Monday, October 17, 2011

Wonder Woman's Origin: Here We Go Again!

by Sara Crow

According to a post on io9 last week, DC Comics will be giving Wonder Woman a father in their November issue, and he will be none other than the head honcho of one of the most notoriously knotted family trees in mythological history: Zeus.

Dun, dun, duuuuun... More after the break!

Now, Wonder Woman has had a father before. Hades was alluded to as a potential father in prior incarnations of the comic, but the idea was dropped rather quickly and she became the woman birthed from her mother’s construction once again. So this idea, overall, is not new. But it still causes me some concern.

My initial response to the news is to wonder about the motivations for this move. The first issue of the reboot was sold out when I hit my favorite comic shop a couple weeks ago, so I'm unfortunately not versed in the new storyline yet. I'm stuck guessing, as a lifetime fan of Wonder Woman, why a move like this would be necessary. 

As a character without a father, Diana is the result of the epitome of "girl power"--given life directly by her mother. Some have argued that her origin is a little too esoteric to grasp, but I always felt there was an innate beauty to the idea that Wonder Woman is art realized, a feminine power successfully launched from the same root as Pygmalion’s failing. She was this splendid realization of the concept of art given life. Literally.

But with a mundane origin, Wonder Woman loses that tight, powerful symbolism. She becomes a product of what is going to undoubtedly be a very poor pairing (and quite probably not entirely consensual--very few of Zeus's entanglements were). At best, she'll have a super-dysfunctional father who will not add anything positive to the storyline or to Wonder Woman's backstory. Zeus is not exactly the nurturing type, after all.

In fact, to the contrary, Zeus is the epitome of all that is bad in the patriarchy (or in any power)--a blowhard autocrat out for his own selfish ends. He's the living embodiment of male entitlement and masculine power run amok. I can't think of a worse character to have as a father to someone as self-aware and strong as Wonder Woman. Did the writers feel they needed some source of testosterone to balance out the rampant feminism of the storyline?

Now, the "misbehaving father" angle could work. And it could work well. It could give women and girls from screwed-up families someone to ennoble their own struggle. They could see Wonder Woman as a hero who rose up from the dirt of a messy family situation to achieve a massive amount of power and success, and they could see her as a champion for that cause.

Or, it could go very, very badly. Like Starfire.

One of the initial reasons claimed for the need for a reboot was to draw new comic readers to the medium, particularly women. However, it seems that DC missed the boat in a significant way with their reboot of some characters and has really screwed up their legacy. The backlash has been harsh for DC regarding their reboot of Starfire, a character who has been beloved by girls everywhere since Teen Titans premiered on the WB almost decade ago. While the show has stopped running new episodes, it's still alive in syndication and girls still love Starfire and clamor for new releases in which the character stars. But not only is the new comic "too adult" for a younger audience, but the girls who grew up with the "girl power" Starfire from TV and are turning to the comic as adults are disillusioned, too

I understand that DC wants to maintain what it sees as its “core market” by maintaining some of the T&A in their comics. Fifteen-year-old boys do need something to fap to on a regular basis: I get it. But it seems like a monumental failing, or at least ridiculously bad writing, to take a character that could appeal women and make her into a vapid sexpot. Especially considering comics have actually managed to do both in past incarnations--there are a great number of fantastic female characters who still managed to be fun to look at. But somewhere along the line, DC seems to think that it was important that comic readers, I duno, think that perhaps they have a chance with the imaginary characters they've constructed? I don't quite get it.  

I can see this Zeus-as-father thing trending toward something similarly ugly, like powers-taken-away-to-increase-girl-power ugly, toward a Wonder Woman who could be weighed down by a personal history more strongly influenced by a screwed-up male role model. To me, the entire nature of her as a powerful being is tarnished by Zeus and male intervention, simply because there was a distinct lack of male intervention in her story until she meets Steve Trevor. She was supremely powerful, not the byproduct of a greater power (the Amazons, including her mother, regularly return to her for aid). Will this new backstory make her an "angry feminist?" (BIG MISTAKE) Will this make the story into "male power vs. female power?" (Another BIG MISTAKE--the original story did such a good job of showing how well men and women can do when they work together and respect one another!) Will this make her more accessible? We'll have to wait to find out, but I can say that I'll be very nervous until November.

I hate to say it, but comics as we know them are a dying market. DC is trying to breathe new life in them by re-vamping the entire line, but in doing so they seem to be falling into misguided old paths that limit their readership to a select few. They seem to fail to understand the market properly, or to understand that perhaps they could embrace a waiting corner of their potential readers simply by writing more female characters that women want to read and possibly even pass down to their daughters. I would hate to see Wonder Woman become a woman falling victim to her parentage. I liked her when she was clay and spirit, and hope that Zeus doesn't cripple that drive. November may define Wonder Woman's legacy. Let's hope it draws it in the right direction.

1 comment:

  1. Nice bit of art there.. Something is off though. Both you and I know that the only true Wonder Woman is Lynda Carter ;) Call me a sucker for the 'classics'.