Posts Tagged ‘William Moulton Marston’

75 years ago, the world was introduced to Diana of Themyscira, Princess of the Amazons, and the superhero known as Wonder Woman. Debuting in All-Star Comics #8 in December of 1941, Wonder Woman – created by William Moulton Marston, with help from his wife Elizabeth – soon achieved the status of lead character starting with Sensation Comics #1 in January of 1942. A Nazi-fighting Amazon blessed by the gods of Greek mythology, Wonder Woman was the embodiment of Marston’s ideal woman and his personal philosophy of utopia in which women were the dominant power.

Art by Nicola Scott

Art by Nicola Scott

Smart, strong, athletic, kind, loving, beautiful, and peaceful only describe some of the traits Wonder Woman has been associated with over the last 75 years. She’s worn many hats as DC Comics’s most well-known superheroine, and certainly her solo title and character progression have taken some roller coaster rides, but like Superman and Batman everyone has a version of Wonder Woman they can call their own. Hero, Princess, Warrior, Diplomat, Demigod, Daughter, and Friend, Diana has been many things to many people. Today, however, she’s an honorary ambassador of the United Nations.

The premiere feminist icon in comic books, it makes sense that Wonder Woman would be honored by an organization that has been making a much needed effort towards gender equality. From Marston’s original appropriation of suffragette garb to her appearance on the cover of Ms. Magazine in 1972 to her newly appointed status, Wonder Woman has and remains a champion for the equality of women. She has inspired millions and served the purpose of bringing feminist values to the forefront. As Gloria Steinem wrote:

 

Wonder Woman symbolizes many of the values of women’s culture that feminists are now trying to introduce into the mainstream: strength and self-reliance for women; sisterhood and mutual support among women; peacefulness and esteem for human life; a diminishment both of “masculine” aggression and of the belief that violence is the only way of solving conflicts.

 

As part of the celebration, the U.N. invited Lynda Carter and Gal Gadot to speak on behalf of the character both have brought to life on the small and big screen. Carter, though not the first to play Diana, certainly had the longest live action run on, naturally, Wonder Woman, which ran from 1975 to 1979, and Gadot recently appeared as the lasso-wielding demigod in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice with her first ever solo film set to premiere in June 2017. They were joined by the 2017 movie’s director, Patty Jenkins, as well as DC Entertainment President Diane Nelson, though I suspect there were plenty of artists and writers invited to the ceremony if Twitter is to be believed.

dc1

While this is certainly not the first time Wonder Woman has been part of campaigns for women’s rights or had her iconic image used to make an impact, this does mark her first official sanction as the Honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls. One of the ways DC Comics plans to fulfill that responsibility is by producing a comic book for release in 2017, distributed via the U.N., and translated into the six official languages of the organization; namely Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish.

Also ready for release next week, DC Comics will release a 75th Anniversary book next week featuring the writing and art work of well known comic book pros like Rafael Albuquerque, Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang, Renae De Liz, Brenden Fletcher, Adam Hughes, Karl Kerschl, and Gail Simone.

It’s a good cap to a celebration for such an iconic character who is finally getting her due. Hopefully, next year we’ll be talking about how amazing her solo film was and speculating about its inevitable sequel. Fingers crossed.

 

Advertisements

21192_900x1350

The urge to name this Love in the Time of Wonder Woman was so strong, but I resisted the impulse. While there was an ease with which the rejected article title came, it didn’t quite capture everything I wanted to cover in talking about the 35 issue run of Wonder Woman. In the three years since the New 52 launched, the creative team of writer Brian Azzarello, artists Cliff Chiang, Tony Akins, Goran Sudzuka, colorist Matthew Wilson, and letterer Jared K. Fletcher crafted a new origin for DC Comics’ first female superhero, one steeped in the old mythology of the Greek Pantheon but intent on forging ahead to create a new mythology with Wonder Woman leading the way.

For the record, though, if you’re looking for a place that will at least consider making references to the works of Gabriel García Márquez….Bam. This girl.

Moving on.

As, presumably, the introduction for new readers via the “soft reboot” of the New 52, the creative team were faced with the task of making Diana’s story within her corner of the DC Universe fantastical, entertaining, and above all else relatable. In order to do so, Azzarello and Chiang dove into the core tenants of Wonder Woman’s character as established by her creator, William Moulton Marston, and used those elements to build a story around two essential questions: Who is Wonder Woman and what does she stand for? The answer lies in the simplest yet most complex word, love. From love springs a multitude of emotions – mercy, compassion, tolerance, anger, rage, and forgiveness – all of which hinder and guide Wonder Woman in her personal journey of discovery, a journey she doesn’t make alone. Though love ends up being the answer, how Diana frames her revelations is within the context of family; her biological family of gods and demigods as well as the family she builds with her friends and rebuilds amongst the Amazons. The consequences of such a framework, however, brings about the destruction of Marston’s “paradise”, but I think that was Azzarello’s intention all along. In lieu of paradise, of some perceived utopia, Azzarello posits that family and community should be the goal and only by understanding and submitting to love can such a goal be accomplished.

wonder-woman1-interiorBefore we go any further, and because this article will mostly be addressing Wonder Woman from a writing and thematic perspective, I wanted to talk about Cliff Chiang’s artwork on the book. Of all the redesigns in the New 52, Chiang’s Wonder Woman continues to be my favorite and is definitely in my top five versions. Chiang manages to capture the Amazon in Diana – tall, athletic, broad shoulders – making us believe that this is a woman who’s trained her whole life as a warrior. Her athletic aesthetics, however, don’t come at the cost of her femininity. Diana is gorgeous but Chiang deftly keeps away from sexualizing not just Diana but most of the book’s female characters.

The modern, or ancient, redesigns of the Greek Pantheon are probably my favorite aspect of the book from an artistic hermes-5Astandpoint. Instead of keeping to the stereotypical depiction of the Greek gods, Chiang makes them the embodiment of their particular territory or job. Hermes the Messenger has the visage of a humanoid bird, Artemis the goddess of the hunt and the moon glows brightly while sporting antlers, looking like a marble statue, and Poseidon, lord of the seas, is a gigantic fish-like creature, a great and powerful reflection of his domain. My favorite design is probably Strife. Though her only otherworldly aspect is her purple skin, Strife looks exactly like her name. The shaved head, heavy makeup, and slashed form-fitting dress give readers an immediate sense of unease, that anything involving her will lead to trouble. Wonder Woman is definitely one of the most beautiful books from DC. It’s vibrant and bursting with energy and color thanks to Chiang and colorist Matthew Wilson.

Okay, back to the rest of the article.

The origin of Diana of Themyscira is often one of the first elements tackled when a new creative team takes over the book or DC feels like rebooting. Unlike Krypton blowing up or Thomas and Martha Wayne being killed in Crime Alley, Wonder Woman’s backstory of being molded from clay and entering “Man’s World” has gone through several iterations since she first appeared in 1941. Because of this malleability, Wonder Woman tends to embody the attitudes of women within the modern world – wonder-woman-6depending on who’s writing – but each retelling and reinterpretation is hit or miss depending on a number of factors, one of the most prominent being the socio-political climate. When Diana lost her powers in the 1960s in order to make her seem more like the modern day woman it was met with scorn from feminists like Gloria Steinem who accused the creative team of taking the most powerful female superhero and stripping her of her powers. The intention may have been to make Wonder Woman relevant to the modern readership, the change was inspired by Diana Rigg’s Emma Peel in The Avengers television show, but the response proved that, like Superman, Wonder Woman’s core audience of female readers looked to her as an ideal, something to strive for and emulate.

William Moulton Marston addressed this need for an iconic hero for women and girls in the 1943 issue of The American Scholar, writing:

Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. Not wanting to be girls, they don’t want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.

Marston very much believed that the new world order would eventually be run by women and used Wonder Woman as “psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should…rule the world”. Unlike the violent tendencies of men and boys, girls and women had a greater emotional capacity that, he believed, made them stronger and better leaders. Wonder Woman was a figurehead for them to rally behind, a Pygmalion creation meant to embody all that women were capable of. Making Diana the princess of the Amazons who inhabited Paradise Island solidified Marston’s vision of a utopian culture of peace and prosperity run entirely by women. By venturing out into “Man’s World”, Wonder Woman brought those sensibilities captain-sensation-35with her as she fought Nazis and enemies on the home front, teaching and showing girls that violence wasn’t the only option but should more forceful actions need to be taken they were strong enough to break the chains or ropes that bound them. For all of the bondage imagery shown in Marston’s run, there were plenty of metaphors to be gleaned regardless of what “Dr.” Wertham thought.

Since Marston, the depiction of Paradise Island, later named Themyscira in the 1987 relaunch, and the Amazons have gone through as many changes as Wonder Woman. While Marston envisioned utopia with an all-female society, the exploration of Amazonian culture is a fascinating aspect of the Wonder Woman canon since the environment she grows up in acts as a reflection of the character. Some writers have utilized it beautifully (The Circle from Gail Simone, Terry Dodson, and Rachel Dodson) and others not so much (Amazons Attack! from Will Pfeifer and Pete Woods). How much Diana embraces or fights against her Amazonian upbringing is no different than how any person might face their heritage and family. And it’s here where Azzarello’s stamp on Wonder Woman takes a sharp turn for better or for worse.

strifeThe two most controversial aspects of Azzarello’s reboot were the changes made to Diana’s origin and the Amazons. In the New 52, Diana was no longer molded from clay and blessed with life from the gods. Instead it was revealed that she was the biological daughter of Hippolyta and Zeus, making her a demigod. After finding her mother turned to stone and her sister Amazons turned into snakes as punishment from Hera, Diana becomes immersed in her godly family of half brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts. In the process, she receives one final revelation about the Amazons: to continue populating the island with female warriors, the Amazons took over ships with men on board, had sex with them, kept the daughters and gave the sons to Hephaestus.

Many a critic and Wonder Woman fan cried foul on this change in particular since Azzarello essentially turned the Amazons into rapists. I’m not here to argue that point because it’s a valid one, but I think I understand why Azzarello made the changes. Again, Marston saw an all-female society as utopia, it’s why he named the home of the Amazons Paradise Island. But anyone who’s studied the concept of utopia knows that it’s never an achievable form of society despite what the creator desires. There are plenty of historical examples and it’s rare that fiction ever depicts a utopian society as anything less than sinister. Azzarello is yet another author in this category. Prior to the discovery of Themyscira’s repopulation program, Azzarello laid the foundation that all was not well on Paradise Island. Wonder Woman was already living in London, away from the island, and her return with Zola and Hermes, plus the appearance of Strife, brings out the underlying antagonism of some of the Amazons towards Diana. Referring to her as “clay” in a derogatory manner, it’s clear that peace, tranquility, and love aren’t always present.

Azzarello is no stranger to tackling the darker side of comic book characters. Some of his best works for DC are Joker, Lex Luthor: Man of Steel, and Superman: For Tomorrow, all of which highlighted essential aspects of the characters from Azzarello’s point of view. With Wonder Woman, Azzarello is arguing that Marston’s utopia is fallible and a myth in its own right. An all-female society is no less effective than an all-male society. The Amazons are, after all, still human. By distancing themselves from “Man’s World” they’ve lost their hold on an inclusive community. This is what makes Wonder Woman so WW-30dessential. She’s the bridge between the Amazons and the outside world, but only through taking the journey of coming to terms with her own identity and what it means to be Wonder Woman, a demigod, the God of War, and the new Queen of the Amazons, does she possess the wisdom to rebuild her family on Themyscira. She cannot separate these worlds any more than she can separate her identity. They’re all parts of a whole and by melding them she’s made stronger. It’s why she pleads with her sister Amazons to accept their brothers and protect Zola and her baby against the First Born’s army. They will be stronger as a whole, as a family, and it is simply the right thing to do.

LoveThroughout Azzarello and Chiang’s run, love is shown to be the root of Diana’s decisions and at the center of the conflict between her and the First Born. In their final confrontation, Diana ties it all together from a thematic perspective when she tells the First Born that his demand for love and power will never result in victory because he doesn’t understand that love is about submission. There have been several instances in the book where Diana was put into a position of submission – marrying Hades, tricking Artemis into “winning” a fight, the First Born’s proposal – but none of them were made out of an actual act of love. Compare this to what Diana has personally done out of genuine feelings of love; protecting Zola and her baby, forgiving a mortal Hera, helping Hades learn to love himself, and reuniting her sister and brother Amazons. She shows compassion, mercy, and forgiveness towards others because, at her core, her love for all living things is infinite. Fittingly, her last act in the final issue is an actual submissive plea to Athena to spare Zola’s life. By submitting to love and appealing to Wisdom, Wonder Woman shows us her true heroism.

I know I’m not the only one who has strong feelings towards Azzarello and Chiang’s run on the book, but I feel it’s been consistently one of the strongest coming out of DC and I’m sad to see the creative team go. There’s certainly plenty to unpack within those 35 issues, but this is just a portion of what I’ve taken away from it. But I’m interested to know what other people think.

Just, ya know, be civil. We’re all friends here.

warrior princess

Now that we know Wonder Woman will actually be appearing in Superman vs Batman and that she’ll be played by Gal Gadot, it’s time to start musing over how David S. Goyer and Zack Snyder will characterize the iconic superheroine. Obviously we don’t have any plot details on the movie, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make some educated guesses as to how Goyer and Snyder might depict the original comic book warrior princess.

Warrior princess…

This is actually the most fitting and succinct description of Wonder Woman you’ll ever find because it encompasses the dual nature and complexity of the character. Diana is the Princess of Themyscira, an island exclusively populated by the female warriors of Greek mythology, the Amazons. With all the talk of Gal Gadot’s casting and the plethora of aggravating judgements of her body continuing, the common thread has been comments about how fans envisioned the look of Diana as an Amazon. We’ve been talking a lot about the warrior, but there hasn’t been a lot of talk about what motivates her: the compassion and love she feels for others. Gail Simone described the essential Wonder Woman movie as a “Disney princess who fights monsters”. Simone should know since she’s written the character, but she makes a salient point. When we think of Disney princesses, certain traits come to mind: kindness, determination, cleverness, love, and compassion. Nix the songs and apply the job of the typical Disney male lead to Diana and you have Wonder Woman. It’s not that far off from what Wonder Woman’s creator, William Moulton Marston, had in mind. He envisioned his superheroine as the embodiment of what be believed were superior, feminine traits, and reinforced them with the physical power and strength rivaled only by Superman.

Simone, along with George Pérez, Greg Rucka, Phil Jimenez, and, to some extent, current writer Brian Azzarello, have all locked into this characterization, striking the right balance between the emotional and the physical. In Diana’s case, they’re not mutually exclusive. She fights because she sees the injustices that humanity inflicts upon itself and her capacity to feel for the suffering of others drives her to help those in need. Conversely, her compassion prevents her from stepping over the line and killing her enemies. Like Superman and Batman, Wonder Woman’s first priority is to prevent harm from coming to others, even the people she’s fighting. Killing does not equal justice, but what distinctly separates Wonder Woman from Batman and Superman is her understanding that sometimes killing is a possible solution when all others have failed.

Death of Maxwell LordThere’s a reason the death of Maxwell Lord is so significant to Wonder Woman’s character development in Infinite Crisis. Snapping his neck (sound familiar?) is the last resort, but it’s a final act done in order to stop Clark from killing others but also to save Clark from the emotional trauma should he kill a friend, loved one, or any random person while under mind control, something she knows would haunt him the rest of his life. The consequences, however, are tremendous in terms of how the world views her and how Superman and Batman treat her. They don’t trust her like they used to because she crossed a line neither of them have dared to no matter what the circumstances. The reasons why can be found in the very core of each character. Clark’s power set makes him practically unstoppable, yet he constantly holds back from putting his enemies six feet under because of the responsibility he feels to uphold the virtues of humanity. Bruce’s “no kill” policy is so central to who he is that he can’t even bring himself to kill the Joker, a mass-murdering sociopath, because he’s afraid of what will happen once he crosses that sacred, yet blurred line.

Clark and Bruce have clearly marked where the point of no return is for them and refuse to deviate from their chosen paths. They’re more motivated by the fear of crossing that line and the repercussions it has on a psychological level. Diana, however, knows where that line is but she also understands that sometimes it has to be crossed because the aftermath may be far worse if she doesn’t act. What separates Diana from Clark and Bruce are the emotional stakes she invests in being a hero and how far she’s willing to go because of them. What would you do to save someone you cared for? How far would you go? Diana will kill if she has to not just because she’s an Amazon but because, sometimes, it’s the lesser evil. Wonder Woman’s heroism comes from trying to spare others from pain even if it means diminishing her own reputation. It’s a sacrifice she’s willing to make and it paints her as a hero who can believably live in the moral grey area. She can still be inspirational and an ideal to strive towards, but when push comes to shove, and there are no other options left, pray that it isn’t Wonder Woman standing in front of you.zzTrinity-Wonder-Woman-Superman-Batman

And that’s just scratching the surface of who Diana is considering the nearly 75 years worth of stories that have expanded on her character and that of the Amazon culture from which she hails. This isn’t a character you can just sum up in a scene and pat yourself on the back.  But how much characterization will end up in the Wonder Woman we see on the big screen in Superman vs Batman? If I were a bettin’ woman, I’d say the odds aren’t exactly in her favor. Diana will be showing up in a movie that is still being referred to via her male peers. Until a title is officially released, hopefully not one of the God-awful domain names purchased by Warner Bros. in the last couple months, we’re still looking at this movie as if it’s going to solely focus on Superman and Batman. Unless the title miraculously has the word “Trinity” or “World’s Finest”, we can expect Wonder Woman’s role to be smaller, leaving less room for significant character development. Not that it can’t happen, but it would have to be some amazingly well written dialogue. Possibly a one-on-one between Diana and Lois. Just no love triangle, please. Listen to Amy Adams.

Keeping in mind, however, the filmmaking team we have, what’s the quickest way to set up a female superhero so that we might know how badass she is in the most visceral way possible? If you said, “Have her smash through a building while lassoing a harpy,” then you’re probably thinking along the same lines as Goyer and Snyder. Not that it wouldn’t be cool to see that, I’m just saying that Diana’s warrior background is going to get way more attention than her pesky emotional side. There’s also the classic bait and switch maneuver of introducing us to Diana Prince first only to have Wonder Woman unexpectedly show up during a fight between Superman, Batman, and whoever the secondary villain happens to be who isn’t Lex Luthor.

Frozen and Catching FirePushing the warrior angle is the easiest route to bring Wonder Woman into the fold. It requires minimal explanation because all you need is something big enough to attract more heroes and BOOM! there’s Wonder Woman stabbing something with a sword while The Flash runs around doing whatever he’s doing. Is it the best way to introduce her? Yes and no. While it gives the audience something they can immediately grasp, it relegates Diana to simply “Action Girl”, which diminishes her complexity as a character. The irony being that the “Action Girl” trope is the one thing working in favor of Warner Bros. greenlighting a Wonder Woman movie. The two top-grossing films of the last month were The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Frozen, both of which had female leads. The advertising for both movies, however, put more emphasis on the action. Katniss shoots her arrows, some political intrigue ensues, she gets attacked by birds while Peeta shouts at her, and then explosions. Anna proactively goes after her sister, Elsa, and then she’s chased by a snow monster, or Elsa is wielding her ice powers. Neither of these movies had  a lot of advertising that delved into the emotional stakes at the heart of both movies.

In justifying female action leads we’re inadvertently sidestepping emotional arcs in favor of attracting the same audiences just so we can say, “See, Hollywood, girls can bring in the box office numbers too!” The fact of the matter is that Wonder Woman isn’t “tricky”. The Hollywood system of producers and executives in charge of her cinematic future are the “tricky” ones, requiring a constant incentive to push movies through that they believe will attract the male demographic who are still considered the target audience for action and superhero movies despite the numbers showing viewership as relatively even across gender lines.justice-league-22-superman-wonderwoman-1

The comic books, the recent ones at least, at DC Comics aren’t exactly helping with Wonder Woman’s image as the few books she’s featured in emphasize the more militarized version. Azzarello’s Wonder Woman is at least motivated to protect others, but her protection only seems to stay within the realm of her Godly family. It gives her a personal connection and personal stakes in the fate of those she’s defending, but at the same time it makes Wonder Woman a hero focused on self-interest. This isn’t the same Wonder Woman of Greg Rucka’s Hiketeia who would protect and defend anyone who asked for her help even if they committed the crime. Geoff Johns doesn’t do much better with Diana. The beginning of Trinity War has her outright implying that the reason she doesn’t have a rogue’s gallery like Clark or Bruce is because she’ll straight up kill her enemies. The Wonder Woman of the New 52 actually strikes me as the most likely version of the character to end up in Superman vs Batman purely because her motivations have been streamlined, emphasizing the warrior above all else. It begs the question of whether Snyder and Goyer are planning to distill the character for the sake of simplicity or take a chance and strive for more. 

The silver lining in all of this is that we know this won’t be the last appearance of Wonder Woman and that, at the very least, her appearance in Superman vs Batman will provide the opportunity to further explore the character either in Justice League or, hopefully, her own movie. Even if they just emphasize the warrior, they could easily expand on the complexity of Diana in future projects. Whatever doesn’t work this time around can be fixed. Joss Whedon gave Black Widow a purpose in The Avengers, making her far more interesting than her initial introduction in Iron Man 2. So maybe, just maybe, Goyer and Snyder will get Wonder Woman right off the bat, but in case they don’t she’ll at least have a chance at making a second first impression. Her fans love her too much to let her go down without a fight.

Trinity