Saturday, June 28, 2008

Losing Her Religion: A Brief Review of Wonder Woman #21

There are three people in this world, Gentle Reader, who were instrumental in returning This Humble Author to the superheroic comic genre. Each of these three people is immensely talented at what he or she does, and therefore each has a particular talent that was presented to me, some five or six years back, when I found myself Rediscovering My Youth. Or, that is to say, when I found myself longing once more to watch a fight for my rights in satin tights (and that good ole red, white, and blue). While the Amazon Princess always has been Dear to My Heart, at the time I had not read her, in some while.

The first (and foremost) of these individuals is, of course, Mr. Reads, back when he was merely Boyfriend Reads. What Mr. Reads does, and does Rather Well, is Read. As a poet, as a writer, himself, Mr. Reads has an uncanny knack for Knowing What Is Good. Beneficially for This Humble Author, he also has an uncanny knack for knowing exactly what it is that This Humble Author will enjoy. This of course leads me directly to persons numbered 2 and 3.

Greg Rucka is individual numbered 2, and my rediscovery of superhero comics directly coincided with my introduction to Greg Rucka’s run on Wonder Woman. What Mr. Rucka does, and does Rather Well, is present the Other. He gives us a character who *should* be Just Like Us and instead shows us a character who is so utterly different from the world that we cannot help but sympathize with her, enjoy her strength and development, become angry with her when she fails, but only because she is So Very Angry with herself. Princess Diana, Tara Chace, Renee Montoya, all of these women were written with an eye towards what makes them different. It is no surprise, then, that these women are Warriors, All. Because what is more alien to our society than the Warrior, and the Woman Warrior, at that?

And, no surprise to you, Gentle Reader, Ms. Gail Simone is individual numbered 3. I remember when Mr. Reads first handed me Rose and Thorn, and Birds of Prey, and, most importantly, introduced me to the concept of Women in Refrigerators. As a feminist, an academic, and just generally, a Person Interested In Popular Culture, I found the very idea of Ms. Simone to be Utterly Fascinating. A fan becoming a writer, a critic becoming a voice. But while that is all Well And Good, it was Ms. Simone’s writing that truly won me over. And when I discovered that two of my enjoyments of comics were to coincide—Gail Simone was to write Wonder Woman—I knew that things would be rather interesting indeed.

Friends, I adored Greg Rucka’s run on Wonder Woman. I think he presented us with the difference of Diana. As a Princess from an isolated island, as a Warrior Ambassador for Peace, Diana is a dichotomy, and Mr. Rucka gave us those odd, isolated moments. The graphic novel The Hiketeia, for example, shows better than any other tale before or since the utter alienation of this character.

Mr. Rucka showed us the alienation; Ms. Simone shows us the internalization.

Diana is changing, to meet the world, to become someone new, but that change is not what Ms. Simone focuses on. Rather, it is Diana’s reactions to those changes we see stressed, so completely, in the recent issues of Wonder Woman. When battling on the edge of insanity, Wonder Woman finds herself losing: her strength, and understanding, and, most important to this Warrior for Peace, she tells us she is losing “My compassion. My mercy. My love.” These are the defining characteristics of Princess Diana, and to lose these things, she notes, would be “the wound that finally slays what I truly am.”

That wound, Gentle Reader, seems to threaten her very Soul.

It was Batman, was it not, who had a plan to defeat all super-powered heroes in case of emergency? And was it not his plan to let Wonder Woman defeat herself? Locked in a room, no weapons, no doors, just her willpower and her determination, Wonder Woman would fight until her heart gave out. There is often talk of the willpower of the Green Lanterns, but I point instead to the Amazon Princess. She will never back down, she will never surrender, and Ms. Simone demonstrates the toll that will have on Diana. Her gods will not answer her, so she sought another.

There are consequences, of course. Deep, earth-shattering consequences. The Lasso begins to reject her. She begins to doubt herself. There is constant questioning and repositioning here, on the edge of sanity, but most importantly there is development, growth, change, and Becoming. For good or for bad, the Amazon Princess changes, and We, the Constant Readers, are fortunate enough to watch it unfold, to cheer for her triumphs and to mourn her failures. In short, we are there, are we not? Because she is brought forward, as human as is possible for a Woman of Wonder, Made of Clay, Born of the Gods.

Mainly, for This Humble Author, that change also comes in the form of Costume: the Amazon Princess’s armor changes throughout the issue, and it is beautiful, Friends, just beautiful. But also, too, that change comes in writing. Mr. Rucka wrote the distant future-queen, the Ambassador come to fight for Peace. Ms. Simone, instead, writes the Wonder Woman of our past and of our future. This is the Wonder Woman for My Generation, Friends, not only the character but also the imprint. When I read Tresser singing to himself “Lolly lolly lolly get your strange bedfellows here,” I laughed out loud. I could not help it. Where Mr. Rucka rooted the imprint firmly in the realm of the Other, Ms. Simone bridges it between past and present. I, as a Reader and a Constant Fan, could never imagine Wonder Woman without her gods. That is, of course, until Ms. Simone gave her new ones.

For the first time since The Crisis, I feel as if Wonder Woman is standing on solid ground. I have greatly enjoyed Ms. Simone’s run thus far, but the past few issues, in particular, have given us a quietness, a solidity that along with the Team-Up is the true marker of Gail Simone’s writing. There is a quiet dignity to this story, to the presentation of Wonder Woman, and her alignment with Other Heroes, the constant questioning and requestioning of herself, all presents a picture of an Amazon Princess on the edge of sanity, on the edge of the future, on the edge, Gentle Reader, of change. She is losing her understanding of herself, she is losing her gods and her religion, but she is, perhaps, finding her humanity, too.

And it is her humanity, is it not, that we are most interested in? As I have argued before, She is both Same and Other, both Human and Amazon, and Ms. Simone brings that to the forefront.

I have had the great pleasure and privilege to reread all 12 issues of Welcome to Tranquility in the last week, and coupled with my recent reading of Secret Six and Villains United, I can say without a doubt that bringing forward the humanity of otherwise inhuman characters is Ms. Simone’s forte. And who is more inhuman than the Woman born not of woman but of the very Earth itself? Not even the alien from Krypton can claim such a difference, particularly as it is Clark Kent who is the real person rather than the mask. In these recent issues, Ms. Simone offers a new glimpse into the humanity of the Amazon and this does not rely on her employment (as evidenced when Etta Candy begs her not to return to the Taco Whiz in issue #20) or her romantic life. Rather, it is solely rooted in Diana’s internal questioning, in her quest to understand herself and how she is changing in the face of her actions, of the world, and of the loss of her traditions, her gods, her beliefs, and her mother.

Or, as Diana asks with a question laden with a myriad of implications and possibilities, “What is it that I am becoming?”


SallyP said...

Hear, hear!

Amy Reads said...

Hi Sally,
Hear, hear!


Mana G said...

As always, you express your views with a beauty and elegance I can only stand back and admire. (And envy.) Your thoughts on Wonder Woman are so well thought-out and expressed that I may end up re-examining who "my" Wonder Woman is, after all. (Darn you!)

Amy Reads said...

Hi Mana,
As always, you express your views with a beauty and elegance I can only stand back and admire. (And envy.) Your thoughts on Wonder Woman are so well thought-out and expressed that I may end up re-examining who "my" Wonder Woman is, after all. (Darn you!)

Thank you, Friend, for your kind words! I think Gail Simone is writing the Wonder Woman for my generation: the one that grew up with WW and is now growing older with her.
I love that about it :)