Wednesday, February 16, 2011

What makes Wonder Woman Wonder Woman?

A lot of you don't seem to get why this Superman #708 sequence is such a stupid idea, so we're going to have to go over Wonder Woman again.

Pre-Crisis, Diana is the sole daughter of the Queen of the reclusive Amazons who shunned the world of men because they had been deceived by men (Golden Age) and wished to avoid violence and conflict (Silver Age). She's trained from birth in their ways and philosophy. When a man, the very first man she ever sees, is hurt on the island she finds herself attracted to him and wants to learn more about him. Her mother realizes she's fallen in love and is susceptible to the charms of men. She tells Diana how dangerous men are, forbids her from seeing him, and says he's going home. When a contest is held to determine who will escort the man back, Diana enters in disguise because her mother won't approve and wins. She goes to man's world and pursues a romantic relationship with this man while fighting crime and inspiring women to take control of their own lives.

Post-Crisis, Diana is the sole daughter of the Queen of the reclusive Amazons who shunned the world of men because they had suffered violence at male hands. She's trained from birth in their ways and philosophy, and is the only woman on the island never to have seen or been hurt by a man. When a man, the very first man she ever sees, is hurt on the island she finds an opportunity to leave the island and seek her fortune. Diana's mother forbids this, but the goddess Athena tells her that it's her destiny to go to man's world. The contest is held. Diana enters in disguise because her mother won't approve and wins. She goes to man's world, gets a couple crushes on other heroes while fighting crime and inspiring people to take control of their own lives.

Throughout her history and her reboots, no matter what the motivation UNTIL NOW, there has been one common theme. Disobeying her mother and entering that contest incognito. Pre-Crisis, she did it because she was in love, post-crisis she did it because she wanted to explore the world. But nearly every version of her origin, there is the authority figure (her mother), the desire to leave (awakened by the injured man), and the means to do so (the contest). The important thing is her disobedience. She CHOOSES her own way in the world.

This is what makes the Greek Myth background so effective. Diana is a hero against the inevitability of ancient Greek tragedy. She is surrounded by the Gods and Fates, holding tight to her autonomy while adrift in a sea of predestination.

People might bash the pre-crisis story as a man inspiring her and say Superman #708 isn't as bad, but they're wrong. The injured man, Steve Trevor, doesn't awaken her sense of adventure, or her desire to heal and compassion for others (she feels compassion for him but this is not a new reaction to an injured person for her), or her courage. He doesn't set an example for her to follow. He doesn't SHOW her the way. He awakens her curiosity. He is what she desires, whether that be sexual desire or just an unknown person symbolizing an unknown world and a greater destiny.

The most consistent and important part of Diana's origin story is THAT CHOICE. It is SELF-DETERMINATION. She could stay on Paradise Island/Themiscyra and be a great hero in the Royal Guard there, saving her sisters from the animals and monsters known to populate the island. She doesn't need to leave to help people. Don't get me wrong, being the first woman in three thousand years to leave IS a heroic feat, but it is not the sort of heroism Superman represents. Diana as a teenager was the sort of hero Superman was.

What makes Wonder Woman special, and it is VERY specific to women who are raised to be sweet princesses who stay in the tower and make a good kingdom, is that she takes the road less traveled by her culture and by women in society. She steps out into the world and plays the part of the Prince/Knight Errant. She seeks love, honor, and glory far from home, and betters the lives of everyone she meets as she does so.

Honestly, this is what was missing from the JMS-scripted issues that Phil Hester has managed to capture. JMS had her like a leaf tossed by the wind. She made one real decision, to see the Oracle. After that she was guided from point to point by other characters, She wasn't moving herself. Once Hester took over, he did flashbacks to her self-determination in her childhood and showed her trying to balance her personal concerns (that family she was caring for) with her duty as a princess and the whims of fate. Without changing the plot, he fixed the character because he brought back the most important character trait, her self-determination.

That Superman #708 was set up as a story point by JMS just proves that he doesn't get Wonder Woman. Looking to Superman for hope and help is one thing, something everyone does in the DCU at some point. Looking to Superman to show her the way, to be the person who tells her how to be a hero? That strips Diana of her most important characteristic, which is that she is solid in her self-image and chooses her own destiny based on what she feels is best for her. She MAKES her path, she doesn't follow Superman's.

And I don't think I can put into words how important making your own path is for a woman. If you don't understand, and you don't see this as integral to Wonder Woman, I don't have the communication skill to help you understand why I do and why this decision undermines her.


  1. I'm sure there's a good way to write "Wonder Woman is reinvigorated by/learns something from Superman", but that scene wasn't it. That scene is a Supergirl story, and not one I particularly liked.

    Superman has at least as much to learn from Wonder Woman as she does from him. She's always been a didactic character. Forgetting that is a big mistake, imo.

    I could not agree more about self-determination as an aspect of Wonder Woman's character and stories.

  2. The pity of this is that the rest of Superman#708 was actually pretty good. Roberson made more sense out of the reasons for Supes' walkabout and his recent out-of-character behavior, while mixing in elements of both Morrison and Elliott S! Maggin. I loved the whole "Fortress of Solidarity" concept.