Wonder Woman: I recently made Superman call her “boring.”
But that wasn’t fair. Millions of people have thrilled to the adventures of the world’s greatest super-heroine.
What’s the secret of her appeal? I’m not a Wonder Woman fan myself, so maybe I shouldn’t talk; but I’ve heard and read opinions from people who do like her.
It seems to me that women and girls have taken Wonder Woman as their heroine because they’ve lived in a world that’s often blocked women from achieving greatness and punished them when they tried — but Wonder Woman has told that world, in effect, “Stop being so stupid.” (I suspect that Diana’s refusal to knuckle under to traditional, closed-minded, heteronormative, cisgender masculinity has appealed not just to women but to gay males as well.)
Even women and girls who didn’t feel very oppressed have been happy to see one of their own as a champion. And even stories that haven’t touched explicitly on sexism — standard super-powered fight-fests, for instance — have had their appeal, because they’ve showed Diana in situations where sexism isn’t a big factor, unlike the readers’ world. It’s a great escape.
What’s more, Diana has been a public figure. When women and girls have searched the news and entertainment media for role models, and when they’ve had a hard time finding such women, Wonder Woman has always been on thousands of newsstands and comics shops (and, often, TV screens), standing proud.
In addition, she’s had something — usually unstressed but always there — that other super-heroines haven’t had: Superiority over male super-heroes. She’s been physically stronger than nearly all of her colleagues except possibly Superman, and mentally stronger than even the brilliant Batman. (Even at his most cheerful, Batman has always had brittle touches of obsession and compulsion, while while Diana has seemed saner, more well-balanced and in possession of a better sense of perspective.)
In recent years, writers and artists have added something that may or may not appeal to Wonder Woman’s fans, but it’s undeniably there: Murder.
• In Mark Waid and Alex Ross’s Kingdom Come, Diana ordered super-heroes to attack opponents “by any means necessary,” and she personally stabbed one of the opponents to death.
• In Darwyn Cooke’s The New Frontier, Diana let a group of horribly abused sex slaves murder their abusers, and celebrated with them afterwards.
• In mainstream DC continuity — well, let me quote blogger Sean T on various Wonder Woman writers:
The increasing violence and gore in Wonder Woman’s comic
over the last few decades [started] with Perez, who turned her
tiara into a beheading device, where servants of [Greek god of
war] Ares devolved into gory flaming corpses, and her challenge
from the Olympians essentially turned her into a monster-slayer.
In a later story she ripped off the [super-villain] Cheetah’s tale
[sic] and beat her with it. Under Messner-Loebs, she literally
became a leg-breaker. . . . Rucka showed her decapitating
Medousa and breaking [super-villain] Max Lord’s neck. Simone
showed Diana using, ahem, enhanced interrogation techniques
on the Cheetah, ripping her lasso from the flesh of [super-villain]
Genocide, and planting an axe in the head of Ares.
Nearly all super-hero comics have gotten more violent in recent decades, but even Batman at his most crazed hasn’t gone as far as Wonder Woman.
So: Where should she go from here?
The rise of Donald Trump — and to a lesser extent, Bernie Sanders — may suggest an answer. While Trump probably won’t win the presidency and Sanders definitely won’t, you can’t deny that they’ve roused millions of people by saying things that no other American political leader has dared to say. As a champion of women and other groups, Diana has that potential, too.
Imagine Diana saying something like this:
I WILL be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as
justice. . . . I am in earnest — I will not equivocate — I
will not excuse — I will not retreat a single inch — AND
I WILL BE HEARD.
That’s from 19th-century abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison on slavery, but Diana could express similar thoughts on sexism. And a lot of people may want to hear them.
Imagine Wonder Woman going up against modern sexists with that attitude. The world is full of honor killings, young girls forced into marriages with adult men, rape as a tool of war, and other horrors that deserve attack. I would love to see Wonder Woman land a haymaker on the nose of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau.
Or — since superhero stories are exaggerated, fantasy representations of our world — Wonder Woman fighting super-villains who suggest our world’s anti-female evils.
That’s a Wonder Woman who’s anything but boring.