“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 redefined 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 role 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.