Posted on November 9th, 2010 - 12:50 PM by Greg Kirkorian
In honor of the many changes that have recently affected one of DC Comics’ most long lived character, I’m writing five problems I see with Wonder Woman and how they might be fixed.
Part 4: The Sex(less) Doll
I guess it’s fitting that a character made from dirt is written with the sexuality of a headstone, but that doesn’t make it any more interesting. Wonder Woman has long been depicted with a virginal saintliness, deprived of human contact outside the realm of sisterly hugging with the nearest safely feminine woman or alternatively punching misogynists in the face. I think the heart of this problem lies in the massive void that was created when the character’s original golden age relationship and sexuality were wiped out. In the Golden Age, she was a lady in the street and a freak in the bed, so to speak. That is to say, in her civilian life as Army Nurse Diana Prince (or even as Princess Diana) she was a pining romantic and in her role as Wonder Woman she was a bit of a dominatrix. Once World War Two was no longer a functional setting for the heroine, out went the sense in her relationship (what logical role would an Army Nurse have in non-army life and why would she have a continuing relationship with an intelligence officer). Similarly, after original writer William Moulton Marston was no longer writing the book, out went the kinky fetish interest that was based in his own private interests. Admittedly I’m not a comics historian, but nonetheless this is how I see it. In the absence of those aspects of her life, Wonder Woman was left with a huge gaping hole at her center, one that no one has been able to fill since.
Ways People Might Try (and mostly fail) To Solve Her Relationship Troubles
1- Bringing Back Steve Trevor
Steve Trevor worked when he worked because of the context in which Wonder Woman was being written. He can work again, but ONLY if one is willing to return Wonder Woman to the army, where their romance makes sense. The problem is that our views of the United States and of the army have grown much more complicated since the second World War, and it would be nearly impossible to set her in that space without constantly running into problems of political incorrectness and offensiveness, or alternatively writing with extreme nuance about subjects that are highly complicated morally. Needless to say, there is a dearth of writers who could tackle that challenge.
In summary, that’s a terrible idea unless maybe on Earth One.
2- Continued Asexuality/Virginity
This would actually be an interesting idea if someone had the stones to go ahead and do it. What I mean is, the character is currently being written as if she was asexual, or at best falsely sexual, but without this being a stated choice. If someone were to play with the idea of a truly asexual person we could have a character whose friendships had a decidedly romantic quality, but outside the confines of our society’s monogamy fixation. Even more complicated would be a character with sexual urges who resists them in favor of being a virgin in the Ancient Greek temple maiden sense. In both cases, most writers would probably have trouble placing themselves in the shoes of one in these atypical circumstances, so I doubt it will happen.
3- The False Lead
This is the big one. Many superhero comics miss out on the fact that the love interest (much like the rest of the supporting cast, the alter-ego, the costume, and the rogues gallery) are all just aspects of the main character’s dramatic themes or concepts.
So for the case of Superman:
The Value: The American Way i.e. honest, hard work and playing it straight (this idea has yellowed a bit)
The Occupation: Reporter. The reason that this works is because the reporting done by the Daily Planet seeks to undo corruption, which would get in the way of the value
The Villain: Lex Luthor, the ultimate corrupt business man
The Love Interest: Plucky Alpha-Reporter Lois Lane, who embodies journalistic integrity, bravery and the ideals of the occupation
Now for Wonder Woman (using the most recent circumstance previous to the current run)
The Value: Compassion (this is probably why she was a nurse originally) and Truth
The Occupation: Super Spy. This is sadly where they went so wrong. How exactly does being a secret operative relate to either of her core values?
The Villain: Genocide, a crazy emotion corrupting dark mirror villain. Not terrible, but not great, if only because she’s so deliberate and formulaic. Villain creation differs from other aspects of character creation in that it needs a bit of comic book wackiness to not feel so obvious.
The Love Interest: Super Spy Tom Tresser a.k.a. Nemesis. This actually is a perfect love interest for this occupation, if the job fit Wonder Woman at all. Poor Nemesis could’ve worked so well with another character, say, The Question. Then again, he’s not really her type.
Note that in this case, the lead fails based on premise not on his own merit within that premise. Often it’s another case. For instance, let’s pretend Wonder Woman was in a job that represented her core value of compassion– A Zoo-keeper. This would probably be a terrible choice since it’s not enough of a springboard for stories, but at least it would embody her characteristics and be better than sticking her in a Taco Restaurant. Now let’s say you introduce Friendly Teacher Smiley Bobenkins as a love interest because he takes his class to the zoo one day. A teacher actually isn’t a terrible match, but in this context they have really no need to bump up into each other ever. In the end, all of their interactions will feel unnecessary and ham-fisted. Now if you’d chosen instead Collegiate Zoology Professor Jackwell Handsome, the match could work a lot better.
Ultimately, it comes down to a process of overall design of a character’s circumstances into which a Romantic lead fits. When the lead is created independent of a character’s station, or alternatively, when a character’s station is not fitting for them, we have the birth of the false lead. This is also known as the failed lead that never sticks. This is also true for: villains, sidekicks, supporting characters, and alter-egos, and costumes.
JMS’s Run: Straczynski really hasn’t played at all with the notion of a romantic lead. Maybe the oracle girl counts?
Tagged: DC comics · michael Straczynski · wonder woman
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