Tuesday, June 05, 2007

You're a wonder, Wonder Woman: part three

Read Part One here.

Read Part Two here.

So, I was talking about Greg Rucka. I haven't enjoyed every Greg Rucka story I've ever read, but I love how he approaches them. He thinks hard about them, and if he doesn't think he has anything interesting to say about a character, he won't write the story. And usually, I'm interested in his take on the characters he writes about.

So, I got pretty excited when I heard that he was writing Wonder Woman and I think he did a fine job of capturing the confidence that I've gone on and on about. Where I started getting tired was with his interpretation of Wonder Woman's Mission.

Although I agree with West in yesterday's comments that giving her a Mission was probably a mistake in the first place, Rucka took it seriously and I think that's okay. It's part of the story now and dealing with it is probably better than ignoring it. But even though Rucka made the Mission the central part of his story (by making the Amazonian embassy Diana's base of operations and having her write a best-selling book that promoted Amazonian ideals), I think he was just as unclear about the Mission's details as anyone else.

Mad Thinker Scott takes a stab at defining the Mission and the thought he put into it is worth linking to even though I don't agree with him. He sees "the championing of women’s rights and equality" as the core theme of her character and I think that's the perception that a lot of people have. But Scott also summarizes the inherent problems with having that as the Mission. He says, "If fighting for women’s rights is going to be the central theme of Wonder Woman’s conflicts, she’s going to have to get into stickier situations than she has in the past. For instance, there are women’s issues that Wonder Woman could fight for in the US. She could lobby to increase the amount of child care available to working women, so women aren’t held back in their careers as much as some are now. However, that isn’t the kind of conflict that comic buyers are looking for when they pick up a magazine about a woman who can deflect bullets and throw cars."

He goes on to suggest other women's rights situations that might make for more exciting adventures, but when he takes this Mission to its logical conclusion, he sees the reason that it would never work for a serialized, ongoing story: "I’d love to see Themyscira take a more aggressive stance on international women’s rights and actually get into armed conflicts with other nations; however, I’m not sure how long that Paradise Island v. the World theme can last, and Wonder Woman’s role in the wider DC universe would be radically altered." He finishes his article by admitting that he doesn't know where the line should be drawn in regard to how aggressively Wonder Woman defends the rights of women.

My own observation is that Wonder Woman probably ought to leave alone real-world issues like the Thai sex trade and the way women are treated by Islamic extremists. That would be as pointless as having Superman capture Osama bin Laden. It might be a cathartic story to tell, but it would ultimately make the DC Universe unrelatable. In an attempt to make comics more relevant, the ironic result would be that they'd become less so.

But there's another Mission that Wonder Woman has that's not only relevant, but has the advantage (for an ongoing series) of being never ending. And it all has to do with this confidence thing. In her post that originally got me thinking about all of this, Ragnell says that "Wonder Woman is supposed to already be the woman other women in fiction learn to be." And that's the Mission, folks. She's the woman that all women want to be. She's the role model.

I'm gonna skip ahead in my chronological examination of Wonder Woman comics and mention Will Pfiefer's fill-in issue between Allan Heinberg and Jodi Picoult's runs. It's a simple, stand-alone tale that was unfortunately overlooked by many in anticipation of seeing what Picoult would do. But it's a beautiful story about the dramatic influence that Wonder Woman has on the lives of women she's never even met. They want to be stronger women thanks simply to the example Wonder Woman sets. She doesn't have to take down the Thai sex trade to fulfill her Mission in Man's World; she does it just by being who she is. If the Amazon's have a philosophy that needs sharing with humanity, it's not all that contradictory nonsense about peaceful warriors; it's that women can and should be strong, confident people. And Wonder Woman's here to show them how. And you don't have to make the comic about that all the time in order for it to be true. It's just background to whatever she's currently doing.

Back to how the comics went though.

In the end, it wasn't lack of clarity about the Mission that made me grow tired of Rucka's run. It was his slow, thoughtful plotting. There just weren't enough big moments in his early issues, which was sort of the opposite problem that I had with Jimenez's run. Somewhere in between is a balance. But more on that in a minute.

I got interested again in Wonder Woman in the build up to Infinite Crisis. DC started playing up the idealogical differences between Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman, and Rucka was a huge part of making that happen. In a great issue of Adventures of Superman (written by Rucka), Wonder Woman made it clear that, unlike her male counterparts, she would be willing to kill if the need ever arose. I found that fascinating given the usual hardline, "no killing" policy most traditional superheroes take (antiheroes like the Punisher notwithstanding). I also found it profoundly believable considering that she's an Amazon warrior. Her opinions about execution and killing come from an entirely different place than ours and I loved that Rucka and DC were willing to explore that. And explore it they did just a little bit later when they had Wonder Woman kill Maxwell Lord in Wonder Woman #219.

Suddenly I was entranced again and I've been hooked on Wonder Woman's story ever since. Allan Heinberg got off to a great start during his run by not only exploring the consequences of Maxwell Lord's murder, but by balancing Jimenez's big action with Rucka's personal drama. Unfortunately -- though I'm thrilled to have him involved with Gray's Anatomy -- other duties took precedence and he wasn't able to finish what he started.

Jodi Picoult's run, with the return to the fish-out-of-water version of Wonder Woman, was a disappointment. I quit buying it after the first issue of it, but writing these articles made we want to check it out again, if only to keep up with where the character is going, so I've gone back and caught up. It's less annoying than that first issue, but I'm still anxiously awaiting Gail Simone.

I'm trying not to put too much pressure on Gail to be awesome, but as I've said before, I have high hopes for her. I haven't read her take on the character, but she's too good a writer not to have one and I have faith that at heart, her Wonder Woman will be a continuation of the character who grew to maturity in Messner-Loeb's run and we saw in Jimenez's and Rucka's. I also know that Gail has the ability to tell a great adventure story while grounding it in human drama, so I'm not worried on that end either. After all: "She’s punching a monkey off a waterfall on page three."

Gail seems much more concerned with telling exciting stories about "the best goddamned warrior planet Earth has ever known" than she is about the Mission or the dichotomy between Peace and War or any of the headier stuff and that sounds exactly right to me. Jimenez and Rucka needed to explore that part of her to get her to where she is today, but that work's been done. It's backstory now and as long as it remains backstory, there's no need to go over it again. Wonder Woman's ready to punch monkeys (or air pirates, kangas, man-fish, seal men, or Christopher Columbus).

I'm sorry I never got to talking about the Justice League cartoons. That's going to require more research, but I'm at a point now where I'd love to do it. In writing this article, I learned that Greg Rucka doesn't care so much for that version of Wonder Woman, so I'm curious to balance his opinion with Siskoids (who rightly thinks that Wonder Woman was generally done correctly in the JLA comic) and see what I think.

As for Black Canary and Rogue: that'll be a separate post altogether. I'm done analyzing Wonder Woman for a while. I just want to be able to enjoy her adventures now.


West said...

I'm kinda sorry that this series of posts has come to an end.

Michael May said...

Yeah, I want to do more like it. The Rogue/Black Canary piece won't be quite as deep I don't think, but I enjoy analyzing these characters and figuring out what makes them tick.

The Mutt said...

Wonder Woman is crippled by continuity, even though she's been rebooted more than most.

She works best in her own stories as a newbie on Man's World, but she works best in the DC Universe as an elder statesman.

DC could really use an Ultimate line, only without the silly changes and cannibalism and rape. Just a chance to start over and let us meet Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman again for the first time, and for them to meet each other.

I'm really looking forward to Gail Simone's run on the book. Her Bird's of Prey has been wonderful. I just hope she can find a way to work in a scene where Diana rides in a chariot pulled by slave girls in Majorette costumes.

I can't help it. I'm old.

Kirsten said...

I jsut wanted to tell you that I've been reading wonder woman for years, and she's always been my favorite of all the heroes and heroines I've read about (with She-Hulk) as a close second and I have to agree with your view of her whole heartedly. I think you managed to put into words some of the thoughts that I've had floating around in my head on this topic forever. Wonder Woman is an awsome character and there so much possibility to make something good with her, yet again and again, people fall short. Thanks for writing this. I enjoyed reading it a lot. :)

Michael May said...

Wow! Thank you, Kirsten!

Anonymous said...

So is there ever going to be a Wonder Woman movie?

Michael May said...

I think so, but the closest we'll get for a while will be the JLA movie that's currently in production.

Shann1 said...

It's funny, as a little girl I loved Wonder Woman, but as I grew older I turned to other female superheros without really thinking about what turned me away from WW. Though I was a big fan of Batman TAS, I turned away from DC entirely when I started getting into the X-Men cartoons and Marvel comics in general. I didn't really think about why I made the switch, I thought it was just because the characters were more in depth. Years later I started noticing a resurgence in DC characters popularity and noticed WW stuff coming out in particular. I really wanted to like her. But there was something about her I couldn't click with, just like you said. Than I started watching the Justice League cartoon. WW wasn't campy in it. She wasn't a female Superman. She was a fish out of water but one that refused to let that affect her confidence. Then I came across the graphic novel 'A New Frontier'. While WW wasn't in it nearly as much as I would've liked, when she did show up she was a scene stealer. The one that hit me the most was when she was sent to war with Superman (I think it was Vietnam but I can't quite remember), she had freed a bunch of women who had been slaves, provided them weapons and stood back while they took revenge on their captors (none of this is shown in the comic, it's only talked about). Superman sees the carnage and finds her in a hut celebrating with the women she's freed. Superman tears a strip off her but she stands up for her actions, the women and basically shows the fundamental differences between Superman and her points of view. So often she is portrayed as naive to man's world, but in this instance she disproves that utterly- it's Superman who's naive, presented with a moral argument he can't compete with because he simply can't put himself into the women's positions. Wonder Woman can, does and shows a great deal of understanding and compassion. That strength and wisdom is what I long to see in WW, and I think it fits perfectly into what you were saying about WW and confidence.

Michael May said...

Thank you so much for that comment. I totally agree about Darwyn Cooke's presentation of Wonder Woman in New Frontier. I love that whole story, but especially that scene you're talking about.

Makes me doubly sad that DC didn't seem to be interested in Cooke's Wonder Woman series for kids he wanted to do.

Daniel said...

If Superman has "Truth, Justice and the American Way."

Then Wonder Woman has "Peace, Love, and Equality."
...and will fight to see them upheld.


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