When Wondy was Awesome, part 1 (Birth of a Wonder)
Alright, both by request and because I myself feel something at a loss with it gone, here commences the repost of my When Wondy was Awesome series from our LJ incarnation.
We'll begin, as is proper, at the beginning - the origin of the character as she is now. The concept of Wonder Woman, of course, is one of the oldest in Big Two comics, as she was first created by Marston back in 1941. However, once the Golden Age ended and the character passed into other hands, she became something of an albatross to the company - they were under contract to keep publishing her, but they didn't really know what to do with her, and her title quickly devolved into a miserable sexist mess from which it never entirely recovered.
Thus, with Crisis on Infinite Earths, Editorial completely erased Wonder Woman from past continuity, deciding she would enter the DCU for the first time in the late 80s - allowing them to start over and try to really do her justice. After a long (and terrifying to read about for fear of what might have been) process, they finally found a team that they thought could both create a new and viable character, and preserve the essence of the one who came before; thus Diana passed into the hands of Greg Potter and the now-definitive George Perez.
It isn't a perfect beginning, of course. Despite Perez' moderating influence, there's some really problematic gender stuff buried in there. And Perez himself, I never found most of his individual story arcs that inspiring or even particularly memorable. Plot was not a strong point, and he has a tendency toward deus ex machina (or artifact ex machina) that somewhat diminishes the accomplishments of his protagonist. But the world-building was stupendous, and he made Wondy a force to be reckoned with - in no small part, as we'll see here, by making her enemies forces to be reckoned with. Diana's life-long purpose, you see, established in her very first issue, is to defeat Ares.
Yes, that's right, Wonder Woman was custom-designed to thwart a god.
It all begins when Athena, being the god of wisdom, realizes that worship of her pantheon will not last forever. She and some of her sisters propose the creation of a new race of humans, meant to strengthen the gods, and to evangelize through example. Zeus thinks it's unnecessary and Hera won't oppose him, but most significantly, Ares strongly disagrees with the idea, and basically says "fuck you all, someday I'm going to rule the world myself."
And so the amazons are born. I'd like to point out the art here because I think it's kind of incredible. The different goddesses are all distinct and appropriately rendered - Athena looks wise, Demeter looks like a mother. And even more incredible, you've got naked women bursting out of the water and they look joyful and not even remotely exploitative or titillating.
Anyway, the goddesses set up the amazons with a nice home and bless them with godly wisdom and skill, and put Polly and her sister in charge and explain that the amazons are blessed and their job is to lead mankind by example. I'm not entirely sure why this requires that they all be women who were cut down by men in their prior lives (apart from the obvious meta consideration that it undercuts their power and makes them less intimidating)*, but I can fanwank it - they more than most know both the value of self-defense and the cost of thoughtless violence? Regardless, they're given a purpose - sustain the gods and screw with Ares just by existing.
* There's also the issue of why they need to be all-female at all, but that's quite a bit more complicated. If only we had records of the comments from our LJ incarnation, we had a great conversation about it there on one of the 0-day Wondy posts. -_-
Sadly, Ares kind of wins the first round, because he gets Heracles to sack the Amazon city, and when the amazons strike back with furious vengeance, they slaughter Heracles' men with no mercy and no heed to surrender, and basically forget the whole "we're supposed to be better than that" thing. Athena ships them off to Themyscira as a punishment.
Note, though, that she doesn't say she's changed their purpose - they're still supposed to be better than the rest of us, still supposed to be an example and the bridge between god and man. It's just they also have this other responsibility now too.
Flash forward three thousand years, give or take.
You know, now that I look at it again, that bottom right panel's a little porny, isn't it?
And yeah, it strains credulity that of all the amazons (at my best guess, roughly ten thousand in number before the Exile), only Polly was pregnant when slain. But hey, that's what Perez gives us. Gail's more recent take seems to suggest that Polly having Diana was more about her being the only amazon with the right/pride/sense to actually take the issue up with the gods than her being the only one with the longing, so if you want to take that and run, you could soft retcon that Diana wasn't the only pregnancy, just the only pregnancy that didn't get reincarnated (either as another adult amazon or elsewhere).
Worth noting: it's hard to tell here, but Perez' amazons swim naked. They also sleep naked. I am a huge fan of that fact, because really, swimming suits and nightgowns don't make sense for a culture in a temperate paradise with none of our weird sexual hang-ups. It adds a tremendous amount of verisimilitude to the Amazon world, for me. Although at one later point it does result in a naked Polly-Diana hug, which I really could have lived my life happily without ever seeing.
Anyway, Menalippe's freaking out about Ares.
And so the story goes, as old and as mythic as falling pearls and rocket ships; the amazons hold their great tournament, and in order to compete, against her mother's wishes, Diana disguises herself behind a mask and armor. Through test after test, victory after victory, no warrior can stand against her, as she is truly the finest among them. And so it is she who is chosen champion, and sent away into Man's World, to the queen's great sorrow.
More pretty art. I love Diana in that lower left panel. This woman, whose life experience amounts to less than one percent of her mother's, who has never known anything but obedience and respect for Polly and never known a world bigger than her island, defies her queen and leaves her home with neither pride nor regret because of her god's urging and the wisdom in her heart. Diana = awesome.
So the patron goddesses have Hephaestus forge the lasso from the Girdle of Gaea, and hand it over to Diana as the ultimate weapon against Ares (and check out Diana's cool getup here. Much as I hate the bathing suit, I really like her various hoplite-inspired armor sets that build off it).
Unfortunately, no one knows where Ares is hiding, so Hermes shuffles Diana off to find his daughter Harmonia, who has an artifact that will help locate him.
Meanwhile Ares has USAF pilot Steve Trevor on a collision course with Themyscira. This is his idea of dramatic irony, as we discover next chapter. At any rate, Hermes zips Diana back to the island and she saves both her people and Steve (but loses the million-dollar prototype plane, whoops). They all go back to Boston together, Steve to the Air Force and Diana to Julia Kapatelis, a history prof who will teach her to speak English and help her decipher the talisman.
You know, I fell off a ladder once. I was not caught by a tall, ripped, gorgeous Amazon who needed me to guide her in a strange new world. Instead, I slammed spine-first into the carpet and got so badly bruised I couldn't lay on my back for a week, and also my brother laughed at me.
Some people have all the goddamn luck.
Julia then takes Diana home (because honestly, who wouldn't?), and Diana meets her very first teenager. She's immediately smitten, which is cute, and makes me wonder how many rabbits and kittens and baby deer she brought home and wanted to take care of when she was little.
Julia and Diana do some research on Harmonia's talisman, and elsewhere in the world, the sons of Ares make trouble. This is Deimos ("Terror" for those not in the Greek myth know), spreading dissent in Russia. He gave this exact speech, like word-for-word, to some Americans earlier in the same ish. Ah, the Cold War.
Ares' other son, Phobos ("Fear," the more Vandermaresque of this little pair), mails a little present to the Kapatelis home, where it busts in on Vanessa and melts through the ceiling (in that order, actually).
Decay mauls Vanessa, steals Diana's tiara, and flies off, with Diana in pursuit.
This is just really, really nice art. Wondy should always look like this.
And finally, after three and a half issues, we get our first Wonder Woman fight scene.
"It's all Greek to me," she says. I can't decide if that's funny or dumb. I go back and forth.
Anyway, Diana wins, of course. And the Boston press?
It probably shouldn't be important, but I really like that it's a woman who actually names her.
Despite this minor victory, though, Ares' influence on the world only grows.
Oh, yeah, I should mention there's been some Trevor drama where he's being framed for murder and terrorism. He, this guy Michaelis, and Etta Candy have kind of stumbled on Ares' military conspiracy, at least the US half, so they're being hunted; they track down Diana to get her help.
Once Julia translates the talisman, Diana is able to figure out Ares' plan. Pretty much it amounts to "push the button, watch the fallout." Did I already say "ah, the Cold War"?
Course they still need to find Ares, which means they still need the other half of the talisman, so off they go to find it.
The mirror thing works because the talisman is one-dimensional, I guess (you can see in the scan where Harmonia gives it to Diana, it's only visible from Harmonia's perspective). It's very random and McGuffin-y and doesn't make a whole lot of sense, and an example of what I mentioned about Perez and his ex machina tendencies. But Diana gets to be snarky here, which makes up for a lot.
On the other side of the mirror, there are tentacles snakes!
Apparently, as per my Psych 101 textbook at least, humans are supposed to have a deep-seated, primordial fear of cats because of our days as apes running away from lions; this is theoretically part of the explanation for the cross-cultural ubiquity of dragons (cat faces and paws + snake bodies + bat wings + fire = all instinctive terrors in one easy package). True fax. I... don't think I buy it, frankly, and I kind of prefer to think that Michaelis got mauled by the neighbor's calico when he was six. (Plus that's a pretty damn funny image if I do say so myself.)
Where was Diana when they were handing out power rings, eh? (Actually that would make a good Elseworlds. We've seen Clark and Bruce as GLs, why not Diana? Particularly since who better meets the second original requirement of honesty?)
So they fight off their manifest fears. And then Diana kills a god.
Yeah, take a moment, y'all. Diana just killed a GOD.
Okay. So, Phobos runs off, and the motley crew collects the second half of the talisman, allowing them to teleport directly to the missile silo where Ares is hanging out.
This is the second time in two issues that cult guy uses that Shelley verse, and I really want to smack him and tell him to not quote stuff he clearly hasn't read. I mean, I guess it's sorta prophetic in a meta sense, but mostly it's just bad writing.
Misquoted moral parables aside, our crew rushes General Tolliver in an attempt to get the launch key before he can use it, and naturally chaos ensues.
Ah, for the days when DC treated "protagonists killing their enemies" with some kind of reason and sense. Like when Steve saves the day in the nick of time!
For those wondering where the zombies in the animated DVD came from (sorry, spoiler!), there you go.
Meanwhile, what about Diana and Ares?
No, Ares, that prophecy was about Athena. But that's a few chapters ahead, yet.
Anyway, Diana tries to fight him. She is significantly less successful than she was against his sons.
But - and here's the key to Wondy, and the thing that makes her cooler than Supes or Bats or anyone else in the primary colors set (though admittedly much harder to write for in this genre) - Diana generally finds that punching the crap out of the other guy isn't always the best way to end a battle.
(Check it out - Diana's mission of teaching and peace was actually given to her by Ares. This is something no subsequent author will remember,* but that doesn't make it any less cool.)
* Okay, except Jimenez, who remembers everything.
And there you have it. Diana of Themyscira, Wonder Woman, whose very first act in Man's World was to prevent nuclear armageddon and stop a god. Whose very purpose is to stay among us and find a way to save us, not from space aliens, not from meta freaks or megalomaniacal industrialists or psychotic clowns, but from ourselves. To teach. To heal. To lead. To make the world better.
It's an impossible task, of course. But then, if it weren't, she wouldn't be Wonder Woman.
Scans from WW v2 #1-6, collected in Gods and Mortals.
Next time: The nonsensical American flag bathing suit is made to make some small sliver of sense, we learn what kind of person inspires an amazon and why we should care about Steve Trevor, and Diana kills a hecatoncheries, as we tackle the second, less prominent but no less awesome half of Wonder Woman's origin.