Thursday, February 21, 2013

Not So Perfect

I’ve written a good deal about Wonder Woman’s motivations and backstory. I’ve emphasized her upbringing in an idyllic land, her compassion and generosity, and inclination toward peace and diplomacy. As such, I fear I make her sound like an idealized figure—without flaws, foibles, or pathos.

To hear Diana grew up in a paradise as the beloved Princess of a peaceful people, you might think there’s no drama to her origin. While I don’t adhere to the belief every hero needs to be riddled with tragedy or angst, I can appreciate the feeling there should be some form of loss (for want of a better term) for the hero—as opposed to having a protagonist who came from sunshine & lollipops, and risked nothing in becoming a hero.

But there is some pathos in Diana’s origin—pathos that reinforces her heroism. She was the Princess of this idyllic paradise, hidden away from the world. She could easily have lived her life in peace for all time, but chose to take up this impossible mission and fight evil. It was all her wide-eyed choice, but nevertheless, she gave up paradise to be a hero.
Now, one might argue that’s undermined somewhat by Themyscira not going anywhere. She didn’t exactly give up paradise if she can go back anytime she wants. But on the other hand, that’s exactly right. She can go back anytime, but chooses to remain in the world of men, fighting evil.

And lest we forget Diana’s leaving home has brought a great deal of tragedy to her shores. By my count, since Diana became Wonder Woman, Themyscira has been leveled at least six times. I think if a writer really wanted to create tension between Diana and her people, they need only acknowledge the Amazons lived for thousands of years in peace until Princess decided to go play superhero.

But let’s talk about the mission Diana’s embraced by becoming Wonder Woman. She strives not just to fight evil, but to spread peace and tolerance. Wonder Woman isn’t content to just fly around punching bad guys. She strives for more—to redeem evil. To improve the world.
All noble ideals, but let's face it, they’re still ideals. Wonder Woman’s idealistic dream is exactly that: an idealistic dream. A world of peace and tolerance is never going to happen—but she'll go for it with everything she's got.

And that is such an ideal it’s doomed to be misunderstood and misinterpreted. People will see her as a zealot from this strange land trying to force her beliefs on them. We, the audience, know she’s not, but people could easily misinterpret her intentions that way.
Hell, if you want to get meta, that’s true for real life as well. Fans, writers, and creators do misinterpret Wonder Woman as this preachy, overzealous nut with an agenda.

And it’s a very thin line to walk. Where is the line drawn between trying to be a helpful teacher and preachy zealot? We know Diana is open to killing, but where does compassion end? How easily is it for Wonder Woman to come across as a hypocrite?
See, while I rail against Wonder Woman being portrayed as needlessly violent, I’m not suggesting she can’t ever lose her temper or be pushed. Really, that should be a source of conflict for her—being a peace-minded character, she should sometimes be conflicted when certain villains are really asking it. And she should slip up sometimes.

She has villains who are all too eager to exploit this against her. That was kind of the point of Veronica Cale. Circe’s devoted herself to not just destroying Wonder Woman, but proving her mission of peace is futile.

Wonder Woman can be pig-headed at times. As an idealist she might go into situations with an ideal expectation or perspective. As a result, she does run the danger of coming across like a zealot. And it’s here we get some insight into what’s perhaps Diana’s greatest fear.

Look back at Diana’s backstory and motivation. She was given life and power by the gods themselves. She was chosen by destiny to be the Wonder Woman, who has come to be regarded as this icon. She has power far beyond normal people. The world sees her as the symbol of female empowerment. Characters have called her, to her face, “perfect.” Some have even called her, “too perfect.”

The tragedy of Wonder Woman is that she tries to be this ideal. She’s regarded as this goddess, this perfect woman, this thing on a pedestal—by even her own friends—and she tries to live up to that. Not out of arrogance, but because she believes she has to be this paragon for the sake of her mission.
And that's the thing: she tries to live up this standard she believes is expected of her...but she can’t. However bizarre the circumstances of her birth may be and however powerful she is, she is a human being.

And it’s here we find what, I believe, is Wonder Woman’s greatest fear: failure.
The thing that shakes Wonder Woman the most is when she’s confronted with the possibility she’s not all she should be. For starters, Diana is the kind of hero who faces world-threatening dangers. Failure on her part could potentially lead to mass casualties.
But also remember being Wonder Woman for Diana isn’t just some job. Again, this is destiny for her. What she was born for. What she’s meant for. To fail in her mission is failing her destiny.
She can handle and bounce back from defeats or set-backs, but when she starts to think she’s failing—when she's letting others down—she kind of gets messed up. We see Diana at her lowest during/following events like Our Worlds At War, and the fight with Genocide. When she fears she's screwing up.

But she doesn’t crumble to pieces. Instead, she hardens. That’s when Wonder Woman should go full-on, aggressive, sword-wielding, warrior mode. When she’s afraid she’s not living up to the standards she believes are expected of her, she thinks to herself, “I have to be stronger.” So she goes hardcore and unfortunately, that’s when she starts coming across like a zealot and begins alienating herself from her friends and other people.

This was Diana’s character arc in Kingdom Come. She thought she failed her mission and responded by embracing the sword-wielding warrior side of herself. Problem was, this didn’t really help and by the end, she had to return to her roots.
We saw this again in Infinite Crisis and the lead up to it. Going into Infinite Crisis—and without detailing every plot point because that would take forever—Wonder Woman’s life was pretty much coming apart all around her. Her mission was failing, she was being call a hypocrite, the Amazons were under attack, she was a fugitive, her friends were turning their backs on her, the gods were abandoning her, and to top it all off, the world was ending. So Wonder Woman busted out the sword.

Wonder Woman is so devoted to her dream that she borders on being a workaholic. Her idealistic, moving forward drive has also resulted in a rather lonely life. She has little to no personal life—as evidenced by her slim supporting cast.
How many truly close friends does she have? Etta Candy and Steve Trevor come and go—but otherwise, Diana rarely forms lasting relationships. She moves in and out of people’s lives, always on her mission, but doesn’t stay long. Remember Julia and Vanessa Kapatelis? No..? Don’t blame you. In fact, that bit Diana in the ass when Vanessa was driven insane by Dr. Psycho and started resenting Diana for leaving her—thus leading to her becoming the Silver Swan.
Some might point to Superman…but I can actually rip that relationship apart. And I just might in future blog.

Also consider that Diana is immortal—in the sense that she won’t age. Most writers play the, “She’ll give up her immortality when she finds love,” or, “She’ll lose it when she has a kid,” or some-such nonsense, but the fact is—as it is—Wonder Woman is going to outlive what friends she has. Further, how long does Diana plan to be Wonder Woman? Her mission is an impossible one, is she just going to keep fighting forever?

And this, I feel, is the true deep meaning behind Wonder Woman. Not just some simplistic "men & women should respect each other," message, but something more universal. Idealism vs. cynicism. Hope vs. bitterness.

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