In 2006, I was contacted
about contributing to a
Wonder Woman anthology
But like most things literary, it never came to be. “No Wonder Woman movie, no anthology,” they said.
The essay sat in an untitled folder for another year, unused but not forgotten. In writing this essay about Wonder Woman, I’d discovered and articulated exactly why this character had come to mean so much to me.
2007, frustrated that it wasn’t being read, I published it on my blog, “Seven Hells!” and finally let it loose into the wild.
Seven years on and I still feel this essay is one of the best things I’ve ever written and for one reason, it came from the heart.
1975 was the year my skull exploded.
On the whole, I can’t recall 1975 all that well. I was only three years old at the time. I am, though, fairly certain that I was probably wrestling with the dilemmas presented to much of America’s three-year-olds. For one, I was probably trying to get that whole too-cool-for-pre-school thing down to a funky science. For another, I was probably very much trying to not think of my nose as a thing of play, barring that, how I could actively work it into next year’s “America’s Bicentennial” celebrations. You know, just to give the family something to talk about in their golden years and, well, because I was nothing if not a patriot.
Again, I don’t remember much about 1975, but I am fairly certain that it was the year that my little life changed. At least I assume it did because, again, I don’t recall much about 1975, but I do know this: my little skull exploded. In 1975, something beautiful was unwittingly (or was it, wittingly) set into motion. Something I, to this day, am only just beginning to somewhat comprehend some thirty-plus years later. I didn’t know it but I’d found … love. I have not, nor do I care to find a way out to the other side.
In 1975, my mother plopped me down in front of a television, introducing me to Lynda Carter and to Wonder Woman. I was quietly mesmerized sitting there, bathed in the grayish glow of our black-and-white television.
Who was this…this…person? Why was she doing this to me? Why was she making me hang on her every word? Why did Lynda Carter’s portrayal of Wonder Woman have to be so damned… different?
Who gave the character Wonder Woman, this White princess from a fictional utopia and dressed in a star-spangled bikini, permission to come through my television and seemingly speak only to me, a smallish black child living in urban Washington, DC? Who let her into my house? Who let her into my heart?
Despite our obvious and vast differences, there was something there. Something I could barely wrap my head around. It spoke to me. There she was, Ms. Lynda Carter, dressed up in a bathing suit, high-heeled boots and a golden rope, smiling (God, that smile!) all the while. She should have looked ridiculous but, of course, she didn’t. She looked regal, elegant. How was she pulling this nearly superhuman feat off? I didn’t know it at the time, but it was so simple – even though but many others in her position failed to comprehend…
Lynda Carter knew what many others did not. Superman’s “S” sells itself. As difficult as it may be to believe, it is easy to cloak oneself in “Bat Shark Repellent” and let the moment speak for itself. Lynda Carter found Wonder Woman’s core and let it shine for everyone to see. If the Wonder Woman were to survive, Ms. Carter had to bring to the role that one divine thing women seem to have in greater supply than most men:
Now, I’m sure, that I was somewhat aware of the concept of the super-hero. To be a super-hero one had to have a costume, powers, or a little boy like the one that Batman had on the TV show… and so yes, dignity had to be in there somewhere, right? Because they were guys, guys who, I guessed, had dignity. Up to this point, I assumed that all anyone had to have to play one of these “supermen” was:
• Show a willingness to puff out one’s chest at the first sign of trouble.
• The putting of fists on one’s hips while spouting ludicrous dialogue at the second sign of trouble.
• Take yourself and not the character way too seriously.
• Don’t ever forget you’re a “serious” actor, after all.
• Above all, be eager enough to earn one’s pay as a serious actor while wearing satin briefs.
In watching that first episode of Wonder Woman, I was taught more about gender equality than any lecture I ever could have sat in at anyone’s school. In Lynda Carter’s first episode, I found out that women, unlike men, are elegant in satin briefs.
In satin, I glimpsed dignity.
Full disclosure: I’ve been reading comics for over thirty years now, through the “up” times of the early 90’s speculator boom and the “down” times, where comics are always seemingly on their last legs (which someone in the mainstream media proclaims like, every other year or so) and someone is always asking, “Where is our newest Watchmen?”
Personally, I think the better question to ask should be, “Where can I find more of the moral ambiguity in the comics of my angry youth?” Don’t get it twisted, I love and admire The Watchmen mainly for the spotlight it’s shone on the “super-hero.” Yes, The Watchmen certainly had and still has something to say about the time in which it was made. But ultimately, its heroes lack something fundamental to the super-hero aesthetic. In the end (and The Watchmen did have an end), these characters took looked upon themselves and realized their greatest sin.
They failed to inspire.
Therein lies the victory of Wonder Woman. Though a warrior, Wonder Woman has no battle cry. When the mission foremost in your mind is to uplift, compel, and inspire, one needs not cry out in battle. Instead, if she must, she cries out for those who cannot. She will stand for dignity.
In Gotham City, a child had to kneel in a pool of his parents’ blood in order to find a purpose. This child would eventually become one with the night, becoming a Dark Knight, The Batman. Years before, a rocket, carrying an infant, slammed into a Kansas cornfield and all anyone could do was hope for the best. That child would later become the greatest of all heroes, a man of steel. He would become Superman. On the fictional Greek island of Themyscira, home to the Amazons, Wonder Woman’s mother, Queen Hippolyta prayed to the Greek gods of old and received one of their greatest gifts, a daughter. Where other heroes lives were born of death, this princess’ was born of life. She was later named Diana, after the goddess of the moon and the hunt. This child had the blessing of swiftness bestowed upon her by the god Mercury. She was blessed with a loving heart by Aphrodite. By Athena, she was blessed with wisdom. Above all, this was the greatest of her gifts. One, ultimately, defining her in ways lifting a tank over her head never could.
Though I will never know the thrill of holding a tank over my head, I still can identify with this character.
I will probably never inherit a vast fortune in order to wage a one-man war on crime.
I have never crash landed in a Kansas cornfield, surviving it in order to discover I have powers beneficial to mankind.
I can identify with Wonder Woman more than any other superhero for three simple reasons.
• I was raised by a single mother.
• I was raised with conviction.
• I have been underestimated.
To be a Black man in this world is to know that with almost every new room you walk into, you will be upon sight sized up, scrutinized and possibly underestimated. I can’t say for certain but I have always imagined this to be a bit of what it is to be a woman.
Wonder Woman is the voice
of the underestimated.
Wonder Woman, with every new room she walks into, imparts upon those around her the greatest of gifts: the understanding of dignity. In that, she stands apart from her super-hero brethren. This character was decidedly born of wonder. In that, she is made unique. She came to, as she called it, “Patriarch’s World” (The United States) fully realized. With a mission. The world had need and Diana answered its call. How could she have done otherwise? She was the absolute of the gods, the greatest of their gifts. With her ability to wrestle super-powered despots with her bare hands in fields of battle, the world bestowed upon her a new title, one she was who could practically lay claim to godhood, surely never would have chosen for herself. That name became her. She became the name. She became Wonder Woman. Later on, in the field of government, as Themyscira’s sole ambassador and by utilizing Athena’s gift of wisdom, she would come to wrestle down despots through the conviction found in her words and manner. She became a champion of just causes, giving voice to those who’d had theirs quieted. In doing so, she further proved the name of Wonder Woman, to be one well-deserved.
With the power of the gods as her birthright, a wonderful by-product emerged. In her choice of mission, she discovered her greatest ability:
I think is the key to understanding Wonder Woman. She, as a character and as an icon, in a philosophical or physical fight, would probably be the first name to leap, alliteratively, from the mouths of the heroic inhabitants of the DC Comics Universe as the one person most would want on their side in a time of crisis. In battle, you simply need someone who cares; a diplomat willing to find common ground with the opposition. A warrior brave enough to fire the first warning shot, a leader brave enough to back up their play with force, if necessary. Someone not entirely willing to bow simply to the idea of acceptable losses. You need someone willing to want to beat the odds, no matter how grave. Someone who wants everyone who stands at her side to return home to the ones who care for them most. If Wonder Woman should have to crush her enemy beneath her boot heel in order to accomplish this feat… those are the only losses she’s willing to accept.
Her track record doesn’t lie. Many the comics panel has been drawn where in the aftermath of battle, one character stands, head held high, alone and triumphant amongst the ruins of the defeated. Just as surely as Superman bursting out of chains has become comic book iconography. Just as sure as a horned silhouette has become symbolic with Batman, Princess Diana battered yet unbroken and presented as the last (wo)man standing, over the years, has become her very own comic book iconography.
Like any true hero, she strives to make things better. Unlike other heroes, Wonder Woman does not wait for things to get worse.
“If I let my child out into this world, will they be safe?”
This is the thought that runs through the mind of every good parent. This is the same thought running through Queen Hippolyta’s mind at any given moment and Wonder Woman, as a daughter, knows this. Diana, unlike her comrades-in-arms Batman and Superman, was born not out of sacrifice but of a mother’s desire to love.
Diana was raised in an Amazonian society where everyone was taught to respect the uniqueness of the individual. Like her Amazonian sisters, she was blessed with immortality. As Diana, she was born the last of the Amazons. As Diana, she knows having family is also a blessing. As someone blessed with immortality, she’s come to respect and understand the short, mercurial nature of the human life. Wonder Woman, herself a stranger in a strange land, as she probably sees it, there is no better way to honor human life than her to do so with dignity.
As swiftly as the power of Mercury makes things possible.
As efficiently as the wisdom of Athena will allow.
In her protecting the lives of others, there is no greater show of love and respect to the lessons taught her by her mother.
Wonder Woman is what most heroes strive to be. Their mother’s child; strong, proud and assured, making her the most human of heroes.
Wonder Woman displays a mental clarity that other heroes simply seem to lack. She is simply comics’ most self-possessed super-hero. She believes in herself. She believes in her mission. She believes that every experience she’s ever had has brought her to this day. In this, she commands the respect of others. Wonder Woman once in motion, she is confidence personified.
Wonder Woman is “us,” out there. Out there making the best of a world we don’t wholly understand, applying the lessons handed down, good or bad.
Lately, I find it much, much harder to give my time and money to “genius” teenagers who clumsily walk headfirst into unshielded radioactive danger. Sure, characters of that kind will always occupy the avenues of my heart zoned “Nostalgia,” but these days, I need my heroes to be something more than the by-products of radioactive ignorance. I need for them to be heroes in the truest sense of the word. As a grown man, I need them to be brave, strong, and self-reliant.
In writing that last line, I’ve come to realize that the majority of comic book characters should act more like Wonder Woman.
Thirty-plus years ago, I saw dignity take form in satin.
Today, I believe I’ve been made a better man for it.