Weekly Wonder Woman: Superman Unchained #8, Sensation Comics #5

I misspoke a little last week when I said that DC had postponed all its important Wonder Woman comics until last Wednesday. In fact, Superman/Wonder Woman, Wonder Woman, et al are due out this week. So last week was actually kind of quiet, too.

Superman Unchained #8

If you’d been expecting Superman Unchained to deliver any Wonder Woman action, given she was in the previous issue, you’d have been disappointed since this issue, she didn’t feature at all, except through Superman wondering how best to fight a baddie called Wraith – perhaps he should emulate Diana?

Fight like Diana

But after creating a level playing field for them both, Superman then decides the big difference between him and Wraith is that Wraith has always had an army at his back, whereas he has always fought alone so has had to learn how to fight… presumably a new development for which he has Diana to thank, because as we remember from Superman/Wonder Woman #5 when faced with some warriors from Krypton, Superman sucked at fighting.

Meanwhile, Lex Luthor turned out to be an intellectual dilettante, who claims to have read The Iliad but doesn’t know that the Trojan Horse only appears in Homer’s other poem, The Odyssey, and then only in flashback (the full tale of its construction is in The Little Iliad, one of the lost poems of the Epic Cycle). Or it might just be a parallel universe where The Iliad’s a bit different – in which case, I’d love to read the new 52 version of the Aithiopis.

Lex hasn't read The Iliad

That means the only Wonder Woman comic of note last week was Sensation Comics #5, which turned out to be quite interesting indeed.

Sensation Comics #5

Sensation Comics #5
As we all know, over the years, Wonder Woman’s origins have changed a bit. In the original origin of William Marston, the Amazons were all created from clay by the goddess of Aphrodite; eventually, however, their queen, Hippolyta, wanted a daughter and with the help of the goddess Athena, sculpted one herself out of clay, named her Diana after the goddess Diana/Artemis, after which the goddess Aphrodite imbued her with life.

Wonder Woman is born

So a nice, clear, explicit enlisting of the Galatea myth that dispenses with the need for men. In this version, the Amazons are all equally powerful, with Diana simply being the strongest, etc, thanks to genetics and hard work (pretty much).

Fast forward to #103 and that all gets thrown aside in favour of a new origin in which Diana has a father and is created the normal way, except she’s then blessed in the crib by various goddesses and gods, including Hercules.

Wonder Woman #105Wonder Woman #105

So a new origin, in part like Captain Marvel/Shazam’s, in part a reference to Pandora, who was similarly (but partly negatively) blessed by the gods. And we have Wonder Woman officially “Beautiful as Aphrodite, wise as Athena, swifter than Mercury and stronger than Hercules”, which appeared at the start of every issue. No flying until the 1980s, though.

Later issues downplayed this origin and the two origins existed in a sort of “quantum superposition” , with no one looking too closely at either so they were both neither true nor false.

Post-Crisis in the 1980s, George Perez combined and altered the two origins to give us her most famous origin, in which after being crafted from clay by her mother, Hippolyta, she’s imbued by various goddesses and gods with their powers – out with any Roman names and Hercules, in with Demeter (the power and strength of the Earth), Artemis (the eye of the hunter and unity with beasts) and Hestia (sisterhood with fire and truth).

Wonder Woman's birth

So now we effectively and deliberately have almost entirely female origin that’s a feminist inversion of the Pandora myth. We also have Hermes giving her the power of flight from the get-go.

In the nu52 (no, I won’t stop calling it that), that all turns out to be a lie, a cover-up to hide from the world the fact that the super-powered Diana is really a demi-goddess (and later a goddess) because she’s the daughter of Zeus and Hera would have taken revenge on Hippolyta had she known that Zeus had cheated on her again.

Wonder Woman finds out

Diana's not happy

Not quite so female-positive, all of a sudden. In this version, she can’t fly, either – not until Hermes gives it to her at a moment of pressing need.

Wonder Woman learns to fly

Diana has since acquired other godly powers, too, following her promotion to full-on goddess of war.

Wonder Woman has a way with soldiers

Wonder Woman fights the First Born

So that’s three different origins (give or take), each with advantages and disadvantages. Now, I mention all of this because Sensation Comics gives authors the chance to tap into whatever aspects of Wonder Woman continuity they want, irrespective of whether it sits with the nu52 or not. And issue #5 taps into the whole question of the post Crisis Wonder Woman’s origin and supposed mission: to go to Patriarch’s World (aka everywhere that isn’t the Amazon’s home on Paradise Island) and teach us all there’s a better way of living.

Notably, though, and rarely brought up was the fact that this was at the instigation of the gods and that teaching the outside world about her gods was part of Wonder Woman’s remit.

WW gets a message

Now clearly there are gods in the DC Universe. And in the Post Crisis universe they created Wonder Woman. And one of the better things about Wonder Woman as a character in the post-Crisis universe was that she was one of the few religious superheroes, with gods to worship.

Wonder Woman's prayer is answered

Yet to respect the fact that readers clearly aren’t all going to be followers of Hellenismos, Wonder Woman never evangelises. So what happens when Wonder Woman denies her gods and refuses to evangelise altogether?

Will Wonder Woman evangelise?

Are the gods real?

Wonder Woman denies the gods

Well, they’re not best pleased. Now, not entirely female-positive the nu52 origin for Wonder Woman may be, but it’s always had one big advantage over the post-Crisis origin: most of Wonder Woman’s gifts are innate, rather than bestowed by the gods, so they cannot be taken away. And Sensation Comics #5 really emphasises this point in a way that the post-Crisis stories rarely did (although Johnny Byrne did pay a little attention to it), as Wonder Woman loses one by one her invulnerability, speed, wisdom (or at least ability to concentrate) and eventually beauty as a result of her forsaking the gods.

Wonder Woman can't concentrate

Wonder Woman gets hit by a bullet

Wonder Woman loses her beauty

Now, to some extent Wonder Woman’s clearly been baited into saying these things by the interviewer on the TV show, who’s clearly not what he seems:

What if the gods were watching?

Is he one of the gods or set against them – perhaps even Ares in his pre-nu52 bad guy status? Or is he some other enemy of Wonder Woman?

Who knows – we’ll find out next issue, though. But as a story it’s largely a good one that balances the concerns of characterisation and mythos development with the need to have a few fights, even if it does fall into deploying some of the more obvious tropes used when defining Wonder Woman.

The difference between Wonder Woman and the others

A code against killing

And it does examine Wonder Woman’s – and to some extent DC’s – paganism and claim that gods other than the Abrahamic one are real and what that means for those who live in the DC Universe. Definitely worth your pennies.




  • Stuart Nathan

    Flaming Lips reference there, I see.

  • JustStark

    It's a very odd stance for her to refuse to claim that the Greek gods are real when, diegetically, they clearly are, and you wouldn't think that a TV audience who are totally used to the idea of Kryptonians, monsters from the dawn of time, magic swamp-beasts, Aquamen, hyper-intelligent talking gorillas, and all the other whatnot in superhero comics, would have a problem with that. Their world is already filled with all kinds of crazy shit, what's another pantheon?

    To not confirm the gods' existence when they clearly are real (or where did her powers come from?) is a bit like Superman refusing to confirm or deny the existence of Krypton, isn't it?

  • Ooh! Where? (don't know music at all well…)

  • It's a slightly tricky thing, because she's making a distinction about worship versus existence. Yes the Greek gods exist in DC land, but are they worthy of worship? Are they gods in that sense? After all, technically the New Gods (e.g. Highfather, Darkseid, Barda, Orion) are all gods, having received the godwave, but would you worship them?

    Plus, much as Doctor Who has numerous alien invasions but no one ever seems to believe we've been invaded, arguably no one's sure what's alien, what's superheroic, etc, in the DC world, and whether it's god-based activity.

    On top of that, this is post Crisis, and the Greek gods (with the exception of Hermes and Ares) didn't really do much, preferring to send the Amazons and Wonder Woman to do their work. Even when the Titans show up, they don't do much that the public can see. And, of course, Luke's run on WW established that both the Christian God and the Hindu gods exist, the Roman gods also existed in one form or another at one point, and so on.

    The interviewer in this strip does mess things up a bit, but as I mentioned somewhere/somewhen, this is strictly an out-of-continuity strip, so it might well be none of the above applies and no one knows anything about the gods.

    Tricky, huh?

  • Stuart Nathan

    FL's song 'Waiting for Superman' includes the lines:

    'Is it getting heavy? It's just too heavy for Superman to lift.'

  • JustStark

    It's a slightly tricky thing, because she's making a distinction about
    worship versus existence. Yes the Greek gods exist in DC land, but are
    they worthy of worship?

    Based on the images here (there's no way I'm reading it; the only superhero comic I read is Astro City) the interviewer only asks her to confirm that the gods are real: 'aren't you actually here to promote belief in the Greek gods?' he asks. Not worship, but belief, and for someone in a superhero comic, belief in the Greek gods is surely as obvious and uncontroversial as belief in Krypton; it's just a fact of life, one of the many mad things that exist in their world.

    Then he presses her: 'Your press clippings are like an advertisement for your religion being real. D o you deny that the gods literally made you who you are?'

    Again, he's simply asking for facts here, and so there's no reason for Wonder Woman to get upset; she could simply say, 'Well, yes, of course they are real. I'm not asking anyone to worship them because what you worship is a personal matter but they clearly do exist because here I am and are they really any harder to believe in than Darkseid?'

    The interviewer basically only asks her to confirm facts: that the Greek gods are real and the source of her powers. Neither of those should be controversial statements in the superhero world, and neither should be regarded as having anything to do with 'faith'. They simply are

    (The reason I read Astro City is that it gets this, and is about living in a world where all this mad stuff is true.)

    Luke's run on WW established that both the Christian God and the Hindu
    gods exist, the Roman gods also existed in one form or another at one
    point, and so on

    Well, then we're into the rather more interesting territory of 'what's a god?'. The Christian God, for example, is an entirely different order of thing to the Greek gods as the Greek gods are part of the universe while the Christian God is claimed to have created the universe.

  • Like I said, she's making the distinction; the interviewer isn't. Wonder Woman's mission is about peace and she wants everyone to hear that mission, not for it to depend on whether they believe in her religion (no matter how true it might be). But the interview puts her in the difficult position of having to deny the obvious truth (she was created by the gods and Hippolyta) in order for that to be the case.

    And in the DC world it's not the case that belief in the Greek gods is self-evident and uncontroversial – for all the reasons I've already stated. Even superheroes disagree (the Catholic Huntress has arguments with WW on occasion about her blasphemous claims that the gods are gods).

    As for what makes a god a god in the DC realm, that's quite clear in some senses:

    http://dc.wikia.com/wiki/Godwa

    It's slightly trickier with regards to the Abrahamic God, because nothing definitive has been stated on the subject and whether he created the universe or not, or simply got a lot of godwave.

    In the WW view, the Luke run establishes that God is simply the most popular god and therefore the most powerful (as with Darkseid, number of worshippers equates with power), with the Titans essentially sucking up the power of the other gods (Greek, Hindu, etc) so they're strong enough to take on God and assault heaven.

    But outside of the WW areas, where you've got the likes of the Spectre, Deadman, etc, it becomes trickier, since there's a certain control over the universe, afterlife, etc, that's implied, although it contradicts the WW view of Hades, etc.

  • JustStark

    But the interview puts her in the difficult position of having to deny
    the obvious truth (she was created by the gods and Hippolyta) in order
    for that to be the case.

    But he doesn't. He doesn't say anything she couldn't answer simply and uncontroversially with, 'Yes, that is true, it's where I come from, would you like to talk about your parents now or shall we get back onto why we're here now?'

    And in the DC world it's not the case that belief in the Greek gods is self-evident and uncontroversial – for all the reasons I've already
    stated

    But the idea that there are super-powered, long-lived, possibly immortal beings and races surely can't be controversial, can it? People have seen them.

    They may not have seen these particular ones, but that doesn't make their existence any more of an ontological statement than the existence of Darkseid and Superman and Doomsday and whatnot, does it?

    Basically, putting myself in the place of your average TV-viewer in the DC universe, I know that there are beings and races out there who are to all extents and purposes indistinguishable from pagan gods.

    So why would the claim, 'These particular pagan gods are real,' be news? I'd just assume she meant they were yet another super-powered races of the kind I have come to expect to show up every four weeks on average.

    Are the Norse gods real and public in DC or is that just Marvel?

  • Well, I think I've already explained most of that already. Basically, it's just not the case, and the attached is a pretty general DC universe reaction to Wonder Woman. You can argue the case that people should be more logical, but at least in the DC Universe they're not.

    Like the Greek gods, the Norse gods are pretty private in the post-Crisis universe. But they don't really show up in very many DC comics at all (because of Marvel)

  • JustStark

    Well, I think I've already explained most of that already. Basically,
    it's just not the case, and the attached is a pretty general DC universe
    reaction to Wonder Woman. You can argue the case that people should be
    more logical, but at least in the DC Universe they're not

    I suppose yelling, 'But it makes no sense!' at a superhero comic is kind of pointless, yes…

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