By Chris Wilson
Wonder Woman is one of my all time favorite mainstream comic book characters. The search for strong female characters, after all, was the driving force behind my decision to read comics in the first place. I’ve always loved the idea of comic book characters, but I was not a comic reader as a kid for two reasons: The nasty not-real-reading stereotype, and the off-putting art styles of the 70s and 80s. Why were so many walls, tights and other various things pink? Pink!
Despite my dislike of the art, I was into the characters, the ideas, the story. With towel tightly knotted around my throat, I once asked my mother if she would like me better if I could fly. I thought the woman was off her nut when she answered in the negative because in my mind any person was better if he could fly. I mean, duh. Moms say the weirdest things.
Females have not always, traditionally, been written so well in the comic book industry. They have often been written as being weak, pitiful or in a perpetual state of love-struck idiocy. At the very least, it sometimes seems many of our female supers are afterthoughts to the industry. I have a friend who buys SUPERGIRL for his fourth grade daughter despite the fact that he loudly laments the writing as incoherent and inconsistent. He buys it anyway because she likes it. I suppose it is the right of every child to like garbage whether it is on television or in print. I loved KNIGHT RIDER and THE A-TEAM as a kid. I enjoy reading about powerful women.
My comic guy, knowing my desire to promote strong female characters in comics, makes sure to point me towards great girl titles. On his recommendation I picked up BATGIRL and I went nuts. I’m still subscribing to that title and enjoying every minute of it. He also directed me toward writer Gail Simone (SECRET SIX and WONDER WOMAN).
After I purchased my first two volumes of WONDER WOMAN hardcovers (The Circle and The Ends of the Earth) I got right to work. Not only is Simone’s WONDER WOMAN a beautiful title, but scribe Gail Simone may very well be my favorite comics writer. Her layered storytelling is classic in structure moving between the modern story and Wonder Woman’s hostile birth, all the while peppered with subplots and references to other times, other battles, other people.
Simone treats her subject seriously and reverently without glorifying the conflicted Amazonian beyond humanity. Wonder Woman is at once a woman, a warrior and a philosopher. She is introspective and reflective, classy and charming, yet authoritative and unstoppable. It is Princess Diana’s warrior code that intrigues me the most. She is not a sanctimonious “boy scout” nor is she an antihero. Princess Diana, is an honest character capable of understanding her enemy, extend an olive branch to her enemy, or obliterating her enemy depending on the circumstances. She is a true warrior with a code that is reflective of honor.
It is Wonder Woman’s warrior code that makes her such an admirable hero to study. In the beginning of Ends of the Earth, Diana treks through an icy netherworld, hunted by pack of wolf-creatures. She subdues them easily with her lasso and then realizes the extent of the creature’s torment. An animal lover and vegetarian, Diana also recognizes their need to be freed. “The lasso soothes them, momentarily. But otherwise, they know nothing but agony and fear. They’re begging for release, before they lose their way and turn on each other. A pack to the end,” she thought. With Hephaestus’ gift she ended their long suffering though it hurt her to do it.
Neither weak nor ostentatious, Wonder Woman is diplomatic even when faced with an overweening Beowulf who places his hands upon her wrist in an obvious authoritative move. “I warn you sire,” she says respectfully, “but I will not be handled.” She then grips her hilt.
While The Dragon (a name she was given at birth by a trusted comrade turned enemy) can and will destroy a foe, she fights with a code that few can hold: “Don’t kill if you can wound. Don’t wound if you can subdue. Don’t subdue if you can pacify, and don’t raise your hand at all until you’ve first extended it.” In the eyes of some, such strength and character may give Wonder Woman the stereotype of angry female activist. She understands such labels strong women receive and curtly speaks about it: “Why is it that people feel a belief in woman equals a hatred of man?”
Ideological and pragmatic, Wonder Woman is capable of incorporating her peaceful philosophies into her militarist duty. The Amazon is a woman who is hard and soft, strong and empathetic, commanding and diplomatic, invincible and vulnerable. She is the epitome of what many women strive for. She is a hero –– a wonderful woman.
The art between issues is subtly varied as different artists worked on different issues within each volume. The panel layout is brilliant, pulling the reader through the flashbacks with ease. Some panel frames are exquisitely detailed with scrolling ivy, wolf heads and dragons, reflecting the fantasy otherworld that Diana is forced to endure.
I did find that Wonder Woman’s legs and boots were often too sparsely shaded or soft, giving the feel of clown shoes rather than warrior’s boots. I would not recommend the Princess look like a modern female body builder, ripping with muscles. I prefer a more female look. However, I think her legs could use a bit more sculpting. I am thankful that her stiletto heals were replaced with practical, flat-soled boots fitting an authentic warrior.
Chris’ Rating: Ages 13 and older
It is not that WONDER WOMAN is inappropriate for younger readers; it is just that the story is complex enough that younger readers might really struggle with comprehension.
There are no inappropriate words, but there is superhero violence. Wonder Woman is dressed like Wonder Woman. That is to say, she is in a swim suit-style uniform. She is not, in my mind, over-sexualized or inappropriate. I would allow my 10-year-old to read these books.
IN THE CLASSROOM
There are two story arcs each in both volumes. That gives the teacher four stories from which to build a lesson. The first arc in The Circle details Diana’s birth as well as a modern attack on her home island. The second arc follows Wonder Woman’s courtship of soldier Tom Tresser with the Department of Metahuman Affairs. At the same time, Wonder Woman is needed on another planet to stop an invasion. The catch? The people being invaded are themselves invaders of planets.
The first arc in Ends of the Earth continues with the courtship of Tom, but their relationship is complicated by the fact that his superior wants Tom to spy on Diana Prince and report back. While this occurs, Diana finds a stranger in her office at the Department of Metahuman affairs. When the Amazon lasso’s him to unlock his soul, she finds he has no soul. The depths of his void and blood lust are endless and she experiences it all. She finds herself sucked into a mythical world where she meets Beowulf and they work to defeat the devil. Through this fantasy story, the reader discovers the character of Wonder Woman. The last arc is a humorous yarn about an attempt to make a Hollywood flop “about” Wonder Woman. It’s merely a ruse for a sinster enemy to try to destroy Diana.
Not only should students read these for enjoyment, but they should study the outstanding narrative structure. How does Simone tell her layered stories while still keeping the reader? Who is Wonder Woman? How does she define women? This tale is at home for a feminist study of modern women in literature and pop culture. How does this portrayal differ from other movies, comics or books? Is Wonder Woman a feminist, a pacifist, an activist? How has Wonder Woman evolved over the years? Is she a role model for girls and women? Do you admire her or criticize her? Why?
Author: Gail Simone
Illustrators: Bernard Chang, Rachel Dodson, Terry Dodson, Aaron Lopresti, and Matt Ryan
Publisher: DC Comics
Genre: Super hero
Volume: The Circle
Issues: #14 – #19
Color: Full color
Volume: Ends of the Earth
Issues: #20 – #25
Color: Full color
Both volumes are also available in softcover editions.
Wonder Woman is the epitome of womanhood and her stories are superheroic and yet still human and real.