Monday, November 10, 2008

Let There Be Lightning (DC)
Where: DC Universe 0 When: June 2008
Why: Grant Morrison & Geoff Johns
How: Aaron Lopresti

Quick Fix...
It was just last month that we compared scenes from DCU #0 to the impending arrival of Dark Kahn, but this marks our first chance to dive a little deeper into content from DC's most recent bargain sampler.

DC's had previous successes with cheap issues, such as five and ten cent Batman specials, but it seems it's been since the Countdown to Infinite Crisis special -- which contained the shock death of Blue Beetle, Ted Kord -- that the practise has become an event-driven tradition.

For the infinitely cash-strapped and cautiously interested, fifty cents is the right price for an opportunity to get a taste of an ambitious year's worth of stories, all branching out of Final Crisis. The scenes featured in our Dark Kahn preview depict the flaming visage of Darkseid falling from the plane of the New Gods [after his apparent "death" in Countdown #2], to the mortal realm of Earth where his quest to unleash the anti-life equation continues (in the pages of Final Crisis).

Other previews promote: Superboy-Prime's villainous arrival in the thirty-first century (Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds); Joker's amusement over Batman's pending battle with the Black Glove (Batman: RIP); the rise of a spectrum of Lantern Corps, most notably the Black Lanterns (Green Lantern: Blackest Night); and the Spectre's renewed quest for vengeance (Final Crisis: Revelations). In their entirety, the previews all allude to a return in the pages of Final Crisis that few could have expected, as indicated by the narrator's voice of -- Barry Allen!

In our case, it's perhaps the least auspicious of the previews, that commands our attention. Honestly, it's not really for the grand ideas promised, nor is it any loyalty to the creators. Rather we come back to a subject longtime readers will remember us discussing in various forms -- the simple existence of the titular character -- Wonder Woman.

If you're a regular reader and a bit of museo, you'll know all about the kinds of celebrity spotting we've done through our weekend Smash Hits. Comics and characters, even for the uninitiated, are a simple fact of modern pop culture living. Never before has this type of scenario been true, but I bet you never imagined a little crossmedia dabbling from celeb fanboys like Gerard Way or Stephen King would ever produce a lasting industry icon.

This type of scenario was exactly what occurred when Dr. William Moulton Marston -- psychologist famous for inventing the polygraph "lie detector" -- decided to take his respectful fandom a step further in creating a new kind of superhero!

At the dawn of the modern superhero (1940s), Marston was there as an early advocate for the educational properties the medium offered. I don't know the specifics of Marston's theory, but as someone who was attracted enough to colourful superheroes to learn basic reading skills before school, I like to think there's some merit to the thought.

Marston's postive remarks led to his employment as an educational advisor with National Comics (a DC precursor), but eventually led to an extension of the role that would once again garner a rare invention. Wonder Woman entered print in All-Star Comics #8, cover-dated December, 1941.
While not alone as a prominent female heroine; Wonder Woman's initial sales catapulted the character into a spotlight that rivalled Superman or Batman, and ensured a lasting significance that earned credentials not seen by contemporary characters of time, such as the later reinvented Timely heroine, Black Widow.

Her popularity, powers, and polygraph-inspired lasso of truth, were not the only things making Wonder Woman a unique superhero character. So intrigued by the prospect of a headlining female hero was then-publisher, Max Gaines, that he agreed to a contract that determined DC would retain the exclusive rights to the character only as long as they maintained a starring monthly title. Marston only lived six years to see his character mythologized, succuming to cancer in 1947.

Though the faultless attendance record of Wonder Woman as a starring heroine remains a vital part of the legend, the quality it has inspired in her character and stories is much less certain. While it's true in her early years Wonder Woman may have attracted sales to place her in the upper echelon, but now, sixty years later, her place among the 'trinity' of DC icons appears more out of goodwill and philosophy than the significance and vitality of her solo adventures.

Marston's original idea was to create a superhero who used love, rather than the exclusive practice of violence, to solve problems. While this initial concept supplied a variety of passifist alternatives in her fighting arsenal, it also facilitated the routine bondage of a character whose powers were nullified whenever her mystic bracelets were tied together. A fact that did not escape another psychiatrist who would have an indelible influence on the medium a decade later with his inflammatory publication, Seduction of the Innocent.

Given Marston's role as a champion for feminist ideals, it could be considered ironic, by some, that his character was inspired by two women with whom he shared a polygmous relationship. Marston's penchant for bondage and domination would permeate throughout the subconscious of his 1940's stories, leading to speculation that ran rife concerning Marston's motives. This dark supposition would feature prominently in Dr. Frederic Wertham's 'Seduction,' which used countless examples of interpreted sado-sexual scenes as moral arguments against an entire medium, published some seven years after Marston's death.

Wertham's professional muckraking would not effect the publication of a post-Marston Wonder Woman, but one can't help but question how the legacy of this controversial past has informed a mediocre present.

As you might expect of a feature character this month; Wonder Woman joins her fellow Justice League icons as part of the crossover video game - Mortal Kombat versus DC Universe. While fairly logical and transparent as a gesture to female gamers and DC's iconic trinity; Wonder Woman appears somewhat adrift in the games storymode, which, admittedly, serves a shakey series of fisticuffs, at best.
Reduced to random encounters and goose chasing; like her MK counterpart; Wonder Woman looks much less a warrior princess, and more inglorious filler.

If one were to entertain any claims WW was out of place in the realm of Mortal Kombat, one need only look at the monstrous opposition she faces in this very article. In case you missed it, that's a minotaur she's grappling and bashing with, something that appears in MK lore. Of course, it's not just lazy cross media appearances that depict Wonder Woman in a less than specific fashion.

As the post-Wertham landscape of comics shifted into self-regulated sanitization, Wonder Woman amassed a series of homogenizing similarities to prominent contemporaries, gradually drifting from the original concept. Today; Wonder Woman struggles to balance the mythological aspects of her origins, with the four-colour antics of superheroics and her placement in a cohesive universe.

With only a handful of memorable and iconic villains that value of Wonder Woman has been undermined, reliant upon gradually improving concepts like Cheetah, Giganta, and short-lived or barely recognised curiosities.

Her Amazonian context has been the most vivid characterization in recent years, defined by a growing intolerance for injustice, and a warrior's ethic to break those who would defy peace. Ask any who aren't intent followers of the character and the most recognised events of recent note will be the snapping of Maxwell Lord's neck, and maybe more general examples, like trying to eviscerate Mongul.
As much as these have helped stamped some kind of intent on Wonder Woman, it's worth noting how counter-intuitive they seem to the initial motivation to create a powerful female symbol who could nurture as heroically as she could fight.

The DC Universe preview brings Wonder Woman back to some of the original premise, describing her adventures in the land of man as part of a mission to bring peace to the world. Wonder Woman, in her initial appearance, was not unlike many heroes of the forties, responding to building pressure of Nazi influence during the Second World War -- an event she was compelled to enter by the crash arrival of Steve Trevor on Paradise Island.

The preview almost makes a commentary of Wonder Woman's gradual meandering from that original mission statement. Her tussle with the minotaur seems crudely specific when placed under the watchful eye of judgmental gods.
We are reminded that Wonder Woman's focus has been pushed to such specifics - ie; the United States - that any hope of mass peace is all but unlikely.

As communicated in previous entries, I feel some of these in-story accusations prove conducive to a version of Wonder Woman forceful in her pursuit of justice, but also globally aware, positioned on the frontlines of world issues. Wonder Woman has the makings of a compassionate hero unlike the lofty Superman, or the coldly distanced Batman, that make up the tentpoles of the classic DCU.

Like the vehicles dusted off twenty years ago by the likes of Alan Moore and Frank Miller; Wonder Woman is waiting for a big revival. A revival that needn't necessarily be about breaking this warrior's feet of clay, or transporting her to a dystopian landscape. Wonder Woman was born out of something more specific than that and if she is to prosper it might be time to show a little courage and shake off the vanilla of genre standards and push her to something more specific. Something that might ruffle some feathers and distance her from contemporary heroes, but will reignite a modern version of what made the character initially so special.

Marston's feminist credentials, depending on your sensibility, might not have been bulletproof, but his creation quite literally was. She remains a character deserving of a strong direction and spotlight amongst the lead heroes that is earned. This might be exactly what Gail Simone will bring to the title - she certainly has an artist that can draw scenes that are both powerful and beautiful. Personally, I'm not sure I could presume a female writer, as would be politically correct, to be the instantaneous answer to the character's woes.

Suffice to say, it is a discussion we will revisit again in the future.

The Fight: 3.5
The Issue: 3.5
Winner: Wonder Woman

The holidays are just around the corner! If you or your loved ones would like to draw your own conclusions about the Amazon Princess, why not use the online bookstore of the same name to check out these recent releases? Amazon offer a range of titles that can also be found in our gift shoppe, where, by using purchase links, you help sponsor the site. Which we could really use. It's the peace-loving way, y'know. Happy Holidays, folks!

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