Saturday, March 26, 2011

On Diana Prince

I complain a lot about Perez not so much pruning as taking a chainsaw to major branches on the Wonder Woman franchise tree, but there are some things I have to give him credit for, even some removals.

Well, one removal. The Secret Identity.

I know there's a school of thought that blames ditching the secret identity for losing Wonder Woman's relatability and that they need this so she can connect to ordinary humans in her supporting cast but I don't buy into it. Rucka, Messner-Loebs, and Perez all managed to have her connect with normal people as herself just fine without the secret identity. Simone was right not to bother with it much.

I say this as someone who did enjoy Heinberg's run when I read through it, I don't see why the hell he brought it back. Especially as a spy. Okay, I can see it being nostalgia for the show and the twirl (I bet he wanted real Steve too) and all but really... it's unnecessary. She has no personal ties that she needs to protect by hiding her identity, all of her friends and family are publicly connected as Wonder Woman already. The only justification I've heard is that it makes her easier to connect to for readers, but I don't think it does. We don't need glasses and a complex web of lies, we need first-person narration from her point of view and a steady supporting cast.

See, it just doesn't suit her character post-Crisis. Pre-Crisis there were some points made that Amazons didn't lie (especially in the TV series) and a lot of her major villains were based entirely around deception. It was a good, sensible thing for Perez to remake her as the most honest person on the planet, and the most honest person on the planet does not hide who she is. Hell, both times I've seen her establish the identity (Wonder Woman: Spirit of Truth and the Heinberg run) it's been because Superman or Batman advised it. Because it is that out of character for her.

For Clark and Bruce, Hal, Barry, most of the rest of the JLA... a secret identity makes sense. They have backgrounds, lives, families in their off-time. They were raised in this society, and later on made the conscious decision to become a superhero, they already had stuff to protect. And it makes sense for them to court their love interests in their secret identities, because those are their real identities. Clark was Clark before Superman, Bruce was Bruce before Batman...etc...

Diana is the opposite of this, though. Her superhero identity is her real self. Her background is her superhero origin. She's a mythic hero brought to the modern era. Her family is connected to her as Wonder Woman. In the Golden Age, half of her stateside supporting cast (The Holliday girls) were connected to her as Wonder Woman. She dated Steve as Wonder Woman, even as she tried to get him into Diana Prince. Diana Prince was really just a way to have a job that could get her information on where/when she's needed most, and when Steve is in over his head.

People like to make distinctions about the differences between Batman and Superman in how they regard their secret identities, but Diana Prince was truly a front in all aspects. Fake name, fake history, fake glasses, fake personality. Wonder Woman was the real person.

Originally, Diana Prince was just another woman she bought the identity off of so she could keep an eye on Steve. In the Silver Age it was blatantly created so that she could screw with Steve's head. (Seriously, Wonder Woman #99 backup story. Makes a bet with Steve that if he can find her 3 times in 3 days she'll agree to marry him. He tricks her by marking her with some radioactive dye, so on the third day she gets her revenge by taking a job as his secretary so she'll be right under his nose without him knowing.) Even Pre-Crisis, though, it was so ridiculous it had to be Aphrodite's decree that she not reveal her identity to anyone and that she not settled down and marry until she had completed her mission.

Honestly, we are better off without it now.

However... There is one aspect of the Secret Identity that is absolutely delicious pre-Crisis, and I'm not sure any writer other than Marston consciously realized it.

Everyone knows the Superman symbolism, how he's the ignored geek who is secretly hiding that he's the godlike hero the female lead truly wants. That's the pattern Diana Prince is set after, she's the meek mild doormat who is secretly the powerful and alluring woman he loves. Except... as Diana is a woman, there's a twist.

Growing up girls got (and probably still get in a lot of places) told that they had to carefully protect a guy's ego if they wanted to be attractive. That meant not outshining him in any way. According to conventional wisdom you had to downplay your intelligence, because guys didn't like smart girls. You couldn't be better than him at sports or games, even if you were. Because according to conventional wisdom, guys liked meek doormats and are turned off by successful women. (This is reinforced every time you see the trope where a guy's masculinity is threatened by the successful woman he's romantically involved with, by the way.)

Steve Trevor does not simply defy this conventional wisdom. He shoots it in the face and kicks it into the gutter before lighting it on fire.

Steve's original concept is war hero. (He's already got enough fame for his presumed death and later his recovery to be covered in the newspaper back in the Golden Age.) That's his job, to uncover espionage and save people's lives. It's instinctive for him to protect others. Most of the trouble he gets into is because he's trying to save someone who's in danger, or stop spies.

Wonder Woman protects him. And she not only protects him once or twice, she saves his butt nearly every time they meet. She defeats the bad guy he was after nearly every time. She even flies a cooler plane than he ever did. The second she arrives on the scene, he knows he's in a supporting role. She is responsible for saving the day and he is the first person to declare this when the dust settles. He is the first person to embrace it and set himself up as Iolus to her Hercules. And rather than find this unattractive or threatening, he finds it turns him on.

Steve Trevor's girlfriend is not only better than him at one thing like tennis or video games. She is better at his job in every conceivable way, and that is the hottest thing he can imagine.

And when the dust settles and Wonder Woman's disappeared, there's another girl around. A girl who is attracted to him, who constantly asks him out. A girl of normal strength and speed. A girl he never sees perform heroic feats. A girl who works for him and is pretty much a doormat for him. A girl who keeps her body covered and doesn't speak up much. A girl who pretty much fits the conventional wisdom of what men prefer in female behavior.

Even though this girl is absolutely identical to his girlfriend except for glasses and wearing more clothing (and even though General Darnell and other supporting cast members can tell she's nerd-hot), she is the least attractive woman imaginable to him. Really, she may as well be his little sister. He's nice enough to her at times, treats her like a work buddy, but when she comes on to him he makes it harshly clear he isn't interested and talks about his girlfriend.

Diana herself thought it meant that Steve was superficial, and only looking at appearances or only attracted to fame. That's why she got angry in the Kanigher run and played secret identity games. That, of course, ignores the fact that she is still freaking hot as Diana Prince. She even has the same hairstyle while Andru's drawing. She doesn't change appearance beyond putting on a pair of stylish frames and a flatteringly cut uniform. Steve is not attracted to hair and face so much as bending steel girders and saving his life. One of the few good moments O'Neil had was when she--as Diana Prince--saved him from being framed for murder. Steve thinks on this, and says to Wonder Woman that he may have been underestimating Diana and that maybe he should get to know her better. He's turned on by heroism, and prior to this Diana had always avoided that in her secret identity.

Wonder Woman's pre-Crisis secret identity served one purpose. It enforced the moral that if women hide their strengths and talents they are actually less attractive to men. That if you allow a man to treat you as a doormat, he will. But if you show yourself being excellent, and let yourself shine, he'll be the one pushing for a commitment.

It's a good moral for pre-Crisis Wonder Woman. And really, I wouldn't mind if when they get her steady love interest back they dust off the secret identity for one story, just to demonstrate that she has no chance in hell of attracting his attention if she hides her best qualities. But I don't think it's a necessary aspect to the character. She seems rootless because the writers keep dumping the supporting cast, not because she's not lying to them enough.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Steve Trevor WILL be on TV again.

Okay, so they have finally cast Steve Trevor and IMDB was wrong. It's actually this guy:

Justin Bruening

A simple image search reveals no nude cowboy photo shoot, so I am rather disappointed.

Still, he's pretty cute at least. I haven't seen him on All My Children or Knight Rider, but I'm getting used to his appearance. He's a bit bulkier than I'd expected. I do have some worries, though.

One is that the first picture I saw of him, on DCWKA, was this:

My second reaction was that he resembles David Boreanez. As we all know, Boreanez voiced Hal Jordan in New Frontier and I have this horrible nightmare that the 21st Century Steve Trevor concept is "Wonder Woman dates a blonde Hal Jordan."

I know it seems irrational, but... the animated movie guy was basically Hal Jordan, and it's not unheard of for writers to consider careers part of the characterization. Steve's a pilot to get him onto the island, so it's not a stretch for them to just characterize him as a pilot and use Top Gun as their reference again.

Never mind that his character concept is actually "soldier", and he's an intel officer who only ever uses his piloting skills for the purposes of the plot. (It wouldn't be farfetched if he was grounded because of his injuries when he crashed on the island, and--unlike Hal--wasn't bothered by not getitng to fly again because being in love is a hundred times greater thrill for him than flying a jet--but that's just a dream characterization.) Never mind that he'd work much better as the Anti-Hal, because there's no way in the deeper coldest chasm of Tartarus that Wonder Woman would date someone like Hal Jordan. Never mind that, personality-wise, he should be someone that it makes sense she like.

But I digress, that's just me panicking. On the bright side, many of the commenters on DCWKA have stated that he can't act so it's possible he won't be able to get "asshole" across, or they're just going for the easy combo of big, sweet and dumb from the Golden Age.

And anyway in the TV show his job isn't military pilot. It's... civilian lawyer, which brings me to my second problem and my first thought which was "He's a baby!"

Now, the rumor is that Steve in this is an Army vet who crashed on the island, had an affair with Diana, and later became a lawyer working for the Department of Justice. The assumption is that he's basically the same as we've seen, just after he got out he becomes a lawyer.

This means that he had to go through pilot's training and college in order to be an officer. THEN he had to serve out his commitment to the military. THEN he had to do law school and become a lawyer.

That's... That's a lot of years between High School and the present there. A lot more than this Justin Breuning guy looks like he has.

I can see them pulling it... maybe... if they decide he was JAG (more on why a JAG officer might actually be a suitable love interest for post-Crisis Diana later) and make up some contrived reason he was on a plane going over Themiscyra and was the only one to wash up. That gives us just law school and a service commitment that might've gotten cut short for injuries he got in combat, in the crash, or in the dangerous occupation of "Love Interest."

But... I know how old military officers tend to be, and he's pretty boyish looking for someone in the Major rank range. That's a Lt. face if I ever saw one.

This age thing might be a bit much for my suspension of disbelief.