Friday, March 18, 2011

Superman#709 Highlights The Problem With Wonder Woman...And She ISN'T EVEN IN IT.

There have been many times my blog posts have followed up on topics upon which other bloggers, particularly the ones on my blogroll on the right side, have previously covered extensively. When I write those types of posts, my goal is not to simply regurgitate what someone like, say, Sally or Snell has previously written, but to try to add my own unique insights. How successful I am is for you to judge.

This is one of those posts. My "victim" this time around is Ragnell. Fasten your seatbelts and bear with me.

J. Michael Straczynski's recent "Grounded" story arc in SUPERMAN has been the subject of derision from many bloggers, including yours truly. I had completely dropped the book, even after the news that JMS was leaving it and Chris Roberson would continue with the arc using JMS' story notes. Then I actually learned a little more about Roberson, first through some of his interviews on Superman and then through Chris SimsChris' review of Roberson's recent Superman/Batman 2-parter led me to pick it up. Like Sims, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Then I read his review of Superman#707. While I didn't buy that particular comic, I was intrigued enough to pick up the following issue, Superman#708.

As I wrote before, there were a lot of things I liked about it, among them the "Fortress of Solidarity", the Morrison and Maggin homages, and actually providing a reasonable explanation for Superman's "Grounded" behavior. A lot of Superman#708 was actually pretty good. Except for one huge gaping flaw.

To a Wonder Woman fan, my last paragraph had to sound like the equivalent of saying "Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, not a bad theater show, huh?" Because the comic gets Diana completely wrong.

To make a long story short, the latter part of Superman#708 has Supes crossing over with the "new" Diana and essentially showing her by his example how to be a hero. Granted, it's a Diana that's had her timeline changed. (Honestly, the "altered reality/timeline" plot is almost as shopworn as the "Superman doubts himself and loses his confidence" story. Can we put a 15-year moratorium on both? Please?) But even so, this part of the story rings extremely false for the Amazon Princess.

Why? Well, Ragnell has explained the biggest problems in a very insightful manner, particularly here, here, and here. She has such a profound understanding of the character that it's a pity she can't write the book herself. I'll just summarize the main problems here so as not to crib her act: 1.) It takes away Diana's self-determination and agency, both of which are key characteristics for her personality.  Superman has to show her how to be a hero? Please! This isn't necessarily a gender-specific blind spot of JMS'; he makes the same mistake with Clark in Superman: Earth One. 2.) This is portrayed as a vital crucible in the evolution of Diana's character, but it's not shown in her own book, but in Superman's. While I'm not 100% certain which plot elements are JMS' and which are Roberson's, I know from a recent Phil Hester interview that this portion was all JMS' idea.

But what REALLY underscores the problem with Wonder Woman's characterization is the next issue, in which she doesn't even appear. I'll give you a brief synopsis: Flash (Barry Allen) encounters a problem with some Kryptonian tech and gets Superman's help to solve it. They resolve the issue, but then they sit down and have a discussion about morality, the nature of right and wrong, and their respective legacies. Flash offers Supes his own insights and reassuring words and the two part ways.

The big problem is how Barry is treated. Barry's characterization itself was note-perfect: He behaves as an experienced, confident hero who knows his way and dispenses valuable advice. The real problem here is not that Barry is treated this way in this issue; it's that Diana wasn't in the preceding one.

Diana's role could have been filled easily enough by a newer character. She should have served Barry's role. She shouldn't be getting inspiration. She should be giving it. She's there to be the teacher, not the student.

Let's be honest here: DC can mouth the word "Trinity" all they want, but Wonder Woman has never been put on the same tier as Superman and Batman in her entire history. Nothing sums this up better than these two words: Sensation Comics.

For those of you younger and less familiar with DC history, Sensation Comics  is the comic series where Wondy first appeared. As Superman did in Action Comics and Batman did in Detective Comics. But unlike Action and Detective, Sensation did not continue with Wonder Woman after she got her own self-named comic. Is there a Sensation Comics book in circulation today? Are any of you old enough to remember when there was one? No? I rest my case.

In fact, she's never starred in a second regular book of any name, as opposed to Supes and Bats, who have consistently starred in at least two. She's never even had a regular spin-off book starring one of her sidekicks or supporting cast in the lead role. Contrast that with the other original JLAers. Even Flash had Impulse.

But even this disparity pales in comparison with how her history and supporting cast have historically been treated. Once again, here's a topic that Ragnell has covered before, and, not surprisingly, way more eloquently than I ever could. Even pre-Crisis, beginning with the Emma Peel period, Diana's occupation, base of operations and supporting cast has undergone constant reshuffling. (Morgan Tracy, anyone? How about I-Ching?)  Even journeyman Hal Jordan's cast hasn't gone through so many upheavals.

However, post-Crisis was much worse in this regard. At least pre-Crisis, they hadn't discovered the retcon.

And that's when things went completely off the rails for poor Diana. That's when the prevailing attitude with too many incoming Wonder Woman writers seemed to be "Past history? Fuck it! I'll do things my way!" For starters, lets discuss the Potter/Wein/Perez reboot, shall we?

Ragnell, who deserves the title of Wonder Womanologist, has demonstrated the problems with this reboot in too many posts to even cite. Rather than restate her words, allow me to compare and contrast it to John Byrne's Superman reboot, which took place at the same time. Can you imagine Byrne doing that to Superman? "OK, under our new continuity, Superman ,uh, never worked at the Daily Planet as Clark Kent. In fact, he....never became Clark. Oh yeah, and Lois? She'll be, like, 25-30 years older. And she won't be Supes' love interest, she'll be kind of a...mother figure. And...we'll have her marry.....Jimmy Olsen! Also? Jor-El raped Lara." Switch out Superman's characters and creators in my hypothetical with the corresponding Wonder Woman ones and that's what actually happened.

And it didn't end there. For example, that same John Byrne switched out Vanessa and Julia Kapetelis for his own versions of them. Even Diana herself is not immune. Hell, this will be the second time Wondy's been essentially demoted to a rookie.

Don't get me wrong; some change is always good to keep the character fresh. But it's like a building: too many WW creators (Simone and Rucka being among the few exceptions) are so obsessed with what they perceive as flaws in the foundations and the ground floor that they scrap the whole building and start over, rather than simply adding to the existing one with a new wing or floor. It's needlessly tearing down and rebuilding a structure that exceeded code in the first place.

And Wonder Woman  doesn't deserve this treatment. She's the grande dame of the DCU, perhaps second only to Lois Lane. DC needs to stop trying to fix her and appreciate what they have.


At 1:19 PM , Blogger Saranga said...

well said.

At 8:00 AM , Blogger SallyP said...

Nicely reasoned. Diana gets a new origin every six months it seems, or whenever she gets a new writer...whichever comes first.


And yes, Simone and Rucka's stints are my favorites, because they didn't try to redo everything, but tried to show her as the inspirational and competent heroine that she is.

JMS's version has to be one of the worst versions. It comes off even more terribly mainly because it is coming right after the stellar work that Gail Simone did. And his Superman has been equally poor.

Roberson doesn't seem to be a bad writer actually, and I think that he's doing the best he can with what he has, but I'll sure be happy when this whold mess is finished, and we can get back to GOOD stories again.


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