10 April, 2014

Revisiting Wonder Woman

While I no longer buy anything but Tiny Titans I used to be an avid fan of the DC Comics line. I subscribed to 20 or 30 titles a month (sometimes more) though the 80's and 90's and read extensively in the back issues of the decades prior. DC has gone to great lengths to throw my business away, so I'm raising my kids to be Marvel fans. There's still a tiny corner of my heart that desperately wants a Wonder Woman movie. Walking out of Captain America: The Winter Soldier I wondered why. Marvel is doing so much to be inclusive. What is there about Wonder Woman, a character I never followed as avidly as the JLA or Batman, that still tugs at me? Was it all based in Linda Carter's television series? (If that's the case why is my dream casting Lupita Nyong'o?) I decided to go back to the beginning - Wonder Woman's second appearance in DC Comics, Sensation Volume 1.

If you're a modern Wonder Woman fan, this is long before she became Superman's love interest, a pairing I have always had problems with. Back in the beginning Wonder Woman had no concern over being more powerful than her man. Diana focuses on Steve as the first man she's seen in her hundreds of years of eternal life. She's fascinated by him and falls in love. But Diana doesn't give up her immortality just for a boy. Yes, she's intrigued by him (and pressures her mother to allow access) but she doesn't leave the island for passion alone. The island is threatened by the global conflicts that will become WW2. The goddess instructs one of them to escort the fallen pilot back to the world to serve her there. Diana volunteers for the suicide mission. Her mother, obviously, says no.
Check Out His Fedora!

 Diana disguises herself to compete in a physical challenge designed to find the most physically adept of the Amazons. These women have not lived lives of lazy indulgence. For hundreds of years the daughters of Aphrodite have challenged themselves to continually improve. They strive to run faster, aim truer and defend themselves confidently. When Diana's deception is revealed her mother's reaction is not one of anger but of pride. Of course Diana is the most qualified, and of course she should be the one chosen to protect her people. Her mother presents Diana with her uniform and Diana pilots her invisible plane back to America.

Steve is badly injured so she leaves him in the hospital and explores her new world. She dress shops, she scandalizes the town by the scanty nature of her costume, she encounters (and defeats) low level criminals. In so doing, Diana comes to the attention of a P.T. Barnum type who offers her a job playing "Bracelets and Bullets" on the stage. Diana confidently accepts. She has time to kill so why not earn the currency of this nation? It is Wonder Woman's complete assurance that strikes me about this early appearance. She lacks the self doubt of other super heroes. Diana expediently assesses her options and selects the best routes open to her. She's a problem solver who refuses to be intimidated or exploited, even by people above her in power (her mother) or experience (her employer). When offered more money, Diana declines. She is driven by her personal goals, not fortune. When her manager attempts to cheat her she apprehends him and regains her pay.

Street Harassment Stays In Style
It's not only Diana's confidence that reminds me why Wonder Woman endures as an icon despite the mishandling of her copyright owner. It is the unequal power dynamic between her and Steve. In this first appearance Steve has nothing but respect for her abilities. When he sees her perform physical feats outside of his own he's not threatened. He laughs when she returns to rescue him and acknowledges her superiority.

The book closes with a reiteration of her femme identity and an establishment of the dual life that will carry her through the next several volumes but the bones of Wonder Woman are laid. Diana is an intelligent soldier impervious to the opinions of others. She is living her life without apology or explanation. If DC is interested in doing justice to the original conception of Wonder Woman then Lupita is exactly right for the role.

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