Savas Abadsidis and Randy Ham (with a little help from Wonder Woman writer/artist Phil Jimenez) chat about the current Wonder Woman and what makes her different than the Wonder Woman we’ve all come to know and love.
SAVAS: Hey Randy, a lot of folks HATE the new WW–I think she’s pretty badass, what’s the deal?
RANDY: Make yourself a drink, have a seat. This could take a while.
I was 8 years old when I got my first Wonder Woman comic. As a little boy in West Texas, comics were a way of escaping from the flat, drab, dusty plains of my home. I read New Teen Titans, Green Lantern, Batman, you name it. They were all fun reads, but none of them Spoke To Me like Wonder Woman.
Wonder Woman taught me that you could be strong, powerful and compassionate. Everything about her background had prepared her for her mission in man’s world: Daughter of the Queen of the Amazons, sculpted from clay on the shores of Paradise Island, and imbued with life by the goddesses of the Greek pantheon, raised by the entire race of Amazons. Wonder Woman had a unique perspective on the feminine, as it was the only thing she’s ever known. I learned that I could like things that were considered ‘feminine’ and not be ashamed of it. I also realized 2 very important things early on: I would never be Wonder Woman, and I could never really ‘relate’ to her. That was ok by me. I didn’t need to be Wonder Woman, I just used her example to be a better person.
In 1986, when she was re-imagined by George Perez, the foundation of the character, her uniqueness among the plethora of superheroes, was strengthened by heightening the femininity of her origin. I was elated.
As her adventures continued, and various writers took over the title, I saw that even if I didn’t like a specific writer or story, the basis of her mission, and her motivation never wavered.
In 2005, I started to notice a troubling trend. There was a thread running through the big DC crossovers (and some other titles Wonder Woman appeared in) that she had ‘lost touch’ with humanity. Say What? She used to work at Taco Whiz for Chrissakes! You wanna stay in touch with ‘humanity?’ Work in fast food. Trust me. I know.
Soon after that, DC launched the New 52. Brian Azzarello rewrote Wonder Woman completely. No longer was she the product of a mother’s yearning for a child and the generosity of her patron goddesses, Wonder Woman is now the child produced by the union of Hippolyte and Zeus, king of the gods. In other words, she’s another Demi-God bastard of Zeus. If that were not enough, the Amazons are now a brutish race of women who copulate every 10 years with unsuspecting sailors, who are then killed. The female children are raised as Amazons, while the males are exchanged with Hephaestus for weapons.
In short, Azzarello diminished her, making her no longer special. With nothing to differentiate her, she became just another superhero.
Now, I am all for DC wanting to make a buck off of her comic. That’s the name of the game, after all. But in making her just like every other hero in the DCU, they have robbed her ability to inspire and enlighten. This iteration of the character is hardly likely to find its way into the hands of an 8 year old boy in rural Texas. Even if it did, this Wonder Woman is not here to elicit feelings of joy, nobility, and courage. This is a Wonder Woman who serves up BadAss-ery. She takes no prisoners. She serves as arm candy for Superman. What is noble about her actions? What does she do to inspire women (and men)? I am left to Wonder, who is this Woman?
SAVAS: BUT, can’t you see the potential for there to be a learning curve here? I mean, who’s to say that this iteration of the character doesn’t eventually achieve the enlightenment that you desire?
RANDY: Ah, there’s the old ‘Let’s Tear Her Down So We Can Build Her Back Up,’ Trope. We have seen Wonder Woman’s journey toward enlightenment before. What is different here is that the foundation of the character is altered. She’s been re-built to become ‘more relatable.’ It’s a trend in the DCU now, and a troubling one. Wonder Woman shouldn’t have to be relatable by being from a broken home. She is someone to aspire to.
Case in point: I was asked to help put together a reading list of Wonder Woman comics for an all-girls non-profit summer reading club. These girls are ages 10-16. The director and I made a conscious decision NOT to include anything from this re-launch. Not only could it confuse the girls, but neither of us was comfortable putting this iteration of the character up as a role model for young women (or young men for that matter).
To be honest, between the fact that Azarello completely re-wrote her origin, and the fact that his ‘re-imagined’ Greek pantheon (Rucka did that better, in my opinion) and guest stars such as Orion from the New Gods take up such prime real estate in her book, it feels like Wonder Woman was shoe-horned into a story already thought out. I imagine Azzarello and (Dan) Didio (co-publisher of DC Comics), talking it up over dinner.
Azzarello: Dan, I have this great idea for a new DC series, maybe a Vertigo title. It has to do with the greek gods, but, modern and creepy. We could even throw in the Kirby New Gods just for fun.
Didio: That’s excellent. You know, I think Wonder Woman has Greek Gods in her book or something. I’m not sure. Why don’t you just take over Wonder Woman and use it to tell your story.
Azzarello: Well, to be honest, I can’t really ‘relate’ to someone sculpted out of clay. It’s so unrealistic.
Didio: What if I told you to re-write her origin while you were at it? I mean, I can’t relate to it either. It’s not ‘real’ like a lone survivor from an alien world, or an orphan dressing up like a bat to fight crime.
Azzarello: Hell yeah! I mean, no one ever wrote Wonder Woman correctly anyway…
Didio: Now we’re talking!
It doesn’t help that in the interviews Azzarello gave as the book launched he basically trashed the other writers and artists who had come before him. That’s the double edged sword of the comic world these days. Before the internet, I didn’t read many interviews with creators, and didn’t know a lot of what went on behind the scenes. I just judged the book on its own merits. This is not the first time that a writer or artist has turned me off in such a way that I have dropped a book. I do think this time it’s different. I still would have dropped the title after issue #3, regardless of Azzarello’s comments. He just made it easier.
SAVAS: BUT–circa 1972, Jack Kirby took over Jimmy Olsen to introduce the 4th World, which would bother fans at the time.
RANDY: Jimmy Olsen is not Wonder Woman. It’s a whole different beast to take over an established third tier character (at best) and using his book to launch something else. It’s entirely different to hijack one of the DCU Trinity and make her a guest star in her own book. Also, Azzarello has barely established this new book and he’s already using it as a launching pad for a new cast of characters.
SAVAS: What about Morrison’s Earth One version?
RANDY: I am super excited about G Mo’s Earth One. Judging from interviews (SEE???!!) I think he’s on the right track with this story.
‘She’s very different, and I’m really focusing a lot more on the mother and daughter story in it between Hippolyta and Diana. I want it to be that kind of book, a story about women. I grew up with my own mother and sister in the house, and it was watching that and the way women can tear each other apart and lift each other up at the same time. I wanted to do a little bit of my own experience with those characters.
Diana’s a lot more defiant in it and she’s not sent to man’s world — she runs away to it so there’s a very different dynamic between her and Hippolyta, and the entire thing basically takes place around a trial.
I always felt one of the fundamentals of Wonder Woman in at least the last two decades is that she always seems to be on trial, and I don’t mean that in a story sense. Everyone’s always saying, “Why does nobody buy Wonder Woman? Why isn’t she any good?” (Laughs) it seems like she’s always on trial, so I thought if I literalized that and made the story basically the Amazons bringing her back home after her first adventure away and putting her on trial, it’d be different from anything else you might see. The Amazons have their own ways of doing things.
It’s kind of asking Wonder Woman to justify herself, which I feel has almost been what the character’s had to do for a long time.’ (From USA Today interview with Grant Morrison 7/28/13)
SAVAS: I still think that every generation gets a version of their hero. Let me put it this way: For me there are three definitive Wonder Women:
The 70s TV series
Roy Thomas’ All-Star Squadron/Infinity Inc. Golden Age Version
George Perez’s Reboot
I don’t see why this iteration is so different.
RANDY: This is where you lose me Savas. This is not a version of Wonder Woman, this is a completely different character running around in star spangled shorts. On the 70’s TV show, you would not have heard Lynda Carter say any dialogue that implied she didn’t have many enemies because she killed them. Roy Thomas would not have written anything resembling Diana using her lasso as a weapon, choking opponents. George Perez’s Wonder Woman did not relish violence. This character is so far removed from the ideals and principles Wonder Woman has symbolized for 70+ years.
The other question you have to ask yourself is: What kind of Wonder Woman do we want this generation to have?
SAVAS: It jumped right into the action, she’s been made out to be the most powerful being in the DCU.
RANDY: I think from 1986 on Wonder Woman was one of the most powerful beings in the DCU, and was written to portray that with grace, courage, dignity and above all, compassion. She had enormous powers, but she didn’t relish using them. She was the Goddess of Truth, after all.
PHIL: (quoting SAVAS) ‘It jumped right into the action; she’s been made out to be the most powerful being in the DCU.’
It would also help if I knew what you meant by “badass” in that nearly every big hero has entered “badass” territory. What makes this Wonder Woman “badass” as it were? What does that even mean? How were other versions not badass in relation to this one?
So the book jumped right into action (as any comic book probably should); and she’s powerful. Is it power that makes Wonder Woman badass? I ask because, in all seriousness, I’m curious what fans value in their characters — esp. in Wonder Woman. For many nu52 Wonder Woman fans, I still l can’t figure out what they *like* about her — except she’s a bitch on wheels who kills her foes instead of reforming them. In real world terms, what does that say about readers or the characters? Why is that a valued, likable attribute? What is so appealing about that approach?
Mind you, the WW of JLA and the WW of her own title are markedly different beasts.
Further, Wonder Woman has always been one of the most powerful beings in the DCU, physically speaking. Pre and post-Crisis.
I actually love the Wonder Woman of Earth-2, the GA version, whose powers were a direct result of Amazon Training. She was the most powerful (before Marston augmented her to compete with Superman) not because of godly intervention but because she WORKED THE HARDEST for them. And she didn’t mind using them; indeed, she loved the CHALLENGE of using them. This was a core tenant of her character: she loved a good challenge. For her, it was, in some ways, all about that — a game. If there’s no challenge in it, then where’s the fun?
As blasphemous as it might be to say, I think Perez jettisoning Amazon Training, as well as the more technologically advanced Amazons, was one of the biggest missteps of the reboot.
RANDY: Here’s the deal: The readers who are on board with the current run are what I (unfairly) refer to as Bat Readers. Bat Readers (and yes, I think you are one of them, Savas), read a lot of different titles, and are SUPER immersive in the mythology and narrative of the entire DCU. To them, Wonder Woman is just another title to read on New Comic Wednesday. Speaking for myself and a select group of my friends, Wonder Woman is more than just another title. She’s an inspiration. We recognize her as the cultural and historical icon and influence she is. For better or worse, we feel protective of her, especially when we think her current steward is doing her and her readers a disservice. The conventional wisdom is that you can either have a Wonder Woman who is ‘badass,’ or you can have a compassionate, courageous hero, who can be an inspiration, but you can’t have both. I respectfully disagree. Wonder Woman can be that one hero who bridges the gap, and who helps us all become Good Men (and Women).