Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Writing Wrongs

After my initial Fantern gushing has died down, I've realized that I liked Infinite Crisis #7 for another reason. Not because of a non-ending, but because of a restored beginning. I'm a modern-age reader, and I'm not an enemy of dark and gritty storytelling -- but I started DC Comics with Grant Morrison's JLA, the Return of Barry Allen, and Kingdom Come. Written well into the 1990s, but all nostalgic books somehow. Unlike Marvel, where I started with shiny new stuff and lost interest when the old continuity came barreling down on me, I started DC with books that explored and revered a complicated and fluid past. DC's past wasn't set in stone, through Retroactive Continuity it changed as often as it's future did. I love this about the company, as it allows for flashback stories to be as fresh and interesting and still as surprising as your typical tales that run forward in an unceasing monthy marathon. No story ever really ends in comics, and you can't be entirely certain of the way it began. Some fans dislike this, but personally it's part of why I like comics. It's why I like the writers I do, the ones that weave strange tapestries with leftover threads from twenty years ago and who place at the annual Continuity Gymnastics Meet.

Sometimes, though, a Retcon needs to be retconned back to way it was, or at least, closer to the way it was. Infinite Crisis #7, for all its flaws, has left us with one very, very, very important thing.

Which is...

Wonder Woman helped found the Justice League.

After the first Crisis wiped her part of this out and shoved a substitute female in to hold fragile continuity, this latest Crisis has undone that damage and restored Diana to her rightful status in League History.

New Earth is a good thing.

A very good thing.

Oh, I'm sure there are those of you our there, those of you who started in the Modern Age as I did, who don't think this is a big deal. You may even dislike it, as it retcons away Mark Waid's JLA: Year One story and potentially removes Black Canary from her role as a replacement founder. I don't see the problem, myself. I liked Year One, I read my sister's copies when it came out, I even own the trade now. It doesn't need to be current continuity to be a good story. And yes, I adore Black Canary. I love her in Birds of Prey, I love her in the revisionist retconned JLA stories, but the bottom line is she was replacing Diana. Black Canary isn't a big name like Superman, Wonder Woman, or Batman. She's a secondary character put in to replace a primary seller.

And I can see the argument now -- Buuuut Raaagnuuuuulll, Superman and Batman are the big names and they're not founders. Why does Wonder Woman have to be?

And you're right, it's not an issue of membership. It's more one of timing. My problem with Diana not being a JLA founder is the reason she was not a JLA founder. It's because after Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985 when they rebooted the Big Three, Wonder Woman got the shaft.

Oh yes, she did.

Superman was retconned, and his origin was retold. He was taken out of the 1940s Justice Society, but still remained the very first of the "Second Wave Heroes" who showed up at the beginning of the DC Ten-Year Elastic Timeline they wrote after the Zero Hour Crossover. It was important that he still be an inspiration, and while he wasn't a JLA Founder he was still around when it was formed. He got a power down, but was still the biggest when it came to raw power and DC towed that line for a long time.

Batman was retconned, and his origin was retold. He was taken out of the 1940s Justice Society, but still remained one of the first of the "Second Wave Heroes" who showed up at the beginning of the DC Ten-Year Elastic Timeline they wrote after the Zero Hour Crossover. It was important that he still be a veteran hero, and while he wasn't a JLA Founder he was still around when it was formed. He got a little grimmer, and became more of a fighter than a gadgeteer but he still held the office of "World's Greatest Detective" after his reboot.

Wonder Woman was retconned, and her origin was retold. She was taken out of the 1940s Justice Society, and placed as a New Arrival directly after the Crisis. This put her at the Four Years Ago point in the DC Ten-Year Elastic Timeline they wrote after the Zero Hour Crossover. She was no longer a JLA Founder because she was not even around then. She was not a veteran hero, but a naive novice who was just learning about Patriarch's World. She did get a power-up, but she lost her seniority for it.

As a result, Wonder Woman was younger, less experienced, and less wordly than her former contemporaries. Again, this may not seem like a big deal to you, but it sure as hell does to me. Seniority is a huge deal where I work. These men were her colleagues before, and now, when she had been an equal when it came to age, experience and wisdom, she was now behind the curve. She went from looking to them as friends and co-workers to looking at them as examples and possible mentors. When they were veteran heroes she was a rookie. She was originally meant as an inspiration specifically to women, but now, when she came on the scene, it was littered with female heroes anyway. Her own sidekick, Donna Troy, had been recast at the beginning of the timeline and was, as Wonder Girl, more experienced than Wonder Woman when she first arrived.

And why? So that Diana, originally conceived as a teacher could be recast as an innocent setting her first feet on Man's Shores and learning the harsh lessons of life. They couldn't do it like Batman: Year One or Man of Steel and write her origin in a miniseries set at the beginning of the timeline. No, they put her at the beginning of Crisis so that we would watch her new life unfold in real-time. They rewrote her supporting cast to fit. Where she'd been a mentor and friend of a group of young girls, she was now surrounded by older women (Julia Kapetalis, the new Etta Candy, Myndi Mayner) who were there to guide and mentor her. She'd previously had a love interest, an adorable Navy pilot with a cute butt she followed all the way from Themiscyra, a man with old-fashioned ideas about womanhood who found Wonder woman strangely intriguing. She used to roll her eyes at him, try to subtly teach him lessons, and save him from danger when he got in over his head. Now, he was aged over twenty years ahead of her, and instead of a cute guy she wanted to come around to her way of thinking she had an older man to act as a father figure and guide her in this new world because she was now so fucking young and naive.

In fact, all romance was drained from her life as he was married off to a lady who used to serve as the comic relief. It was like Lois marrying Jimmy Olsen, dammit! She's never had another love interest even close to viable. But of course, they had to cut out romance because if she's not a virgin she's a whore, right? Or is it just to make her less experienced?

Her backstory family, her mother's Amazons, went from a goofy Golden Age take on Greek Mythology to a freaking Modern Age Greek Tragedy. They didn't just up and choose to leave Man's World of their own volition. Oh no, first they all needed to be recast as the reborn souls of women who died because of violence. Then, they needed to be punished for withdrawing from Men (which y'know, may have had something to do with having past-life trauma of violent deaths at the hands of men combined with immortality and no need to procreate) by being drugged, chained up and raped by Herakles and his army (in a retelling of an ancient story that, when I first read it had ended in Herakles running for his skin because of a misunderstanding when Hippolyta voluntarily gave him her girdle after talking so he could settle a debt), then forcibly exiled to an island in the middle of the freaking Bermuda Triangle by their own patron goddesses!!!

They powered her up, gave her flight, yes. The also removed the dumbest and most obviously sexist of the arbritary weaknesses -- when chained by a man, she loses her powers. The insanely outdated reason for no men on Paradise Island -- that Aphrodite had cursed the Amazons to a lust-frenzy if a man set foot there (which still gives me a chuckle, because its such an Aphrodite thing to do) -- also gone. That was all gone. But what good is it to make her physically more powerful and then scale back her personality so she's less threatening. What good is it to drop the silly Golden-Age bondage joke just to replace it with some seriously disturbing backstory that involves bondage and rape? They made Wonder Woman from a slightly worrysome children's story (which, let's face it, all children's stories are somewhat worrisome) into a book I'd never feel right about giving a little girl. I had to stop in the middle of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a grade-schooler, I'd never have made it through Wonder Woman (Volume 2) #1.

Meanwhile, Batman and Superman get by relatively unscathed, in some ways improved by the modernizing. Oh yes, they got darker elements in the reboot too. But somehow "Because Krypton's been recast as a no-huggin society that creates test tube babies in incubation chambers, I, DC's First Superhero, was now actually conceived without sin" and "In this timeline my parents are still dead, I'm turning paranoid, and my on-again off-again quasivillainous girlfriend used to be a prostitute (who still kicked ass because she punched out her pimp, rescued a younger prostitute and gave up the business for the more lucrative career of robbing mobsters) but I was still considered Character of the Century when all was said and done" don't hold a candle to "I, who once represented female autonomy and came from a society of female supremacy to preach about the value of femininity to an unappreciative culture, am now from a society of paranoid isolationists who have all been deeply wounded by men. My bright, funny backstory has been replaced by a tale of humiliation and death. Rather than make our own decisions, I and my sisters are now completely and utterly at the mercy of the fickle whims of the gods, because even Amazons can't make their own decisions."

And they keep their seniority, their experience, and their in-story status.

It just seems like there's something unbalanced there.

Then there were the little continuity holes like "Wonder Woman is no longer in the 40s" and "Wonder Woman is no longer in the JLA" when they wanted to reference old stories. How to fix those? Why, for them it was easy! Just take a female character who's around during that time, and stuff her in there. It doesn't matter who! They're female, they're interchangeable!

I am not overreacting.

Case in point: Black Canary and JLA Foundership.

Once again, I've nothing against Black Canary, she's a kickass character.

But I'm sorry, she could not replace Wonder Woman in the JLA. There is nothing, powerwise or personality-wise, that the two have in common aside from their gender and having been members in the past.

"Hmm, okay for this story Pre-Crisis we had Green Lantern, Aquaman, the Flash, the Martian Manhunter, and Wonder Woman."

"Can't use Wonder Woman in the flashback. New continuity."

"Crap! Well, we need to replace her, I need this flashback to explain the villain."

"Okay, well, let's think. She's got superstrength, superspeed, invulnerability, a magic rope that forces you to tell the truth, and can deflect bullets with her bracelets."

"Hmmm... Can't we stuff in Superman?"

"Nah, we need a chick. We'll use Black Canary. Martial Arts and Supersonic Scream."


Allow me to repeat that...


Y'know, in Today's world of questionable character mis-handling and suspiciously symbolic death that can usually be chalked up to cultural factors rather than malice, it's nice to have that one clear, shining example of direct misgyny.

Can you imagine that logic at work in real life?

"Sir, we have everyone we need in the ground support crew for this experimental exhibition flight except for a hydraulics expert in case of brake problems."

"Hmm... There's no women on the crew, better put MacKenzie in."

"Sir, MacKenzie's unavailable because of her vacation."

"Oh, shoot, then use Kaleikini."

"Ummm... Sir, Kaleikini is an wonderful technician, but she specializes in an onboard navigation system that isn't featured on this model of aircraft."

"So, what's the problem? We have a crew chief, a propulsions expert, a comm-nav guy, a GAC guy, and a chick. That's all we need, right?"


You know, I've heard John Stewart's role in the JLA derided as tokenism, and yes, he was there in JLU for racial diversity. But think about it, JLU is the animated version of the Justice League/JLA comics. In the story, he wasn't replacing Steel or Black Lightning as the resident Black Guy. He was replacing Kyle or Hal as the resident Green Lantern. His ultimate role in the franchise was based on his powers, not his color. But Dinah Lance, Dinah's another story entirely. She had no overlapping powers or skills with Diana, but was considered a suitable substitute anyway simply because she was another woman. There's your tokenism, right there. That's where inclusion attempts become sexist or racist in itself, when the character's status as an "Other" -- a woman, a black person, or a gay person -- overrides the character's abilities. Now, I love the old nineties teambooks where the demographics were carefully and deliberately plotted out when putting together the team, but for it to work the characters personalities and skills had to be more important when it came to the actual story. And therein lies the problem of revisioning and retellings. You can't carefully choose the demographics, you have to work with what was used before. Terry Berg will not suffice when a story calls for Damon Matthews. You wouldn't take out Kimiyo Hoshi and put in Cassandra Cain -- the abilities are too different and there's no justification for that replacement. By the same logic they should never have taken out Diana Prince to replace her with Dinah Lance.

Thankfully, someone at DC figured out that all of this was that stupid and put Diana back to when she belongs -- contemporary to the boys. I don't think this necessarily means that Canary's role in the beginning is ruled out (but in all likelihood, it does), and two female founders would be interesting, but I wouldn't be angry if it was just Diana and the four guys, the way it was originally written. I'm sorry, if you're the sort of fan who think Black Canary loses her worth as a character because the retcon that made her a founder is simply retconned away, then you must have no appreciation for the character. And if you're the sort of person who thinks that WW's role in early Justice League is simply that of "The Girl" and that Black Canary really was a suitable substitute in retelling the old stories then I honestly don't know why you read this blog.

But anyway, I like New Earth. New Earth is a good thing. A very good thing. It restored Diana's seniority and her role in the JLA, in one sentence. And now, we'll get to see the revisionist tales with Wonder Woman. And who knows what else they fixed in the relaunch? Greg Rucka was adamant a few months ago when this was announced that it was not a reboot, but a relaunch, so I don't expect all of my problems with Wonder Woman, Volume 2 to magically go away when Volume 3 hits the shelves (June Seventh!). But there's extra years to play in now, and the Kubert varient cover shows Diana, Hippolyta in the Golden Age outfit, Donna Troy and Cassie Sandsmark, so I expect some interesting backstory.

And I do love DC's fluid and flowing backstory. Comic books get to rewrite their history to fit the present.


  1. *Applause*

    You're right; WW being a founder is the best thing that came out of IC, even if all they let her do during the series proper was stand around.

    (I can't explain this: I didn't much give WW a single thought before this, now I'm inexplicably pissed that she didn't have more to do. I guess when push comes to shove, Wonder Woman is one of those characters whom I've always rooted for yet never actually bought comics for because deep down I know that no writer can do her justice. I smell a rare 2GBC introspective Very Special Episode Post.)

    But count me firmly on the side of "Catching Joe Chill Is A Bad Idea". The Batman mythos Goddamn depends on his fighting an eternal, un-fulfillable quest to me; otherwise, he's just another hero who never got over his parent's killing. Keeping the murderer of his parents anonymous (and unapprehended) provides a driving reason that can stay with the character forever; it's the perfect tragic myth ending that can be implied but never told.

    (Crap. Now I have to post about that, too.)

    Thanks for making me think. I think. :-)


  2. Oh, great. Now I feel guilty for thinking Black Canary was a better fit than Wonder Woman in the League.

  3. Wonder Woman + JL founding = very good deal.

    Superboy Prime: undoubtedly crazy, but perhaps just a bit crazy like a fox...

  4. I was quite happy to see the mention of those little retcons in IC (I don't think they needed a MASSIVE EVENT to pull them off - they could have done them at any time, but I'm glad they finally fixed the stuff that they broke back in 1986).

    I like the idea of Wonder Woman being one of the first heroes - that was one of the post-Crisis retcons that bugged me. They've been drifting away from it recently anyway, so its good to see that they've finally woken up and decided to put her back at the status she deserves.

    That said, Black Canary should still be a founding member of the Justice League - there's no reason that there should only be one woman at the founding of the League and Black Canary is a good character for it. Superman and Batman should also be founding members again. Crisis dinked with THEIR membership in the League as well, as they were also originally founding members.

    I just hope the new Wonder Woman title is a good one...

  5. You know, I've heard that before Perez was attached to the project, Greg Potter's original draft for the post-Crisis WW was even worse.

    Even worse.


  6. Wonder Woman is the pre-eminent super-heroine in comics. That is Diana's role and that is how she should be treated.

    She should definitely be a founding member of the JLA. (As should Batman and Superman for that matter...)

    To be honest, while the Silver Age and Bronze Age WW stories weren't exactly classic, I own a good many WW comics from that era. I've always loved WW, even if the only one who really "got" her was the creator.

    P.S. I'm fine with Batman catching Joe Chill. The original Golden Age story was great, and it transforms his mission from one of vengeance to one of justice and self-sacrifice. He wages war on crime so others won't be victimized as he was.

  7. My two problems:
    1. JLA: Year One was really, really good, and I don't want that wrecked. Well, too late.
    2. Why does Alex Luthor know or care that Wonder Woman was a founder or that Batman's parents' killer was caught? Seriously, I could be OK with either change; but why is Alex the narrator there?

  8. JLA: Year One WAS really good.

    You know what else was really good? Kingdom Come.

    and Dark Knight Returns. and Watchmen.

    Hey, you know what? JLA:Year One is STILL really good. The twelve issues I bought somehow survived Infinite Crisis. Guess I;m just lucky.

  9. chuck t. -

    1. JLA Year One is still really, really good. Whether its "in continuity" or not doesn't bear on the quality of the story. (I just hope that no one feels the need to go back and tell it AGAIN with the changed continuity - just leave it alone, we're smart enough to figure out that things are different).

    2. Because Alex Luthor is one of the voices of the writer through the story (Superboy Prime and Superman-2 are the others). I don't mean this figuratively, either. Luthor is literally creating world after world and throwing them away because they're not quite right - just like Johns does as he's editing manuscripts. In fact, if you read the story with Superman-2, Superboy Prime, and Alex Luthor each as a face of the fan/writer, the frustrations that each feel as the world isn't the way it was / isn't the way it was promised / isn't as good as it could be get very obviously map onto the frustrations of the fan/writer. I remember the first time I realized that Kingdom Come could be read the same way (the frustrations of the author with the current 'vision' of superhero comics) - this one came on me a lot sooner (probably by issue 3 or so), and seems much more blatant.

    Of course, you could just blame it on poor writing/pacing - that Johns didn't leave sufficient room for an epilogue the way Wolfman did back in Crisis 12 to SHOW us that things had changed, so instead he had to just quickly TELL us that things had changed. That works too.

  10. For your "without original sin" Superman, you also forget my favorite thing that I wish they'd never retconn... The way that John Byrne relaunched Superman, he was a natural born American citizen (no matter how odd a birth) and he had never had to lie in his life...

  11. I never saw Black Canary as intended to be WW's stand-in. After all, Superman and Batman didn't get replacements even though they were also retroactively made non-founders.

    I always assumed Black Canary's insertion stemmed from the writers wanting the Post-Crisis original League to have at least one female member. That does make her a replacement, but not in the same way.

    I do think the distinction is important. If the writer's wanted a Wonder Woman stand-in, then Black Canary's insertion makes zero sense and comes off sexist. But if they wanted a female member because the Post-Crisis League no longer had one, then Dinah is the natural choice, being the superheroine second most identified with the JLA.

  12. Anonymous,

    You are just wrong.

    First, Superman and Batman were not founding members of the League, and never were (that's a sentence that only makes sense when talking about superhero comics).

    Check out the cover to Brave and the Bold above. Notice anyone missing? I'll give you a hint: their names start with Batman and Superman. Know why? 'Cause they weren't originally in the League, because their sales were strong enough without needing to team up.

    Secondly, and more importantly, saying the League needs "at least one female member" is sexist. It says that being a woman is Wonder Woman and Black Canary's defining characteristic and that for story purposes women are interchangeable.

    For example, if it had been Hal Jordan who was ret-conned out, the writer wouldn't have said, "Oops, we're short one man; okay, let's replace him with Ralph Dibny. He's a man." He would have said "Oops, we're short one Green Lantern. Is Alan Scott available?"

    I understand your distinction between replacing Wonder Woman and replacing the "Female Founding Member," but it works against you.

    Had they actually tried to replace Diana, with Hippolyta, or Donna, or even Nubia, that would have acknowledged that Wonder Woman contributes more to a Justice League story than just a set of tits.

    Instead, the writer (who made this decision anyway?) has reduced both Diana and Dinah to "female superhero," as if he thinks a league needs one speedster, one magic ring, one water-breather, one shape-shifter, and one uterus.

    (That said, I did enjoy JLA:Year One, and think that Waid wrote a story that could only be told with those specific characters, especially Dinah. But Waid was playing the hand dealt him, and it doesn't justify the original sexism that said that any story told with Wonder Woman could be told with a different woman).

  13. Actually, Steven, even though Superman and Batman weren't in those original Brave & The Bold Issues, when DC finally got around to printing an origin for the JLA, both were included (although they more often than not were absent from early adventures). I forget when they finally published that origin, but JLA #200 is a good anniversary follow-up.

    I agree whole-heartedly. Diana's omission as one of the founder's has really bothered me since the original crisis. While it's not alone in causing those post-crisis problems, Ragnell's analysis of Diana's retcon/removal and the subsequent continuity nightmares that its caused is right on point.

    I'm curious to see how the Golden Age stories are handled. I remember reading DiDido saying that Diana is the first Wonder Woman to debut in the new, revised history. I take that to mean that certain people, like the Justice Society remember the original Diana, but she, like Kal-L and the origianl Batman have been wiped from the overall history and the memory of the general populace. And then there's that variant with Hippolyta dressed as Golden-Age WW... Hmmm....

  14. Wow. We see things so differently...

  15. Ms Marvel -- Care to elaborate on how?

  16. Well, I'm catching up.

    The first time I read the origin of the original JLA was when I found Secret Origins #32 (thank you, Wikipedia) in the back issue bins, when I was 10, maybe 11. I was confused because I was sure that Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman were founding members. They were always in the reruns of Superfriends I watched; of course I thought they were founders. I was shocked to learn that they weren't.

    I must have read this issue ten times during the two weeks between trips to the comic shop because the idea that something as wonderful as the Justice League could have been founded by characters who weren't necessarily known around the world, both in and out of the comics, intrigued me. Something as important to the world was founded by characters who were, at the time they fought the aliens, nobodies.

    It was a fantasy to me. It showed that even people who aren't the well know can make huge changes for the better. I still like that fantasy, a lot.

    The main reason I still wish Black Canary was a founder is because she linked the JLA to the JSA. If I remember correctly, since I'm writing this at work and don't have the comic with me, she suggested calling them the Justice Society of America at first. She's the first legacy character bridging the two greatest superhero teams.

    As for the Zero Hour timeline, I hated that thing when it was published. I remember reading that Wonder Woman showed up years after Superman and Batman and thinking it was crap. In my mind Superman was the first hero in the second wave because he was the first superhero ever and Wonder Woman was the second, no matter what Zero Hour and Crisis tried to tell us.

    I'm not angry that Wonder Woman is now a founding member of the Justice League; I'm just disappointed that once again for something great to happen in the DCU a well known hero has to be a part of it.

  17. ticknart -- Ahh, but she still is a bridge. She was still one of the members to join after the founding.

    Her mother wasn't around for the founding of the Justice Society, does that make her less of a member? No, she was still a part of it.

  18. No, it doesn't make her less of a member, in either case, but membership wasn't what I was talking about.

    Maybe I, along with much of the comic community, am just jumping the gun here by assuming that Black Canary wasn't a founder. The line only says that "Wonder Woman helped found the Justice League of America once again." It doesn't say that Black Canary wasn't a founder, too. I guess I'll have to wait for the next Secret Orgins or Year One.

    If they have retconned Black Canary out, I'll miss the idea that she helped the JLA before Ollie did.

    It just struck me, "[h]er mother wasn't around for the founding of the Jusitce Society" can be applied to Black Canary and Wonder Woman.

    I miss Polly being a member of the JSA, too.

  19. Hmm.

    It seems to me that the fact DC had no other women heroes of suitable power and stature to fill Wonder Woman's shoes is itself a problem. DC needs more iconic super-powerful women to choose from!

    P.S. I like Black Canary too, but compared to J'onn? The Flash? Green Lantern? She's completely out of her league (no pun intended...). She belongs in the League, but as a second-stringer - a specialist like Green Arrow, not a core member.