Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Mirage Mirror

The backup story in Wonder Woman #130 is a simply amazing secret identity story. It features Diana, Hippolyta and Steve behaving without a shred of logic between the three of them. It may be one of the most enjoyable things I have ever read.

It starts out with a sequence about Diana asking Steve out on a date. Now, think about these three panels for a minute.



Each time Steve answers that he has a prior engagement with Wonder Woman. Diana actually went to the trouble to make a date with Steve and then change into her alter ego to ask him out at the same time.

This would make sense if she just wanted to see if he'd break a date with her, but no... she actually wants him to break a date with her and go out with her.

Eventually he does accept a date (probably because she asked when she hadn't already made plans with him) but doesn't put out any illusions about actually being interested in Diana romantically. Instead, he hangs out with her and talks about how awesome Wonder Woman is.



This really bothers her, because she feels like he's ignoring her... as he talks about awesome she is.

And I know some people read this and go "Wow, what a freaking jerk, going out with her and talking about another girl the whole time" but you gotta remember... he is actually dating Wonder Woman and she knew this before she asked him to spend the afternoon with her. Hell, as far as he knows, she is his girlfriend's best friend. Either he and the princess are in a very open relationship (which is likely) and he's Silver Age style tactless (which he is anyway, and it is hilarious), or he thinks that they are just spending time together as friends (which is also pretty likely when you take into account Steve Trevor's incredible mental density).

See, Secret Identities are a great idea to protect your loved ones but the way Diana is set up she doesn't need it. Her mother is on Paradise Island and she is openly dating Steve in her superhero identity. So in the Silver Age, the Diana Prince identity exists to try and convince Steve Trevor to cheat on Wonder Woman with Diana Prince.

And when he doesn't... she gets upset.

And when he does go out with Diana, but proceeds to be completely honest with both women about who he really loves... she gets upset.

Now, there's a few ways to simplify her life here (and for all I know they've all been addressed in those parts of the archives I haven't had a shot at) based on what she really wants. If she wants Steve to love her in the Diana Prince identity, she can simply turn down his romantic invitations as Wonder Woman and catch him on the rebound in her Diana Prince identity. She has no problem with saying no to a marriage proposal, but for some reason she is always meeting him for walks in the park and going for drives in his car.

If she wants Steve to love her for her true self, she can stop asking him out in the Diana Prince identity and just date him as Wonder Woman, which is her real self, the way she met him, the persona that's associated with her actual family and history and not a purchased or completely fabricated false identity. The Diana Prince identity can be used to give her a break from celebrity, give her access to information she needs to fight evil, and give her a chance to watch over her boyfriend and best friend incognito. (This is how they pulled it in the TV show, and Diana was simply flattered when Steve went on about Wonder Woman to her and Etta.) But she doesn't do that, she fixates on getting her to love her with glasses.

If she just suspects he's shallow... Well, this isn't going to help because the two women are identical with the exception of glasses. (Kalinara's theory is Steve assumes he's imaging the resemblance because he loves Wonder Woman so much. I must admit, this is a stupid enough thought that Steve Trevor might be thinking it.)

For some reason (the writers) she decides not to simplify her life. Instead, she decides to teach him a lesson. How dare he be totally upfront with two women! How dare he go on about how much he loves her!

To that end, she goes to her mother for help. It turns out that Hippolyta pulled the same thing when she was dating Hercules. (Yes, Silver Age Hippolyta dated Hercules.) It must be some weird Amazon ritual for hazing male suitors.

And because Hercules, when dating a no-name Amazon warrior who never took her helmet off, went on and on about how beautiful the Queen was Hippolyta decided to fuck with his head a bit. She produces a magic mirror that will temporarily change her appearance when she and her suitor look in it together. Hercules is sufficiently weirded out that he focuses on the no-name Amazon warrior afterwards.

In the meantime, Steve has tickets to a charity carnival and can't find Wonder Woman. So he, making clear that he's only asking because his girlfriend isn't around, asks Diana to go. She's so happy she calls off the trick.

And that's when we get to a sequence that has made me love Steve Trevor and his dense, tactless, clueless Silver Age love interest brain forever.



"I'll have to wiggle out of my date with Diana Prince" He doesn't think that. He says it out loud on the phone with Wonder Woman. (And "mistake her voice for Wonder Woman's"? What the fuck? Is the writer as confused by the dual identities as Diana and Steve are?)

And she gets mad, but doesn't let him know.

Still, they are clearly in an established open relationship. He'll tell her right to her face that he's made dates with other women, and she doesn't yell at him for it. (And no, she's not afraid to tell him when she's mad at him. See issue #127 when he tells her his dream about being married to her was horrible.)

And that's not the best part... Look at what Steve thinks "wiggle out" means:



That's right, to Steve Trevor, wiggling out of a date means telling the girl up front that he found a date with another girl that he thinks is prettier. Bear in mind, before he asked her out (and judging by Diana's pleased reaction this was the first time he'd ever taken the initiative and asked Diana Prince out) he said it was because he couldn't find this girl and he had those tickets.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Most Honest Man in Comics.

And yeah, that was a pretty fucking tactless way to break a date. It's more clueless than mean, though, because it seems like he thinks he's going easy on her. "EVERY woman looks bad compared to this girl, not just you." This man does not suspect for a second that these two women are the same person. (Unlike Lois.) He is really just too dumb to hate. (And he's so cute in his little pilot outfit. I love how he wears that everywhere in this era.) I suppose I should feel bad for Diana... if this whole thing weren't something she set up. I love Diana but honestly, she's being pretty bad in this issue. Besides, she's getting upset at hearing how awesome she is. It's pointless to pity that. (I don't feel sorry for Clark either.) She's just not cut out for this secret identity thing.

So anyway, he ditches her.. for her... and goes to the carnival where Diana's set up the magic mirror in the fun house. She makes herself look very fat, Steve is bothered but polite about it, and then some villains attack so she kicks their ass as a fat lady. Then she turns back, and he's relieved. Then she makes herself very tall and thin and long-necked. He's freaked out now. Bad guys attack, she fights them off.



Steve's weirded out and pretty scared by the whole thing, so he walks away. She gets mad. Clearly he left her because she was ugly and not because he needs to lie down for a bit or get his eyes checked out.

Or even because he's in trouble, because god knows he doesn't get knocked out and kidnapped every time she's not watching.

To be fair, Steve is shallow. That kind of goes with being not smart. He's also tactless as hell. That also goes with being not smart. I think it's pretty funny, because just about everyone is pretty dumb and tactless in the Silver Age.

Really, the big thing to be annoyed at is how PRESUMPTUOUS he is. He just assumes Wonder Woman and he have a standing date. Of course, in other issues when she lets him know she's mad he is instantly apologetic so this is something she could take care of if she wants to. That's writers forgetting Diana comes from a society where women get to speak up when they're offended. It's a character flaw of Steve's, but something correctable in-story.

Anyway, I will give Diana that she ends this story on the best possible note. Lucky her, she has a friend who understands the need to screw with your significant other's head from time to time.

6 comments:

  1. You know something, I find it kind of funny you remark that Steve is shallow when you have the main character here going through these machinations with someone she is interested in.

    Somehow, that’s not shallow?

    Let‘s look at it this way, the guy is totally enamored by one specific woman (even if he is as dumb as a bag of rocks not to be able to discern the difference between the two for want of a pair of glasses) but, he is loyal and direct.

    If anything, what you’re avoiding here is something subtler - I read it more as a commentary on how important body image is to a woman. First the thing with the glasses but later at the carnival with all the ‘body alteration.’

    There is an undercurrent to the story of ‘liking me for me’ and not the package but then again Steve Trainor is eye candy for the ladies, no? What? That doesn’t factor into the equation?

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  2. PJ: Um, did you not notice that Ragnell is a fan of the character?

    If she's calling a character she likes "shallow", you can probably assume she means it as fun teasing (personally, I always call Wesley Dodds an idiot) rather than a personal critique of the character.

    Besides, considering that she's been harping on his dutiful and loyal qualities for the past week, I think we can assume she likes him. :-)

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  3. Superman SO enjoyed that. He got to mess with someone other than Lois!

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  4. No kidding Sally. That expression reads pure "Superdickery" far more vividly than anything Shaffenberger, Boring or Swan ever drew in Clark's own books.

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  5. You totally glossed over this: If anything, what you’re avoiding here is something subtler - I read it more as a commentary on how important body image is to a woman. First the thing with the glasses but later at the carnival with all the ‘body alteration.’

    There is an undercurrent to the story of ‘liking me for me’ and not the package but then again Steve Trainor is eye candy for the ladies, no? What? That doesn’t factor into the equation?

    But, I’m really not surprised.

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  6. PJ -- Glossed over because it's not worth commenting on, really. yeah, there's definitely some commentary on body image in there. It is under no circumstances subtle. The opening page has a very tall WW standing next to a very fat WW. She is mad that he doesn't notice her figure and appearance in her Diana Prince guise. There is a MAGIC MIRROR in the story. It's so unsubtle that it is completely unremarkable. I'm not avoiding it, I just don't think it's particularly important to bring up. I wanted to post about the behavior of the characters, and what traits we can get from that.

    The social theme here is simply not remarkable enough in comparison to Diana, Hippolyta, and Steve's actions.

    "There is an undercurrent to the story of ‘liking me for me’ and not the package but then again Steve Trainor is eye candy for the ladies, no? What? That doesn’t factor into the equation?"

    I don't think it counts as an undercurrent when they make it so obvious. That's a standard in a secret identity story and that's actually why these Secret Identity Shenanigans don't work for Wonder Woman. Look at Superman, who built this Secret Identity thing. Clark Kent is his primary identity. It's the one that goes with his real family and his true history. The parents who raised him were Jon and Martha Kent, Clark Kent's parents, and Lara and Jor-El had considerably less influence on his personality. He was raised IN Smallville, Krypton is just his biological place of origin. All of Clark Kent's experiences and backstory are his. He went to school as Clark Kent, he grew up as Clark Kent.

    Diana Prince is NOT Diana's real self. She's a completely assumed identity, a made up American citizen with a military career who is probably from some small town with made-up parents. She never went to Diana Prince's High School. Diana was raised by Queen Hippolyta, Wonder Woman's mother. Her real hometown is on Paradise Island, Wonder Woman's hometown. It's not a good "make sure he likes me for me" setup because Steve Trevor ALREADY likes her true self better than the fabrication. It's the OBVIOUS lesson the writer is going for, but it comes off as ridiculous because the basis of the secret identity simply doesn't support it.

    Steve Trevor is complete eye candy, though. There's an earlier issue where they show his eyes are actually bigger than Diana's. He's freaking adorable, and that's why he walks around in uniform all the time. I do think, dumb as he is, he's got a number of personality traits that are attractive to Diana too.

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