On Wednesdays I look at various chapters in Wonder Woman’s history. Click here for previous installments.
I’ve avoided talking about this as long as I could, but the recent news that DC is launching a new Superman/Wonder Woman series has forced my hand. I’ve been a DC Comics fan since the mid-1970s, which necessitates a certain tolerance for reboots and retcons, but I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m no fan of the current “New 52” relaunch of all DC’s titles, in which only Batman and Green Lantern continued more or less unchanged and everyone else’s history was rewritten.
Wonder Woman was pretty dramatically reimagined in the process, but readers of Brian Azzarello’s current series of Wonder Woman can pretty much ignore everything that’s going on in the rest of the DC universe because it’s essentially a fantasy adventure series; she doesn’t interact with superheroes and supervillains, only with the gods.
The trouble is, that’s not the only place Wonder Woman appears. She’s popped up in other titles such as Batwoman and Supergirl (I guess DC figures that you’re only interested in her if you’re already reading about female characters), but the main place that we really hear about how she fits into the new continuity is in Geoff Johns’s Justice League, the New 52’s de facto flagship title (or at least the first one launched). And in that series, Wonder Woman is dating Superman.
There are so many reasons that I hate this idea, it’s not even funny. One is that Superman is married, or was until the timeline is rewritten, and it’s always going to seem like he’s cheating on Lois Lane. Lois and Superman made a great couple, and it really bothers me that comic book companies feel that solid marriages are boring and feel the need to literally rewrite them out of existence so that they never happened. Marvel did that with Spider-Man and Mary Jane Watson, and that’s what DC did with Superman and Lois Lane. The effect this has had is to pretty much push Lois into the sidelines as just another member of Superman’s supporting cast. Lois’s identity is so much more than Superman’s girlfriend/wife; she’s the most hard-boiled reporter in comics, of either gender. She’s braver and more badass than Superman by a mile because she’s always running into danger to get the story and she’s not invulnerable. Superman was lucky to have her in his life, and would be a fool to do anything to screw that up.
Another reason I hate this is the Steve Trevor factor. By that I don’t mean that Steve’s her one true love and no one should ever mess with that. Steve hasn’t been her boyfriend in the comics since the last reboot, in the mid-1980s, and since then she’s never really had a boyfriend, presumably because her writers and/or DC editorial haven’t thought anyone was good enough for her. And here’s my problem with that: Steve was written out of existence as Wonder Woman’s boyfriend because he seemed like a wimp for going out with someone much more physically powerful than he is. No one gives that power imbalance a second thought when it’s a nonsuperpowered woman involved with a superpower man, but the other way around, well, it’s emasculating. Any human guy involved with Wonder Woman seems weak, and therefore unworthy of Wonder Woman. And that’s why she can’t get any play.
The Superman/Wonder Woman romance restores gender norms by getting her involved with someone more powerful than her. Never mind that being stronger than men and free of their domination is what being an Amazon is all about, and is in fact what their society is based on. More than that, it’s the foundation of Wonder Woman herself—a woman who’s stronger than men and makes them shape up and stop being such dicks all the time. Turning her into Superman’s Girlfriend, Wonder Woman—which may as well be the title of this new series—puts her into the secondary role of the mate of the dominant male.
And sure, I don’t make this same objection about Lois Lane, for a couple of reasons. One, as I mentioned, she’s way tougher and more tenacious than Superman is (and a much better reporter than Clark Kent, despite his cheating exclusive interviews with himself), so she’s second fiddle to no one. But then, her star quality is pretty much outside of the comic-book realm. DC isn’t going to do an ongoing series about a newspaper reporter, no matter how awesome she is. Sure, she used to have her own series, Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane, but the title alone tells you what the focus was there. Her fame in the comics realm is in relation to Superman, and when she’s not with him, she’s sidelined. Don’t get me wrong, I would love it if DC did a series about Lois Lane that had little or nothing to do with Superman. But I don’t see that happening under the current regime, in which even the female-starring series are catered very much to men and boys.
And sure, ultimately Wonder Woman is tougher than Superman, too. He’s basically all about his powers, that and his good heart and code of ethics. He wouldn’t be and has never been much of a fighter without his superpowers, whereas Wonder Woman is a formidable warrior, powers or no powers. That said, she’s in the strength, speed and durability business, and Superman has a born advantage on all of those fronts. Wonder Woman’s never begrudged him that, because she’s not really the begrudging type, but it’s troubling to have her drawn to him because of that. And make no mistake, in Geoff Johns’s Justice League, the two are hooking up just because they both have superpowers and are lonely. In the past, their close friendship has usually been depicted as the two of them being drawn to each other’s kindness and essential goodness. Here it’s all about strength. It’s basically a 12-year-old’s logic for why they should be together.
Justice League vol. 1: Origin, DC Comics, 2012
I’ve written before about the excruciatingly slow pace of this series, in which it takes several issues for the team even to assemble. It’s a showcase for the art of Jim Lee, which I guess would be a draw if you like that sort of thing, and there are often only one or two lines of dialogue on any given page or two-page spread. Although she’s on the cover of the first issue with the rest of the team, Wonder Woman doesn’t show up until issue three. (But then, Cyborg is also shown among the founding League members, although he’s never been in the Justice League before and was a Teen Titan in the old continuity, and he doesn’t even become Cyborg until the end of the third issue.)
It’s also in issue three that we find out that Steve Trevor is still part of Diana’s life, which we wouldn’t have known one way or another reading Azzarello’s Wonder Woman. Colonel Trevor is introduced as Diana’s handler, trying and failing to keep the newcomer out of trouble.
Diana herself is introduced as a wide-eyed naif, strolling the streets with a sword looking for a harpy to fight, and being introduced to ice cream by an adorable little girl instead. She’s overcome with, well, the wonder of it all. Mostly, though, she just wants to fight something.
Mind you, I do appreciate Johns’s characterization of her as a hearty warrior, living for the thrill of the fight. She’s shown here a lot like Marvel’s Hercules always has been—someone who takes joy in battle. She’s like Red Sonja without the grimness and apparently without the taboo against lovin’. When she shows up, kicking Apokoliptian Parademon ass, it’s actually pretty cool.
At the end of issue three the motley band of heroes meet Aquaman, and at the end of the fourth issue the big bad Darkseid finally shows up. Johns and Lee apparently love those last-page reveals. Vic Stone, who becomes Cyborg, has been shown in a seemingly unrelated thread since the very first issue, but it’s not until issue five that he finally meets everybody else. There’s a lot of minor character development along the way as the heroes go from mutual suspicion and disdain to a grudging respect for each other. (One of the big running gags is about everyone being aghast that Batman is just some guy in a bat suit, without any powers.) Diana doesn’t really do much in these issues, although there’s a cute moment when Green Lantern accidentally touches her lasso of truth and starts babbling about how he does everything out of a need to be admired.
I read this comic a while back, and I remembered it as not really showing the Justice League’s battle with Darkseid at all, just having him show up dramatically and leaving the rest of the encounter to our imagination. In fact, since I read it I’d started dwelling on what lazy storytelling that was. Rereading it now, I’m surprised to discover that in fact it does show the fight; it just goes by pretty quickly compared to how drawn-out the initial meeting of the heroes is over the first several issues, and it isn’t particularly memorable.
Part of that is because Darkseid doesn’t really do or say much. He just stands there looking tough, occasionally using his deathray eyebeams or punching someone really hard. Gone is his grandeur and godly hauteur; he may as well be just another monosyllabic killer robot, only with less flair than, say, Amazo. Still, his Omega Beams do give Wonder Woman another chance to be awesome. If he’s using his eyes to attack them, she reasons, they’ll just have to take those eyes away from him.
In the next issue, Diana and Aquaman make with the eye-gouging, which doesn’t seem all that effective after all. But they manage to figure out how to send Darkseid back to his homeworld of Apokolips by force, through Cyborg’s talent for communing with machines, and he fades out yelling the corny old villain standby, “I will return!” No wonder I didn’t remember it.
Anyway, at the start of this volume the world was fearful and suspicious of the superheroes, but by the end everyone loves them. One guy who witnessed the final battle with his wife and kids, David Graves, apparently found it a lot more memorable than I did, and he wrote a book about how awesome the Justice League is. And that brings me to the second half-dozen issues of the series.
Justice League vol. 2: The Villain’s Journey, DC Comics, 2013.
The first six issues all took place “five years ago,” and the second volume brings us up to the present day. Now the Justice League is a well-known, beloved institution of old friends, with a lineup that’s somehow remained unchanged all this time. No Green Arrow, no Atom, no Hawkman and Black Canary—although GA tries and fails to join in issue 7, and there’s an allusion to their one attempt to bring someone new aboard, the Martian Manhunter, and how badly that ended. It’s an untold tale I’m sure they’ll get around to telling sometime.
Anyway, now the world knows and adores the Justice League. And apparently everybody knows Steve Trevor too as the JL’s official liaison. He’s the head of a government agency called A.R.G.U.S., his rank unchanged since last we saw him. And apparently everybody also knows that Steve used to have some kind of romance going with Wonder Woman, which is apparently a touchy subject with him.
We also meet the new version of Etta Candy, who’s gone from being a rotund redhead sorority girl in the Golden Age to a less portly intelligence agent in the post-Crisis continuity to a skinny, light-skinned African American gofer in the New 52. Curiously, one of the few other badass fat women in DC Comics, the Machiavellian, dark-skinned African-American intelligence officer Amanda Waller, has also popped up in the New 52 as a slim, cappuccino-complected Halle Berry type.
Steve seems to spend most of his time speaking for the Justice League—in press conferences, in congressional hearings—though all anyone seems to want to talk about is his relationship with Wonder Woman. In the course of all this exposition we find out that at least one part of her classic origin story still stands—that Steve Trevor was the first man she ever met.
And when Trevor calls up the League itself, all he gets is kvetching and demands, and always friendly but frustratingly distant chat with Diana herself. It’s eating him up inside, because he’s in no way over her.
The villain of this arc is that nice guy Graves who wrote a book about the Justice League at the end of the first volume. Now he’s dying and his family is dead, and he blames the League for everything. Moreover, he latches onto (and kidnaps and tortures) Steve Trevor as the key to taking down the JL.
Diana takes this awfully personally, not just because she cares for Steve but because she feels she put him in danger by allowing herself to care for him in the first place. “I should never have let us get as close as we did,” she says
In fact, she’s so upset about it that she kicks Green Lantern’s ass for trying to stop her from going off half-cocked (which is usually his job). And when Superman tries to step in, she kicks his ass too. Both walloping get double-page spreads, because, well, Wonder Woman kicking the guys’ asses is awesome.
The whole thing with Graves—well, let’s not worry about that. He feeds off other people’s loss, conjuring some kind of creepy-crawly spirits that take on the form of departed loved ones (including his own family). The important thing is, this is when Superman and Wonder Woman get all smoochy.
Anyway, the League manages to save the day, or at least their own asses, with the help of the bruised and bloodied Steve. And what does Wondy do to comfort her wounded friend? She dumps him even more than she did before, saying that she let him get too close by even being friends with him, and certainly by letting him be the League’s liaison. So she’s dumping him as that, too. Damn!
So Diana can’t let herself get too close to humans without putting them into danger, and when she and Superman finally get a chance to talk about it—as it seems they may not have before in their five years together—it turns out he has the same problem. But it’s so lonely, having to keep everyone at a distance. If only there were someone they could be close to. Well, you see where this is going.
So Superman and Wonder Woman are hooking up not because they’re so attracted to each other but just because, well, they’re the only ones they can hook up with. It’s not like this is some great romance. It’s an act of desperation more than anything else. I’m sure that they find each other attractive and all, maybe even like each other a bit, but there’s no sense of that here. They’re just want to be allowed to feel something. And that’s not awesome or sweet or romantic or anything. It’s just kind of sad.