Sunday, April 03, 2011

Diana's anxieties and Steve's social shortcomings.

Wonder Woman #300 by Roy and Dann Thomas might be one of my favorite single-issue comics. It's fairly self-contained, and gives us 7 stories in one issue that all tie into the same plot. The framing story is pretty complex. Basically, she decides to marry Steve and kill off her secret identity. She's fighting a shadowmonster throughout the whole thing, and the Sandman is annoying her to dump Steve and run off to dreamland. She has four dream sequences (in addition to an Earth-2 diversion and the Sandman's origin story) that lay bare her anxieties. Dorian took five posts to recap it humorously, but I wanna look into it a bit more seriously because the Thomases address a lot about pre-Crisis Wonder Woman and her love interest in this. Still, go ahead and laugh at it and get the plot. I'll wait.

One of my favorite aspects of this is that the entire story is through Diana's eyes. This is not only refreshing as the Perez reboot set the trend of we see Diana's life through everyone else's eyes, but it's a plot point that Steve gets maybe one or two balloons in the whole special.

Early on, the argument the two have over lunch is entirely from her point of view. There's any number of reasons he might be cranky at the time but she suspects his ego is threatened. He might not have sleep the other night himself, he might be stressed over the arms conference, he might be lonely because Wonder Woman hasn't called, General Darnell might have been needling him over something before Diana and Etta got to the office, he might even be thinking about the General's constant sexual harassment and have the same doubts Diana herself has about his motives for pushing an extremely unorthodox double-promotion (The Thomases have never heard of Time-in-Grade requirements). Or she might be right, he's just weirded out by having a subordinate suddenly become an equal and it may or may not have something to do with sexism. Either way, we just know he's irritated with the General, concerned about the unorthodox double-promotion, has some general malaise about military life, and still has his absent-minded propensity for putting his foot in his mouth around Diana Prince. We never really find out what causes this, only that he's sorry about it later on.

We do, however, get some confirmation of one of my theories:

This is just slightly more tactful than "Wait, you're a woman?" and part of that tradition of odd behavior from Steve that Diana always finds insulting and a lot of fans take as just being mean to her. Personally, having worked with military men and seen how they speak to each other and women who are part of the office, I've always thought he just considered her his work-buddy and didn't realize she took any of this stuff seriously. In the Golden Age, he teases her at times but he's genuinely protective of her (he decks a guy who harasses her at lunch) and pretty friendly towards her. In the Silver Age he turns down her requests for a date as bluntly as possible (and by constantly pointing out that he is already dating someone he finds incredible), teases her about her appearance (and Diana rarely gives him an indication she's insulted by this, but instead rants at her mirror later on), but is still really protective of her and friendly enough to try and drag her to see Wonder Woman whenever she appears, and invite her out when he can't find his girlfriend. Bronze Age Steve is much better behaved than both of them, generally quieter and more thoughtful, but he still blurts out stupid things and gets surprised when she's mad at him. From what I can gather over sampling this 40 year period, he's basically coded her as a man for most social interactions. This is so ingrained in his behavior towards her that I imagine even telling her to seek safety during dangerous situations isn't a sign of chivalry, and he'd be like that with any lower ranking person that accompanies him.

That said, it's remarkably tactless, even for Steve Trevor. Poor Steve tries to be courteous but just gets his foot in that mouth without thinking. At least, that's what I gather from his surprise at her leaving and how readily he took the blame later on for his stupid big mouth. Somehow this guy always knows the right thing to say to Wonder Woman, and the wrong thing to say to Diana Prince.

Diana, for her part, has gotten better. She's less upset that he's not attracted to Diana Prince and more upset that after two years of dating Steve still doesn't suspect that these two women might be the same person. Oh yeah, this Steve is one of three Bronze Age incarnations. You have the Earth-2 version (seen in the trip to Earth-2 in this issue), the original Earth-1 version (so nice the writers killed him twice!), and this version from an unknown Earth who crashlanded on Paradise Island after she was an established superhero who was made to forget the original Earth-1 version. So she's only been dating him two years and thinks she's only known him for two years, but it feels like he's been oblivious for 39 years.

Still, she has an overall good image of the man as evidenced by the dream sequences. Each sequence presents a scenario where something different happened in her origin and her life sucked as a result. In each scenario, Steve is not the problem.

In the first story, her mother and her duty keeps them apart. Hippolyta kills herself to force Diana to take the throne. (The really horrible thing? When Diana tells her this dream Hippolyta confesses she'd thought about it.) He goes home with Mala, her runner up. We learn here that Diana will choose her people over her boyfriend, something we've seen a couple times in Silver Age stories.

In the second, the first man to find the island is evil. He's a sleazy conniving thief, but Diana's young and doesn't see this right away. Hippolyta does. Diana runs away with him to Miami and is horrified when he kills the cops who come to bring him in, so she captures him for them and forces him to confess he committed the crimes. He also gleefully tells her he never loved her. Instead of being a nightmare about Steve being bad, though, this is about a different man. His method of romance, his hair color, his eye color, that he has facial hair, he's the exact opposite of Steve down to being named Trevor Stevens. We learn that Diana's worried she'd have just run off with the first dude she ever saw, but once again Steve is not the problem.

In the third, Superman lands on the island. She marries him right away, becoming more Wonder Wife than Wonder Woman. They're too alike, and spend their days apart on the superhero job and the rest of the time arguing. They get divorced and, unlike the times she broke up with Steve or he died, she gives up on Man's World and returns home. We learn A LOT here. She sees Superman as basically a male version of herself and doesn't think they'd mesh because she needs a complementary personality. She thinks she'd have abandoned her mission if she got married too early, and that if she married Superman she'd be defined as his wife rather than as her own person. We also learn that she thinks Lois would be more pissed off than heartbroken, and I think she's right there. Still, Steve is not the problem.

The fourth and final dream is intense and horrible. She dreams herself as "a super-villainess, a murderess, so incapable of love and compassion that the world would despise me." She reject Steve's love along with any thought that men might be complex or sympathetic human beings. She comes to man's world intending to conquer people she considers sub-human, and her lack of caution and empathy cause Steve's death. This one amazes me, because along with the second story it (and her dialogue about how easy it would be for her to have been that woman) establishes that she could see herself going evil more easily than Steve ever would.

In-between she blames the Sandman for these, but I'm not sure I understand that. It is incredibly clear in each one that there's nothing wrong with Steve in her eyes. Each and every dream reinforces that Steve Trevor is her ideal mate, and that she would be miserable without him. As the Sandman's stated goal is that she dump Steve for him, this would be a really shitty tactic in addition to being incredibly creepy.

Really, it's just her increasing guilt over having lied to him so early on because even pre-Crisis, Diana is not cut out for a secret identity. And her biggest nightmare is before the big reveal of how badly she screwed with Steve.

Once again, one of my favorite things about this issue is that Diana's head is an open book while we don't really know what's going on inside Steve's head. It's an easy joke that we rarely see Steve's thought balloons, but there's a reason for that. In this romance, the man is the inscrutable, illogical, mysterious party. The woman is the one who acts for easy to understand reasons and has an obvious and serious train of thought. Even when writers like Kanigher and O'Neil make her hyper-emotional and even her creator Marston attributes stereotyped female behavior to her, we still know how her head works and the item she's concerned about is always the most important thing in the story.

(Honestly, I'm a bit relieved that Steve Trevor hasn't been the love interest for the Perez and Byrne runs, because those writers told everything through supporting cast members and it would have been too damned easy to make him the viewpoint character for them. Rucka seems to have permanently turned that around, though. All of Vol 3 is back to Diana's POV.)

In the run-up to the wedding Diana's overtired and has a lot going on between arranging a rushed but still lavish ceremony and faking her secret identity's death.

Even so, I'd say she have should given thought to just how horrible getting rid of her secret identity via tragic death could be. She's actually surprised by how upset people are at the funeral. Not only that, she completely misses when Steve hints that he's so freaked out he wants to postpone the wedding, and assumes the offer is for her feelings. Perfectly understandable, it's not like she makes a habit of completely misreading him after all. Steve, normally pretty inscrutable to Diana, is extra inscrutable because she's too preoccupied to pay attention to his behavior.

Still, there is one last point where we all should have known he was in trouble, but Diana was again too plagued by her dreams to notice. Take a look at the wedding party.

Did you catch it?

Except for Hippolyta, Etta (dressed as the Maid of Honor), and General Darnell, every guest is a superhero. These are all Diana's friends. Steve's best man is his jackass boss.

Not only that, when he does blurt out his infamous "No" (after trying to get a chance to warn the bride he's having problems), everyone looks surprised and angry. Not a sympathetic face on that dais. He not only doesn't have any friends closer than his boss, he's not close enough to his boss to tell him he's not sure he can go through with the wedding so soon after Diana Prince died.

His only friend on the platform is the bride he just turned down.

And when you think about it, that's in continuity. We rarely see a story where an old friend of Steve's shows up. He has lunch with Diana Prince usually. When his girlfriend is not around, he chooses to socialize with Diana Prince. Of course, this particular Steve is from another universe and doesn't remember any of his old friends, but he's had two years to make new ones. He mainly hangs out with Diana and Etta. Silver Age Steve hung out with Diana in either of her identities. Whenever he had tickets to something and couldn't find his girlfriend, he asked Diana Prince to go with him and specifically stated it was because he couldn't get hold of his girlfriend. Golden Age Steve had lunch with Diana Prince and socialized with her, his boss or the Holliday Girls, who were Wonder Woman's friends.

Aside from Diana and Etta (he just doesn't seem very friendly with the General to me), this man has no friends. I don't think it's so much a social fault of his, although maybe it is alienating among men to suggest that women are people not to mention being from another universe and dividing his time between work, dating and being kidnapped. Bronze Age Steve is pretty introverted and the sort of person who cultivates a few close friendships. He's not sitting at home obsessing over his girlfriend, he's just a man of few friends. Unfortunately, one of those precious few friends happens to be his girlfriend in disguise.

A lot of people seem to read his confession as a evidence that he's also in love with her secret identity but over the next 29 issues he never displays any real romantic feeling for Diana Prince. He's just happy she's not dead. They once hold hands when she's at his bedside and he tells her he's glad for her company, but he never explores any potential romance with her. Hell, over 39 years of comics he only briefly considers dating Diana Prince after she's saved him from prison in the O'Neil run. Every other time he goes out with her it's like he's going out with a poker buddy, and he wants to talk girls (well, one girl) with her. He's completely telling the truth here when he says the woman he loves is Wonder Woman. But Diana Prince is his closest platonic friend, and he does care deeply for her and he can't go through with his wedding so soon after her death.

It turns out that Diana made herself into his best friend. Now she feels like crap because she didn't realize it.

Diana's solution, of course, is to tell him she's not angry, resurrect Diana Prince and set herself to coming clean as soon as humanly possible. This being comics she takes 12 issues to work up her nerve, then he tells her he doesn't want to know.

I'd call him a jerk for that and Diana stupid for not telling him off, but I'm too amused that he worries she might be the janitor where he works.


  1. I loved this issue. Loved loved loved it. Of course, this came out when I was doing the bulk of my WW reading, but this was a rare anniversary issue that really seemed to lived up to all the buildup.

  2. No mention of the awesome Gene Colan art? Tsk, tsk.