When Wondy was Awesome, part 2 (Diana Rockwell Trevor)
Last chapter we saw how Perez cleanly and deftly rebooted the Wonder Woman franchise, discarding all the old continuity, the weird bondage, the creepily gender-centric weaknesses, the sexist "ooh a May-un, I must follow him home!" and outdated "we must fight Nazis!" motivations for leaving Paradise, and her jingoistic 40s-style association with the American Way. One thing he did leave, however, was her costume. Because her costume is iconic. (I blame the TV show for this. And inertia. Two reboots now, at least five perfect story-based opportunities to get her into something sane, and it just never happens.)
This obviously presented a problem, seeing as the costume no longer made sense at all in Diana's new, completely American-free context. Perez attempted to cope with this conundrum by giving Diana's costume itself its own sort of backstory, which is what this chapter is concerned with. Because Perez being Perez, he didn't just write a story about the bathing suit; he wrote an intricate, moving epic that spans two generations, connects Steve and Diana on a personal level and Themyscira and Man's World on a historical one, and solidifies and reinforces one of the most fundamental traits of the very concept of "Wonder Woman."
The story of Diana Trevor, from the reader's perspective, begins with her son. I glossed over his intro in the first chapter, so let's get into it in more detail now. We're back in issue #2, and Steve's out testing a new plane with his co-pilot, when they suddenly run into an impossible, deadly wild storm.
Things About Perez' Run That Kind of Annoy Me, Number Three: primitive amazons. They've been a society for three thousand years. They have no disease, no natural disasters, no famine or shortage of resources, no sudden death, no war to destroy libraries or colleges, no loss of knowledge between master and apprentice, and a lifespan that allows mastery of multiple disciplines on a level no human could master with even one, and their island is bountiful enough to provide ridiculous quantities of spare time. They also have a vicious, lethal enemy sitting right on their doorstep that periodically tries to escape and kill them all, which is really a great motivator for innovation. These facts combined should add up to some really impressive military technology and quite a bit of luxury technology as well. Was the invisible robot jet silly as hell? Yes, yes it was, but I still rather prefer that to a bunch of freaking amazons spazzing out over a damn plane.
I like that Steve looks at a dude with a flaming skull for a face and says "back off, can't you see we're out of control?" That just... seems like an uncommonly mild reaction to your flight partner's head suddenly melting.
Okay. So, that's how Diana met Steve. Now we jump ahead a bit, to after Diana beats Ares - whereupon she goes home to Themyscira to report her victory, and all the gods have a bit of a jamboree about how awesome it is that the world wasn't destroyed and Ares didn't kill them all or anything. Zeus in particular is all "wow, I was wrong about those amazons, and especially their champion. She really came through. I should totally reward her." Which, naturally, translates in Zeus' head into "I think I'll go rape Diana."
Let me just take a moment to sidebar here - I am a huge fan of Diana's strong faith in and obedience to her gods, but when I say that, I draw a rather thick line between the Olympians as a whole and the five amazon patrons in particular. Aphrodite, Artemis, Athena, Demeter, Hermes and Hestia have been consistently awesome to her and her people from the very beginning, and it's entirely fitting that she remain their devoted subject. The others... not so much. This is, of course, yet another reason I'm so fond of Rucka's run - the way his Diana interacts with the Olympians, and the difference between her attitude towards the patrons, versus Zeus and Hades, versus Ares, is incredibly appropriate to her history with them. Far more so than, say, Luke's take of a big happy family (much as I like that arc), or Diana's Shamazons interactions with Faux!thena.
Anyway, while Zeus is trying to decide what to wear (swan? shower of golden light? it's been three thousand years, what do the ladies like these days?), the amazons are debating reopening contact with the outside world (and whether to let Diana go back at all, now that the danger of Ares is past).
Interesting that Phillipus is a separatist here. Perez will later have her arguing in favor of contact, mentioning that she's good at it because it being a devil's advocate position for her gives her insight. So good, in fact, that she apparently convinces herself, which I wonder if Perez meant to convey a message by.
Ha. "All will be well." Seriously, Perez' Diana is just too naive to live, and clearly did not pay any attention whatsoever in history class.
Anyway, once Zeus gets his intentions across to Diana, she tells him to fuck off. Politely and worshipfully, of course, but typically, all Zeus hears is no, and he doesn't much like it. Hera jerks him back to Olympus before he can vent his wrath on her or the Amazons, though.
You know, I really enjoy Perez' art, and I love the concept of Olympus' Escheresque, barely Euclidean geometry, but I think Byrne drew it a lot better. Which is sad, because Byrne really failed spectacularly at all things Olympian otherwise.
Yeah, this is why it was inevitable that Athena should stage a coup, right here. Zeus is simply not a just ruler. Sex or probable death! Totally an appropriate way to treat your follower and savior!
"Probable death" is, in this case, a trip through Doom's Doorway, by the way. It may seem odd that the patrons aren't putting up much of a fight here, but a) they have a lot of faith in her, b) they know she'll have secret backup, making this a safer and more effective way to get Zeus off her back than anything else, and c) they know this is a quest Diana needs to take for her own sake, given the answers that lie at the end of it.
Also, if there were no trial, there'd be no story, and this is a comic book here.
So Diana gears up and heads to the door.
Pay attention to that line! "Since the tragic death of she whose name I bear!" That's going to be important later.
Note as well the spent shells, which are also going to be important later. And also the eyes under the stairs, which are, as you might expect, totally a monster about to jump up and kill her.
Well, try to kill her anyway.
Diana really makes a habit out of killing hecatoncheries. She'll have a big awesome fight with Briareos a few chapters up in Rucka's run. Now if we can just get her to find and kill Gyges, she'll have a complete set. That should totally be the first storyarc of WW: Confidential. Seriously, why is that title not being published?
Anyway, with Cottus dead, Diana goes on to fight and kill a couple other impressively dangerous mythological creatures, namely a hydra and Echidna, and there's this whole other sideplot where a vulture shows up and stares down Hippolyta, which convinces her to get her badass on and go through the door after her daughter (this is the secret backup I was talking about). The vulture stays with her on the other side of the door as well, and helps her find the correct passages to follow Diana. This is really, really interesting when you recall that in Greek myth, the vulture is one of Ares' creatures. True to his word after their fight, Perez' Ares really did become Diana's ally.
None of which is relevant, though, actually, since Polly being badass is always of the good, but not why we're here, so let's go back to Diana, who has finally reached the end of the cave system.
Weirdly, Perez' Poseidon is quite friendly to Diana. Given that everything he's ever said or done to her since has been outright antagonistic (which is way more in keeping with his mythic characterization - he was possibly a bigger asshole than Zeus and Hera put together, really), I hope she's appreciating it while she can.
Those are the lamest pteryges in the history of pteryges. Look at that, they don't even cover her crotch. Might as well not even be wearing them for all the protection they offer. Mid-thigh at least, Perez, come on man! You're better than that!
Running parallel to Diana's quest beneath Doom's Door is some stuff with Etta and Steve back in America; his dad has just died, so he's gone back home, and he's been telling Etta about his parents (mostly his mother).
Shouldn't that photo be in black and white?
"Classical" has always struck me as such a weird word choice here. A humanities scholar would probably specify doric, ionic or corinthian if she were feeling that kind of precise. An average joe would probably just say "greek."
Check that art out. Diana Rockwell Trevor's death throes: not sexy in the least. Hard freaking core, yes. Totally badass, yes. Sexy, no. She's sliced up, bedraggled, hair mussed and in disarray, her scream of pain does not look in the least orgasmic... Man, that's so awesome and classy.
There's a bit of a sum-up in the second Wondy Annual too, which goes into a bit of detail about how Diana feels about wearing Diana Rockwell's symbol, and fills in some more detail.
Here, you can kind of see that the double-double is the most important part of the costume, and why - because Diana learned when she came to Man's World that the stars, the stripes, and the red white and blue are American, and she doesn't wear the costume to honor America. She wears it to honor Diana Rockwell Trevor, and her specific coat of arms, the thing that mostly means just her, which she herself designed, is that winged W symbol. This comes up again in Loebs' run, first during her space pirate days when she mocks up a WW but lets the rest slide, and then later when the mantle goes to Artemis and Diana explicitly calls out her decision to always fight under that symbol in particular.
Y'know, I'm willing to accept that Pan has a power level approximately equivalent to that of a GL - the Olympians are pretty cosmically badass, but Pan is a minor deity on the level of, say, Ares' sons, so a Manhunter taking him out works just fine. But here, we actually have a Manhunter being brought up to a cosmic level, which... doesn't. I mean, it seems to me that if individual Manhunters were actually so powerful that their battles could warp reality, the Lanterns would have been pretty fucking hosed.
You know, this actually seems to me like a bit of needless piling on, honestly (not to mention a major disservice to the amazons' combat skills). Diana Rockwell Trevor crash-landed on an island, fell into a battle that was none of her own with a horrifying beast that nothing in her prior experience could possibly have prepared her for, and without a thought, she fearlessly tossed herself into the fray and gave her life to save a total stranger who didn't even speak her language. That's seriously hardcore herosim, right there. There really isn't a need to toss "saved the world, too" in on top of that. If anything, I feel like that almost cheapens the whole thing, like her sacrifice wasn't worthy enough when it was just for Menalippe and Philippus, like our Diana can't carry her name unless she was playing on the same scale as Diana herself. That's a foolish concept, and utterly the opposite of everything Diana's about.
So there's the origin of the Roman name and the Stars-n-Stripes bathing suit. Diana's costume is an amazon impression of an American soldier's personal coat-of-arms, worn to honor that American's noble sacrifice for the Amazon cause. Now that Diana has isolated the actual coat-of-arms bit, the American iconography has become more a matter of habit and familiarity than anything, but she will never, ever, ever not fight under the double-double.
It doesn't entirely work, of course. Because amazons would design tribute armor with amazonian aesthetic sensibilities. Like, for example, the suit of armor that Diana Rockwell Trevor was buried in. Now that looks like an amazon interpretation of her "coat of arms" (minus the pteryges, of course, which are made of woe and fail). Diana's "armor" doesn't look anything like any other amazonian armor we've ever seen, nor does it look like any kind of clothing they've ever designed - it just isn't something an amazon would have come up with. I mean, all in all, I think Perez did a damn good job of making it make sense for her to still be wearing this silly, jingoistic riot of random foreign patriotism even in her post-Crisis reboot, but the fact remains that she's wearing a silly, jingoistic riot of random foreign patriotism, which is both insanely impractical (no freaking way it wouldn't just peel right off her body the first time she tried to fly anywhere) and aesthetically absurd at best. Plus the connotations of its rather stripperiffic nature aren't exactly ideal to be attaching to Wonder Woman.
But, y'know, in the end, that doesn't even matter, because despite its ostensible purpose, the important part of this story really isn't the costume, when you get right down to it - it's Diana Rockwell Trevor, and the sacrifice she made for the amazons. Wonder Woman is the most powerful woman on Earth. She can go toe-to-toe with Superman and drag planets around. She's been an actual, literal goddess. She is more moral, dedicated, wise, and strong than anybody. And yet, she looks up to one of us. She wears a standard that honors someone humbler than any amazon. She strives to live up to the example set by a single, simple human, a nobody pilot with no special powers and no special calling who was never celebrated or even really known at all to her own world. That's just... such an incredibly powerful message. She's not above us, she's not something we can't be. The heroism she's inherited is ours. The amazons, especially Diana, are better than us. But they're not better than we can be, and that message is core to the whole Wondy mythos. And the story of Diana Rockwell Trevor is the pure, distilled heart of it.
Scans are from WWv2 #2-12, #93, and Wondy Annual #2, most of which is collected in the "Challenge of the Gods" TPB.
Next time: Perez will probably make you cry over a character you've never heard of, and Polly proves the awesome is hereditary.