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[Retrospective]Wonder Woman #73

Bobby DerieBobby Derie Registered User regular
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I wanna talk about this issue, but mostly not to talk about this issue. Does that make sense?

Okay, so in the storyline before and after this issue, Wonder Woman was kidnapped by space aliens, comes back to Earth, and finds the Amazons are gone and she has nowhere to live and no money. This was William Messner-Loeb's storyline where Wonder Woman is basically thrown into the same basic situation as recent college graduates during a recession, and to make ends meet she rents a room from a dotty old lady and starts working at Taco Whiz. Feel the superherodom!

This was a surprisingly interesting storyline - and I would hold this issue up as one of the best issues in the brief run - but probably not for any of the reasons that Bill Loebs plans. He meant it as a bit of silliness (c'mon, Wonder Woman working at Taco Bell Whiz?) and as a serious "superheroes have lives too" approach which was indicative of DC after John Byrne's reboots of Batman and Superman. It's interesting mainly for the questions is raises which would largely not have occurred to young me when I bought this in one of those boxes full of comics that Diamond would sell at Sam's, which was basically one of everything that DC was publishing that week, in those halcyon days before alternate covers.

Anyway. Some thoughts.

Why doesn't Wonder Woman ask Batman for a job?
Most of the heroes in the Justice League are either independently wealthy (Batman, Green Arrow about 50% of the time), have the capacity to be, or at least have some day job. Superman works at the Daily Planet. J'onn J'onzz works as a private detective to fund his oreos habit. Guy Gardner owns a bar, when the writers remember that kind of thing, or gets kickbacks from intergalactic powers. And so on and so forth. So the question is, why doesn't Wonder Woman ask Batman to put a word in for her at Wayne Industries, or see if if Clark Kent needs somebody down in the mail room at the Daily Planet? Must we go to Taco Whiz?

It's a more complicated question than you might think. We understand that nepotism is bad, because we live in a society that we feel should be meritocratic. If you have superior abilities and drive, you should succeed. We know that isn't actually how it works - people that are born with more resources tend to have more advantages and fewer disadvantages growing up, and so tend to succeed more. But Diana is a princess of a mythical island, so I don't think that really applies; she may have lost her connections, but she's still able to bench-press a tank. And we know that many people get jobs simply because they know somebody - it's not even a case of being unqualified, it's just a matter of having a connection in the industry that knows a job is available and puts your name forward. One of the hardest things recruiters deal with is getting news of a position out there to suitable applicants.

But back to Taco Whiz vs. Wayne Industries Chief of Security or something. I think...and I might be wrong here...that it ties in the fact that Wonder Woman is in many ways supposed to be a feminine ideal character. Not just in being beautiful and powerful and a princess, but more fundamentally in being a single, independent woman that doesn't rely on men to get shit done. She's the Murphy Brown of the DC Universe.

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Although in this respect she still does not hold a candle to Amanda Waller, who rose from the projects and had kids AND a successful career in the government including the most successful run on the Suicide Squad ever. Seriously, AW is my hero.

I don't think it's that Wonder Woman is too proud to ask for help either - it's just that cut off from her support network, with no word from friends or family, she needed a job, and she found one. It wasn't the first place she looked, but she needed money and food now, and so that's what she did. Which brings us to the next point...

Taco Whiz and the Myth of the Living Wage
Okay, this is veering well into socio-economics, but the fact is that a lot of people see fast-food jobs - which are typically occupied by teenagers without qualifications for other positions and are often bound to the minimum-wage - as degrading. It didn't really used to be that way. Many a baby boomer worked a minimum-wage job flipping burgers or serving drinks during the summer to help pay for their college tuition, back when college tuition was low enough that you could actually do that. Then those same baby boomers had kids and told them (us) growing up that we didn't want to be flipping burgers our entire lives.

I never quite had that approach to the subject, because my grandmother worked at McDonalds. She worked there for like twenty years. She wasn't a teenager, but she was a housewife without much education, and she liked the work. It was a perfectly respectable form of employment for her. Sure, she wasn't the primary breadwinner in the family, and every season the kids would filter out as they graduated or moved on and she'd have to train a new group on how to muck-out the soft-serve machine, but she was a stable asset to the place. McDonalds gave her stock she was there so long.

And I know, intellectually, that the majority of people in minimum-wage fastfood jobs aren't just highschool kids. They're seniors, and single mothers, and basically just anybody that needs a job. It may not be their dream job, but they need the money and are willing to do the work. That's perfectly honorable and respectable. And I bring this up because while all the people around Wonder Woman seem appalled at her "predicament" - being forced into such a lowly form of employment - Wonder Woman herself never treats her coworkers with anything except respect. She actually works to get better at her job and get the most out of it. She is the model to which all Taco Whiz employees should be held, past, present, and future. So while in less capable hands I think this storyline could have been really depressing and even misogynistic - a breaking of Wonder Woman's character and spirit - I think Loebs manages to play it off fairly well. I know he's mainly going for yucks instead of pathos, but it says something about a real hero that when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade and go out to the side of the road and sell it.

Taco Whiz Is The Real World. It's A Nice Place To Visit.
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My favorite supporting character in this issue (and, indeed, this arc) is Hoppy. Hoppy is the African-American female senior employee of Taco Whiz. Like Wonder Woman, it's not her first place of employment. Like Wonder Woman, she's there because she has to be there. And Hoppy has a backstory. It's not a complicated one, full of aliens and strange radiation and ancient gods. But that's okay, because sometimes heroes need to be reminded that they live in a world with real people with real concerns. DC used to be really good about this - I might even say that during the 90s they were better at it than Marvel, but only because Marvel used to be the king at this trope. Remember, the second time Thanos showed up, the Thing was reading a Stephen King novel. Spider-Man tried to earn money from wrestling. It's the little details, of heroes having a life beyond superheroing, and being part of the wider world, that are sometimes the most fascinating, touching, and memorable. Kurt Busiek has basically made an industry out of this with Astro City; Marvel and DC revisit it when a writer remembers that, in between the superpunches and sound effects and strange glowing rays, there are regular people that are sad or driven or kinda assholes, but just people. They're the ones that the good guys are there to protect, and they're not always nice, but they're also the most relatable. It's good to bring a superhero down to Earth every now and again, if only to remind us how strange and alien they are. It's what makes the Grim & Grittiness of the 1990s so laughable - because all the emphasis on bigger muscles, flashier powers and chrome costumes, bullets and blades and pouches just seems infinitely silly compared to an older black woman that was laid off from her job at the plant, is doing what she needs to do to feed her kids, and now this cracker superhero comes in and wants a job.

But, I think it's good that this storyline - this very brief and mostly forgettable and forgotten storyline - was brief. Superheroes don't live in the real world. They only visit, sometimes. And if this had been played out any longer, I think it would have gone bad. Because there are only so many places you can take this, and I for one don't want to see a darker turn, where Wonder Woman gets more desperate for money or just slowly fades away as a thousand tacos take their toll. But it does bring me to my final point.

Reboots Are Hard To Get Right.
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Wonder Woman has a complicated history. Most DC heroes do. She's been rebooted more than once. Reinvented, sometimes. And the different versions of Wonder Woman are very different. The thing is, I think Wonder Woman has come farther from her original conception than a lot of her fellow heroes...and not just because she was originally a bondage magnet that fulfilled somebody's female domination fetish. Even today, the Wonder Woman movie is looking to cast Steve Trevor - a relic from her very early run, and his relationship with Wpnder Woman has been redefined time and again - I'll be honest, I think most writers are happy enough without him; the only reason he sticks around is because he's a legacy character that isn't silly enough to be embarrassing (remember Talky Tawny? No? What about Comet, the Superhorse? Yeah, I thought so.) The thing about having a complicated history, though, is that every now and again it has to be refreshed. The hero needs a period of renewal, to face the world refreshed, stronger than before. These can sometimes be some of the greatest character moments those heroes have. The Dark Knight Returns and Daredevil: Born Again are probably the definitive, and I don't know if Wonder Woman has a comparable arc. It's not that you need to break a hero down as far as you can before you can build them back up again, but it helps. I don't know if Wonder Woman has ever quite had that - at least, I don't recall that storyline - but a lot of the elements have been there. Themyscria has gone away and come back again; Wonder Woman has been depowered and reempowered; she's faced gods, monsters, and midwifery. She is inarguably DC's greatest female character.

But, I don't know if she's ever faced a challenge quite like Taco Whiz. Something that can't be handled by gritting her teeth and punching the bad guy. A challenge of the spirit. Because in The Dark Knight Returns, Batman's greatest foe isn't the Mutant Leader or the Joker or Superman - it's old age and apathy; it's Batman coming to terms with who he is, and working within his limitations. Daredevil: Born Again isn't about beating the Kingpin - it's about dealing with everything thrown at him, reduced to his lowest nadir, and then showing Wilson Fisk that he is the Man Without Fear - now the Man With Nothing To Fear. For Wonder Woman - and yes, I'm probably making far too much of what is a silly little storyline - I like that in a world filled with fanfic where she's raped, humiliated, degraded, mischaracterized, impregnated, and/or brainwashed, we can have this very simple storyline where Wonder Woman faces a realistic life issue and tackles it. She doesn't solve it right away. She doesn't go out and get a six-figure job. She doesn't set out with her sights low, but she's willing to face reality. She's not a primadonna, a shrew, a slut, or a Barbie doll. She is, for a few issues, an extraordinary person in an ordinary job, and comes through it well.

It's not a typical comic book story. It's not a typical comic book test of character or turning point - you might point to the moment that Wonder Woman killed Maxwell Lord as a more general example. But it's the kind of bedrock character development that is important to get right, and which is one reason why reboots are hard. Reboots require the writer and artist to get the whole of the character boiled down to essentials. Maybe they show them becoming the character we know and love, maybe they're already there but not as powerful or competent as we remember; maybe they just have a flashy costume and a new set of powers. But what is really essential, even in a soft reboot, is redefining the character's limits - not just how many tons they can lift, but what they can and cannot do. Would Superman work at Taco Whiz? Would Batman? Could this storyline even have worked with Superman or Batman? I don't think so. But it works with Wonder Woman.

The Unpublishable - Original fiction blog, updates Fridays
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    TexiKenTexiKen Dammit! That fish really got me!Registered User regular
    Messner-Loebs has such an under appreciated run on WW (and Impulse).

    This was around the time Flash was more the third member of the trinity if anything, and Superman had already died and when Batman was dealing with Knightfall (and GL was about to go crazy) so you already had the dark stuff going on, and this was more counter programming that probably wasn't as appreciated as it should have been. It was like the Giffen/DeMatteis JLI era just year too late, as he went on to bring in Artemis who helped make the series get some spotlight time leading up to #100.

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    WearingglassesWearingglasses Of the friendly neighborhood variety Registered User regular
    I'd think Supes wouldn't mind a fastfood job. Batman, though...

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    ArmorocArmoroc Registered User regular
    That food she is carrying looks really unappetizing haha. Looks like a crunchy taco with noodles and then more noodles on the side? With some coffee :P Ewww

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    Linespider5Linespider5 ALL HAIL KING KILLMONGER Registered User regular
    Armoroc wrote: »
    That food she is carrying looks really unappetizing haha. Looks like a crunchy taco with noodles and then more noodles on the side? With some coffee :P Ewww

    I can't decide if this was an intentional decision to make the food look unappetizing and unimportant, or if there was some weird lawyering that wanted to make sure it couldn't possibly resemble an actual Taco Bell meal.

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    FencingsaxFencingsax It is difficult to get a man to understand, when his salary depends upon his not understanding GNU Terry PratchettRegistered User regular
    It's a chili mac with the spaghetti on the side.

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    Bobby DerieBobby Derie Registered User regular
    I think those are supposed to be onion rings.

    The Unpublishable - Original fiction blog, updates Fridays
    Sex & the Cthulhu Mythos
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    chiasaur11chiasaur11 Never doubt a raccoon. Do you think it's trademarked?Registered User regular
    Even today, the Wonder Woman movie is looking to cast Steve Trevor - a relic from her very early run, and his relationship with Wpnder Woman has been redefined time and again - I'll be honest, I think most writers are happy enough without him; the only reason he sticks around is because he's a legacy character that isn't silly enough to be embarrassing (remember Talky Tawny? No? What about Comet, the Superhorse? Yeah, I thought so.)

    Tawky Tawny is rad and I will not hear his name dragged through the mud. He's a tiger in a sportcoat who hangs out with Captain Marvel. If you want to establish in one panel the tone a Captain Marvel story should have, just put Tawky Tawny there. Boom. Now the reader knows Captain Marvel is the kind of dude who hangs out with talking tigers like it ain't even a thing, and that his pals wear rad sportcoats.

    I mean, it's not quite as amazing as Mr. Mind in his teeny electric chair, but it's close.

    I won't defend Comet, though. That guy is just a creep.

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    SorceSorce Not ThereRegistered User regular
    Comet is one of those characters that can only exist in a 60s comic book (sorry PAD), whereas Talky Tawny can be from any decade.

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