It was double Wonder Woman day yesterday at DC, with not just Wonder Woman #3 being released, but Justice League #3 also coming out. And they were two very important issues for our lady of wonders indeed.
If you recall, DC rebooted all its comics – in fact, its entire ‘universe’ – with the Flashpoint series so that what we once knew about its characters and history no longer necessarily holds true. Are their origins the same? Their families? Their personalities? Their ‘superpowers’?
How much this has been a ‘hard’ reboot versus ‘soft’ reboot has been somewhat nebulous. Batman appears to have come through this more or less the same, but with one fewer dead Robins on his conscience. Superman’s parents are dead again. Barbara Gordon can walk again. Supergirl can sort of turn into a sun or something. Power Girl isn’t any more.
But it’s been a little unclear from the two issues of Wonder Woman we’ve had so far how much is different for DC’s premier superheroine. Is she still on a mission from the peace-loving, all-female Amazons to teach the world of men the virtues of peace and love? Is she still made from clay and endowed with the powers of Greek gods? Does she wear trousers or doesn’t she? In short, has she had a soft or a hard reboot?
Now, we have two issues that answer most of those questions quite emphatically. Justice League #3, set five years before Wonder Woman, sees our (young) heroine in her first encounter with the Justice League and with man’s world (including the re-hunkified Steve Trevor). Let’s just say she’s not the peace-loving woman we’ve come to expect. Meanwhile, Wonder Woman #3 sees her origins entirely rewritten.
Yes, ladies and gentleman, the all-new Wonder Woman has a daddy. Let’s talk more after the jump.
So let’s start with Wonder Woman #3. It would be fair to call this a pause for breath. Issue #1 threw us a whole bunch of things to deal with, including new looks, not just for Wondy but for Hermes, Apollo and the rest of the gods, as well as a fight with a bunch of centaurs to save a mortal woman pregnant by Zeus, who appears to have disappeared. Issue #2 gave us the new-look, now man-hating Amazons, Hippolyta’s blondification and the arrival of Strife on Paradise Island to break the news to Wonder Woman that actually, she’s not made of clay after all and is really the daughter of Zeus.
Issue #3 is essentially a new origins story and that’s pretty much all it is. We learn a little about the Amazons’s attitudes to men (not good), we have Hippolyta’s explanation of how she and Zeus ended up having a baby together and then we get Diana’s reaction to this. Let’s just say she’s not best pleased to not only be lied to – not just by her mother but also by every Amazon who covered up the pregnancy – but to suddenly discover she has a whole bunch of gods and goddesses as siblings.
But the larger story from issue #1 – Zeus’s disappearance, Zola’s pregnancy by Zeus, Apollo’s plotting and Hera’s plotting – is largely put on hold this issue to give time for these revelations. As such, it lives and dies on the strength of the revelation, which unfortunately had already been put all over the news by DC. So surprises, there were none.
Nevertheless, it was well handled. There was a certain poetry to Hippolyta and Zeus’s ‘romance’, even if it was a tad Red Sonya:
And I’m not sure about the super-long cornrows. What’s up there? (Obviously, they’re supposed to resemble eagle wings, the eagle being a symbol of Zeus, and for them to be a mirror of Hera’s peacock outfit in Issue #1 but it still looks daft). But it’s good to see Zeus portrayed as a strong, young man rather than the old, bearded gentleman from the likes of Jason and the Argonauts onwards.
We finally get to see Diana demonstrate that she not only still has a lot of her old superpowers (speed and strength), she has a new one, too – superbreath à la Superman:
And we get more than a few fun moments from Zola, Strife and Hermes. Diana’s reaction to her mother’s revelation is pretty much in keeping with the numerous previous times she’s discovered her mother’s been hiding something from her:
(a nice, subtle use of superspeed in that third page, if you notice)
But for all these pluses, we have a few minuses. It’s a slow-paced issue, that while giving us new motivation for Wondy, doesn’t further the plot at all.
More importantly, we now have an immortal bunch of Amazons, who back in the Golden Age were technologically advanced and full of love, gentleness and wisdom…
…becoming essentially a tribe of immortal man-hating warriors who call men ‘musk’.
And we’ve lost the man-free immaculate conception for Diana as well as possibly the ‘contest’ origin, although that’s down to the nuance of how you parse “When I left Paradise Island, do you know why? I ask because you never did” – either there was no contest to see who got to take Steve Trevor back to the outside world or Diana’s merely asking why her mother never asked her why she entered the contest in the first place.
Now, this is a hard reboot so arguments that many of the storylines for the previous 70s years of Wonder Woman wouldn’t make any sense with the Zeus rather than clay origin have to be thrown to one side. In this version, the clay story has been nothing except a story. There are no previous storylines that hinged on the clay origin any more.
I can see why they’ve done it as well: it’s simpler to explain to newbies (“Wonder Woman, an Amazon warrior, protects mortals from the schemes of the gods with the powers granted to her by being the daughter of Zeus”) and gives the title a focus that “teaching the world of the importance of peace, love and equality of the sexes… by beating up mostly female villains” didn’t quite have. It’s also arguable that although Diana has always fought gods, the extra emotional component that comes from their being her relatives might enhance the stories and open up new ones. And although the ‘clay origin’ – the ‘inverted Pandora’ myth – was iconic, ultimately it was too complicated and no one apart from comics fans and in particular Wonder Woman fans knew about it.
Yet, we’ve now gone from a character who was supposed to be a feminist icon from the get-go, a symbol of peace and enlightenment for girls and boys, to one who’s now a warrior from a bunch of in-fighting misandrists, who’s lost her unique, parthenogenic origin in favour of the standard, almost cliched origin for all top tier Greek heroes and heroines and become more than a little bit ‘Xena-ry’. By making her easier to understand, we’ve lost a lot of unique, feminist qualities.
On balance, though… I think I can live with it. Azzarello’s doing some interesting storytelling here (and Cliff Chiang’s artwork is almost always excellent) and it looks like he’s setting up a lot of groundwork for future storytelling as well. Although being the daughter of Zeus does drain her of some colour, it’s not so terrible a new origin for her that the character is ruined and let’s face it, whenever someone wanted to elevate a character in Greek mythology, whether it was a god, a goddess or a demi-god, they always made them the son or daughter of Zeus, so that’s pretty much in keeping. And I do like his handling of the gods a lot (although I’m still a Greg Rucka fan on that score).
I do wish the Amazons weren’t quite so backward and I wish Wonder Woman were a little more wondrous, but once the shock of the reboot is out of the way, this does look like a solid foundation for the title going forward.
Justice League #3
Comparing Wonder Woman in WW#3 with the same character in Justice League #3 is a bit like contrasting night and day. The stoic, dry-witted, constantly frowning, older Wonder Woman in her own title is cooler, but less engaging, less fun, less innocent than the Justice League‘s younger version.
We’re also given the closest thing we’ve had so far to a reason for Wonder Woman’s presence in the new DCU, post-Flashpoint. After crashing on Paradise Island, as with Marston’s original WW, Steve Trevor has brought the young Wonder Woman back out into man’s world. But instead of being on a peace mission, this young Wonder Woman has come to fight – which is why instead of her being allowed to pretend to be a nurse or to live in Boston with a history professor, the US military has her under lock and key… well, is trying to keep her under lock and key:
I pretty much loved every page Wonder Woman was on in this issue. Although Jim Lee is obviously trying to draw a sexier WW than Cliff Chiang…
…to a certain extent a character with the beauty of Aphrodite probably should be more than a little bit sexy and Lee generally at least tries to steer clear of outright exploitation. This Wonder Woman is clearly superfast, superstrong and super-talented (and possibly even capable of flight) from the get-go, learns English very quickly (although speaking English doesn’t seem to be a problem for the Amazons over in Wonder Woman) and there’s even a little flirtation with the still-single Superman:
(that ‘Dibs’, in the second page, incidentally is the one fly in the ointment. Yes, Hal Jordan is a dick and Geoff Johns in a Green Lantern fan and writer, but it’s kind of demeaning, particularly in her JL introductory issue. Could we not have just had the ‘Wow’ from the Flash and left it at that?)
I also like the way Johns essentially sums up the attitude towards Wonder Woman of a world still unused to superheroes as well as Wonder Woman’s attitude at this point in a single panel at the beginning (I like the ‘You’re going to hell, pagan’ sign and ‘She’s still worse than any of them. She swings her sword with a smile’ in particular). That’s economical storytelling.
My only complaint? Not enough Wonder Woman, too much Green Lantern and the last couple of panels stop this being the “Have you met Wonder Woman?” issue and turns it into the “Have you met Wonder Woman… ooh, Aquaman!” issue instead.
So then, I guess these two issues mark the death nell on Wonder Woman, ambassador of peace. She lasted 70 years, she probably won’t end up on girls’ lunchboxes any more, except as her older self. She won’t be held up as an icon for girls to emulate, either, an example of a strong woman who doesn’t need to do what men do, doesn’t want to fight and has a better way of living, but who can hold her own if she needs to.
But I have a hunch that while we’ve lost a lot here, the new Wonder Woman is what’s needed for her character to endure in the modern comics world. The new Wonder Woman is appealing in her own way, but it’s a shame and I think we’ve lost something a little unique. But I’m going to stay and get to know the new Wonder Woman, both young and old, I think.