Thursday, July 27, 2006

What Wonder Woman Really Needs

I think CharlieAnders over at Other Blog has figured out the secret to Wonder Woman...

The problem with Wonder Woman is this whole idea that she came to our world to teach us about peace and niceness and caring.

She didn’t. She came here to fight Nazis. That’s all.

Which is that it makes no sense that the Amazons, after hundreds (thousands?) of years of isolation, suddenly decide to send one of their own off into the outside world as an ambassador. Why now? What makes them think the rest of the world is suddenly worth engaging with?

That’s where the Nazis come in. Because the Amazons see the rise of fascism, and the development of more and more horrendous means of mass slaughter, and it freaks them out a bit. So they have to send someone to help defeat the forces of evil, or even their secluded island won’t be safe any more.

(Yeah, I added the panel, that's not part of the original post. But it's an awesome panel. That's the first time I ever saw the "White Suit.")


  1. The problem with Wonder Woman is this whole idea that she came to our world to teach us about peace and niceness and caring. She didn’t. She came here to fight Nazis. That’s all.

    Far be it from me to fall back on the doctrine of authorial intent, but isn't this simply completely wrong? William Marston, weirdo though he might have been, had the clear and openly stated intent of designing a female character who would be sent out into the world of men to teach them peace and love. Yes, through tieing them up a lot. But still:

    "Frankly, Wonder Woman is psychologically propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world. There isn't enough love in the male organism to run this planet peacefully. Woman's body contains twice as many love generating organs and endocrine mechanisms as the male. 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. Her bracelets, with which she repels bullets and other murderous weapons, represent the Amazon Princess' submission to Aphrodite, Goddess of Love and Beauty. Her magic lasso, which compels anyone bound by it, to obey Wonder Woman and which was given to her by Aphrodite herself, represents woman's love charm and allure by which she compels man to do her bidding."

    To say that Wonder Woman "came here just to fight the Nazis" and had nothing to do with spreading peace and love is, at best, a drastic misreading.

  2. Moose N Squirrel speaks rightly...but the two views are less contradictory or mutually exclusive than CharlieAnders makes them sound.

    Steve Trevor and his description of the Nazi menace are demonstrably the proximate cause of Diana being sent as an abassador of the Amazon way to the outside world. The Amazons see just how far things have gone without them and need to act.

    Now imagine the Amazons saying, "We've got to step in and show the modern world how things should be run...and we'll start with Diana sorting out those nasty, brutish Nazis. Instead of lecturing them or taking over the world, we'll show the world how just one truly integrated self-assertive superwoman with all the advantages of our way of life is fit to overcome any obstacle, and let them accept our principles freely and of their own accord."

    Personally, I'd like to see a lot more of Marston's original intent brought back to Wonder Woman...and I don't have a lot of time for versions which depict her as messed up or conflicted or woman-hating (!) or all the other abuses which have been heaped on her. Instead of belligerent or spoiling for a fight, I could see her as someone can be tough whenever it's necessary, neither hiding from it nor revelling in it. Think of an idealized "mother figure" whose attitude is "If you misbehave, mister, I will punish you...but it's for your own good."

    Above all, she should be the essence of the sense that she knows who she is and forgives even her own failings. And her attitude on the one occasion when she's been pushed to deliberately kill someone shouldn't be horror or revulsion, but calm sorrow and regret that it was necessary to prevent a greater wrong.

  3. I'd just like to point out to you, Diana, that the majority of nazi zombies aren't like that at all, and are more than willing to listen to reason as long as you flatter them and put their personal comfort with the conversation above all other concerns. There's no reason to drag all of nazi-zombiehood into your "crusade" over a few bad eggs...

  4. Hmm...that seemed funnier in my head...

  5. Aren't Nazis a little out of date?

  6. Anon -- 1) Nazis are never out of date. See Hellboy.

    2) She actually does address this in the original post.

    3) In all seriousness, I'm in favor of tying her origin to WWII. Because she's from an island of immortals, and there did have to be a good reason for them to think the outside world was worth digging into again. Even if it's just Hippolyta ventured forth before her daughter did, that's a tie.

  7. I've seen Hellboy and I still don't think Nazis are the right kind of foe for Wonder Woman. The Nazis are kind of an undead, Lovecratian horror for Hellboy, and it makes sense for a more supernatural character.

    I think I prefer the "ambassador of peace" because it's heavily ironic considering the Classical background. The Greek city states were constantly at war and in a lot of cases "peace" wasn't a diplomatic compromise, it was conquering your enemy and either extinguishing them totally or forcing them to accept your terms uncondtionally. The Classics angle hasn't really been explored much in Wonder Woman. Myth has, but that's only one aspect, and in my opinion the absolute least interesting one. I'd find it interesting to see Paradise Island sending out ambassadors to begin a brutal takeover of "Man's World" under the guise of diplomacy. The Classical angle also opens up other story possibilities. Classics generally is a male field, by which I mean the bulk of writers who've survived are male, and I wouldn't mind seeing a writer exploring a female dominated Classical society and trying their hand at genres like pastoral, elegy, epigram, iambics and the public debate of war councils within the Wonder Woman title.

    Wonder Woman is the original subversive character in comics and I think being reduced to fighting Nazis seventy years after the war ended would keep the character limited and bound to self-parody, and that's a shame when so much more could be done.

  8. Well, if DC wanted to they could always use the instability of a post-911 world as rationale enough for Wonder Woman's entrance to Man's World.

    Doesn't mean she'd be fighting Moslems, but perhaps the heroine could instead dedicate herself to bringing Amazonian principles and philosophies to a world seemingly dedicated to destroying itself.

    In fact, that rationale works in the Cold War, Vietnam, the 80s arms race and other incidents throughout history as well.

  9. Wonder Woman, like Captain America, is a character that's never going to be able to be fully separated from the time when she was created. Really, she's so heavily tied into World War II that her costume is the American flag.

    Regardless, there are characters that really only work (or only work really well) when they're fighting Nazis--Cap, naturally, and Indiana Jones comes to mind. Is Wonder Woman one of them?


    But fighting Nazis never hurts.

  10. Wonder Woman, like Captain America, is a character that's never going to be able to be fully separated from the time when she was created.

    I don't think this is true. Captain America's raison d’ĂȘtre really was World War II; he really was designed to fight Nazis. But as George Perez's run demonstrated, Diana can be separated from her 1940s roots pretty easily.

    As for her costume, the only really flag-like thing about it is the stars, and honestly, it's long past time she lost those. They're a clunky design element, and there's no reason why a foreign princess from a hidden island of ancient Greek amazons should be dressed in the American flag, anyway.

  11. My problem with the Rucka issues (which I read in trade paperback and liked very much, which is why I'm buying Wonder Woman now) is that the character boldly takes stands which can never be revealed. She gets credit for revealing her opinions without compromise, but as soon as she starts to speak, you have to cut to something else to conceal what it is that she deserves credit for boldly revealing.

    Her opponents can't give the game away either - as she is vaguely right, they are vaguely wrong. ("TWO FOR SIX EIGHT, AMAZONS PREACH LOVE NOT HATE!") It's a sign of desperation if you can't be more specific than that on what you stand for, and the writer has to supply you with opponents like this to make you look good and like you have taken a stand. We'd mercilessly mock a politician who took pride in his bold forthrightness but wouldn't get more specific than: I'm for love not hate."

    She can't take a stand because (a) then you lose all the people who oppose that stand, and (b) what if that put her on America's side? Which she's not supposed to be on, now, even though she practically wears a flag.

    Let me make this a bit concrete, so I'm not as vague as I'm accusing Wonder Woman's writers of being.

    Her post-crisis origin and focus on defending life implied a pro-life stand that would have made instant life fans of some including me. But I always knew that no matter how badly I wanted the greatest comic heroine to take on that role as the protector of life, this could never be. Wonder Woman's position as a feminist icon also legitimately requires an absolutist pro-choice stand. They finessed the issue for decades.

    Where does Wonder Woman stand on female genital mutilation, and on honor killings, and on women being stuck in burqas and denied education? She can't really have an opinion on stuff like this, because it might put her back the Americans' side, like in her Nazi-fighting days, whereas modern Wonder Woman has to be coolly distant, a superior implied critic, not a booster.

    (Like we didn't have enough cool "friends" and critics... I mean, if we feel a need for "friends" who assume we are crude, violent boobs deserving of little support, but who are uninhibited in using violence when they want to - don't we all have France for that?)

    Issues related to war (and specifically jihad) and women's role and place, and how women are allowed to be or not allowed to be are hotter than they've ever been. Wonder Woman's hour has struck. But she can't speak. She can't get off her pedestal.

    This also feeds into her rogues gallery, which can't be enlivened by bad people representing hot button issues that Wonder Woman could define herself against by tying the villains up or punching them out.

    There are villains out there. Flamboyantly misogynist ones too. (Hint: "Death to beauty! Miss World is sin!" Riots against female beauty kill 200 in Nigeria...) But Wonder Woman is stuck in her high and silent pedestal, and can't reach into the burning streets.

    It's a shame. I can see why it has to be this way. But it's still a shame.

    I would like Wonder Woman to be unabashedly pro-American, and against America's enemies, who as never before are also feminism's enemies, and taking clear stands (I admit it - stands that I favor!) on some hot, flesh and blood issues, like FGM. For that matter, I would like to see her back in her star-spangled bicycle pants (for lack of a better description). But, it's not happening.