A Writing Entry – Narrative Choices: Paradise Island

This actually ties in a lot with previous parts of this string of random musings, so they are handily linked for you to review if you so desire.  I can wait.  But if you don’t have time, briefly – artists often think (not maliciously), “I don’t understand it, therefore it doesn’t exist and/or matter.

Utopia is most commonly expressed in the fiction I have read as a philosophical ideal.  Rarely, very rarely, have I ever seen an effort to truly depict a utopian society.  In fact, nearly all stories I can think of that featured a utopian society either ended with:

a)  that society being crushed/conquered/destroyed by a clearly non-utopian society.
b) the revelation that the utopian society wasn’t a true utopia at all but had a dark underside that allowed for the pretense of a perfect, equal society.

Once upon a time in Greek lore, the Amazons were an isolationist race of women who were such dedicated warriors that in some accounts they cut off their right breasts in order to be able to better draw back a bow.  Depending on the myth, they either visited neighboring tribes to become pregnant or kept a few slaves for procreation.  Baby boys were either sent back to their fathers, killed, or left in the wilderness.  Baby girls were raised to become the next generation of Amazons.

It is also a difficult task to for writers to create a society different from the one they grew up in, or were exposed to in the media.  I know; I struggle with this myself which may be why I don’t venture into sci-fi.  Our world, while not entirely a crapsack world, is far from a utopia.  So attempting to create such a society even in fiction requires a significant effort on the part of the writer’s imagination.  So what?  I grew up in a capitalist society, so I would have difficulty writing a functioning communist society.  But difficulty should not be a barrier to even trying to write something different even if our own limitations can lead to unfortunate implications.

Once upon a time (the 1940s), a middle-aged white male psychiatrist drew on Greek myth to create a role-model superhero for little girls.  And in this new mythology, Wonder Woman was created from clay on an island of immortal women called Amazons, who worshipped the Greek gods.  The island was called Themyscira, or Paradise Island.  It was, and was meant to be, a utopia.

Where does this leave Paradise Island?  I’ve presented the two accounts of the Amazons, one from history (although assuredly biased because all history is written by the victors), and one from the mind of Wonder Woman’s creator.  Paradise Island is the only utopia I can think of that exist(ed) in mainstream fiction.  Paradise Island was the home of Wonder Woman and shaped her morals and personality.  I have a theory that part of the difficulty some writers have with the character of Wonder Woman is in fact Paradise Island; i.e., they don’t understand a utopia, therefore it doesn’t exist/matter.  Artists, writers, everyone understands dystopia.  In fact, such a cynical and jaded society are we that we understand many different types of dystopia (post-pandemic, post-gasoline shortage, post-robot uprising, post-nuclear devastation, post-astroid impact, Detroit, etc.).  But a utopia?  That couldn’t exist.

That is NOT the point.  Pretty much no superhero in the vast stables of the Big Two (not to mention the dozens and dozens of independents) could actually exist (physics just does not work that way).

The writers don’t understand a utopia; they don’t understand how it could come about and continue to exist.  So the idea of Paradise Island, and therefore the character of Wonder Woman, is misinterpreted in generally two ways:

a) Her society is perfect so she must be disdainful and condescending of all other societies.
b) Her society is perfect and has no men so she must be disdainful of all men, as they are clearly the obstacle to achieving utopia.

The idea of a compassionate warrior just boggles the mind of some writers.  The idea that there could indeed be a society that has managed to endure for centuries in peace is almost beyond comprehension.  Granted, a true utopia doesn’t offer a lot of dramatic possibilities, but as a background of a character, it seems like a narratively manageable concept to me.  And it has been managed, with perhaps differing levels of success, for seven DECADES.

Once upon a time, (statistically probable) middle-aged, white males got together to revamp the origins of their characters.  And in the new mythology, the Amazons were an isolationist race of women warriors who kidnapped sailors to become pregnant and then killed the sailors and drowned the baby boys until Hephaestus took pity on the boys so the Amazons traded them into slavery for weapons because clearly history just wasn’t dark and edgy enough.  Wonder Woman is an illegitimate daughter of Zeus.

I.e., “I don’t understand utopia, therefore it doesn’t exist/matter.”

In a post-9/11 world, the point of disbelief for the DCnU creative team wasn’t that Batman statistically can’t have all that money and training (and also should have been put in to therapy stat), or that Superman is an alien orphan from another planet who is super-strong, super-fast, and can fly and shoot laser beams out of his eyes, that aliens created totally not-magical rings that allow the wearer to create solid green light constructs, or that a person can get doused in chemicals and run so fast they can travel through time (I mean, more so than humans ordinarily do), but that Paradise Island is really, actually, truly a utopia.

The loss of Paradise Island is clearly not due to a lack of imagination.  I posit the loss of Paradise Island is a result of an insular world-view that just doesn’t understand anything outside of itself, and based on DC’s other obviously bad decisions with the New 52, a world-view that dosen’t want to understand anything outside of itself.  I’d also like to point out this issue is not limited to Paradise Island and Wonder Woman; I understand utopia is in fact a difficult concept to grapple with.  I have some slight sympathy for writers, but then again, that’s why they are paid professionals, right?  To cope with these kinds of narratively tricky concepts.  I can imagine a better world and write a better world and I’m not a paid professional (not yet anyway).

I’m sorry Paradise Island, and by extension Wonder Woman, have been sacrificed by this destructive lack of vision and self-adsorption.


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S. J. Drew is an aspiring writer who finally entered the blogosphere to shamelessly promote that writing (as evidenced by the title of the blog). Whether or not this works remains to be seen, but S. J. hopes you are at least entertained. And if you're actually reading this, that's probably a good sign.

14 thoughts on “A Writing Entry – Narrative Choices: Paradise Island”

  1. “The idea of a compassionate warrior just boggles the mind of some writers.”

    I think it boggles the mind of most people, not just writers. Unless we’re talking about dealing with civilians or wounded enemies, war isn’t generally thought of as an activity where compassion has much of a place. Even Mark Waid admitted in his comments and liner notes on “Kingdom Come” that he had a hard time figuring out how to write Wonder Woman. And this is coming from someone who might well be the ultimate DC fanboy, so what chance do the rest of us mere (male) mortals have?

    I must admit that I’m a bit sketchy on the original Golden Age Wonder Woman’s origin or Marston’s Silver Age revision of it – though I plan to cover both in a series of articles that I’m writing – but I do vaguely remember George Perez’s post-Crisis revision, where the Amazons were conceived of as a combination of ant farm/social experiment by the Greek goddesses who created them by resurrecting the soulds of women who died at the hands of men. Initially, this attempt to create a Utopian, all-female society free of violence – a kind of counterbalance to Ares’ way of running things – seemed to go well…until Hercules used a combination of charm and trickery to brutally subjugate them. Needless to say, the Amazons rose up and kicked their asses – and, seriously, after suffering humiliation and rape, who wouldn’t? – but the Greek goddesses were pretty appalled by the raw ferociousness, savagery, and pleasure they took in getting their revenge, resulting in a splintering of the Amazons into two factions, with one half choosing to live in exile on Paradise Island and the other creating their own society hidden away from the rest of the world.

    1. I admit this isn’t my area of expertise, so I’d recommend Linkara’s “Amazons Attack” prologue for an excellent summary of the history of Wonder Woman.

      I also have some trouble sometimes with the compassionate warrior. But then I remember that these are superheroes. Frankly, it’s a lot easier to be compassionate when it’s a lot harder for the enemy to hurt you (metaphorically). I’ve always thought that’s why Wonder Woman and Superman were more compassionate even though they were so powerful. After all, what possible threat does an ordinary robber with a gun pose to them as opposed to say, Batman or Green Arrow? If I recall correctly, Pre-New 52 Flash was portrayed as fairly sympathetic to his own Rogue’s Gallery because really, what could they do to hurt him?

      I don’t know if being male makes writing Wonder Woman more difficult or not. Statistically she’s had more male writers than female ones, and those men did come up with some mighty fine stories. A few female writers have missed the mark as well. I think perhaps the difficulty is a certain level of cynicism. I think it’s hard to write any character when the background you’re handed makes you roll your eyes with disdain/contempt/disbelief.

      1. That’s an interesting perspective you have on the compassionate warrior, I must admit! I should give that more thought. 🙂

        “I think it’s hard to write any character when the background you’re handed makes you roll your eyes with disdain/contempt/disbelief.”

        My viewpoint is that that kind of mindset is due to a lack of professional pride. I’ve worked as a localization tester for video games for years, and I’ve always done my best to try and read up on the background of what I’m working on and do the best job I can to try and create something that will appeal to the fans, regardless of my personal opinion on the subject matter.

        I remember two cell phone game translations I worked on that were quoting, line by line, Agent Smith’s “humans are viruses” speech to Morpheus and Princess Leia’s first conversation with Luke Skywalker when he came to rescue her from the Death Star. Unfortunately, the English-German translators were not pop culture savvy and did line-by-line localization. I ended up doing a bit of research on my own personal time and digging up the foreign language scripts for both movies so I could make them more accurate.

        It always annoys me when people laugh at me due to my frustration at comic book writers for not doing the research. I simply don’t view writing comics any differently than writing newspaper articles or scientific papers: if you don’t know take the time to do the research so that you know what you’re talking about, you’re going to look like a damn fool. 😛

      2. I give *a lot* of thought to these things, especially since Wonder Woman went from compassionate warrior to the distaff counterpart of Kratos from the “God of War” games, and Superman is now “a less ambitious Incredible Hulk” (by which the person meant the original Hulk who hated Banner and thought he was so much better). Makes me sad 😦

        I absolutely agree with you about research. I had a conversation with a friend on the subject of writers being handed assignments they may not like for various reasons. He argued that editors shouldn’t assign writers to books they don’t want. His reason was that since comics are a creative endeavor, a writer who is unenthusiastic about the assignment would not produce good work. I countered that not everyone can write Batman, and that as professionals it is in fact their job to do their best with what they are assigned. I will grant my friend that someone (okay, everyone apparently) who really wants to write Batman probably won’t be thrilled with being assigned the Question, and some writers manage to write the character they want anyway (even when it’s not remotely appropriate), but again, they are professionals and their job is to write what they are assigned. I also countered that if a writer is handed the Question, perhaps in researching the character they may find inspiration and produce good work anyway.

        As you say, there is a lack of professional pride, and for a plethora of reasons that have managed to converge into the [expletive] we’re currently being subjected to.

    2. When the New 52 started, I was pretty horrified that it actually seemed to be doing better than it was before, but after what you said combined with that panel of Wonder Woman threatening to castrate a man who disrespected her…I’m equally horrified to discover that she’s acting a Tumblr feminist. Or one of the staff members from Jezebel. -_-;

      And hey, I’d love to write the Question. I’d need to do some research, though, since I’m not sure if we’re talking about the Vic Sage or the Renee Montoya version.

      Honestly, the only way I can think of to fix the DC Universe at this point would to bring in people who have genuine affection for the characters but no affiliation to the current Power That Be. I’d love to fire or demote everyone in charge right now and replace Geoff Johns with a creative direction team made up of Mark Waid, Peter David, Paul Dini, Bruce Timm, and Greg Weisman. (And maybe Grant Morrison as well.)

      1. As far as Wonder Woman being a feminist… *sigh* I like this Tumblr http://kateordie.tumblr.com/post/90465087897/i-do-not-think-that-word-means-what-you-think-it

        You might want to write the Question, but statistically I think all the DC writers want to write Batman 🙂 And your solution for DC would work well for Marvel too. I still think certain people at Marvel still have too much creative control for the company’s good cough*Quesada*cough.

      2. Not to sound too nitpicky, but, while that comic is amusing, it doesn’t really make much sense.

        The dictionary definitions of “feminism” are “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities” and “organized activity in support of women’s rights and interests”. One is a philosophy and the other is a movement. So even a statement like “I’m not a feminist, I’m an equalist.” – which the comic implies is ignorant – does, in fact, make complete sense because it’s essentially saying “I’m not a participant in Dictionary Definition #2 of feminism, but I am a believer in Dictionary Definition #1 of feminism.”

        This is all kind of moot, though, because I said “Tumblr feminist”, i.e. the kind of hypocritical women who’re out to create a whole new bunch of double standards that benefit them:

        To be honest, I’m not really all that interested in writing the Question or Batman, just . I’d much rather write the JSA, the Inferior Five, Ryan Choi’s Atom, or even Harley Quinn. 🙂

      3. Perhaps the comments are not the best place to get into the use of the word “feminism.”

        Harley is looking moderately better these days, but still a far cry from her beginnings. Does Ryan Choi even exist anymore? 😦

      4. “Perhaps the comments are not the best place to get into the use of the word “feminism.””

        More than happy to let it drop. Not exactly my favorite subject (as if that wasn’t painfully obvious). -_-;

        “Harley is looking moderately better these days, but still a far cry from her beginnings. Does Ryan Choi even exist anymore? :-(”

        I’ve largely ignored the New 52, so I’m not sure. Rumor was it that he was at least name-dropped, but that he was now inexplicably Korean instead of Chinese. Because “All Look Same”, I guess. Sigh. Not that I expect much from DC in that respect, what with a Chinese superheroine whose superpower is super-childbirth and their having a created a Middle Eastern country filled with nothing but fanatics and terrorists. 😛

        Not much interested in writing bondage corset Harley Quinn, to be honest. Would much rather have written the pre-New 52 one who was trying to say on the straight and narrow and hadn’t relapsed into murdering people (as she did in the first issue of “Suicide Squad”).

        Honestly, DC just needs more fun books. I’d much rather write the Inferior Five and explore the sillier side of the DC Universe. Or have the ghost detective couple Ralph and Sue Dibny start up a new agency with Angel and the Ape.

      5. But comics books are Very Serious Business. Silly is for children. These are graphic novels with Very Serious Themes and Very Mature Content for Very Serious, Very Mature Teenagers and Adults.

        Sigh 😦

      6. You know, you and I REALLY need to figure out a way to exchange comics on a regular basis and get mutual feedback. I’d love to show you what the DC Universe I loved used to be like instead of the craphole it’s become now.

      7. Wait until next week. I had the misfortune of watching the New 52 DCAU movie, “Justice League: War” which was based on the New 52 Justice League comic.

        Email me titles. I can probably find the issues if I know what to look for.

  2. Oh, and speaking of bad writing, I’m pretty disappointed with David Goyer. He and Geoff Johns actually co-wrote what was probably part of the best run that the Justice Society of America ever had.

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