Friday, March 8, 2013

For Want of Rogues part I: The Gallery

The old saying goes, “A hero is only as good as their villain.” And this is especially true for superhero comics, where the hero usually accumulates a colorful cast of antagonists we like to refer to as a “Rogues Gallery.”

Unfortunately, Wonder Woman isn’t held in high regard for her Rogues Gallery.
Granted, like any character, she has her share of duds—like Angle-Man, Blue Snowman, and (yes) Mouse Man. But there are some potentially interesting villains if the writers bothered to look and actually use them.

Aside from the better known, big guns (whom I’ll get to later), probably the rogue who’s seen the most exposure is Giganta and frankly, her treatment is kind of jarring to me.

Admittedly, her origin is pretty convoluted and not really explained all that well. There was this woman, named Olga, who could—for some reason—grow really tall and super-strong...I don’t know why. I think the closest to an explanation we ever got she was “cursed” by a Shaman or something.
Anyway, Olga’s mind was replaced by a scientist named Doris Zeul, who was dying and originally wanted Wonder Woman’s body, but settled on Olga’s when that didn’t work.

Obviously, there are problems with Giganta as a character. She doesn't have any real motivation or agenda for her villainy. Yeah, it's rather selfish to prolong your life by stealing another person's body, and the fact that she wanted Wonder Woman's in particular says something about the kind of person Doris is. But having gained a super-powered body she continues to be a villain for...some reason.

Not helping is I find writers can’t seem to decide whether she should be an all brawn and no brains rogue—since her powers seem suited for a purely physical, muscle character—or if they should utilize the fact she was a scientist and make her a smart and cunning threat.
I suppose, ideally, she should be both, and therefore be a significant opponent for Wonder Woman…but here’s the problem: she’s rarely, if ever, portrayed as a genuine threat either way. When they fight, Diana usually knocks her on her ass with ease and I don’t think we’ve ever seen Giganta’s scientific mind ever actually applied in her schemes.

Personally, I could live with Giganta not being an evil genius. She doesn't have to carry major story-arcs by herself, but at least let the woman be capable of wailing on Diana. She can turn into a giant and become super-strong. It’s what she’s got—but what's the point if she's no match for Wonder Woman? There’s always a place for pure, brawler villains.

Now while Giganta, poor showings aside, has at least managed to emerge as a consistent foe for Wonder Woman, most of her other rogues—or potential rogues—are simply under-utilized. No real grand mystery or explanation that I can think of. They're just not used enough. On the rare occasion we do see them, it's usually for background filler, like some kind of villainous game of Where's Waldo?

I suppose the main reason we so rarely see Wonder Woman's rogues is because most writers prefer or feel they have to ramp up the mythological angle and have her deal primarily with gods and other mythical creatures. Which is a real shame and a waste because there are some interesting characters and ideas here with a great deal of untapped potential.

I don't necessarily have a problem with Wonder Woman fighting gods and monsters here and there, and if they want the mythical angle to be Diana's niche, that's fine. But she's still a superhero—she should have supervillains. And it does make Wonder Woman seem kind of weak as a character when she has no opponents of her own and has to piggy-back off old Greek myths all the time.

Veronica Cale was an interesting concept in that she was, in certain ways, a "Lex Luthor" for Wonder Woman. By that, I mean she was an ordinary person with no powers—though very rich—whose vendetta against Wonder Woman was based on believing her to be, more or less, full of shit.

Cale’s backstory involved her mother working as a stripper in order to pay for her education, which led to her becoming the head of a major corporation. Because of this, Veronica sees Wonder Woman as someone who’s entitled and had everything handed to her—and therefore, isn’t worthy of being this icon of female empowerment.

Kind of like Lex Luthor claiming he hates Superman because he feels Supes makes the human race look bad and seem weak, Veronica Cale is interesting in that you can kind of see where she’s coming from—even if we know deep down she’s full of shit herself. She, like Luthor, is basically the troll who twists everything Wonder Woman does and tries to put a negative spin on it in order to discredit her.
Veronica Cale stories could explore Wonder Woman's worth and relevance as an icon of female empowerment because—let's face it—in that regard, she is kind of flawed.

Nu’Bia may be somewhat notable for fans of the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman. Apparently, she was going to be introduced in the series as Wonder Woman’s arch-nemesis, and even had a doll made, but the show was cancelled before she could appear.

Pre-Crisis Nu’Bia—or Nubia, as she was called—was essentially set up as an “evil Wonder Woman” character who was aligned with Ares. Post-Crisis, she was renamed Nu’Bia and she was the first Amazon Champion long before Diana was born. She ventured into Doom’s Doorway for some-such reason, and actually she’s not really a villain anymore—though her relationship with Diana is kind of antagonistic.

I think there’s potential in both aspects of the character. A corrupted Amazon that’s abandoned their beliefs in peace and tolerance. The first Champion, long before Diana, who's maybe accumulated enough power to match Wonder Woman and is far more experienced in combat.

There are a lot of different ways this can be played. Maybe have Nu’Bia represent the bad Amazon stereotypes that Diana is not. Maybe she can be the zealot who forces her beliefs onto others. Maybe she is the angry warrior who doesn’t see the need for diplomacy.
Nu'Bia can be what Wonder Woman may be if she did give up her belief in compassion and peace, and embraced the hardcore warrior side of herself.

Speaking of "evil Wonder Women," we also have Devastation—created by the Titan, Cronus and evil gods with the same clay that Diana was made from. She has pretty much the same powers as Diana, with an evil twist.

She had brief run where she fought Wonder Woman a few times, but for some reason became more an enemy for Wonder Girl in particular and terrorized her in Young Justice before fading into obscurity.

Why we don’t see more of this character I cannot fathom. People love the “evil version of the hero” villains—maybe best personified by Spider-Man’s Venom. She's basically a Wonder Woman with no morals, no control, and no empathy. Devastation should be bad ass.
But we never see her and the last time we did, she was stuck as background filler-villain for Young Justice and the Teen Titans. This girl should be a heavy hitter.

One thing that makes Devastation fun is she looks like a small child. Imagine someone with the strength and skills of Wonder Woman, only completely evil and psychotic, and in the form of a kid. She should be like Dragonball Z’s Kid Buu:
Just pure, destructive, bug-fuck insanity.

You’ve got Queen Clea, a despotic ruler from Atlantis. She controls this Atlantean outpost called Venturia, and she first came into conflict with Wonder Woman when she tried to conquer the sister nation of Aurania, which made those people seek Diana for help. Clea’s described as being psychotic and cruel, with a taste for gladiatorial combat and enslavement.
Why we don’t see more of this character, I don’t know—because she sounds like she’d be a lot of fun.

She’s got a mythical tie being from Atlantis. And being Atlantean, she can physically match Wonder Woman—and that’s before you weigh in she has a magical trident that gives her power over the seas.

I also read somewhere—don't know if this is canon or not—that, among the other things, Clea is also anorexic. Again, I don't know if that's true; but I don't know why, I find that really interesting about her.

We also have Gundra, a Valkyrie. For one thing, right off the bat, with her and Diana both being part mythical races of warrior women, you’ve got a fun Amazon vs. Valkyrie mash-up right there.

Gundra hasn’t seen much light outside of the Golden Age, where she was a Valkyrie that aligned with the Nazis—in contrast to Wonder Woman fighting with the Allies—but was deemed a disgrace for this and subsequently banished from Valhalla.

You could easily modernize this character without the Nazi angle. Just have her be a corrupt Valkyrie who maybe blames her disgrace and banishment on Wonder Woman. Then you've got a wounded warrior pride thing going who thinks by destroying Diana she'll regain her honor.

There’s Osira, a woman who was worshiped as a goddess in ancient Egypt. She maintained peace and order with mind-control devices in her pyramid(s) that stripped people of their free will. Her primary power is force fields, but—due to her age—she has to periodically refresh her youth and power, kind of like R’as al Ghul.

Osira is a simple character, but she offers a basic, but effective conflict with Wonder Woman in that, though they both want peace, they approach it from different ways. Diana obviously would never rob people of their free will, but Osira is hunky-dory with that.
So we got an antagonist who isn’t entirely “evil,” and as such, can offer interesting conflicts with Diana and other rogues. Because if Osira isn’t entirely bad, she wouldn't necessarily be cool with other Wonder Woman rogues that are.

Another character I think we don’t see enough of is Dr. Poison. Not a whole lot to her backstory—just a nutty scientist obsessed with poisons, toxins, and what-have-you; also she's the grand-daughter of Nazis (hey, more Nazis!). She has an effectively creepy appearance (though it doesn't come across as much in the picture I'm using), with her mouth permanently pulled back into a grin and her eyelids gone.

Going back to what I said in the post about Wonder Woman’s endurance, common poisons and venoms shouldn’t really do much to her—but the special, super-toxins that Dr. Poison creates should be the ones that mess Diana up.

Genocide was an interesting concept, though her execution has room for improvement. She’s essentially a “Doomsday” for Wonder Woman.
Her backstory is needlessly convoluted, but I think there’s worth in a character that is best defined/remembered for beating the ever-loving piss out of the hero. Like Doomsday (and possibly Bane), there might not be too much replay value in these characters, but used sparingly, there is a fun mystique to a villain that can just straight-up out-muscle the hero and beat them to pulp.

One advantage Genocide has is she was portrayed as having some cunning and intelligence. She was also notable for having a particularly sadistic nature—more interested in making Wonder Woman “suffer” than anything else. Going back to what I mentioned earlier about Diana being afraid of failure, Genocide is a character that can play that up, being someone that can (and has) owned her with ease...

I also think it's worth noting Hercules (or Heracles). However, his relation to Wonder Woman is a bit convoluted.
In the original myths, at one point Hercules was cursed with madness and he needed to go on the Twelve Labors as penance. One of these labors involved getting the golden girdle of Hippolyta. Depending on the version of the myth, they either fell in love and she was killed accidentally…or Herc just out-right murdered her and this was considered a good thing because the Amazons are lowly savages anyway.

In Wonder Woman, this episode was re-envisioned as Hippolyta offering a diplomatic and peaceful approach and Hercules, in his madness-induced state, deceiving and tricking her. This results in the Amazons being conquered, enslaved, and raped by him and his men—leading to their choosing to live in isolation on Themyscira.
Originally, it was revealed Hercules—once back to his senses—felt guilty about what he’d done and was cursed to hold up Themyscira for all time like Atlas. Wonder Woman eventually found and freed him, leading to his begging Hippolyta’s forgiveness—which she grants—and he ascends up to Olympus.

Here’s where it gets sticky: later on, after George Perez’s run, Hercules pops up and—with no real explanation—is a total dick, seems proud of his deceiving the Amazons, and tries to seduce Diana. And that’s kind of it...I don’t recall it leading to anything and in his subsequent appearances, he acts like a straight antagonist.
A recent Wonder Girl mini-series explained Hercules is doomed to go through this strange cycle of madness and repentance—which I guess is why one minute he’s a chauvinistic douche to Wonder Woman and the Amazons, then another he’s a noble man trying to do right by them.

Needless to say, his relationship with Wonder Woman is rather stained.
But I actually like that Hercules is something of an antagonist—if not villain—for Wonder Woman. It’s an interesting subversion of the old myths as Herc is often portrayed and the just and noble hero who always does what’s right. Matter of fact, if you actually read the old myths, most of the great heroes like Hercules and Achilles come across as—by modern standards—pretty unlikable douche-nozzles.

There’s an interesting thematic conflict there, with Herc representing an old-fashioned brute masculinity that is opposed by Wonder Woman who is more about diplomacy and peace and is, herself, (supposed to be) a subversion of the stereotypical portrayal of Amazons.

Meanwhile, there’s Dr. Psycho—a powerful, telepathic dwarf and misogynist. I think that right there makes the conflict pretty obvious.
Also the Red Panzer—a Nazi dude in battle armor; I guess effectively what you’d get if you put Red Skull in Dr. Doom’s armor. Nothing original or special, but for the nostalgia buffs, there’s fun to be had in Wonder Woman brawling with Nazis.

If you want to break away a bit from the magic, fantasy, and mythical rogues, and delve into something more sci-fi or tech oriented, you’ve got characters like the Silver Swan, Cyborgirl, and even the revamped—though unfortunately named—Egg-Fu.

I also want to throw a mention of Jeannette, the banshee. Created specifically for Secret Six, Jeannette isn’t exactly a villain, nor is she tied to any particular hero. However, I liked to imagine that, when Secret Six ran its course—which I guess it kind of has, thanks for nothing Nu52—Jeannette might get integrated as a rogue for Wonder Woman.

For one, I just think Jeannette’s cool. Since she’s not a straight-up villain, she could act as a wild-card character—an enemy of Wonder Woman, but maybe not really being Diana’s other villains' side either.

 It was also established in Secret Six Jeannette doesn’t really like the Amazons, and with understandable reasons. It's implied in her backstory she became a banshee because she was executed for (presumably) cheating on her husband or something to that affect. Being a victim of archaic misogyny,  Jeannette regards the Amazons as being full of shit who talk a lot about empowering women but haven't really done anything.
She also apparently has some history with the Amazons—Artemis in particular.

And it might also be worth mentioning she’s already humbled Diana once already…

That's what I've got for several, though by no means all, of Wonder Woman's rogues. Due to their being so poorly used, many of them are not as well developed. But they have the foundation, the potential, and lots of room to work with.
I could easily suggest all kinds of ideas of how these characters can be used and portrayed in Wonder Woman...but DC ain't paying me.

1 comment:

  1. You've inspired me to start my own blog with an inaugural post continuing on this post's premise. Please check out "For Want of Rogues 3: Adversaries & Addendums" if you'd like. I'd love to know if I can change your mind on Angle-Man!