SPOILERS for the Wonder Woman storyline “Rise Of The Olympian,” including last week’s Wonder Woman #30, after the jump.
It’s an understatement to say that Wonder Woman’s “Rise of the Olympian” storyline has been bleak. On the surface it is a clever combination of “Knightfall” and “The Death of Superman,” the attention-grabbing arcs from the early ‘90s which showed Batman and Superman defeated by implacable killing machines. As “Knightfall’s” Bane did with Batman, Wonder Woman is being run ragged by a couple of evil masterminds. In the Doomsday role is Genocide, created out of the soils of killing fields by the Secret Society of Super-Villains to be a hideous parody of Wonder Woman herself. Meanwhile, Zeus is creating his own “Manazons” (actually called Olympians) in order to accomplish what Hippolyta, Diana, and the rest of the Amazons couldn’t. Before Wonder Woman has to deal with the new guys, though, Genocide defeats her and cuts a vicious swath through her friends, super-powered and not -- especially Diana’s best friend Etta Candy. It was all to show Diana her friends suffering; which, as Genocide’s creator T.O. Morrow explains later, is Diana's only weakness.
Thus, towards the end of Wonder Woman #30, an angry Wonder Woman, bent on destruction, storms the Secret Society’s downtown-Gotham headquarters. “I’m shutting you down,” she announces to the handful of C-list bad guys still left on the premises. She then attacks the skyscraper’s foundation, tearing it down from the inside to the accompaniment of her own defiance:
I had thought I was done with this. I vowed never to let this happen again. The rage. Letting it run me like a rabbit being hunted. I thought it was a one-time mistake. It could never happen again, I told myself. I fancied I would always retain control from then on. I was a fool. But [now] no longer a puppet. No longer a pawn.
Although “ROTO” still has three issues to go, this looks a lot like the turning point. Diana has already gone Jack Bauer on the Cheetah (one of the aforementioned architects of Genocide’s rampage), reminding the villainess of Max Lord’s fate along the way. That was just a warmup, though: now the gloves have come off. If this were a Superman story, we’d be seeing the Angry Eyes of barely-controlled heat vision. If it were Green Lantern, she’d be vomiting blood … uh, in a productive way. Indeed, issue #23 has already showed Diana with her own set of artificially-induced glowing red eyes, fighting the Devil (or a reasonable facsimile) on the National Mall.
While seeing Diana destroy that skyscraper was pretty impressive, her thoughts about “control” reminded me of something from the old days of Wonder Woman. Originally, Wonder Woman’s bracelets weren’t just for deflecting projectiles. They were formally called “bracelets of submission,” because as long as she wore them they kept her from going insane with power. This she did when they were removed, for example in Sensation Comics #19 (July 1943) and Comics Cavalcade #13 (Winter 1945) and #18 (December 1946-January 1947). According to my trusty Michael Fleisher Wonder Woman Encyclopedia (which also provided those citations), in Wonder Woman vol. 1 #6 (Fall 1943), Diana explains that “[o]ur bracelets bind us to the service of love and beauty and thus protect us from evil!” The bracelets lost this function (as well as the handicap of weakening her when they were chained together) in the 1986 revamp.
My point (before getting too deep into trivia) is that a big part of the “old” Wonder Woman was concerned with keeping her power in check. William Moulton Marston created the character as an alternative to the Golden Age’s more violence-prone male heroes, and wanted her to be more than just the toughest gal on the block. This is not the old Wonder Woman …
… but let me be clear, I don’t necessarily have a problem with that. I’ve been reading Wonder Woman since the 1986 revamp started, and have enjoyed seeing how various writers, from George Perez and Bill Messner-Loebs to Phil Jiminez and Greg Rucka, have viewed the character. I think Gail Simone has been a great fit for the title, and “Rise of the Olympian” is shaping up to be a memorable, gut-wrenching epic.
My reservations come from the fact that everything about “Wonder Woman” was meant originally to advance Dr. Marston’s personal, particular views on (for lack of a better phrase) how women can save the world. Marston remained very protective of his creation right up until his death in 1947. Unlike Superman and Batman, whose mythologies were augmented by adaptations for radio (i.e., Kryptonite) and the movies (the Batcave), Wonder Woman kept pretty much to the comics, almost all of which were written by Marston. Accordingly, while Marston left behind a singular body of work, it seems like fans and pros alike haven’t quite known what to do with it. Offhand, I’d say that Marston wanted Wonder Woman to be a lover, but DC has been beefing up her fighter cred.
The question is, how much of Marston’s personal views can survive, realistically, in a corporately-owned character who, through no direct action of her corporate masters, became a symbol for feminists everywhere? Marston didn’t have to contend with radio and movie producers, but for the past forty years, DC has had to be mindful of Gloria Steinem, Lynda Carter, “Super Friends,” Keri Russell, et al. In this respect, Wonder Woman has just about caught up with her Trinitarian brothers.
And yet, unlike Superman and Batman, Wonder Woman hasn't become untouchable enough to lose her social consciousness. Oh sure, Batman and Superman are inspirational figures (each in his own way), but that’s just a side effect of their public personae. With Wonder Woman, it’s the reason for her existence. Superman tends to reject his culture’s dictates, while Wonder Woman is here to evangelize for hers. You get the idea -- and of course, Trinity spent much of its first act hashing out these differences.
Today, though, Diana’s mission of peace and fellowship is balanced against her skill as a warrior. This was apparent even from the beginning of the 1986 revamp. In Wonder Woman vol. 2 #5 (June 1987), Diana decapitates Ares’ son Deimos with her razor-sharp tiara; but in the next issue she defeats Ares himself non-violently, through the Lasso of Truth. More recently, in issue #210 (January 2005), Greg Rucka foreshadowed Max Lord’s death by having Diana decapitate Medousa in a globally-televised duel. Since coming aboard as regular writer, Gail Simone has had Wonder Woman deliver a parade of beatdowns on such foes as Gorilla City soldiers, neo-Nazis, Khunds, a Green Lantern, demons, and Beowulf. Again, I thought that for the most part, these were all well-done stories (I was a little lost during the Beowulf/Stalker/D’Grth issues), but I wondered how Dr. Marston would have felt about them.
(By the way, if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend Noah Berlatsky’s series of posts on the Golden Age Wonder Woman and how today’s versions stack up. Someday I hope to get myself more educated on those original stories.)
The current storyline is called “Rise Of The Olympian” for a reason, however, and we meet him in issue #30. Created by Zeus out of fire (as opposed to "cold and unmoving" clay) and given the heart of a vanquished rival, Achilles the Olympian isn’t simply a parody of Wonder Woman, he’s a more metal version of her as well. “Your heart … will not melt when it should be coarse. [It] will not rot when it should be steel…. Made for war, you will stand for peace.”
This is “peace through strength,” though: none of that pesky sympathy or compassion for Achilles or his colleagues. Issue #28 says Zeus’ new Olympians are bent on “end[ing] war on the face of the earth,” and they’ve already (in issue #29) scuttled a Navy warship just for existing. Ironically, Zeus creates Achilles to carry on the mission that the deceased Athena had set for Diana, so here’s hoping that Achilles is more than a mere brute.
By herself, Genocide would be a decent antagonist for Wonder Woman, in a sort of retro-‘90s way; but glorious, testosterone-y Achilles makes “ROTO” even more promising. As the “male Wonder Woman,” Achilles looks like Simone’s avenue for examining why Diana must be a feminine ideal, as opposed to “the female” Superman, Thor, Wolverine, etc.
I like "ROTO" for its potential to get to the heart of Wonder Woman’s character -- not just as reimagined by Perez, Rucka, or Simone, but as originally conceived by Marston. I think Simone can bring Wonder Woman out of these latest tribulations rededicated to the spirit (if not the practice) of her creator’s goals, and I’m looking forward to the rest of this arc.