Category Archives: Wonder Woman

Strong female characters (again) (#SFWApro)

In a June post on Deviant Dolls (hat tip to Magical Words), Steve Wetherell vents that he’s “bored of strong female characters.” As he sees it, “the Strong Female Character is a damned yawn fest and I’m sick of it” — just as much a stereotype as the Love Interest or the Mother. People talk about turning the cliche on its head by making the tough hero a woman, but that’s been done so often it’s now a cliche itself. There have been so many strong warrior women, they’re boring.

And a cliché that doesn’t make sense: if Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy is so badass, why isn’t she the team leader? If Hermione is so much smarter and better at magic than Harry, why isn’t she the hero? More to the point, because these characters are so awesome, invincible and flawless, they’re boring, just like men would be.  What we need, Wetherell concludes, are more female protagonists like John McClane or Peter Quill, someone who sweats, gets beaten down, shows fear. Less awesome, more human. He ends wondering if Wonder Woman will prove the exception (cover by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, all rights to current holder).

First off, it’s certainly fair to argue Hermione could have been the hero. The Chosen One turning out to be the white male is an old complaint, and a valid one — as one critic put it, why is Neo better suited to be The One in The Matrix rather than Trinity or Morpheus? Hermione certainly qualifies to be the hero, but I’d disagree completely with Wetherell that she’s boring. As Sarah Gailey points out on Tor, Hermione has her own story. She’s not just competent, she’s an overachieving nerd obsessed with studying to the point of being comical — what school stories in my youth called “a swot.” While she fights alongside Harry she’s not just his support person/sidekick. And she’s hardly written as a flawless character: that she wants to liberate the house elves is presented as comical foolishness on her part (I don’t think it is, but that’s how it comes across).

And while I don’t doubt Wetherell would like more human male protagonists too, the fact is he’s written about female characters. This kind of argument always seems to be about female characters, and how they shouldn’t be too damn awesome.

I think having a variety of female characters is great. Tech nerds like Caitlin and Felicity on the CW shows. Cat Grant, Lena and Kara on Supergirl, none of whom I think are stereotypes. Bo on Lost Girl and Xena on Xena, both of whom have dark pasts that overshadow their present.The casts of Lumberjanes and Princeless. But I can’t see that Female Badass is such an overwhelmingly overused type it needs to be retired (and I doubt I will ever see as many calls for retiring Male Badass). And I don’t have a problem with Gamora being the straight man (so to speak) on the team.

If a Strong Female Character is boring, the problem’s the writing or acting, not that she’s strong. Wai Lin in Tomorrow Never Dies is every bit as kick-ass, and not particularly vulnerable or flawed. Played by Michelle Yeoh, she’s awesome.

I agree it would be a shame if every female character were a tough, no-nonsense action hero. But I see no reason not to have them in the mix.

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Wonder Woman: Origin Redux (#SFWApro)

The new Wonder Woman movie (reviewed yesterday, of course) is an origin story. So unsurprisingly, that got me thinking about Wonder Woman’s origin in the comics. And that as Greg Burgas points out at Atomic Junk Shop, it’s been retold a lot lately.

The story of Wonder Woman being sculpted from clay by Hippolyta, then brought to life by Aphrodite, is certainly inspired for a female superhero — all the work of women, no men involved. It has, however, been tossed out more than once. Robert Kanigher suggested Diana had a long-lost father. The recent New 52 reboot reveals her father was Zeus. Wonder Woman: Earth One reveals Hippolyta made her by fertilizing herself with some of Hercules’ DNA.

Almost all retellings, however, stick to the same turning point: Steve Trevor washes up on Paradise Island/Themyscira and Diana returns to “man’s world” with him (George Perez’ 1980s reboot is the only one I can think of that dropped that). Even though Greg Rucka said he doesn’t want Wonder Woman: Rebirth to have her leave the island from love for Steve, I believe he still has Steve as the catalyst (my apologies to Rucka if I’m wrong).

Frankly I’d think Steve was more dispensable than the life-from-clay aspect. But apparently me and Perez are in a minority on that. Even the older Wonder Woman: Amazonia employs Steve, though in a very noncanonical role (it also works very well)

Now, as to the other matter, the origin retellings — like Burgas says, there have been a shit-ton of them of since the New 52 rebooted her:

•Rucka’s revamp getting away from the New 52 and back to classic WW.

•Grant Morrison’s Earth One.

Wonder Woman: The True Amazon (2016) by Jill Thompson, which does dispense with Steve Trevor (and according to reviews does break fresh ground).

The Legend of Wonder Woman miniseries.

•DC’s Bombshells series.

So why so many? Even as a Wonder Woman fan I’d hardly consider the story of her coming to America to be legendary material; it’s what she does afterwards that stands out. Is it the same logic by which we keep getting Spider-Man’s origin and Superman’s origin retold in the movies (which mercifully won’t be the case in Spider-Man: Homecoming)? Or what?

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Wonder woman: the movie (#SFWApro)

Although I had some reservations, I overall loved WONDER WOMAN (2017). (All rights to image remain with current holder).  I don’t believe there’s anything spoilery here.

The story has Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) stumbling onto Themyscira during WW I, hotly pursued by Germans. He’s discovered that the German chemist known as Dr. Poison (a real Golden Age villain, though Japanese back then) is working on a devastatingly deadly poison gas and wants to warn the Allies. Defying her mother, Princess Diana heads back to the war, carrying a magic sword, the “god killer.” She believes this nightmarish war can only be happening because Ares is stirring up hate in the human heart, and wielding the god killer she intends to stop him.

The good stuff:

•Gal Godot does a great job as Diana (who’s never actually called Wonder Woman). And while she’s certainly beautiful, the film doesn’t make a great deal out of Look, Incredibly Hot Chick, Gaze On Her (though this review disagrees).

•The movie is actually upbeat and not grimdark, despite lots of death and bloodshed. Wonder Woman herself seems to delight in what she’s doing and all the people she’s able to help.

•Diana doesn’t exert herself. In the early scenes, like when she’s punching handholds in a stone wall, she’s clearly pushing her strength. But as she goes on and gains confidence in what she’s capable of, she starts doing things effortlessly. Smashing through stone walls. Lifting a tank. As Slacktivist said of Luke Cage, superheroes doing these things shouldn’t look like ordinary people trying to move a heavy weight.

•A solid supporting cast including Lucy Davis as Etta Candy, David Thewlis as a kindly peacemaker and Robin Wright as Diana’s combat mentor, Antiope.

•Like Captain America, this gets over the hump of having a WW II hero by setting one movie in the past, the next in the present (I presume setting this film in the Great War was so that the

But the movie is more than the sum of its parts — it’s not just a compilation of good bits, it works as a whole.

However, there were some flaws, mostly on the feminist aspects. Instead of Aphrodite as the patron of the Amazons, now it’s a male god, Zeus. Even given this ties in to a big reveal late in the story, it felt gratuitous. And beyond that, the Amazons are specifically identified as Zeus’s creation to break the warmaking power of Ares. Nothing about challenging the patriarchal status quo, protecting women, freeing them from bondage, all of which were essential to Wonder Woman’s original conception.

Some of my friends pointed out, too, that there’s little interaction between women once the story moves off Paradise Island, and even on the island, a lot of the conversation revolves around men (Ares specifically, then Steve).

But while flawed, I’d rank it as a flawed success.

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Wonder Woman, post-William Marston (#SFWApro)

In her book The Secret History of Wonder Woman, Jill Lepore is clear that everything done on Wonder Woman after his creator William Moulton Marston left is sexist crap (she also looks down her nose at female superheroes in general). And with the film coming up this weekend I’ve seen other articles making the same argument. I disagree with them.

It’s true that nobody has ever written the Amazing Amazon as overtly feminist as Marston did. She championed the freedom of women; her enemies (Mars, Doctor Psycho) were dedicated to putting women in chains (often literally). Women could and should be independent. Any woman from “man’s world” with Amazon training could be as awesome as the Amazons. Of course along with that we got heavy use of bondage, BDSM themes, and difference feminism (Marston strongly believed that women were better suited to run things than men), as noted in my Screen Rant article (link also goes to my review of Lepore’s book). But still, the feminism is very strongly there.

Where Marston believed deeply in feminism, Robert Kanigher, his heir on the title, did not (Lepore notes that when a sniper takes out Diana’s sidekick I Ching in #204, his first victim is based on DC Comics’ female editor Dorothy Woolfolk). And apparently he hated the book. Lepore’s take, which I’ve heard elsewhere, is that the series dissolved into a mushy muddle of dating, romance and WW pining for Steve Trevor.

And that may be true for most of the 1950s — it’s the period of Diana’s life I have least knowledge of. However, I have read Kanigher’s run from 1958 on (when he began working on the book with artists Ross Andru and Mike Esposito) and I don’t think it’s true at all. As I’ve mentioned in the past, while there’s no overt feminism,Wonder Woman is the world’s mightiest super-hero and Kanigher writes her that way (crossovers weren’t common at DC in this period so she didn’t share the spotlight with anyone). If alien fleets are going to invade, she’s the one they have to stop. If monsters run wild, she’s the only one who can save us. And so on. As her teenage Wonder Girl self, she’s so dedicated to training for her future heroic career, she often has to pass up chances to date. That’s light years away from Silver Age comics’ usual portrayal of teen girls (Donna Troy in Teen Titans was way more flirtatious).

That said, the Silver Age has its share of sexist stories where Diana acts (as they used to say) “just like a woman.” In #102, for example, an alien confronts Steve with Wonder Woman and two identical robot duplicates, forcing him to choose the real one. He finally succeeds by kissing each of them — but Wonder Woman only grumbles that Steve kissed the two ‘bots before he kissed her, the Lothario! These were only a minority of stories, but that changed in Kanigher’s ’65-68 run when he did import a lot of romance comics tropes to the book. This is the period WW really starts mooning over Steve and things get more sexist.

Then came the four year period (sans Kanigher) where Diana lost her powers. One of the articles I read pointed out, accurately, that this places a lot of emphasis on Diana’s taste in clothes, another element important from romance comics (fashion and style were a big thing there). But while accurate, it also distorts this period: Diana is a top-flight martial artist and globetrotting adventurer fighting against the conspiracy of Dr. Cyber. Plus cleaning up her new neighborhood in New York, visiting the Amazons and having other adventures. I think depowering her was a bad idea, but she wasn’t just a fashion plate.

Whatever those eras’ faults, they’re not as bad as you may here.

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Wonder Woman, screen rants and secret histories (#SFWApro)

So my new Screen Rant column is out: 22 Most WTF Moments in Wonder Woman comics. Such as the bondage-heavy story above from Wonder Woman #4 (art by H.G. Peters).

This isn’t meant to slam Wonder Woman — as regular readers know, I’m a fan of hers, even if the execution of some of her adventures is sub-part. As I note in the article, when you’ve been published for almost a continuous 80 years, it’s inevitable some stories will be WTF. More so when they’re overwhelmingly written by men. Not that a female writer is a guarantee of good WW stories (I wasn’t a fan of Jodi Picoult’s brief run), but I’d like to think they’d do better than some of the more sexist stuff in the later Kanigher run.

(Peters art again. This is a bad guy using Washington’s image to preach misogyny)

It wouldn’t have been as good a column (and I do think it’s good) without THE SECRET HISTORY OF WONDER WOMAN by Jill Lepore, a book about how WW creator William Marston’s personal life and views (polyamory, submission and dominance, feminism) influenced his creation. While I was aware of much of this, Lepore shows I didn’t know as much as I thought. For example one angle of Marston’s menage a trois was Olive Byrne, niece of birth-control activist Margaret Sanger. And the birth-control movement frequently invoked women-in-chains symbolism to represent the burden of unwanted pregnancy (my wouldn’t that outrage the religious right today?). Marston’s WW stories likewise showed Wonder Woman bound, then breaking free — although as Lepore notes, sometimes the bondage is just kink. It’s an excellent book, though I’m not willing to write off the post-Marston Wonder Woman as much as Lepore does.

Check out the article and enjoy. Art below by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito. All rights to all images remain with current holder.

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Wonder Woman: The Brief Resurrection of Steve (Trevor) Howard (#SFWApro)

So following the end of Wonder Woman’s WW II phase (intended to synchronize with the Lynda Carter TV series) Wonder Woman resumed Diana’s present-day adventures at the point they’d broken off. Diana Prince is a UN diplomat. Steve Trevor has returned from the dead using the alias “Steve Howard” and gone to work for the counterspy agency SOS (Spy On Spy). Both of them are struggling to get back the closeness they used to have.

I assume Marty Parsko, who set up this situation when he was writing the book, would have continued exploring it. By the time the WW II stories ended, Jack C. Harris was the writer, and he wanted to go in a different direction. Which is presumably why this phase only lasted a half-dozen issues, plus a couple of stories in Adventure Comics (as a result of the TV show’s success, Wonder Woman had a second strip for the first time in years).

They were not memorable issues. Even by the standards of my late teens, when I had almost no standards, I knew Inversion was a god-awful villain (cover by Rich Buckler, all rights to current holder). An accident with his experimental teleporter has rearranged his body to make him the “inside out man!” Completely mad, his goal wasn’t to cure himself but to turn all the world into inside-out people.

I can’t help wondering if Inverson wasn’t just meant to fill space, while the Steve Howard subplot advanced. While Wonder Woman battles inversion, Steve Howard is kidnapped by military intelligence, which has grown suspicious about ties between Howard and that other Steve. In the following issue, the operation’s boss man gets conclusive evidence Steve Howard is indeed Steve Trevor — perfect for his plan! Which is to drain Steve’s magically restored life force to resurrect the Dark Commander, an ancient, quasi-demonic being who once awakened will summon his demon forces to attack humanity! Which will be awesome because it will give America’s fighting forces what they need—war, endless war. Yep, it’s another madman villain (I think Harris was riffing off our military having no wars to fight in the late 1970s, but if so, it didn’t work).

Wonder Woman takes down the Dark Commander (he ain’t all that) but Steve’s life force is already gone from his body. Diana goes to Hell to reclaim it, but it turns out Zeus has honored Steve by turning him into a constellation, like some figures from Greek myth. Presumably Harris wanted to establish that Steve’s resurrection was a one-shot deal, so now he was gone forever (spoiler: he wasn’t).

It turns out Diana’s UN superior, Morgan Tracy, knew about the military capturing Steve, but wasn’t about to challenge US military authority. Disgusted that Tracy was too cowardly to look out for his people (Steve wasn’t technically his people, Harris is fudging a lot here), Diana quits the UN. So I suppose fudging Tracy’s authority justifies the upcoming soft reboot.

Before the reboot, we get yet another loonie, the brother we never knew Steve Trevor had. Greg Trevor works for the sinister federal “organization,” but he’s consumed with resentment for metahumans like Diana and the JLA, and for his brother, who actually won the love of Earth’s most awesome woman. Greg launches a series of assassination attempts on Wonder Woman before she captures him and the Organization takes him into custody. He’s the third loonie villain in a  row.

All of which took place from WW #244 to 249, plus a couple of Adventure issues, then it was reboot time. Again. I’ll post on that when I finish reading the next phase — Diana Prince, astronaut trainee!

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Blood Lust and Sadism Are Getting Boring! (#SFWApro)

23012564So as I mentioned this weekend, I had some problems with the brutal torture Apollo inflicts on the First Born of Zeus in Wonder Woman: Flesh. And my problems got worse with the final volume of the Azzarello/Chiang run, Bones (cover by Chiang, all rights remain with current holder)

Some background: the First Born was Zeus and Hera’s son, hurled out of Olympus for various reasons. Angry at the gods, he waged war across the world to trigger a confrontation with them. They ignored him. Finally he attacked Olympus itself; Zeus struck him down like a bug and condemned him to Tartarus.

In Flesh, the First Born returns to take the throne of Olympus (Zeus lost it a while back). Apollo captures him and subjects the First Born to assorted tortures. But wouldn’t you know, the First Born breaks free, kills Apollo, and seizes the throne, preparatory to ravaging the whole Earth. And he dishes out his own torture, for example forcing Zeus to eat pieces of himself which pass through him, undigested, so he can be made to eat them again.

I gotta say, I found that part underwhelming. It made me think of the way Geoff Johns shows how monstrous his villains are by having them threaten to rip out liver and eat it in front of you as you die, or to pick the skin of your flesh from between their teeth. It just doesn’t impress me, and it doesn’t make me think the villain in question is particularly bad-ass or evil. Being creative in your tortures doesn’t really make someone more sadistic or awful than the everyday mundane torturer (so to speak).

As the film director Ernst Lubitsch once put it, it no more takes sadism to run a death camp than to run a laundromat. For me there’s more horror in someone who deals death casually, even a hero, than someone who actually cares how much you suffer. That’s not to say graphic torture or blood lust can’t be effective — I love Silence of the Lambs — but whatever trick it takes to make it so, neither Johns nor Azzarello seem to have it.

That’s unfortunate because the book spends a lot of time on the monstrous monstrousness of the First Born (I think I’m inflating the page space in my memory) which drops the quality below Flesh. Plus we have the New 52’s horrible, sexist version of Orion of the New Gods. And ultimately Diana’s punishment of the First Born feels disproportionate — Apollo tortured the First Born and tried to kill Zola’s baby, but Wonder Woman didn’t throw him back into Hell.

The good stuff is still well done, but the sadism and the other weaknesses kept this from being as good a finish to the Azzarello/Chiang run as I’d hoped for.

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