Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Goddamn Shield

Look at the images above. Notice something? Obviously, they’re all of Wonder Woman, but they have something else in common.

No..? How about a few more:

Got it yet?

Well, if you've looked at the title of this particular blog, you've probably already guessed where I'm going with this.

Shields. She’s carrying a shield in each image.

So what, you might ask. Well, allow me to pose a question: why is Wonder Woman carrying a shield?

Now, I imagine you might be thinking, “Why wouldn’t Wonder Woman have a shield? After all, she’s a warrior and more importantly, she’s not invulnerable the way Superman is. She can still be wounded, so she would need a shield to defend herself.”

Fair enough, but now I must posit a follow-up query: isn’t that what the bracelets are for? You know…the magic, unbreakable bands she wears on her wrists that are capable of deflecting pretty much anything..? What I'm getting at is she’s not only wearing her shield on her arms, she’s wearing better shields.
It’s like Wolverine charging into battle with a switch-blade. Um, Logan…why do you need a pocket-knife..? You have claws—indestructible claws that can cut through anything—in your fist.

Like how ice cream is apparently a mental stumbling block for Wonder Woman, I feel this shield thing is symptomatic of a larger problem that plagues the character. Too many writers and artists define Wonder Woman on broad labels and terms rather than…well, the things that matter like motivation, backstory, and her abilities.

She’s frequently depicted wielding a shield even though she has her bracelets. Nowadays, she’s almost constantly depicted wielding a sword—to the point where a sword strapped to her thigh is becoming a regular part of her costume alongside the lasso and tiara—even though a) she’s supposed to be a peace-minded character, and b) she’s powerful enough to shatter a mountain with her bare hands. Why? Because she's a "warrior."
In Justice League Unlimited, she was portrayed as haughty and aloof, even though compassion and generosity are supposed to be two of her defining attributes. Why? According to the creators, because she's a "princess."

Suppose I told you to write a character, and the only thing I told you about her was she's an Amazon. What does that even mean?
Some, upon hearing the term Amazon, might base their interpretation on the original Greek myths, where the Amazons were a band of savage, man-haters that apparently cut their breast off in order to properly wield weapons.
Some may base it on what they’ve seen in Xena…where there was a wide variety of Amazons—some good, some bad, some hating men, some very helpful.
Some might only know Amazons from what they’ve seen in pornos, where they just want to screw all day.

And do any of those interpretations pertain to Wonder Woman? If so, in what capacity? To what extent?
William Moulton Marston, and later the George Perez reboot, established a pretty clear interpretation of who the Amazons were and what they wanted. The Perez reboot even acknowledged how the original myths depicted them as savages—and explained that was the result of people not understanding and fearing them, and ultimately was one of the reasons they went into isolation on Themyscira.

And "warrior"…Jesus Christ, the “warrior” thing.
Whenever Wonder Woman does something that seems needlessly violent, or she appears far too eager to bury her sword in someone’s face, or—again—the whole shield or axe thing…the answer always comes back the same: “Because she’s a warrior.” And, I assume, the logic is that’s just what warriors do and just how they act.

There are many different kinds of warriors. The Jedi in Star Wars were warriors. Aragorn, in Lord of the Rings, was a warrior. Conan is a warrior. Shaolin monks can be considered warriors.

Hell, this guy is a warrior:

Are they all the same? Do they act the same? Do they want the same thing and approach situations the same way? No..? Then why do we keep throwing the word “warrior” around in application of Wonder Woman like it’s some kind of all-encompassing, clearly defined, characterization set in stone?
(Although, if they came out with a version of Wonder Woman that babbles about the merits of Destrucity while swearing vengeance on Hoak Kogan—that might actually be pretty awesome.)

Yes, Wonder Woman is a warrior. I know this. You know this. We all know this—unless you still think Wonder Woman begins and ends with Superfriends and the Lynda Carter TV show. But can we please stop using the term “warrior” like it’s a goddamn class in Dungeons & Dragons, with set attributes.
“Warrior” does not automatically equal “Always Chaotic Good.”

Again, I have to take it back to motivation and how her backstory forged that motivation. Yes, she is a warrior and a princess and an ambassador and all these things...but these terms are meaningless unless placed in proper context.

It'd be like if I asked a group of people who know absolutely nothing about Batman to write him and the only things I used to describe the character—making no mention whatsoever of his parents' death or the reasons he became Batman—were the terms "detective," "ninja," and "billionaire."
What do you suppose the odds are it would be an accurate and consistent portrayal of Batman as we know him? Oh sure, they might ball-park it here and there and maybe some will stumble across an accurate portrayal in certain ways—but I'd wager it'd be pretty scattershot at best.

And this is why we have a seemingly schizophrenic Wonder Woman who, in one story, is a Xena-esque berserker eagerly trying to hack and slash her way through trouble. Then in another story, she’s a kindly, nurturing naïve who wouldn’t dare harm a fly. And then you get the writers who try to reconcile and embrace this bipolar portrayal and push the “Wonder Woman is a paradox” thing—because, you know, how can someone be a warrior and want peace at the same time?! The head gets dizzy!

You could argue there are things a "warrior" might do, how an "Amazon" might act, and ways a "princess" might conduct herself.
But you should then ask if that is the kind of way Wonder Woman would act.

1 comment:

  1. "In Justice League Unlimited, she was portrayed as haughty and aloof, even though compassion and generosity are supposed to be two of her defining attributes. Why? According to the creators, because she's a princess."

    I think you need to review that show. Diana never struck me as haughty, she was absolutely compassionate, and Diana was never half as aloof as Martian Manhunter or Batman.