Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Inheritance of Same-and-Other, Human-and-Amazon: A Brief Review of Wonder Woman #14

I believe that I have admitted, rather shyly and in hushed, confessional tones, that I was a rather chubby, bookish girl-child, and Gentle Reader, that meant I read. A lot. Sports were not my forte, and never did the graceful art of dancing meet with such a travesty of clay feet as This Humble Author's. When in patterns and puzzles, Math and I were Great Friends; I found myself exceptionally fond of Algebra. When in grander, spatial, conceptual terms, like Advanced Math, or Geometry, or, Heaven Forbid, Calculus, I was lost In The Woods, stumbling around without compass, direction, or purpose. I was a Great Appreciator of Art, and still am; the Brother-Reads-in-Law and the Best Friend Reads are artists both, and the Reads Household is peppered with their works. But I cannot put straight line to paper, or color in the lines, or swirl abstract imaginative paint around a canvas. Too spatial, perhaps? Or it is just Beyond Me.

But oh, Gentle Reader, in literature, and history? This Humble Author found her niche. Books were my passion; the Parents Reads would reward my good academic behavior with trips to the local bookstore. I bought and read everything: children's lit, young adult, adult (Stephen King was read way too young, perhaps, but loved all the same), horror, fantasy, sci fi, history, mythology. When the Parents Reads remodeled the Reads Family Home some twenty-odd years ago, Young Amy Reads found herself displaced from her bedroom and lived, for some months, in the front room. I remember playing Mount Olympus, with all of my stuffed animals and Jem and the Hologram dolls and He-Man action figures standing in for Hephaestus, or Zeus, or My Beloved Athena. Was it any Wonder that This Humble Author's much younger self was entranced with the idea of an Amazon Princess, gifted with power from the gods themselves?

Wonder Woman is a character steeped in mythology; there would be no Wonder, no Woman, without the Greek gods. Without Themyscira, there would be no Amazons, no mysterious island of warrior women, alien, separate, Othered. There is tradition, and protocol, and cultural expectations. But further, Wonder Woman is a character steeped in history. She is the result of the first wave of the Suffrage Movement. Our Grandmother (Proto-) Feminists fought long and hard for a Vote, and a Voice, and Wonder Woman is the product of that. She fought for our rights in those satin tights in the seventies, but even before, she fought for Women. She was a Powerhouse among Powerhouses. Now, one of the Big Three, she still to this day is Stronger than Superman. As he has three weaknesses (kryptonite, magic, red suns), she has none. As he is the dichotomy, Man and Superman, she is Princess Diana, The Wonder Woman.

Constant Readers of This Humble Blog know well that I loved Greg Rucka's run on Wonder Woman. He brought the Otherness to the forefront. He showed us the strangeness of an Amazon Out Of Place. Not the strangeness of a Woman Warrior in the World of Men, but rather the strangeness of someone ruled by principle, tradition, and moral absolutes in a world of ambiguity. There is no gray in the world of the Grey-Eyed One's Champion. Even with Athena's eyes, Wonder Woman fights her battles the way she understands him.

Post-Crisis, through Mr. Heinberg's, Mr. Pfeifer's, and Ms. Picoult's runs on Wonder Woman, we saw the fumbling of connections. That is not to say that This or That Writer wrote Better or Worse than the other; rather, the difficulty of trying to connect such varied storylines in such short amounts of time wrought its tragedy upon the continuity of The Amazon Princess. Further, Amazons Attack demonstrated the difficulty of trying to manage multiple levels of storylines through the one figure of Wonder Woman. Neither One Thing or The Other, she was forced to be Both, and More. Diana was forced to be Human and Amazon, Same and Different, Us and Not-Us. But never consistently, and never with any true purpose.

Wonder Woman #14 brings a new writer to the fold, and Ms. Gail Simone takes her many and considerable talents to the Amazon Princess. But further, and most importantly, Ms. Simone brings her Understanding of the Amazon Princess to her run on Wonder Woman. That Understanding depends on the Same-and-Other construction of Princess Diana, certainly, but also it depends on the inheritance, the tradition, the ideas, and yes, even What Has Come Before, whether three or thirty issues ago.

We begin with a scene on Themyscira, Hippolyta running across the earth, sandaled feet flying over grass, eyes squinting against the sun and purpose, and the words, "It was more like birth itself. An act of DESTRUCTION, as well as CREATION." This thing-we-do-not-yet-know understands the Manichean dichotomy. One cannot have Creation without Destruction, just as one cannot have the Same without the Other. One cannot have new Agent Diana Prince without Amazon Princess Diana. One cannot have the New without the Tradition.

And we see New-and-Tradition in the pages that follow, images of Diana fighting Grodd's army, who challenge her to see if they are strong enough to defeat Superman. Diana, a warrior, is honored by the comparison. She knows their purpose, and she knows the dangers that can be wrought by discontent. When in battle she narrates that "their anger makes them mine," she separates herself, so distinctly, from emotion. It was not an angry or emotional Diana that killed Maxwell Lord; rather, it was the gods' Champion. It was the Royal Princess, performing an act herself because she would take the consequences on her own.

She does not defeat Grodd's army, but rather establishes dominance over them, because they are "Creatures of ritual, well used to a social hierarchy," and she is, above all else, a Princess. It is not that Diana is willing to use her royal status; it is that she is her royal status. It's why she "prefer[s] never to use Batman's methods." His way is violent simplicity; hers is ritualistic complication.

But what Ms. Simone brings to Wonder Woman is something precious that has been missing from its pages for Quite Some Time, even in Mr. Rucka's run. While I believe Mr. Rucka to be A Talented Writer, he is not, however, a humorous one. Gail Simone brings a much-needed sense of wit and fancy to these pages, and not only are all the characters charming and witty, they're likeable, as well. Even Nemesis, to whom This Humble Author never warmed, finally demonstrates why he might be an appropriate love interest for a Superhero who has had so few. Or, as one of Grodd's army states, "They will mate soon, if they haven't already," to which another responds, "Their movement and scent confirm it."

A sense of whimsy, of enjoyment, and this is a Diana that is likeable, too. Despite my love for her, something bred over close to thirty years, Wonder Woman is not the Superhero I would like to be, say, BFF with. Selina Kyle is someone with whom you could go dancing, and Black Canary someone to call when in trouble. But Wonder Woman, even in her Holiday Girls days, seemed a bit separate from me. Perhaps because she was such a grownup when I was a child, and even when I was an adult, she, the Ambassador, was too Royal and Proper for me. That is not to say I didn't want to be her, because I did. But never once did I imagine that we would be friends.

But this Diana, who is trying to "learn their rituals as more than an uncommitted observer," despite the fact that "it is a strange culture that outlaws the hug," enjoys surprise birthday parties, and cake. This is a Diana who will meet with a character that This Humble Author is thrilled, Absolutely Thrilled, to see grace these pages again. I will not ruin the surprise for you, Gentle Reader, but let me just say that it is worth it, after all, to have waited So Long for this reboot to finally—finally!—start.

Mr. Reads and I discussed once the best villain for Wonder Woman, and we both agreed: this was a Superhero made to Defeat Nazis. And Ms. Simone delivers, gives us not only Nazis but Super-Nazis. This will be a battle for both Diana Prince and Wonder Woman. This will be a villain we can hate, so very cheerfully, individually or as a collective.

There are other delights Here and There, too, and this feels like the beginning of what will prove to be a sensational run for the Amazon Princess. In This Humble Author's Humble Opinion, this is some of the best comic writing we've seen in the DC Universe since One Year Later Began, over One Year Ago. This is what Wonder Woman should be like, and I, for one, am glad that I held on, so very patiently, that I laid down my $3 a month for the past year to prove to DC that Wonder Woman is a title that deserves a dedicated writer once again.

This is a Wonder Woman that is the Inheritance of Themyscira and Our Earth. This is our Sister Suffragette, our Beloved Amazon, our Woman Warrior who is the Hope and Savior of Her People. She is Same-and-Other, Human-and-Amazon, Diana-Prince-and-Princess-Diana. Ms. Simone has taken What Has Come Before and has made it into something Quite Spectacular indeed.


SallyP said...

It WAS nice, wasn't it? Beautiful artwork, and a good story...what a concept!

Amy Reads said...

Hi Sally,
I loved it, truly! Very well done, and of course, Gail Simone is amazing, as always.

Rachel said...

...and once again, you have captured something so true that most of us are incapable of articulating it. Thank you.