Monday, February 11, 2013

What a Wonder Woman Wants

Let's take it back to Wonder Woman, shall we..?

Now, I've discussed how for all people complain about how un-relatable Wonder Woman is, I contend it's largely because she's so rarely written as a relatable character. Further, the key to making a character relatable or not lies mainly in the abstract, intangible, but universal concepts that can be found in a character's motivation.

Wonder Woman most certainly has a motivation and one I would argue is relatable enough. And her backstory is critical to that motivation. But I think, like Superman, it’s one that works better when actually seen played out rather than summarized or distilled into a simple sentence or blurb.

So...what is Wonder Woman’s backstory and motivation anyway?
Or at least, what was it, before the Nu52 happened—but that's a rant for another time.

So you’ve got the Amazons; a race of immortal women created by the Greek gods to spread peace and tolerance to the world, but are also highly skilled warriors. Think a similar vein as Jedi or the Elves in Lord of the Rings. Long story short, they’re not trusted and ultimately rejected by mankind. So the gods set them up on a magical island called Themyscira where they can live forever in peace while also guarding a gateway to hell called Doom’s Doorway.

So the Amazons are chilling on their island for thousands of years in isolation. But the Queen of the Amazons, Hippolyta, she wants a daughter. The gods send her message to make a child out of clay and they bring it to life—bing-bang-boom, our hero Diana is born. But the gods have their own plans for this kid, which is why they also give her superpowers. And thus, Diana grows up honing her abilities and training as an Amazon warrior—also raised believing her people’s beliefs in peace and tolerance.

And it’s here we see where Diana starts to develop her motivation. She’s spent her whole life on this little island—she wants to see the world. The gods gave her these great abilities—for what? So she can just stay on one little island for all time? She believes she has a destiny—that she’s meant for something great. She wants a purpose.

Diana finds her purpose when Steve Trevor crash lands on Themyscira, which signals the time for the Amazons to hold their Contest to find a champion to leave the island and act as ambassador. She enters and wins the contest against her mother’s wishes and comes to the world of men where she becomes Wonder Woman and finds the purpose she was looking for. She finds an imperfect world where she can utilize the great power granted her by the gods to defend the innocent, fight evil, and spread peace—believing mankind to be fundamentally good and decent.

When William Moulton Marston first created them in the 40's, the Amazons' background was simpler and they were just an idyllic and highly advanced civilization hidden from the rest of the world. The history and purpose of the Amazons were expanded in the George Perez reboot after Crisis on Infinite Earths. Also, Perez had the gods more involved with Diana's abilities than Marston. And finally, in the 40's, World War II was a large factor in the Amazons holding their Contest. Under Perez and most subsequent modern tellings of Diana's origin, it's the machinations of Ares or some evil force that makes the Amazons send a champion.)

Now...does my little summary there sufficiently convey why Wonder Woman is Wonder Woman?
Honestly, I don’t even know. Granted I’m being somewhat succinct, but like I said, I’m not sure it’s something that works when simply explained. Played out in a Year One style story, fully fleshed out, certainly. As a movie, in action, I think can work (hint, hint).

But the abstractions are there. A kid looking for adventure that wants to see the world. A hero seeking their destiny. A young idealist who believes they’re meant for great things. Simple, basic, but intangible concepts—easily relatable to anyone.
There’s all sorts of potential for conflict and universal themes that can be addressed—and I mean beyond the trite Saturday morning cartoon gender-equality message of: "Remember boys, those women-folk are people, too. And remember you wacky feminists, not all men are boogers either. Now you know and knowing is half the battle!"
But I can devote a whole other blog post on that subject in itself.

Hell, Diana’s origin story can easily be structured as a Joseph Campbell “Hero’s Journey.” Her Ordinary World on Themyscira, wanting to do something with herself. The Call to Adventure in the form of a herald—Steve Trevor and the Contest. By winning the Contest and leaving Themyscira for the first time, she Crosses the First Threshold. Once in the Patriarch’s World, she encounters Tests, Allies, & Enemies. And so on.

Another thing I might argue: Wonder Woman is—or rather, is supposed to be—a peace-orientated character. While she is a warrior and will fight when she must, her first instinct in any situation should be to find the peaceful solution first. Now, consider that against the greater DC universe—where it’s absurdly common for people to resolve their issues by dressing up in garish costumes and engaging in fist fights. In reality, it’s normal to want to resolve a problem without violence—unless you’re psychotic or an asshole.

So if you think about it, Wonder Woman—the fantasy Princess, given life by gods, raised on a magical island—is actually one of the more reasonable, sane, and rational-minded people in the DC universe. If she gets into a fight, it’s because she’s dealing with nutty, disturbed people that don’t want to listen and would rather engage in city-wide brawls. I don’t know if that makes her more relatable, but I think—if nothing else—it makes her more likable.

But here's the catch and here's where we can't have nice things:
How often is she presented in that light? Nowadays, Wonder Woman is more likely to be the first to charge into a fight, sword drawn, crying for blood. And on the rare occasion a writer does remember she’s supposed to be a peace-minded character, it’s usually to show how lame, boring, or preachy she is.

But what's perhaps even more troubling is how, honestly, I think a lot of the creators who have attempted to portray Diana have no idea what her motivation is or how her backstory's forged it. More than a few have openly admitted as such. It pretty frustrating how certain creators cherry-pick or retcon key elements of Diana's history and not realize the ways that should fundamentally alter pretty much everything about Wonder Woman as a person.

And if the creators don't know or understand the character, what chance do fans and readers have?


  1. What *I* want from "Wonder Woman":

    1. Return the comic to more light-hearted elements. Wonder Woman should be for teenage (girls) first and adults after.

    2. Themiscyra and the amazons are returned to how they were pre-New52.

    3. Diana becomes an ambassador again (preferably giving her a fictional city alike Superman's Metropolis and Batman's Gotham. Did she have that pre-New52?).
    -3a. But then again, she has/had Themiscyra.

    4. She stops horrible animal-testings and finds Rex the Wonder Dog ( She takes him in and lets him live in the embassy, and he occasionally joins her missions.

    5. She will visit other countries with different cultures where she is asked to either put on some pans (that are not painted on) or a skirt, because of the religion there; Diana will do so, showing how she respects other cultures more than her iconic bath-suit.
    -5a. This could also be a perfect opportunity for the artists to try out different Wonder Woman costumes and see how fans react to them; if they like one, DC could try to make them canon; if they hate every one of the alternatives, they simply go back to bath-suit when Wonder Woman returns.

    6. The stars on her bathing suit would go away. Diana is no longer just a superheroine of America, her costume should reflect that. Red, blue and gold/silver is fine, that doesn't reflect America the same way.
    -6a. On that note, explain how these colors are from Themiscyra's flag/crest/culture.
    -6b. Is there any canon that says what bird the Ws is supposed to represent? Because if not, it should totally be Athena's owl.

    7. Have her not be a part of the Justice League of *America*, for the same reasons as above. Or, have her at least have the discussion with the others about the name. From a non-American view: Americans saying they are an American group protecting the world versus Americans saying they will protect the world, and I prefer the last.

    8. Have her get a new Wonder Girl, because whatever Cassie has become in New52, it is not what Wonder Woman would approve of (if she dislikes being called Wonder Girl (HOW do people think she fits that name now?!), why doesn't she just GET A NEW NAME?!).
    -8a. Also have it be shown that the new Wonder Girl is a PROTEGE, meaning that Diana will regularly train her and guide her.
    -8b. Have the new Wonder Girl be a black Swahili.

    9. End the Wondy/Supes relationship, but on a friendly and peaceful note from both sides.

    10. If they can't get Rex the Wonder Dog, get Stanley the Wonder Lion ( I would personally LOVE Stanley being renamed to Amazo just to parallel/parody Krypto from Krypton.

    To be continued...

  2. 11. Wonder Woman regularly brofisting people. Especially Superman and Batman because they are the adult SUPER BEST FRIENDS FOREVER.

    12. Bring Captain Wonder back. After reading about him from Written World, I think he sounds very interesting, and while not a good archenemy, at least he can share Dr. Psycho's spot on her Rogue Gallery.

    13. This might sound bad pro-single/virgin/queer!Wondy, but I would love to have Steve Trevor back as a proper love interest. After reading Written World's thoughts about his importance as Wonder Woman's Lois Lane, I really want him back in HER book.

    14. Have her meet her child from the future (we don't need to know the father). It could be Stephanie Trevor, but at least either future Wonder Girl or -Woman. Or twist it around and make it Wonder Boy who becomes Wonder Man, unless amazons automatically birth females.

    15. Work more to make it clear that Wonder Woman is part of the Trinity, and not there just because of Positive Discrimination.

    16. Bring out her Rogue Gallery. Look through her history, and make them reappear. Don't make a big greek opera between the Greek deities as she stands between, she is not just about her gods.

    17. Have the next writer be required to read a decided stock of "Wonder Woman" comics to get an idea of her character. If I remember correctly, Azzarello avoided to read any of her comics on purpose because he wanted to start from scratch. That hardly worked once, and won't work again.

    18. Eventually if people want Amazons to be "relatable" as well, make a storyline after Diana has become an ambassador where at the end, the Amazons ask the Greek deities to take away their immortality, as they feel ready to give Man's World a new chance while still keeping to their traditions. So they will still be women who maybe are genetically stronger than normal, but they are now mortal and can get children if they wish.

    19. Have a storyline where she must battle star pirates that steal star constellations, and at the end of the storyline, as a thank-you by the gods, a new constellation is made, either forming the Ws, or Wonder Woman herself. (Totally inspired by this:

    20. Hire me to write her so that I can have a job. ;D

    Am I overdoing it? <:( I planned to have 52, but stopped myself.
    Continued below...

    1. It's not continued below, by the way, that was a writing mistake. I'm sorry.