism - the magic-lasso method - not by force. When he resorted to force in the famous beer cellar Putsch he failed miserably and spent a year in prison. Mussolini similarly achieved his dictatorship by the magic of his persuasive tongue, and now, when force and military ability are needed in place of persuasiveness and drama, Il Duce is on the skids.
"[...] Wonder Woman can break any rope or chain with which a mere man tries to bind her. She stays bound only as long as may be necessary to accomplish her good purpose - then tears off her man-made shackles and goes to work on the man!.. Of course, she may let the man think she's helpless. My Wonder Woman often lets herself be tied into a bundle with chains as big as your arm. But in the end she easily snaps the chains. Women can do lots of things by letting men think they're fettered when they're not."
Physical bondage was something that her villains used, but Marston didn't take a negative view of bondage itself. He was pretty in to it actually, in a sexual role. Marston also believed in what he liked to call "submission to loving authority". I personally don't like the term as it seems as if it's going out of its way to sound weird, but basically it boils down to: being bound against one's will is bad, but there are times when everyone needs and should be restricted by another who loves them. The view holds that if we were better at recognising these moments, and if we were able to find this pleasurable instead of intolerable, the world would be a better place.
When stated coldly and out in the open it sounds weird, but I think it's one of the core concepts of a lot of our relationships. The obvious example with one's parents during youth, and into adulthood the need holds true. In a healthy relationship, one must at times both submit to and be that loving authority to (a) partner(s). It's also the concept which elevates close friendships into something really special (though obviously non-sexual). When you're going to do something and they tell you not to, and you don't because you know that their want is coming from a place of true (platonic) love, so you submit to their desire.
This is what's meant when Wonder Woman fights villains with love. Not that she'll oppose them with hugs and kisses, but that her opposition comes from a loving place. Villains harm society, and by harming society themselves. By stopping them, Diana is doing so from this place of loving authority, with understanding but firmness.
As I hope you can see, Wonder Woman was created and nurtured with very specific ideas beyond being cool and selling well. But being cool and selling well were
very important parts of Marston's goal. If no one reads Diana's stories, no one will be taught what Marston wanted taught. And it's not a one time lesson. It's not a lesson that one can memorise or learn in an afternoon. The goal was to change society. To make an idea which most people are very sceptical of because of it's strangeness seem more normal. So the lesson was designed to be taught monthly for generations. Wonder Woman isn't supposed to stand on a pedestal and explain anything to you, she's supposed to punch Minister Blizzard in his big stupid nose while the undercurrents work on your worldview. This of course makes her a very challenging character for many writers.
One huge problem for a number of years has been the tendency to treat Diana as very preachy with an "I'm-better-then-you" attitude. More often then not, this is due to an attempt by the writer to play to Wonder Woman's roots as a character set out to change the way we think. Unfortunately, the writers don't understand that people don't like being evangelised at. Marston did; it's why he packaged his ideas into a very likeable, brash and brave comic book character. So of course, this preachiness goes against
what Wonder Woman is supposed to be about: subversively
acclimatising men and women/boys and girls to the idea of strong feminine women.
Unfortunately for Diana, on the off chance that a writer recognises this problem they don't actually solve it by changing the way they write her. Instead they decide that she needs to be knocked off her perch and spend a series of issues chastising her. Wonder Woman is at her core an inspirational figure for the ideal of feminine strength. If she does not (at the end of the story) exemplify this, her purpose is being missed.