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