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Why SUPERMAN/WONDER WOMAN Is The Best Depiction of Wonder Woman in the DCU Right Now

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by on December 21, 2013

I hate the Superman and Wonder Woman romantic relationship that DC Comics is forcing on us right now. Like, I hate it a lot. In real life, we see the quarterback end up with the cheerleader all the time, but in fiction, whether it’s shows like Glee or Emilio Estevez’s jock character getting together with goth Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club, it’s not what we want to see in our stories. We want to root for the underdog in any romantic scenario. Plus, there is something beautiful about god-like heroes like Superman and Wonder Woman falling for “frail,” non-perfect mortals. It makes them more human, and seem a hell of a lot less shallow. Sure, Lois Lane and Steve Trevor are hot, for regular folk… but no one’s hotter than Superman and Wonder Woman. So why then is it that Superman/Wonder Woman is my favorite DC Universe book on the stands right now? And most importantly, the only book DC produces that I feel gets the character of Wonder Woman even halfway right?

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Ever since the launch of the New 52, DC has, as far as this lifelong fan is concerned, royally dropped the ball as far as the character of Wonder Woman is concerned. While I know I’m not alone with this opinion, I also know I’m in the minority. The New 52 version of Diana has proven to be really popular with critics and many fanboys alike, and there’s good reason for that – Brian Azzarello is an excellent writer, and Cliff Chiang is an excellent artist. With the New 52 version of Wonder Woman, the Azzarello/Chiang team have indeed given us a really cool post-modern take on the Gods of Olympus, and what amounts to as an equally cool post-modern take on  Xena: Warrior Princess. But despite obvious similarities between the two, Wonder Woman is not Xena, and as a huge Wonder Woman fan, therein lies the problem.

The core concepts that are at the heart of what Wonder Woman is about – equality, charity, kindness, compassion – these things simply aren’t cool with the largely straight male fanbase that make characters like Batman and Wolverine two of comicdom’s biggest franchise carriers and superstars. So for this latest attempt to get the usual comic book fanbase who historically ignored her to give her a try, DC editorial decided to focus on her warrior persona, admittedly a huge part of her appeal to be sure, but at almost the expense of all her other attributes. And it worked! Wonder Woman was selling well for the first time in years. It turns out, the best way to get fanboys to embrace her was to jettison all the “icky” feminine traits usually associated with the character, and make her a man in sexy and convincing drag, surrounded by a substantial group of male characters in her supporting cast for the first time. Oh, Azzarello gets her fierce, lioness-like devotion just fine, but we almost never see her smile. And the Geoff Johns version over in the pages of Justice League just likes sticking her sword in things a lot. Between these two depictions, we haven’t really been given a glimpse into who Diana is beyond the surface.

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Wonder Woman was created in 1941 with the idea of being a feminist icon; the socio-political intent was there on creator William Marston’s part from day one. Now, with New 52 Diana, she has been slowly stripped of her feminist overtones, one  piece at a time. Originally conceived as the product of one childless woman and the power of a Goddess, (a unique origin not found in actual mythology) now Diana is the child of Zeus, similar to Perseus and Heracles, and all her great power comes from daddy’s side of the family tree. Her mother, Queen Hippolyta, and her sisters the Amazons, were either turned to stone or snakes in her third issue, effectively wiping them off the board and making the entire book’s dramatic momentum centered around her father’s side of the family.

The only real mention we’ve had of her sister Amazons in the two years since the New 52 began has been the revelation that Amazons procreate by seducing wayward sailors and then murdering them, while giving the male children conceived by these encounters of to the God Hephasteus as slaves. Marston’s vision of Utopian society of women was undone in a short two pages. But, hey, that’s not all. We also have discovered that Ares, the God of War, trained Diana as a child to be the warrior she is, because the island full of fierce female warriors couldn’t get the job done, apparently. DC publishers Dan Didio and Bob Harras, as well as Wonder Woman writer Brian Azzarello, are all way too smart to not know just what the subtext of all of this says, which means they know but they just don’t care, and are willing to sacrifice Wonder Woman’s feminist overtones for a bump in sales. A brief bump, because Wonder Woman’s comic sales are pretty much where they were now prior to the launch of the New 52, when she was wearing mom jeans and leather jacket.

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So when DC announced the relationship between Superman and Wonder Woman last year with much hoopla, I figured this was just another layer to the stripping of Diana’s importance as her own character. She had now become a more famous hero’s girlfriend, and the subtext of her falling for the only mortal man on Earth physically more powerful than her somehow didn’t land on anyone at DC as being even a wee bit misogynistic. At first, this was all the last nail in the coffin for the character I loved as I once knew her, the “Hero Formerly Known as (Diana) Prince.”

And yet somehow, Superman/Wonder Woman writer Charles Soule (Strongman, Letter 44) has made sweet lemonade out of the lemons of this situation. Oh, I still don’t like the idea of Superman and Wonder Woman as a couple. But the truth is, the book works almost the same if it was just the story of the unique friendship of the world’s two most powerful superheroes. Whether or not it is on purpose, Soule writes these two more as good friends who share a unique common bond than anything romantic. The few panels the books use to show the two snuggling or being touchy/feely with each other feel heavy handed and forced, no matter how well artist Tony Daniel draws it. But honestly, three issues in and there’s not a lot of that going on.

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The first issue begins with the titular couple in classic superhero mode, saving a plane from crashing together (seriously, I would never board a plane in either the DC or Marvel universes, where apparently major air disasters happen daily). From there on out, the interactions between Clark and Diana are sweet, and we see a version of her that is relaxed and lets her guard down. Azzarello’s Diana is tough and capable to be sure, but what she almost never is, is vulnerable.  Soule also knows how to point out the key difference between Clark and Diana; Clark has lived his whole life hiding, in one form or another, and Diana is an open book. She wants to tell the world about their relationship, because as an Amazon she doesn’t have a sense of shame about such things.

Another element I’m grateful that Soule has brought to the table is introducing the character of Hessia, an Amazon who wasn’t on Paradise Island when the Goddess Hera turned her sisters into snakes. This gives Diana a sister to talk to who’s on her level (or close to it). The Azzarello version lost the Amazons very early on, to give Diana “new” family in the form of the Olympian Gods. In her own book, Diana has barely mentioned the predicament that her entire culture was left in for the past year or so, and doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to try to undo it. In fact, in one panel of the first issue of Superman/Wonder Woman, the two character’s lament their impotence when it comes to their sister’s fate, and how much they hate it. I can’t help but imagine it’s Soule’s commentary on the whole situation. Diana’s relationship with her sisters is an integral part of the character, and one I’m glad to see restored, even if it is through just one new character.

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It is almost a certainty that the Superman and Wonder Woman romantic relationship won’t last very long. DC will play it out for as long as possible before people want Superman and Lois back together. But I hope that DC is wise enough to continues this book with the same creative team regardless. Superman and Wonder Woman don’t need to share a bed to share a comic book together, and I hope this is not another situation where a creator at a high profile DC book is forced to leave over “creative differences.”  This book is better than the gimmick it is based on, and I for one certainly hope it far outlives its gimmick.

What do you think about Superman/Wonder Woman? Let us know in the comment below.