Most of these writers, of course, have no trouble with characters like Lois Lane, Barbara Gordon, or Dinah Lance. Those who do, they don't have problems to the extent they have with Diana. Lois, Babs, and Dinah seem to have much more clearly defined personalities than Diana. Diana seems almost schizophrenic, as every writer explores a different aspect, every writer makes their own personal stamp on her. For Perez, she was a total innocent, a full optimist. Loebs wrote a rebellious daughter who ran off to see the world and tried to become part of it. Byrne wrote a stiff, formal princess. Waid played up the warrior side. Morrison played up the disciplined competitor. Luke's Diana seemed lost to me. Jimenez wrote a highly emotional woman. Simonson introduced a rational, thinking woman. Rucka took to the rational, thinking side, too, but he added regality and spirituality. But the other three mentioned tend to be the same. Even lackluster writers have a basic handle on those characters, but it takes a really good writer to make Diana work.
Diana's problem isn't her gender, it's that she's from an alien and ancient culture. Not simply in attitude and philosophy, but in the religion. I think that's where it breaks down.
Most of the writers and editors (though not all, I'm sure) can be presumed to be from a monotheistic religious background. Supreme Deity, pitch perfect in all ways, representing the good and only the good in the universe, that's the measure of divinity. Most of their readers are from this background too. From this background, Diana's Pantheon seems like a kindergarten class with cosmic power. Hardly respectable or acceptable in their view of divinity (even though it's supremely unfair to judge a foreign religion in terms of your own). Divinity is good, and anything that's bad is not divine, after all. And if anyone finds the behavior of the Greek Pantheon acceptable in polite society, they need serious counseling. It's bad sometimes, therefore it can't really be divine.
Here's the thing, though. To the Modern Pagan Mind (I can't speak for the Ancients), this isn't the way to view divinity. Divinity is not good or bad, Divinity is good and bad. The Gods Just Are. Their behavior can be truly awful and truly wonderful. Their nature encompasses the extreme best and extreme worst of their spheres of influence. They aren't "people," they are "ideas." Aphrodite isn't a woman, she's the Love/Lust -- The Need to Continue/Protect the Species. Her arena includes lofty, self-sacrificial love and wild, self-(and other-) destructive lust. Ares' realm is protection and defense in addition to excessive force and violence. Athena's gentle compassionate wisdom exists alongside coldblooded scheming.
Some people who've read the Greek stories ask "How could they worship this?" (which is fascinating because I have a pagan friend who's read the Old Testament and constantly asks that about the Judeo-Christian religions). They have trouble reading in the abstract, I guess. They don't realize Athena and Aphrodite aren't women, they're concepts. Where it says "Athena does this" you should read "Wisdom does this," or "Knowledge does this." Apollo would be Reason or Light. Aphrodite is Love and Lust. Ares is War...etc..
Zeus alternately behaves as a loving father and an utter dick. I've seen it analyzed that Zeus represents Men in Power Positions (Kings, CEOs.etc..), or just Power itself. Power blesses, sets rules, rewards, creates and destroys, exploits, brutalizes, tyrannizes also. Worship of Zeus isn't necessarily embracing the worst indulgence of power, but it's representing Power as it is and accepting that it can harm and help. Aphrodite is the full scale of love and lust -- from the lowest urge to the highest regard. Her worship is respecting and accepting the nature of relationships/bonds between people, at the best and worst of it.
But people don't think this way. So, in order to write a character who worships these gods, and still use them, the writers need to find a way to make it acceptable to the majority.
They usually use one of three approaches: 1) Suck all of the life and personality out of these vibrant, energetic deities, 2) Write down the gods, making them subordinate/lesser than the supreme deity, or 3) both of the above.
Then Greek Gods are just background characters, and supporting cast in Wonder Woman. This would be fine, if they were used to support the story and move along the plot without being without being degraded in the above ways. Since the Post-Crisis Reboot, Diana's gods have been arbitrarily put in danger (Hermes, the entire Pantheon a few times), depowered (Hermes), made evil (Hecate), made ineffective (Persephone), rescued by her (Poor Hermes!) and even killed off (Hermes, Hades) in order to make Diana look stronger, and to make their existence more palatable to the majority of readers.
The trendsetter here was Perez. Sure, he told a fine story about a god being made flesh and suffering humiliation and depowerment as a human when he used Hermes. But in doing so, he drained Hermes of all of the personality that made Hermes so likeable. It could have been an acceptable result of this ordeal, but he did the same to the rest of the Pantheon. He turned Olympus into a funeral home. Even when Zeus acted like Zeus, he was so stiff and formal that it was unbelievable. Every god was the walking dead. A cipher. This is what he expected to represent the most vital pieces of life? Even Hades, the god of the dead represents a primal, energetic force in the universe that every human being knows in the deepest part of their soul. Perez's Olympus just didn't convey that. He couldn't even get their appearances right! (Artemis is Not A Blonde!) I groaned every time I saw the gods (with the exception of Hermes, whom I was excusing for his being weakened) when I read Wonder Woman for a long long time. And the death of Hermes was a continual sore spot which was only healed recently.
As I see it, Rucka seemed to have the best approach. The stories were heavy and plodding, like a Greek Tragedy, because he was playing up the cultural aspect. Ultimately, though, he has had my favorite Wonder Woman run to date. He'll always have a special place in my heart for returning Hermes to the living (conversely, he'll always be a sore spot for killing Hades). He wrote the gods as their personalities, introduced a mildly metaphysical (Cotton Candy Symbolism) explanation for their fluctuating power levels called "Indirect Worship" which reinforced the idea of the gods as Concepts with Consciousness as opposed to Normal Characters.
If you follow the maneuvers of Athena throughout Rucka's run, actually, you'll notice a parallel with what's going on inside Diana's head, which is truly an effective way to use the gods (if he did it on purpose -- and I have trouble believing the Hermes part at least wasn't on purpose). During his run I noticed:
-- Artemis -- the joy of the hunt, isolationist feminism (Themiscyra itself, which Athena and Hermes encouraged Diana to leave), seems to have been cut out of the picture (I know it was a name thing, but it still makes a great subconscious pattern especially considering that during Perez's run she was the one equated with Diana's personality the most) as Diana finally takes serious steps to spread her message to the world at large and tries to get away from chasing supervillains in favor of her professional life. Sure, it doesn't work, but notice the heavy themes of the run -- Supervillains scheme in the background while Diana focuses on the embassy, then they seek her out at work -- unlike the other runs, where the scheming took place during a lot of onscreen fighting and maybe a little side lecturing that is referred to but not shown.
-- Athena moves to take the throne as Wisdom, Strategy, and furthering her Ideological Goals moves to the forefront of Diana's thinking.
-- Diana is practically a cipher, seen through other's eyes for much of the run. She's not communicating herself to the reader, her supporting cast is. First person narrative, which is the standard of modern superhero comics, allows us a glimpse into her thoughts only once before Hermes, the God of Communication, Thought, and Learning is returned from the Dead. (Interesting how the single time we saw this method of narration is the crossover with the Flash -- a representative of Hermes if there is one in the DCU)
Rucka disappointed me, though, in Wonder Woman #225. Athena's narration is reverent of Diana, and hints at self-hatred. As though even the gods themselves cannot accept themselves as they are.
Diana's religion, once again, is undermined by the writer, even as he tries to build the character up. In a way, this cancels itself out. Diana is such a spiritual character, brought to life and empowered by the gods, given a mission by the gods, that anytime you undermine her religion you undermine the basis for her personality, and you start to lose what little ground you had.
I'm still really impressed, mind you (Despite my massive annoyance at Hades' treatment, and my irritation with Athena's attitude last issue) with Rucka's handling of the gods. I love using the events on Olympus as an allegory and a catalyst for the Earthly plot. I even more like the gods with their Homerian personalities, the sometimes benevolent, sometimes malevolent, always interesting Greek Gods that I've read about since Elementary school.
The clerk at my LCS knows this, and so he asked if I was angry by the implication in Infinite Crisis #4 and Wonder Woman #225 that they won't be an active part of Diana's life again. I don't think that's true, but on reflection, I don't think I'd mind if they are shuffled to the origin story and never used aside from retelling that. Too few writers can handle them correctly, and it gets downright insulting after a while.
(And yes, that was another Image stolen off of Poison Ivy)