Wonder Woman: The Comic Needs To Go Back To Feminist Roots

Wonder Woman, Cliff Chiang
Wonder Woman by Cliff Chiang, from her current series, copyright DC Comics

I originally wrote this article during the time that Gail Simone was writing the Wonder Woman monthly comic. Since then, Wonder Woman’s comic has undergone two more reboots that made things progressively worse.

The first reboot was an aborted attempt by J. Michael Straczynski, who left the project before it was finished, and it ended up going nowhere.  The second reboot is currently ongoing in Wonder Woman and is written by Brian Azzarello with art by Cliff Chiang.

Azzarello’s story features a fascinating re-imagining of the Greek Gods and absolutely outstanding artwork by Chiang. However, the changes to Princess Diana have moved her away from her feminist roots. She is now the daughter of Zeus, rather than the beloved daughter of all the Amazons. And the Amazons themselves have been transformed into predatory creatures who seduce sailors on the ocean, kill their sexual partners afterward, and sell the male children off into slavery.

And over at Girls Gone Geek, Erika Peterman explains the myriad reasons why she dropped this comic, despite her love for Wonder Woman.

Given all that, I’d rather go back to Wonder Woman’s twirl as being the best known aspect of the character, rather than her being a product of a society that murders and enslaves children. This is not who the character is. It’s akin to making Ma and Pa Ken serial killers who raised Clark Kent to be Superman.

As balm against this, I urge everyone to read Gail Simone’s Wonder Woman: The Circle. I hate to say this because, in the vast majority of cases, excellent writers can write characters of either gender well. But “The Circle” is a story about motherhood and longing and sacrifice that only a woman could tell.

Simone started out as a hairdresser doing a humor column called “You’ll All be Sorry” on a popular comic website, graduated to writing the Simpsons for Bongo Comics, wrote for Marvel for a time, and then became well-known as the writer of DC’s Birds of Prey, which featured a team of female heroines.

Her Birds of Prey run is when I fell in love with Simone’s writing and started frequenting her comic forums, eventually ending up as a co-moderator. Her writing is sharp, her grasp of character excellent, and her dialogue is among the best I’ve read.

But I was never a big Wonder Woman fan. It’s not that I didn’t get her (the most common complaint heard from people about Wonder Woman), it’s just that her skill set didn’t appeal to me. Like Superman, she’s so powerful that it’s hard to write good stories around her.

However, when Simone wrote a guest appearance by Princess Diana in a Birds of Prey issue, it was one of the few times that the character seemed compelling to me. So when her new writing assignment was announced, I decided to give Wonder Woman a try for essentially the first time.

Simone’s first issue, #14 of the current series, kicked off with Wonder Woman punching gorillas off a waterfall. Heh.

The entire run, though it was ended abruptly due to Straczynski’s reboot, was as entertaining as the beginning but “The Circle” arc stood out then and stands out now.

The story featured plenty of action, including a battle with Captain Nazi. It was also about a small circle of renegade Amazons driven more than a little crazy by the fact that they could never have children. It’s an intrinsic part of Wonder Woman’s back story that she was the only child on Paradise Island but no other writers have really tackled the emotional ramifications of that on the other Amazons. Most are happy to be loving aunts. But a few were not and they’re at the core of this story.

It added to the myth without invalidating the rest of it, a hard trick to do when writing someone with over twenty years of current continuity. And one that Azzarello flubbed.

Though the other arcs don’t quite reach those heights, they also proved to be enjoyable.

In the second arc, “Ends of the Earth,” other myths are brought into the story as Diana ventures into a literal hell to retrieve the soul of the man who has none. She literally has to battle for her soul at the side of two ancient mythical heroes, Beowulf and Claw the Unconquered, an original character created for DC. Once again, Simone blended action, lesser-known elements of DC history, and some dark humor in a story that ended with Diana reclaiming her soul.

The third arc, “Rise of the Olympians,” dealt with Genocide, a monster visiting horror and destruction on America, including a number of Diana’s friends and allies. But Genocide turns out to be part of a very complicated plot by her old enemy, the war god Ares, to do away not only with Wonder Woman, but also the Greek Gods of Mount Olympus, and any peace in the world. The next arc introduced a newly created Achilles, who was supposed to rule over Paradise Island for Zeus, but things soon became more complicated.

I wanted badly to see how all this would play out, including Wonder Woman’s questions of faith, but while Simone’s run had a great farewell issue in which the entire cast protected Washington, D.C., the promise of her run remains unfulfilled. I certainly don’t want the Amazons to stay murderers and slavers and nor can I understand how Diana’s compassion and dedication to the truth could develop in a society that is based on a lie. It doesn’t make very good story sense.

Still, we have the collected books of Simone’s run. Wonder Woman: The CircleWonder Woman: Ends of the Earth, Wonder Woman: Rise of the Olympian,, Wonder Woman: Contagion, and Wonder Woman: Warkiller.

And the Wonder Woman series by Greg Rucka, another run that was ended abruptly by a failed reboot, is also well worth reading.

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Writer, Mom, Geek and Superhero. though usually not all four on the same day. Author of the award-winning Phoenix Institute Superhero series and the steampunk novel, The Curse of the Brimstone Contract.