There’s a terrific new book by Jill LePore, The Secret History of Wonder Woman, which draws a direct line from the suffragettes who fought for the rights of women in the early 20th century to the creation of Wonder Woman as “the four-color embodiment of the women’s rights movement,” to quote Art Spiegelman in his review.
Yet DC Comics cannot run far enough away from Wonder Woman as a feminist.
While Marvel is positioning Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers and the new Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan to be 21st century female icons, DC Comics is pushing Wonder Woman back to the 19th.
And this week’s issue of Wonder Woman #37, featuring the panel above, is the final proof of it.
When DC Comics rebooted several years ago, Wonder Woman, the most recognizable female superhero in the world, lost her origin as a being sculpted out of magical clay and imbued by the goddess with the love and longing of the Amazons for a child.
Instead, she became just another demi-god, the product of a liaison between Zeus and Queen Hippolyta of the Amazons. At the time, interviews with the creators said this opened up new plots for Wonder Woman because she now would have daddy issues and be more “relatable,” according to DC Comics co-publisher Jim Lee. Oh, and she became Superman’s girlfriend to pump up his studly cred.
Now, there are many positive things that can be said about the stories written by Brian Azzarello and drawn by Cliff Chiang for the first 35 issues of the rebooted Wonder Woman, starting with Chiang’s amazing art and Azzarello’s re-imagining of the pantheon of the gods.
But one element stains the entire body of work, one that was introduced early in the run. That was turning the Amazons of Paradise Island, once the paragons of peace and knowledge, into rapists and baby-slavers.
So not only did Wonder Woman lose her unique origin raised by a society of women dedicated to peace but those self-same Amazons were tarnished and trashed as well, as it was revealed that in order to procreate, the Amazons would attack random ships that passed by Paradise Island, seduce the men, kill them, and wait nine months to see if the product of the murderous liaisons were boys or girls. If girls, all good. if boys, they were sold into slavery to another god and it’s said if this option wasn’t available, the boys would’ve been murdered for the crime of being male.
Nice to have the Amazons turned into evil feminist castration-happy male haters. And by “nice,” I mean freakin’ awful.
All this was done, I suspect, to make Wonder Woman sell better in the direct market because, traditionally, female-led titles don’t sell well in the male-dominated direct market. Whether this was a choice of the creative team or editorial edict, I don’t know, but I have been told that DC’s original plans for Wonder Woman’s reboot were even more egregious.
Which leads us back to Wonder Woman #37.
The new creative team is a husband and wife, Meredith and David Finch, with Meredith scripting and David on art. Finch is well-known for his cheesecake and his brokeback poses and tends to draw Diana as a 16-year-old teen. That should have disqualified him from Wonder Woman. Meredith Finch is an unknown with few comic credits. Originally, I thought that perhaps she might have talent and hidden potential. An interview she did with GeekMom before her first issue dropped seemed to indicate she had some inkling of the character. But the Finches also gave troubling interviews in which they ran away from Wonder Woman as a feminist.
And then Wonder Woman #36 came out. Not only did it feature wince-inducing art from David Finch, and not only did it start with a gratuitous shower scene, and not only did it have Wonder Womam whining about how hard it was to multi-task, and not only did it feature two women arguing in what seemed a parody of feminist viewpoints, but it featured the death of Queen Hippolyta of the Amazons, Diana’s mother.
Does Wonder Woman #37 follow up on Diana’s grief for her mother? It doesn’t. It features her sword-fighting with her boyfriend Superman, fighting off some evil birds attracted to Paradise Island, and generally whining again about how hard her life is. And the Amazons aren’t sympathetic or helpful, they’re angry.
So angry that one of them, a female witch with a cauldron of evil, sacrifices a young mother to raise Wonder Woman’s sister, Donna Troy, as detailed above. Donna is apparently a mind-controlled zombie now, raised for the purpose of fighting her sister and defending the Amazon way of life against that multi-tasking and seemingly neglectful Wonder Woman. Donna Troy, once one of the happiest of the Teen Titans, Diana’s beloved sister, is there as an instrument of evil representing man-hating Amazons.
As I said on Twitter, the good news is Donna Troy is back. That’s also the bad news.
This is where the hashtag #icanteven would come in handy. Not only is Wonder Woman the product of a murderous, male-hating society now, her mother’s been killed off, and an evil female witch from that society commits human sacrifice to drive Diana away for daring to care about men.
It’s as if Rush Limbaugh came up with a Wonder Woman storyline.
So why does this matter, beyond a horrible story in a comic book? Go back to LePore’s book and note how Wonder Woman was specifically created to inspire women and was herself inspired by women who fought for their rights.
And for those who say, well, hey, that’s the market, DC needs to make money and this is the way, go look at Marvel’s Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel. Kelly Sue DeConnick, aided by a costume redesign for Carol Danvers by Jamie McKelvie, made Carol relevant by embracing her feminism and her strength. DeConnick created a female squadron of pilots who inspired Carol to fly, literally and figuratively.
That series inspired a swath of women who spontaneously became the Carol Corps. You can’t buy that kind of fanbase.
If you’ve wondering why Marvel announced that Captain Marvel will be their first female-led movie, Kelly Sue DeConnick and her embrace of Carol’s feminism, her strength, and her friendship with other female characters is why. Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers is set to be a female icon far into the 21st Century and make Marvel truckloads of money. (And you should all be reading the fabulous current series while waiting for that movie.)
Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan, created by Sara Amanat, G. Willow Wilson and artist Adrian Alphona, is a book that everyone agreed would die in the direct market. It starred a female, minority character, was written by a woman, and the character was taking on a female superhero legacy. Doomed.
Except the first collected edition of this wonderful series hit the New York Times graphic novel bestselling list this year. DC Comics is running away from Wonder Woman and her appeal to this ever-growing market.
Will the announced Wonder Woman movie for 2017 be any better? Hard to tell this far out, thought it’s a hopeful sign that Warner Brothers has hired an incredibly talented female director in Michelle MacLaren of Breaking Bad. But if they’re of the mindset that the way to make her movie successful is to appeal to men and break Wonder Woman away from her feminist roots, it’s going to be an utter failure.
But a Wonder Woman movie that appeals to women, who’s someone they can aspire to be, one that shows them how to embrace their best selves?
That Wonder Woman movie could be a cultural phenomenon.
It better be, because there’s no hope left for the comic to lead the way.