Although DC’s nu-52 so far can hardly be described as epic in its sensibilities, it has at least one thing in common with Homer: it began its stories ‘in medias res’ – that is, in the middle of the action. There were no origin stories, no explanations for what had happened before each issue. Instead, we were thrust into the stories, assuming we would learn later on what was going on.
And so it is this month, 12 months after the first of the nu52 titles came out, that DC has released issue #0s for a whole range of both its surviving titles and its forthcoming titles. For the most part, these have been simple origin stories – Catwoman explains how Selina Kyle lost her memory and became a criminal, Supergirl explores why her parents sent her away from Krypton, Batgirl looks at how Barbara Gordon became Batgirl and lost her ability to walk, Batwoman looks at how Kate Kane was trained by her father and so on. Even Justice League #0 is merely about how Billy Batson gets the power of Shazam.
The thing is, we know nu52 Wonder Woman’s origin already: born on the island of the Amazons to Queen Hippolyta, her father the god Zeus – that much is clear and has already been (infamously) spelt out in issue #3. True, we’ve not really seen Steve Trevor crashing on Paradise Island, but we’ve had that reasonably well covered in Justice League #12, which only really left a couple of possible elements that needed covering: ‘the Contest’ among the Amazons to be the one to take Trevor back to the outside world and the point at which Wonder Woman decides to stay and fight for mortals against gods and monsters.
So leave it to Brian Azzarello to do something completely different. His #0 is a far more interesting affair: a story that takes an affectionate look at the Silver Age with an alleged tale from All-Girl Adventure Tales For Men #41 to explore just how Wonder Girl became Wonder Woman, and more importantly, given it’s Wonder Woman, how she learnt there’s more to being a warrior than killing.
We also learn exactly what DC thinks of Wonder Woman and what their master plan is.
So after the jump, let’s look at Wonder Woman #0, as well as Earth 2 #0, in which an alternative universe Wonder Woman appears to have no romantic interest in Superman, Action Comics #10, in which in retrospect the nu-52 Wonder Woman actually does appear to have some romantic interest in Superman, Justice League International Annual, in which the nu-52 Wonder Woman and Superman very much have a romantic interest in one another (and the superheroes of the future are not best happy about that), and Ame-Comi Girls, in which an alternative universe Wonder Woman proves that she’s the strongest superhero of them all – and is definitely not interested in Supergirl.
Incidentally, Cliff Chiang had already drawn a cover for Wonder Woman #0, before all the #0 issues were standardised on the ‘burst’ motif. Wouldn’t this have been just so much better?
After capturing a harpy egg from its nest as a birthday present for her mother…
…Wonder Girl catches the attention of the still healthy god Ares. Ares decides she might be a candidate as his replacement. When Wonder Girl is tormented by Aleka for being made from clay after beating her in a competition…
…Wonder Girl runs away to be, erm, groomed by Ares.
Wonder Girl trains long and hard and is soon the best warrior on Paradise Island, beating even her teachers. Except for Ares, whom she challenges in combat with real blades. When he beats her, he shows mercy…
However, for her 13th birthday, she must get another present for her mother, so Ares sends Wonder Girl into a labyrinth where she has to fight the Minotaur. But when the moment comes and she has defeated her opponent, she finds herself unable to kill him.
And Ares disowns her…
Is it any good?
In contrast to the normal dark tone of Wonder Woman, this is a lovely, jokey little issue that not only shows an affection for the older Wonder Woman stories and gives us some glimpses of characters who have long since passed away in the nu52 (Aleka, Hippolyta, the Amazons), it also has a core of meaning for future issues.
Most important of all, it shows that Wonder Woman is still intended to be a compassionate warrior: maybe not the loving warrior of Volumes 2 and 3, who would rather use violence as a last resort and take a pasting than hurt someone unnecessarily:
But one who’d rather not kill if possible, anyway. And for that to be the focus of her origin issue is an important statement.
Also an important statement is the use of the Silver Age backdrop, lovingly recreated by Cliff Chiang and convincingly recreated by Brian Azzarello’s writing, right down to those long-absent thought balloons and editorial narration. For those not in on the joke, Brian Azzarello and DC have been getting a lot of stick for changing Wonder Woman’s origin back in issue #3, in which it was revealed that Wonder Woman was no longer made from clay by her mother and gifted by the gods with her skills, as shown in issue #1 of Volume 2.
Although that origin has been tinkered with by some – Gail Simone makes the clay part of one of the Hekatonkheires that make up the island, thus giving her a ‘father’ of sorts – it has essentially remained the same for the last 25 years.
Of course, that wasn’t exactly Wonder Woman’s original origin. Back in issue #1 of Volume 1, Wonder Woman was fashioned from clay by her mother and then given life by Aphrodite. She had no powers beyond those of any other Amazon. It wasn’t, in fact, until issue #105 of Volume 1 that Wonder Woman was gifted her powers in the crib. The observant will also notice that she was gifted something else…
Yes, not only is this the first point at which Wonder Woman first becomes “Beautiful as Aphrodite, wise as Athena, swifter than Mercury, and stronger than Hercules”, now the Amazons have all gained husbands and implicitly Wonder Woman gets a father. Who that father is, isn’t clear, although Hippolyta is courted in flashback by Hercules in #130 and #132. But there’s another mystery suitor in both those issues – a Prince Theno – whom Hippolyta describes as her lost love and who vanished during a sea voyage. And in issue #152, Hippolyta consoles Wonder Girl about her missing father, who was lost at sea.
All that got retconned away just a few issues later, with Wonder Woman once again coming from clay, but the gifts of the gods remained canon.
So my guess is that Azzarello is purposefully pointing out that what he and DC have done is no different from what was done in the Silver Age, so why is everyone so bothered about Wonder Woman’s origin change – it’s not like this exact same thing hasn’t happened before? And if you need something subtler than that, check out how Azzarello bills himself this issue.
Incidentally, what is it with Diana’s anti-harpy agenda these days? Here she is, chasing after the poor things in issue #3 of Justice League:
That’s not the only bit of continuity being referenced, either. Look at Wonder Girl’s outfit. Now look at Wonder Woman’s battle armour from issue #8.
Not exactly dissimilar, hey?
But let’s look a little closer at the final page of issue #0. In common with all the other #0s, there’s a big Top Trumps style description of Wonder Woman and her powers:
So what do we have here? “Goddess among men”. Not just mortals, but men. And a goddess, not just demi-goddess. Interesting.
We have “Wonder Woman is one of the strongest heroes in the universe as well as being nearly invulnerable”. The first part is flattering and good, given that presumably has to be in order to fight gods. The second part is new. Nearly invulnerable? Kind of. Can take a punch certainly. But nearly invulnerable? Why do you think she does that trick with bullets and bracelets?
But that’s interesting as well. Apart from anything else, it doesn’t include the usual list of super-speed and super-agility, as per Batwoman #12. It also doesn’t include the ability to fly or anything else, which the profile of Supergirl in Supergirl #0 does (although see my review of issue #12 for a possible twist on that).
It also points out that while I spotted Diana in Justice League Dark #1, I missed her appearance in Action Comics #10. I’ve gone back to it. And actually, in retrospect, maybe DC has been planning the whole Superman-Wonder Woman romance for a while and it wasn’t only Geoff Johns in on the deal. Take a look at that middle panel on page 2.
Grant Morrison’s characterisation of Wonder Woman leaves a bit to be desired – hmm, to Earth 1: Wonder Woman – but there is at least the indication of something possibly going on there.
Last point though about #0. Who is it who trains Diana in this issue? That’s right, it’s Athena… no wait, it was Ares (a full and healthy Ares, too – I wonder if that’ll get mentioned again, particularly in reference to his needing a successor?)
Despite Athena having been blessing Wonder Woman with her wisdom and gifts since, ooh, Volume 1 #105, at a guess, it’s Ares training her here. Now, I have remarked before, particularly in reference to the debacle of issue #7, that you can pretty much match, character for character, a degrading or removal of a female character in favour of a male character in the nu-52 run of Wonder Woman. At every juncture, even when given the choice, Azzarello has opted for a positive or powerful male character rather than a female character.
Here, we have the ultimate choice for someone who’s ostensibly grounding their stories in Greek myth: if you want the patronage of a war god, whom do you pick? The Amazons were all worshippers of Ares – and in some cases, his children – in myth; but Athena was the patron of virtually every hero in every epic you could mention. She’s also explicitly more powerful in matters of war than Ares, defeating him when in battle through superior strategies. So whom should you pick as Wonder Woman’s patron?
The answer is apparently Ares. Now, I say apparently, because let’s take a closer look at one of the panels:
Yes, it’s an owl, the symbol of Athena (okay, not the Glaukos type, but you know, you can’t have everything), so maybe she’ll turn up later. But at the moment, we’re completely Athena-free, which in Greek myths is the equivalent of having a Muppet movie without Kermit.
I’m not hopeful, though. See, my suspicion is that DC’s reasoning is going something like this:
- Wonder Woman is unpopular. This is not because the character itself is bad but because she is a ‘feminist icon’
- Men and boys do not want to read about feminist icons. They perceive that to mean that the icons are something that only women and girls would be interested in or that are only intended for women and girls.
- We therefore need to stop her appearing to be a male-unfriendly character
- We must remove all traces of anything feminist, including an exclusively female upbringing and Amazons who are superior physically and morally to men
- We must make Wonder Woman less threatening, by making her shorter, sexier, less ‘butch’
- We must give her a boyfriend
- We must, if possible, have as few women around her as we can: all characters in her life must be male. She must gain no inspiration from women, since that is feminist
- We must make her less threatening in terms of powers, so that she does not exceed Superman
- This is not because she is ‘unrelatable’ or a woman – cf Supergirl who doesn’t have to be de-powered, etc – but because she is a feminist icon and feminism is a toxic concept.
So that, I think, is why we have the Diana we now have: not because DC can’t cope with the idea of a strong woman, necessarily, although there is that possibility, but because a lot of men have a lot of problems with feminism and anything associated with it. Remove any associations with feminism and make her ‘less threatening’ (i.e. ball-breaking) and Wonder Woman will become appealing to male readers.
At least, that’s what I think they’re thinking.
Anyway, enjoy Wonder Woman #0 because it’s fun.
Earth 2 #0
Of course, over in Earth 2, Wonder Woman, Superman and Batman are all dead, killed by the New Gods. But issue #0 tells us a little story about how they end up heading towards their deaths. And we get to see a little interaction between the flightless Wonder Woman and the Lois-less Superman of Earth 2.
As seems to be traditional, Superman gets mind-controlled into thinking Wonder Woman killed Lois (cf Max Lord and Infinite Crisis) and Wonder Woman is forced to beat the crap out of him.
It’s not a great story, Lois’s death gets covered in great detail but the death of the Amazons is completely ignored, and even in this universe, there’s only minimal chemistry between Superman and Wonder Woman, so don’t really bother with it.
Justice League International Annual
JLI is no more. It is a dead comic. But for its final edition, an annual, along came to Geoff Johns to inject a bit of Superman/Wonder Woman loving. Apparently, Booster Gold was sent back in time to stop this sort of thing happening, presumably by some future Mary Whitehouse.
Well, if it gets rid of Booster Gold, it has to be a good thing.
More importantly, for anyone wondering whether the Wonder Woman-Superman romance is going to reduce Wonder Woman’s stature under Johns’ tenure, there’s a little good news. Because The Olympian (no, not Achilles from Wonder Woman Volume 3, but another character who gets his powers from the Golden Fleece) turns up with Blue Beetle and they want to meet with the heads of the Justice League.
That would be Superman and Wonder Woman.
Apart from the above, it’s a moderately entertaining issue – a sort of inept version of the Justice League tries its best against the odds – but it’s not brilliant. I can absolutely understand why it was cancelled.
Ame-Comi Girls #1-2
Meanwhile over in Ame-Comi Girls – a sort of spin-off from a statue collection that started off with a Wonder Woman run – Supergirl has turned evil, thanks to some black kryptonite created by a female Brainiac (in case you hadn’t realised, the comic is aimed at girls and younger women and there are no male superheroes or villains in Ame-Comi, only female ones and female versions of male ones when they couldn’t find any).
That means it’s a job for inappropriately dressed Wonder Woman, who shows that whether it’s Earth 2 or animated statues Earth, Wonder Woman can kick the crap out of any Kryptonian. Maybe that bit about being one of the strongest people in the universe was true:
It’s not exactly the most challenging of comics and Wonder Woman is a tad bellicose, but it’s a fun read, it’s good to have so many female characters in a title, it’s weekly and it’s dirt cheap. Give it a try.