A Song of Fire and Ice/Game of Thrones Edition
First, apologies for missing Wednesday. My computer has been having difficulties related to old age and outdated hardware/software. I couldn’t even get internet connection even though my router was fine. The long and short of this is that it’s going to get a brain transplant and I’ll have to make due with borrowed back-ups. I don’t intend to miss a midweek posting again (and now I’ve jinxed myself).
I’ve actually written a few entries on this before, but never with such a direct title. I have said before I love to share my love of certain media with other people, and I am sad when I am rebuffed because I want people to enjoy things I enjoy. But I try to respect their views and I realize that not every bit of media out there is going to be enjoyable to everyone. So this is about a bit of pop culture that on the surface of it I should like, and yet I do not. I’m glad my friends think of me and want to share their joy with me, but just as not everyone will love superhero movies (even though I do), I will not love what everyone wants to share with me.
So, the pop culture mega hit that is ASOFAI/Game of Thrones. I like the fantasy genre and the high stakes drama to save the world (this is also why I like comic books). I enjoyed the heck out of the “Lord of the Rings” movies (the “Hobbit” movies, well, much less so). I’ve written an epic fantasy novel. I also enjoy what I consider “quiet drama,” which to me is the type of drama generated from interpersonal relationships (this is probably due to my early exposure to the classic works of British literature). So, in theory, this vast story of political intrigue and interpersonal relationships set against the backdrop of a battle to save the world from the threat of ice zombies seems like this should be something I would totally be into. I even get a choice of the lengthy book series or the briefer HBO series.
I’m subject to peer pressure. I want to like this big pop culture hit. I really do understand those people who see all the superhero media out there and feel like they’re being left out because they simply don’t like the media. So I’ve tried the books, a bit, and the show, a bit, and this is just not for me. So to my well-meaning friends, sorry.
Now, there are a lot of details of narrative choices that are not personally to my taste. But I’m not going to get into that because my well-meaning friends are eager to explain to me if I just keep trying the books/show, I’d have the context necessary to appreciate those narrative choices. That may be. But I have an issue with the overall narrative that is a deal-breaker. This is, of course, just me, and I don’t expect (and have much evidence to the contrary) that anyone may agree with me.
This is my own terminology. As I’ve mentioned before, one of my parents was a professor of English literature, which included American and British literature. So as a child I did read some traditional children’s literature (like Roahl Dahl) but also read works like Jane Eyre when I was ten. Much of the drama in classic literature is what I call “quiet drama” because all the drama is derived from interpersonal relationships. There’s no big action sequences, and some stories actually ignore the volatile politics of the day to focus on the characters (this is a criticism of Jane Austen). The drama and the characters can certainly be intense (this is why Wuthering Heights and yes, Romeo and Juliet, are still fairly popular) but usually the main conflict is as simple as will they/won’t they (like Pride and Prejudice). In a nutshell, quiet drama focuses on character over plot.
This is again my own terminology. To me, “high drama” is derived from a conflict with world/universe shaking consequences. Like I said, this is part of why I like superhero comics. I consider the “Lord of the Rings” to be high drama because the fate of the world is at stake. In a nutshell, high drama focuses on plot over character. Does this mean the characters are flat? No, but there is an understanding (at least to me) that while individual character can and should have impact, they are secondary to the plot of saving the world. So in my Tolkien example, the friendship between Sam and Frodo is incredibly important, and Frodo definitely would not have gotten to the end without Sam. But most of the action happens with Aragorn and Co., and Gondor and Rohan, and all the giant battles. But through all of that, the characters make it clear no matter what happens, what they say or do, or who lives or who dies, what matters is destroying the ring.
Mixing these two types of drama is very difficult, even for the most talented and ambitious author. The only example I can think of off-hand that managed this balancing act is the “Dune” saga. The political stakes and interpersonal relationships (quiet drama) are key to controlling the universe (high drama).
And to the Point (finally):
ASOFAI/GoT doesn’t balance these two dramatic viewpoints. The story is driven by politics and interpersonal relationships, but really who sits on the Iron Throne is, well, I don’t want to say irrelevant, because it’s not, but it seems to be a much less important matter than stopping the zombie apocalypse. So I’m attempting to read/watch, and I just can’t get it out of my head that all this quiet drama, while fascinating, is kind of filler. Alternatively, if the drama is really supposed to be who sits on the throne, when why have the tease of a zombie/dragon apocalyptic showdown that doesn’t really seem to be affecting the bulk of the characters? Granted, Martin hasn’t finished the story, but Winter is coming, and one assumes that’s going to be more than a mundane meteorological forecast.
But again, this is my perspective. To me, trying to invest in this story (either the book or TV) would be like reading/watching the story of political jockeying in Gondor while knowing Sauron is building an army next door and no one is addressing that. Sure, it might be interesting to have a detailed story of Denethor descending into madness, but the Dark Lord is rising! To me, there are more important elements of that kind of high drama story to focus on than Denethor’s constant neglect of Faramir. Is that important? Yes. But is it necessary to describe in detail? I’d say no.
To my well-meaning friends, this is why I’m not going to invest more time and energy to enjoy this bit of pop-culture media. It may be well written/acted, and interesting, but my dabbles in this area have only left me feeling like I’m investing emotionally in quiet drama that has little to no bearing on the high drama, or feeling like the high drama is just a distraction to the quiet drama of the character interactions. I’m not get the quiet drama I want, I’m not getting the high drama I want, and the balance between them is off. In short, this leaves me feeling cheated. If this is a good time for many, more power to them. It’s just not for me.
Learn to Share:
There has been much ado in the halls of DC editorial about making Wonder Woman appeal to the perceived target audience of young males. Obviously this distaff counterpart of Kratos does appeal to that target audience (like the positive reviewer I cited last time) and I’m sure there are people outside that target audience that enjoy the stories as well. But why does the editorial staff think Wonder Woman has to appeal to men? She created to appeal to women because men have tons and tons and tons of superheroes that were already created to appeal to them (Batman, Superman, Hawkman, four Green Lanterns, three Flashes, three Robins, Green Arrow, Arsenal, Martian Manhunter, anyone with “lad” or “boy” in the Legion of Superheroes, etc., etc.). Wonder Woman is also one of the few female superheroes who wasn’t created as a distaff counterpart of an existing superhero (Mary Marvel, Supergirl, Hawkgirl, Power Girl, Batwoman, Batgirl, She-Hulk, She-Thing, Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel, etc.). Young (white) males are not lacking for superheroes that appeal to them.
Having a character created for someone outside the perceived target demographic doesn’t take anything away from the characters created for that demographic. For example, “Batgirl of Burnside” and “Ms. Marvel” are clearly targeted at teenage girls. Despite what my fandom for “Sailor Moon” may suggest, I’m not actually a teenage girl. This doesn’t mean I can’t and don’t enjoy those stories, and this doesn’t mean that the existence of Batgirl diminishes in any way my enjoyment of Batman. If I do not enjoy “Batgirl of Burnside,” the solution isn’t to make that comic more like Batman. The solution is for me to spend my money on one of the approximately 170,000 Batman titles available and let the teenage girls buy Batgirl. For the people who like Kratos, God of War, there are three video games already made to follow his story. For the people who like seeing a female barbarian walk around with a sword and slay all those who oppose her, there’s a comic book series called “Red Sonja” starring just that type of character.
This goes double for the writers/artists. Not every writer/artist is the right choice for every comic. While a professional team should be able to adequately handle a character they didn’t ask for, it is unlikely that such writing/art will be as good as if the character was handled by a team who (to use a technical term) “got” the character. This is not a value judgment on the quality of the creative team. For example, Larry Hama wrote “G.I. Joe” for Marvel for years and is credited for making a much better comic than a toy line tie-in deserved. He hopped over to the DC side to write for Batman, which pretty much everyone would agree is the premier DC character. And it, um, didn’t work out. He just didn’t “get” Batman. Geoff Johns is regarded as a good writer but he does not “get” Wonder Woman at all. So to creative teams who handle Wonder Woman (and indeed any DC character who is not Batman these days), don’t try to make her into something she’s not.
Wonder Woman shouldn’t be Kratos; Wonder Woman shouldn’t be Red Sonja. Wonder Woman is Wonder Woman and despite being created for girls, Wonder Woman clearly appeals to plenty of boys and has for 75+ years.
Good Business Sense:
Not that I’ve seen a lot of this from WB/DC, but there is a sound business reason to return Wonder Woman to her roots. This is the iconography that most people (especially outside of comic book fandom) will recognize. Why not build on that brand recognition? Building on brand recognition should be considerably easier than trying to not only build a new brand that appeals to new audiences, but building a new brand that will win over the former audience (and obviously that hasn’t worked on me). WB/DC is running full-tilt into New Coke territory here. Wonder Woman is already an outstanding (by which I mean literally stands out) female character in their pantheon. Here WB/DC has a huge advantage over Marvel. Marvel doesn’t have an iconic female character. Marvel is certainly trying to make one with Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel, but so much of that is taken from a previously existing male character – her association with the male character, the title, the costume, the Kree DNA (broadly), and even to some degree the powers. Mar-vell was Captain Marvel first and now Marvel is trying to re-define Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel (and in a bit of meta-fiction, that’s also what her earliest comics were about). But Wonder Woman is already an icon, star-spangled bathing suit and all.
The world of comic books are cluttered with dark, brooding, male superheroes/anti-heroes. Turning Wonder Woman into a female version of the same stock and trade has destroyed a unique and uniquely progressive character. Congratulations New 52 staff/WB executives, you are less progressive than a man born in the 1800s. The world of comic books is as expansive as the human imagination. Taking away characters designed to appeal outside of the assumed target demographic doesn’t enhance the medium. Uniformity diminishes the medium. Bring back uniqueness. Bring back the compassionate warrior who prefers love to violence, peace to war, and above all seeks the truth. Bring back the unabashedly feminist icon. The world needs Wonder Woman. Don’t believe me? It’s 2015 and Black Widow has been minimized in the merchandising for The Avengers and now “Avengers 2.” One-fifth of the team of the “Guardians of the Galaxy” had nearly zero merchandising, and you can bet that wasn’t the talking raccoon.
Wonder Woman is not out-dated. We still need her. Whether you are a male or female, the need for equality between the sexes still exists. We need Wonder Woman back.
Ice Harvesters (singing) – Ice is great, also this song is completely foreshadowing the problems that are going to arise later in the movie with the two princesses.
L’il Kristoff – I’m going to be the best ice harvester ever!
Ice Harvester – Hey, um, does that kid and his baby reindeer belong to anyone? No, well, okey-dokey, let’s get moving. I’m sure he’ll be fine.
The Palace of Arendelle, the Princesses’ Room:
L’il Anna – Elsa, I can’t sleep. Let’s go play!
L’il Elsa – You aren’t going to leave me alone, are you?
L’il Anna – Nope.
L’il Elsa – Fine, fine, I’ll do the magic.
[[The little girls sneak down into the ballroom and L’il Elsa creates a winter wonderland which goes great until L’il Anna gets over-excited and L’il Elsa accidentally hits her with her ice magic]]
L’il Elsa – Mom, Dad, help!
King – Oh, no, you were doing magic again, and now you’ve hurt your little sister. But I know where to go for help.
[[L’il Kristoff happens to see them race away and follows them]]
Gray Smurfville, I mean, Trollville:
Papa Troll – I can fix her head and I’ll take the memories of Elsa’s magic away until Elsa can get control. Good thing Elsa didn’t hit her heart or she’d be a goner.
Queen – So Anna will be okay?
Papa Troll – Yes. She’ll just have this streak of whitish hair. Now, Elsa, you have a beautiful but dangerous power. Fear is your enemy. Your Majesties, the solution to help Elsa control her powers is so ridiculously obvious I don’t think I even have to spell it out unless the you are the worst parents ever.
Mama Troll – Look, I found an adorable human orphan and his adorable baby reindeer. I’m going to keep them!
King – So in order to make fear not Elsa’s enemy, clearly we must make fear her constant companion. We’ll show her that she’s not an unstable, dangerous freak who can hurt people by locking her in a room in the castle, minimizing the staff, not opening the gates, and isolating her from everyone she knows and loves including her sister and best friend. She’ll bottle up all her feelings and never show any emotion ever and then she’ll have control! It’s so obvious!
Queen – And obviously if Elsa can’t have any kind of normal life, we must make sure Anna doesn’t either, for reasons.
[[Ten years pass and Elsa never leaves her room and Anna never leaves the castle; it’s pretty clear in the exposition song Anna’s getting a bit cracked in her isolation]]
Anna – This sucks.
[[The King and Queen die in a raging storm]]
Anna – This really sucks. Elsa, can you please come out now? You’re all I have left.
Elsa – Conceal, don’t feel. Conceal, don’t feel. Yes, that’s really what my parents taught me.
The Palace (three years later):
Citizen 1 – Wow, the gates haven’t been opened in over ten years. We haven’t even seen the princesses since they were small children.
Citizen 2 – And none of us think that was remotely odd in any way!
Duke of Weaseltown – I’m a villain!
Anna – This is going to be the best day ever! I’m so happy to see my sister! It’s all I ever wanted. And to meet a cute guy. That would be great too! Time for another exposition song! [[runs outside the palace with no kind of protection and gets all the way to the docks before a horse runs into her]] Oh, right, I need to watch out for people and things! I forgot!
Cute Guy – Here, let me help you. I’m Prince Hans.
Anna – Whoa. You’re the cutest guy I’ve ever seen! Of course, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a guy my age before today, but that’s beside the point.
Hans – You’re adorkable. Hey, shouldn’t you be at the coronation or something?
Anna – Right! Yes, I’ll see you later!
[[The coronation goes off with only the slightest of hitches and Anna and Elsa reconnect for a bit until Anna is swept off her feet by Hans for a musical number]]
Hans – I know we just met, but will you marry me?
Anna – Yes! Because princesses falling in love with a guy they just met happens in Disney movies all the time, so this is a totally reasonable course of action. Let’s tell my sister!
Elsa – No, you can’t marry a guy you just met this morning! That’s totally unreasonable!
Anna – Why are you so mean? Why are you so emotionally distant? What’s wrong with you?
Elsa – I must keep control. Party’s over. Everyone get out!
Anna – Why are you doing this? It’s like you never learned to deal with your emotions in a healthy way as a result of being locked in your room for over a decade!
[[Elsa freaks out and ices down the castle]]
Anna – Oh, and you also have dangerous magic powers you’ve been concealing for years.
Duke – She’s a dangerous unstable freak with powers we should fear and hate! Get her!
[[Elsa further freaks out, runs away, and accidentally freezes Arendelle]]
Elsa – Now I’m free to be myself and I don’t need anyone and I can’t hurt anyone. Yes, complete isolation is clearly the only path for control, and now it’s time to sing that song no one can get out of their head! [[And she sings while using her powers on a level not before even hinted at]]
Anna – I have to after her. Hans, you watch over the castle, even though we’re not married and you’re just a guest. But apparently we don’t have viziers or prime ministers in this kingdom to rule in case of emergencies.
[[In a series of wacky misadventures, Anna manages to not freeze to death, die of hypothermia, or get frostbite and reaches a trading post although she does lose her horse]]
Anna – I need winter gear.
Oaken – Hoo-hoo! We don’t have a lot because it’s summer.
Anna – I’ll take all you’ve got.
Kristoff – I need supplies. Whatever’s going on at the North Mountain is really messing with the weather.
Oaken – You don’t have enough money. Hoo-hoo!
Kristoff – You’re overcharging!
Oaken – Hoo-hoo, get out! [[Kristoff is unceremoniously removed from the premises]]
Anna – Here are the supplies you need. Take me to the North Mountain.
Kristoff – Okay, but this is against my better judgment. What are you going to do up there anyway?
Anna – Talk to my sister and convince her to thaw everything.
Kristoff – She’s the one that froze everything in the first place!
Anna – I know, but she was just scared. I can fix this. And then I can get married to Hans. I met him this morning; it’s true love.
Kristoff – You’re going to marry a guy you just met? You know that’s a disaster waiting to happen.
Anna – Did you not see the seventeen logos for Disney? I’m fine.
[[After a scary chase with some wolves that results in the destruction of Kristoff’s livelihood, they continue on foot]]
Olaf – Hi! I’m the totally marketable, kid-friendly sidekick!
Kristoff – I thought that was my reindeer, Sven.
Olaf – Can’t have too many cutesy sidekicks, right?
Anna – Okay, that’s great for merchandising, but how do you fit into the movie?
Olaf – Queen Elsa made me. I can take you to her.
Kristoff – Wait, your sister can create sentient life? I thought she just had ice powers!
Anna – Well, she’s been locked up for so long I don’t think even she knows what she can do.
[[They reach the ice palace]]
Kristoff – Wow, this place is totally kick-ice.
Anna – You stay here and I’ll go talk to her. [[enters the palace]] Elsa, please come back!
Elsa – Anna, I’m happy here all alone. You go back to Arendelle and have a life and be safe.
Anna – But I miss you! And you kind of plunged the kingdom into eternal winter.
Elsa – What!?
Anna – I’m sure you can fix it.
Elsa – No, I can’t! I don’t know how! Please go back!
Anna – No, we’re together now, so I’m going to help you!
[[Elsa freaks out again and strikes Anna in the heart; then creates a terrifying snowman to chase Anna away as the palace cracks around her; meanwhile Hans abandons Arendelle to go search for Anna with two of the Duke’s evil goons in tow]]
Kristoff – So what’s your back-up plan?
Anna – I didn’t think I’d need one, actually. And I feel terrible. [[A new streak of white appears in her hair]]
Kristoff – You need help. Come on, I know just the place.
Kristoff – This is my family.
Anna – Rocks?
Olaf – I know I’m just a naive sentient snowman, but this seems kind of crazy to me.
Mama Troll – Oooh, Kristoff brought home a girlfriend.
Anna/Kristoff – What? No!
Kristoff – I really don’t know that we have time for a song and dance number because Anna’s sick.
Mama Troll – Oh, it’s fine. “He’s a bit of a fixer-upper…!”
Baby Troll – Doesn’t that sound like the theme to “Fraggle Rock?”
Mama Troll – No, of course not. It’s not even close to the same. Shut up!
Anna – I’m confused.
Mama Troll – And you’re getting married to Kristoff!
Kristoff – What, no! She’s sick and needs help!
[[Anna swoons and her hair gets another white streak]]
Papa Troll – Oh, no, this time the ice magic got her heart. She’s slowly freezing to death from the inside. Only an act of true love has the power to thaw a frozen heart.
Kristoff – Okay, okay. Anna, I’m going to get you to Hans! You think it’s true love and maybe it is because this is a Disney movie.
Anna – I’m up for anything.
The Ice Palace:
Hans – Queen Elsa, we’re looking for Princess Anna.
[[The abominable snowman attacks, which allows the evil goons to get into the palace and try to kill Elsa; this does not work, and Hans keeps them from killing her, but she does end up passing out]]
The Palace in Arendelle, Dungeon:
Elsa – You have to let me go! I’ll hurt everyone!
Hans – Anna is missing, and you need to end the unnatural winter and bring back summer.
Elsa – Anna is missing? Oh, no, I’ve ruined everything! I don’t know how to fix this!
Hans – Well, you better think of something before those people out there start calling for your head. [[leaves]]
Elsa – [[the metal cuffs start to frost over]] Oh, no.
[[Kristoff delivers Anna to the palace and rides off, despondent; Anna is taken to a room and Hans joins her]]
Hans – What happened?
Anna – Elsa hit my heart with her ice magic and I can be healed by true love’s kiss, so that’s why I’m here with you!
Hans – Oh, well, too bad I don’t love you.
Anna – Wait, what?
Hans – Nope, it turns out I’m a bad guy. I wanted to marry your sister and take over Arendelle, after I killed her of course, but you were so desperate I decided I could marry you instead. I’ll still have to kill your sister, but I just have to let you die.
Anna – What?! This face-heel turn comes out of nowhere! Besides, if you married one of us, you’d still be king or prince consort or something.
Hans – Yeah, well, it doesn’t make sense, but you didn’t see this twist coming!
Anna – That’s what I just said!
Hans – Anyway, feel free to expire any time. [[Leaves, claims Anna married him before she died, and sentences Elsa to death]]
[[In the meantime, Elsa’s freak-out is reaching a fever pitch and resulted in frosting over much of the dungeon and calling in a giant storm]]
Sven – Grumph! <-<Stupid, go back for her!>->
Kristoff – You can’t really talk so I don’t have to pay attention to you.
Sven – Grrrrumphhhh! <-<I will haul your sorry butt down the mountain myself!>->
Kristoff – Fine, fine. Whoa, that’s a totally unnatural storm! We have to go back!
Olaf – Hey, is anyone in here? Oh, Anna, let me help you. You know Kristoff loves you, right?
Anna – No, and I really wish you’d said something before I ended up locked in here by the suddenly and inexplicably villainous Prince Hans.
Olaf – Well, let’s get you to Kristoff!
[[Elsa’s freak-out freezes most of the palace and she wanders around aimlessly trying to escape from everything and all the major players end up out on the frozen bay]]
Anna – Kristoff! Where are you?
Kristoff – Anna! Where are you?
Hans – Queen Elsa, you’ve got to stop this!
Elsa – I can’t!
Hans – Anna is dead! You killed her with your ice powers!
[[And Elsa completely breaks down but the storm goes away]]
Anna – I see Kristoff! Maybe I can reach him before I freeze to death. But wait, is that Hans? He looks like he’s about to stab my sister in the back!
Hans – Muahahahahaha!
Anna – If I go to Kristoff, I’ll live, but Elsa will die. But if I try to save Elsa, I won’t get kissed and I’ll die. Dang it! [[She runs over and puts herself in front of the killing blow; she turns completely into ice and the sword shatters on her frozen hand]]
Kristoff/Olaf/Elsa – Anna!
Elsa – What have I done? What I have I done?
[[But Anna starts to thaw as Elsa cries on her and is returned to life and her hair is perfectly red again]]
Elsa – What happened?
Kristoff – Anna’s sacrifice for you was an act of true love. True love thawed her frozen heart.
Elsa – Love! That’s it! Love was the answer all the time! All I need is love and people who love me so I won’t be afraid of being a monster!
Anna – Wow, that’s so simple, I can’t believe we missed something so obvious for years and years and years. If our parents hadn’t locked you up, we would have figured this out a lot sooner and before you nearly killed me and doomed the world to eternal winter.
Elsa – Yeah, I’m thinking our parents really messed up here. Oh, and now I know I’m loved, I have perfect control and can fix all this. [[Does so]]
Hans – Um, I’m really sorry.
Anna – No, you’re not. [[Punches him]] And you’re a nonsensical villain!
Hans – Someone had to threaten Elsa’s life so you could save her!
Anna – Yeah, but why not the Duke of Weaseltown or his minions? That would have made sense!
Hans – But then you’d have to choose between me and Kristoff, and that’s too complicated!
Anna – Why? It’d be a lesson on not agreeing to marry the first guy you meet and we could have agreed to be friends. It would have been a more mature and realistic ending than you suddenly turning into a regicidal maniac.
Hans – … Yeah, that would have been better.
Citizen 1 – Well, I guess that’s all sorted. Our queen is a scary powerful ice sorceress with perfect control and we have nothing to fear ever again.
Guard – Duke of Weaseltown, we’re never doing business with you again. Get out of our kingdom!
Prince’s escort – Well, he behaved like a jerk, but his family will sort him out.
Anna – Kristoff, I replaced your sled and you’re the Minister of Ice Delivery now!
Kristoff – That’s not a thing.
Anna – Of course it is. My sister says so, and she’s the queen.
Kristoff – Can I kiss you now?
Anna – Heck, yeah, there’s got to be a romantic kiss somewhere.
Elsa – Hey, everyone, time for ice skating! Everything is great for everyone!
Deconstruction of a Feminist Icon:
Wonder Woman was created to challenge the male-dominated world of comic books. As such, many writers, artists, editors (of both sexes) have found her a difficult character to handle appropriately. The way superheroes in general are viewed has made the idea of a compassionate warrior who doesn’t carry a weapon seem out-dated and naive. In the ’90s (of course), as I said before, an Elseworlds comic of a bad future depicted Wonder Woman as armored and with a sword. This image (as well as the attitude that superheroes must be dark and gritty) seemed to have persisted into the mainstream universe. And then Wonder Woman killed Max Lord which made her a figure of fear and death instead of love and truth.
In the New 52 pretty much everything that made Wonder Woman a unique feminist icon was removed. The Amazons were no longer an advanced, peaceful technomagical society of immortal women. They have been reduced to barbarian savages rather like Xena before she reformed who are disdainful of men and prey on them to continue their society. They killed their own brothers just for being boys and only stopped that practice when the blacksmith god offered to trade them weapons for the boys who were made slaves. Wonder Woman did not get her power from the goddess of love but from a one-night stand between the king of the gods and Hippolyta and was lied to her about her origin. She did not learn how to fight from her sisters but from the god of war. She gained the ability of flight from the messenger god. Everything that gives her power comes from men.
Hera, who is the goddess of women, was made into Wonder Woman’s vengeful enemy. In a key battle with Artemis, Wonder Woman takes off her vambraces, long since the symbol of the Amazons, to channel the full power of her father to defeat her own namesake. She slayed Ares (it was a mercy killing) and is now the goddess of war (and the actual goddess of war is nowhere to be found for most of the 36 issues and then kind of takes off on her own). She carried a sword and now her vambraces produce the sword. She’s also relegated to Superman’s girlfriend in any comics outside her own (although that’s a different rant).
The worst part is that I think some of the creative team think they’re still keeping her true to her feminist roots. She’s still really physically strong and she doesn’t take no disrespect from no man. Except that’s not what makes a character good or strong or a feminist. Threatening to do bodily and uniquely male damage to Guy Gardener doesn’t make her a feminist; it makes her a bully. Strong women do not threaten men with harm for disrespecting them, any more than strong men do.
Good Story, Bad Continuity:
A story that showcases characters in shared universes with wildly divergent takes on the mainstream representation is not automatically a bad story (see Elseworlds, or some examples of fan-fiction). The elements of a good story are the same regardless of the source material. As such, I can understand why many people seem to think the New 52 Wonder Woman comics tell good stories. There is a lot of action and politics and as one reviewer described, a Game of Thrones kind of vibe. The artwork had detractors but I liked the minimalist, straightforward style (even if I strongly, strongly disagree with many of the character designs/interpretations). Wonder Woman looked powerful but not overly sexualized. I understand there are a lot of good points about the New 52. However, this same positive reviewer described the essential problem without even a hint that he understood it was a problem – her story is like Kratos from the “God of War” games.
Her story is no longer her own.
No spoilers, promise.
1) Hawkeye tries to justify his inclusion on the team just like everyone who ever read/wrote an Avengers comic ever tried to justify his inclusion, and it works!
2) Your superweapon will always turn against you. ALWAYS.
3) A movie with heroes that care about civilian causalities and collateral damage is not naive, stupid, or outdated. Goddamn it, that’s what heroes do!
4) There should have been more time for the Avengers to exchange witty dialogue.
5) Remember that scepter Loki had in The Avengers and how no one ever explained how he did what he did with it? Let’s just say Marvel Studios is playing a long game…
6) Related to the above, Loki wasn’t paying a lot of attention to that scepter either or the events of The Avengers would have played out very differently.
7) The Avengers are very good at tag-team.
8) Where does Nick Fury get those wonderful toys? Seriously, where the hell did that stuff?
9) The Scarlet Witch’s powers are still “whatever the writers need them to be.”
10) Tony Stark just does NOT learn.
It’s overstuffed, true, and Thor’s story in particular is really truncated, and it does suffer from a bit of sequel-itis, but overall it’s a good flick, great for popcorn, and sets the stage (this time without subtlety in the teaser) for the next movies. That’s a hell of a task and the creative team did the best anyone could expect. And it will probably earn all the money. Overall, grade B.
A Bit More on Mythology:
I realize I cut my own argument short and may not have expressed myself well. I understand that the New 52 was trying to modernize the Greek pantheon and I think the creative team seriously missed that mark. Since the gods are major players in Wonder Woman’s stories, misinterpreting them further undermines Wonder Woman. So, yes, I realize Ares isn’t handsome; he’s been reimagined as a weary veteran who’s seen too much (hence the empty eyes) and done too much. However, Ares (especially with the conspicuous absence of Athena) ends up portrayed as a somewhat sympathetic character in that horror of war seems inevitable. This change results in Wonder Woman’s greatest enemy becoming her mentor.
However, I don’t dislike the reinterpretation of Ares as much as I do most of the other gods. First of all, I don’t think the portrayal of the gods as a mafia-esque family in a “Game of Thrones” like power play is very true to the source material. The Greek gods were very much about the order of the world which is why the greatest mortal sin was hubris. The Greek gods were also severe on mortals who showed disloyalty to their families. I’m not going to argue the Greek gods were “good” in any human sense, but I disagree with this reinterpretation that presents them as almost evil. Since I’m nitpicking, I’d also like to point out that while the gods were sometimes called by what they represent (i.e., “the Moon,” “the Sun,” “the Messenger,” “Hell”) this is conflating some Olympians with the Primordials. Hades is not Hell; Tartarus is Hell. Hermes is a messenger, but Iris was a messenger as well. Persephone, by the by, wasn’t some wilting flower of a goddess either. Her entire purpose is to die and be reborn and die again (the pomegranate is a symbol of marriage and life [and incidentally one of Hera’s traditional symbols]). And can someone please tell me what is up with some of the re-designs? Why is Apollo purple? Why is Poseidon a giant frog-monster? And why oh why is Hades a physically stunted man with a head like a melting candle?
Anyway, this gross misunderstanding of Greek mythology is only one of the reasons to bring back the original Wonder Woman. Here are some more.
A Discussion of Narrative Bias and Forced Diversity:
I’ve gone over this is a bit in my various “narrative choices” critiques, but I’m going to expand and focus this discussion. Psychologists have known for a long time that people are immediately attracted to that which is like themselves and that this starts at a surprisingly young age. For example, a father hacked Donkey Kong for his three year-old daughter so she could play as Pauline instead of Mario; as Mario she liked the game but as Pauline she loved the game and all because the pixels were supposed to be a girl rather than a boy. Most people default to what they already are and anything else is “other.” There’s nothing wrong with this but it does mean we need to force ourselves to be aware that our perception is not the only one. We need to force ourselves to think outside the box of our own biases.
But this isn’t easy to do and often isn’t done and this isn’t necessarily out of malice but just a lack of understanding (“I don’t understand it, so it doesn’t matter”). So many, many comic book characters are unintentionally created for straight white males because they were created by straight white males. Women and minorities are too often marginalized, but again, I believe that’s more of a lack of defaulting to what is familiar than any malice (although sometimes there is clearly malice involved). In a perfect world forced diversity wouldn’t be necessary. But this isn’t a perfect world so sometimes (often) people need to be pushed out of the default and try to be more inclusive. Sometimes this doesn’t go well, but sometimes it does. In general, I’m not a fan of gendered marketing because too often it reinforces harmful gender stereotypes. But on the other hand, sometimes having anything is better than nothing. And sometimes the people heading up the marketing actually do get right.
Enter William Moulton Marston. He was a psychologist who was in a polyamorous relationship with his wife Elizabeth, and his lover Olive. He already had ties to the growing feminist movement. As the machine of war geared up again in the ’40s, and comic books were under fire for “corrupting the children,” Marston was approached by what would be DC Comics to create more educational comics to provide positive role-models for children. He decided to create a superhero who won with the day with love rather than violence. Some accounts say Elizabeth told him to make this superhero a woman; even if that’s not true Wonder Woman is clearly modeled off Elizabeth and Olive who were pretty amazing women in their own right. Wonder Woman was meant to be the physical equal of Superman but a “good and beautiful” woman who would serve as a role-model for little girls and teach little boys that women were worthy of power and respect (and submission; although this aspect was played down after his death). In a sea of white, male superheroes created by white males and for white males, Wonder Woman was created for little (white) girls; she was a push against the default (sadly minorities would have to wait a while to get this same consideration [and in many ways are still waiting]) to diversify the comic book universe.
Construction of a Feminist Icon:
While the current husband and wife writing/drawing team of Wonder Woman shy away from calling Wonder Woman a feminist, I don’t. Wonder Woman was absolutely created to be a feminist icon. Marston himself wasn’t exactly a feminist because feminism is technically the belief that men and women deserve equal rights. Marston actually believed women were superior, but I don’t know what that word is. However, he understood that presenting Wonder Woman as an equal was going to be controversial enough. Oh, how right he was, and that was over 70 years ago.
Consider the Bechdel Test which was created to highlight how in media women are almost exclusively defined by their relationships to men (although decidedly non-feminist works can pass this test it’s depressing to realize how many don’t). Wonder Woman is uniquely defined by her relationships to women. The Amazons of Paradise Island, like the Amazons of myth, were a society exclusively of women. The patron goddesses of Paradise Island were Aphrodite, Athena, and Hera. The origin of Wonder Woman was a twist on the myth of Pygmalion and Galatea; Hippolyta wanted a daughter so badly she sculpted one out of clay and Aphrodite brought the little girl to life. She was named “Diana” after the virgin (Roman) goddess of the hunt. There is a slight divergence from mythology in that the Amazons from any source were noted warriors but the Amazons of Paradise Island were peaceful. They had been in bondage and escaped (symbolized by the vambraces) and lived in peace away from the male-dominated society that had caused them so much pain; they’d also advanced their society through a combination of technology and magic. Wonder Woman fought for the right to return Steve Trevor to Man’s World and once there she stayed to bring her message of peace and equality. She took the Lasso of Truth, which not only compels anyone tied up with it to speak the truth but breaks illusions, enchantment, and brainwashing, the Girdle of Venus, and NO weapon. This is very important; she was a trained warrior (the Amazons played “bullets and bracelets” for funsies) but she did not carry a traditional weapon. No sword, no shield, just her strength, compassion, and dedication to the truth. Her greatest enemy was Ares, whom Marston saw as the natural enemy to love (especially as Wonder Woman was created during World War II), and who was portrayed as was most common depiction in Greek mythology (a bloodthirsty brute).
Post-“Crisis on Infinite Earths” changed up this origin a wee bit and pulled her roots from World War II. She was granted powers by the various Greek gods, this time including Hermes, so her origin wasn’t quite as free from a male influence. However, pretty much everything else remained the same, and the new team introduced racial diversity to the Amazons, which was also good.
And that’s enough for now. More later!
“and the power your possess…”
I’ve tried to write this entry a few times now. The thesis I want to present has several potential angles of approach and I’ve been having trouble settling any one of them. At the risk of sounding totally incoherent, I think I’m going to present all of them (broken up into small pieces for easier digestion). I think that may help illustrate my thesis (and if not, at least there are a few hopefully entertaining rants to come out of it).
And my thesis is this – Wonder Woman needs to be returned to her feminist roots and iconography as the Spirit of Truth. A lot of people don’t seem to understand why this is important, and I’m going to attempt to illustrate why it is important.
Who is Wonder Woman?
Donna Troy (Wonder Girl, Troia, etc.) was created by accident and then subjected to a series of conflicting, confusing, and contradictory origin stories as subsequent writers tried to explain her existence within the universe. One of the storylines was titled, “Who is Donna Troy?” That was never really answered, and for a brief version, I present this link to “Comics Everybody!”
But now I think there’s a lot of confusion on who is Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. Any character that’s been around for 75+ years is going to undergo some changes, retcons, and reboots. This is the nature of comic books and certainly Wonder Woman isn’t the only character to undergo some significant and occasionally odd changes. ComicsAlliance has a pretty good synopsis of Wonder Woman stories by decade, including the ’60s arc in which she was an Emma Peel knock-off (although in and of themselves, the stories were not too bad). Wonder Woman was returned to the star-spangled Amazon after noted feminist Gloria Steinem explained why that was preferable to expy Emma Peel.
Unfortunately, more confusion as to who is Wonder Woman was introduced in the ’90s when the comics were passed through too many writers. Also in 1996 there was a seminal Elseworlds comic called “Kingdom Come,” which presented a bad future with fallen superheroes (this was new and interesting at that time instead of DC’s go-to obligatory crossover event). The fallen Wonder Woman had donned armor and carried a sword and lost much of her compassion and love. Somehow the sword and armor stayed and was carried through into terrible stories like “Amazons Attack” and this kind of culminated (to me) in Wonder Woman slaying Max Lord. That became a defining point of the character and not in a good way. Finally, Wonder Woman was completely defined in the New 52 with a new origin, new villains, new mythology, and new attitude. This has carried over into “Convergence” (i.e., “Crisis on Infinite Earths 7.0″ [or whatever]) which is symbolized by the vambraces in her new-new costume having blades.
Wonder Woman is not Xena:
I’d also like to state that when I started writing this, I assumed there were vast differences in the characters, and there are, but I realized that in too many ways, Xena was a better representation of was Wonder Woman is supposed to be than the current Wonder Woman. This really makes me sad.
But I’d better back up a bit. Xena: Warrior Princess was a spin-off of the oddly successful and quirky Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, in which incredibly buff and beautiful people beat up poorly rendered CG monsters in ancient Greece (that looks remarkably like New Zealand). I don’t begin to know how either show was conceived (although I could look it up), but both were fun (until the incredibly depressing last two seasons or so) and introduced me to the work of Sam Raimi and the incomparable Bruce Campbell. So anyway Hercules first runs into Xena who is a rampaging warlord (not actually a princess) and favored of Ares. He beats her in battle and gives her a version of the “great power, great responsibility” speech and convinces her to reform. Ares is seriously ticked off and a lot of conflict revolves around Ares trying to convert Xena back to her rampaging ways. For all the cheesiness of the series, the depictions of the Greek gods were actually pretty good. Ares was too handsome for the classic Greek depiction, but he was a bully who loved slaughter. Xena also avoided killing people as often as she could and tried her damnedest to keep her sidekick Gabrielle from ever killing someone because she didn’t want Gabrielle to lose that innocence.
The new Wonder Woman in the new “Batman grudgingly featuring Superman” movie has a costume that looks very much like Xena’s. But Wonder Woman isn’t supposed to be a rampaging warrior. She’s not even supposed to be a reformed rampaging warrior. She’s supposed to be a compassionate warrior.
It’s Not Greek to Me:
I’m not an expert on Greek mythology, but I’m not exaggerating when I said I read a translation of The Iliad at age ten. Greek mythology has always played a huge roll in the world of Wonder Woman. The New 52 seemed to want to reconnect Wonder Woman to Greek mythology but in a way that misunderstands both Wonder Woman and Greek mythology. The first thing to point out is that Greek mythology is not the creation of one single group of people. There were several Greek city-states with their own slight twists on the myth, and the stories and perception of the stories changed as society changed, so what is generally regarded as Greek mythology is actually an amalgam of several sources over a period of time. I’m presenting the most typical amalgam.
Now, I will grant that Zeus was an unapologetic womanizer and Hera was known for her jealous fits. However (and this is a really big however), Hera was also the goddess of women, marriage and childbirth. She was so upset at Zeus because he didn’t respect the institution which was her purview. Ares is the son of Zeus and Hera, and he is the god of war, but in Greek mythology Ares was generally presented as ugly (for a god), and a brute. This is because the various Greek societies in general did not see violent bloodshed as a good thing. Athena, the goddess of wisdom and warfare, was respected because she represented the tactical side of warfare. Athena was the general who would plan the attack, and Ares was the brute who would rush in for the joy of the slaughter. While the Roman god Mars is based on Ares, Mars was handsome and respected because the Romans viewed warfare as a good thing. They elevated the god of war to a good and important figure.
Also, most depictions of the Amazons and scant historical record do not indicate that they raped and killed sailors to perpetuate their society. Depending on the sources, they either kept a few men around for mating, or went to regular villages to mate and then go back home. They weren’t nice, granted, and the fate of baby boys is possibly pretty bad, but the New 52 made the Amazons far worse than the record suggests.
Overall, the New 52 (and carry-over post-Crisis-7.0 [whatever]) doesn’t represent Greek mythology very well (poor, poor Hades is always cast as a bad guy). “Hercules” and “Xena” were better representations of Greek mythology.
More thoughts later.