My night with Wonder Woman
I’m told I do my best work when I’m either drunk, hungover or suffering from a major debilitating illness. Since I’m currently all three, and having just read Paul’s article lamenting his favourite character being misused or something, I thought I’d take a quick whack at Wonder Woman (narf narf).
Preface: I’m not a fan of Wonder Woman. I’ve maybe read one Wonder Woman comic ever, and it involved Poison Ivy trying to kiss her and a villain called The Chauvinist, who was a giant muscular guy who carried chains around to enslave women with. (I’m not making that up.) I never watched the TV show or the direct-to-DVD animated movie. The extent of my emotional ties to Wonder Woman was one wonderful night when, in one of my weaker moments, I masturbated to the fetish artist Eric Stanton’s parody of Wonder Woman in which she was tied up by her own lasso and performed oral sex on Cheetah… which, in fairness, as a storyline, makes at least as much sense as the one official comic I read that I mentioned before.
I am however an admirer of Alan Moore’s Promethea, which uses a very loose Wonder Woman-esque framework in order for Moore to wax magical for what to normal people who aren’t me probably seems like forever. In this story, Moore introduces the concept of the Immateria – a sort of noospheric or memetic realm where ideas and stories live, that has a mutually reliant relationship with whatever we might mean by “ordinary reality.”
Moore, like most sexually mature adults (and I know that’s rich considering my confessions earlier in this article), is a bit dismissive of superheroes at best. In fact, he, along with the estimable Warren Ellis and Garth Ennis, were very nearly the death of superheroes. Once these three guys lay their critiques out on the table, it was hard for anyone with a functioning brain to not see what should have been obvious all along: superheroes are at best adolescent power fantasies, and at worst icons of the sort of murderous arrogance that drives American foreign policy. You know, “Them Iranians would get their shit in order fast if we could turn into the Hulk… OH WAIT SHIT WE SORT OF CAN.”
But Moore, being probably the finest mind to work within four colours, with the Immateria laid the groundwork for the only conditions in which superheroes could really survive after having their throats torn out by this UK contingent of writers. The environment of a sort of sideways reality co-dependant on our own was at roughly the same time also fleshed out by our fourth British Isles genius, Mr. Grant Morrison, in comics like All-Star Superman. And, while I wouldn’t want to downplay the achievements of Moore, as I say, he probably wouldn’t want to be too heavily credited with saving superheroes anyway. So he probably won’t mind if I say that he created the mechanism that Morrison then turned into a full-blown life support machine for these concepts, because the only people doing worthwhile superhero genre work right now (Matt Fraction, Dan Slott etc.) are singing from Morrison’s hymnbook.
[EDIT: It's also occurred to me that Morrison actually started doing this with Animal Man, waaay before anyone else.)
What does this shit have to do with Wonder Woman? Probably a lot more before my priorities changed ten minutes ago and I had to vomit up snot into the toilet, but let's give it a go.
It was Morrison, in an interview about his controversial Final Crisis (which incurred the wrath of Wonder Woman's apparently quite sizeable online fanbase of mentally backwards manchildren and nerdy but basically okay gay men as it had Wonder Woman enslaved and whipped... and if this seems like a recurring theme, it's because poor old Wondy was invented by a guy who thought that widespread femdom was humanity's only path to utopia. And I'm not making that up, either.) who mentioned the internal contradictions of the character.
I mean, Superman and Batman… their pre-eminence is unquestionable, probably largely to do with the fact Superman is the most coherent Apollonian archetype in 20th century culture and Batman is his Plutonian (yeah, don’t think Nietzsche ever used that one, but you get the idea: lord of the underworld, not great with the ladies etc.) counterpart.
But whilst Wonder Woman seems on the surface like she fits into this mythology – her real name is even Diana, for goodness sake – there’s a lot about her that doesn’t make sense. First off, she’s meant to be a symbol of peace, despite being a warrior from a warrior culture. Secondly, she’s meant to be a symbol of feminine power, despite having “bracelets” (read: kinky handcuffs) and a bondage rope as part of her basic costume … and that would be easier to buy if she hadn’t managed to get herself tied up with it in almost every one of her early stories. Finally, she’s meant to be an emissary of truth, and yet her origin story involves what a lot of people would charitably call “fiction” and others would quickly recognise as a pack of lies. Lies, you might remember from Sunday school, are the opposite of truth – not of course that Christianity’s magical space daddy ranks any higher in the Immateria than do Wonder Woman’s menagerie of mythical beasts and Greek gods.
Let’s say that one day I committed some awful crime and as a punishment I was told I had to reboot Wonder Woman, as DC Comics are currently doing for the 294th time according to Paul’s article. I would quickly realize what dawns on me every time I am told to cook something more complex than toast. Yes, I am no more the world’s greatest comic book writer than I am the world’s greatest chef. But I don’t have to be. Other people have already written the recipe, and all I have to do is follow it to the best of my ability, and we’ll have something halfway edible. Let’s take a look at the Wonder Women that worked:
Alan Moore and J.H. Williams III’s Promethea. This gets us over the truth vs myth element straight away, doesn’t it? Yes, Ares, Themiscyra, minotaurs, the invisible benevolent guiding hand of the free market, Wonder Woman herself… these things aren’t real in the way that you, New York, cats and coming Communist Revolution are real (fuck you, it’ll happen). But they are nevertheless a kind of truth. Our myths say a lot about us.
Warren Ellis and John Cassady’s Planetary. Yes, the aforementioned scourge of superheroes has found his own way, independent of Moore and Morrison, of acknowledging them as anything more than the pathetic power fantasies they are currently – as icons of the past or as transhuman adventurers of the future. Wonder Woman, or her analogue, here is the former, and she works by Ellis stripping her down to her most enduring tropes: the royal ambassador of a highly advanced all-female culture who inspires those around her. (Seriously, he just knocks the Hellenic, magical, wishy-washy, Princess of sparkly-poo Bridge to Teribitha shit right on the head.) The conservatism and selfishness of the Four, who stand in for the money-grabbing owners of comic companies who misappropriated every fantastic idea of their creators into corporate logos, is what kills her. The enemies or thieves of progress are usually the antagonists in Ellis’ work.
William Moulton Marsden and H.G. Peter’s Wonder Woman. The original iteration of the character. As I might have dropped in before, these are reputably some weird-ass Golden Age comics, man. But they sold. And I honestly don’t know whether they sold because the mild bondage themes gave people in the 40s and 50s an inexplicable dick twinge. But I’m going to pretend that was the reason, because… well, I don’t think the bondage angle should be covered up. Let’s face it, like all corporate bullshit, comics are extremely conservative, and it took them the longest time to recognise that gay people exist (and apparently die more often than non-gay people, but that’s a different rant about the hilariously old fashioned values of funnybooks). Right now, gay rights are a fashionable cause; transgender rights, less so, but kept alive because they’re thrown into an incomprehensibly wide “LGBT” category. The full mainstreaming of BDSM, on the other hand, has yet to happen, which is a bit of a relief on a personal level, because if I had to do kinky shit all the time it would cease to be as special. But let’s get in on the ground floor.
Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Okay, we’re roaming pretty far here, but bear with me: Joss Whedon admitted he based Buffy on a comics character, but that it was Kitty Pryde of the X-Men, not Wonder Woman. That overlooks three things, however: Kitty Pryde a) is Jewish, b) doesn’t have super strength and c) sucks. My point though is that Buffy worked because she was a normal girl, just with a sacred mission and super powers. This is apparently what passes for feminism in geek culture these days, but we’ll have to make do. Promethea, by the way, also worked because of Promethea’s human host was a normal girl called Sophie.
We have the ingredients. Relatable main character, all-female culture, myth vs truth, kinky shit. Let’s put them together for the first issue of the never-to-be-seen Laurence Thompson’s Wonder Woman #1 and #2:
Normal woman (eh? Eh?) Diana Prince wakes up in her apartment in Coast City – a 21st century American Eastern seaboard town. The guy she brought home last night has already gone, the tit, and she has a killer hangover. She kicks her box of sex toys underneath the bed, walks past her shelves (which are all full of popular science books on anthropology and quantum mechanics – girl has a job and a hobby) and gets ready for her job at the museum.
She arrives at the museum only to find her boss Steve Trevor is ill again, as are several key members of the archivist staff, and that she as assistant curator has to deal with the arrival of the new artefacts. She banters with a sore head with the delivery man and then sets up in the storage section with rolls of red tape. It’s a bad day.
Eventually she comes across some items she wasn’t expecting: two ancient bracelets that don’t seem to match any specific historical period she can identify and some scroll fragments. She phones her friend, who is the archaeologist who sent the items, but she can’t seem to remember sending them there. So she phones her friend Helen at the university, who was Diana’s tutor when she did her master’s degree in classical languages, for a consultation on the scrolls. Helen banters with Diana about when she’s finally going to come back and do her Ph.D., but Diana laughs it off and tells her to get her backside to the museum.
At this point, we need to introduce a villain. And, honestly, Wonder Woman’s villains completely suck. I spent ten minutes on Wikipedia and the best I could find was a Communist egg. Yes, an egg, as in “the chicken or.” When it comes to secondary adversaries, Batman gets Two Face, Wonder Woman gets a sentient shelled embryo that’s read some of Das Kapital.
So we’ll go ahead and create a new enemy, who is basically the sort of internet/comics nerd I have nightmares about becoming, the type who never gets laid because he goes on forums to argue that female superheroes having huge boobs and wearing next to nothing is empowering. Physically, though, he’s young and good looking enough to make those self-same real life nerds feel even more insecure about themselves. (Look, I’m essentially trying to cause as many suicides as possible so that comics will have to market themselves in a new direction, and if you don’t like it you can go eat shit and die, literally). Anyway, he’s a renegade scientist who’s been travelling the world and the internet looking for the sort of fragments that have been delivered to Diana, because he knows what they actually are. He’s a bit of a techno wizard, and we see him torture the kindly old professor (an analogue of Marsden, who actually invented the polygraph, apparently) archetype who actually sent them to Diana with another artefact he’s managed to get working – the Lasso of Truth – before killing him with it by ordering him to die. He now has Diana’s address!
Diana makes some nuclear strength coffees whilst Helen looks over the scrolls. After some long bemused hours, Helen starts to mention that what they’re looking at is very strange. The scroll fragments are an invocation to a deity in something called Aeolic verse, three hendosyllabic lines followed by an Adonic line. This means they were either composed by the Ancient Greek poet Sappho or one of her disciples on the all-female island community of Lesbos.
(On a side note, I have actually written in Sapphic stanza, or at least an update to qualitative meter. It’s hard, but it’s not impossible. I could totally do this.)
The only known invocation by Sappho was to Aphrodite, as many of her works were lost. Diana, looking over the bracelets, asks which deity this one is devoted to. Helen replies that it’s to Artemis, also known as … and as Diana says her own name, the bracelets emit a huge blue energy explosion.
Diana has a vision of the very ancient world, where Robert Graves’ White Goddess hypothesis was roughly true – women once held great power because men feared the mysteries of childbirth etc. However, this power has faded, and a group of women philosophers withdrew from society, founding an island community. Over time, this community, which is sustained by unwanted (because of primogeniture) female babies being sent there from ‘Man’s World’, has completely outstripped everywhere else in terms of scientific development. By the time of the building of the Pyramids, they’ve already invented the steam engine. By the time of the heroic age of the Ancient Greeks, we’re into Clarke’s Law territory, where their mystics have stumbled upon quantum mechanics. Noting the increasing brutality of Man’s World, the Amazons (as they are now called) are torn between withdrawing completely from our reality into a pocket dimension of their own devising or trying to change it.
Meanwhile, the museum has been closed off by the emergency services following the blast, which curiously didn’t destroy anything but has done something to the immediate atmosphere, making it taste cleaner, crisper. Diana is in a coma, the bracelets attached to her arms, whilst Helen explains her story to the police and Steve Trevor, who has rushed in with the flu when he heard what happened. Outside, the villain approaches.
Back in Diana’s vision of the Amazons, their queen, Hippolyta, decides on reintegration via sending her only daughter, also known as Diana, as an ambassador for peace in Man’s World. Anyway, as Hippolyta says goodbye to her daughter Diana, some spell is performed and there’s a flash of blue light similar to the one from before – the Amazons have been banished to the pocket dimension against their will.
In the museum, there is another explosion, this time from outside. Our villain has arrived in an exoskeleton he’s built from misappropriated Lexcorp blueprints he illegally downloaded from the internet. He uses it to put down the emergency services and gets inside as Steve and Helen are trying to remove the bracelets from Diana. He tells them that the bracelets are reality artefacts, part of an extradimensional exchange that’s been clumsily undertaken for thousands of years. An all-female culture has been trying to get us messages for that long and he’s the only one who has been listening.
Helen asks what he plans to do. The villain replies that, once he’s got the bracelets to go along with the lasso, he can reverse-engineer both to get the dimensional frequency of the Amazon reality, send in some chemical and biological weapons he’s grown to wipe out the inhabitants, and then steal their technology. Any survivors, well, he can use the lasso technology to turn them into his personal harem.
Issue #2: Diana’s vision. She is shielding her eyes from a very bright series of images, which are continuing to relate the Amazon’s story. It turns out their plan to send an emissary was sabotaged by Hippolyta’s rival, a mystic/scientist called Circe, who claimed not to trust men. Circe performed the spell that will bind the Amazons to another dimension… or, more accurately, she solves the super-advanced mathematical equation that proves the Amazons never existed in our dimension. If science equals magic in Clarke’s Law, then mathematical symbols even more obviously equals magic sigils, right?
In the museum, Steve grabs an unconscious cop’s gun and fires at the villain. A lucky bullet knocks out one of the suit’s pneumatic ligaments, and the villain admits he threw the suit together last minute just in case anyone had managed to access the Diana program. Nevertheless, he quickly knocks Steve unconscious. Don’t mess with me, he boasts, I’m a scientist.
Helen asks what the Diana program is, and the villain replies that the information he has is hazy, but if the correct person manages to bond with the data archives contained within the bracelets, then they’ll become endowed with the strength of the Amazon emissary, and as they were considered at least equal to the inhabitants of the Greek heroic age such as Hercules and Achilles, then he decided he wouldn’t take any chances. Good idea, Helen, who is a classicist, agrees.
Diana is now having a vision of all the Wonder Women that could have been had someone accessed the artefacts sooner – visually, Marston’s original, the crappy DC reboots, Ellis’ analogue from Planetary, Promethea etc., though none are explicitly named in the narrative. They all blur across each other in a never-ending montage. The idea is that the Amazons, and the emissary ‘Diana’, blended into myth in our reality when their mathematical existence was disproven. The voice that told her the story before tells her that she must cast the lasso, which is in fact symbolic of a non-linear mathematical feedback loop (I got this from Douglas Hofstadter I think) that will engineer them back to reality, to discover the truth and bring the ambassador from the higher world through. Diana replies that she doesn’t have the lasso.
Another police team distract the villain, and Helen picks up Diana’s unconscious body and runs… not very quickly, obviously. The villain quickly dispatches the cops and begins to give chase. He finds her down a corridor where she is standing in front of three wheeled desks. He asks what they are, and Helen replies that, during the English battle against the Spanish Armada, the English would use fireships. The chemicals she’s put on the desk are used in preparation of artefacts for radiometic dating and are very flammable. She then starts to explain that she’s holding her lighter that she uses to light cigarettes, but reckons aloud that he probably gets it. She kicks the desks at him one by one and shields Diana from the resulting explosion. Don’t mess with me, she boasts, I’m a historian.
The villain emerges damaged, but not defeated, from the explosions. He is angry … doubly so when he can neither locate Helen nor the lasso. Switch to Helen, who is hiding in one of the archive rooms, trying to figure out how to use the lasso. Screw it, she says, and places it across the bracelets that are attached to Diana’s unconscious body.
In Diana’s vision, Diana now has the lasso. She casts it into the montage thingy, which are actually a collection of wavefunctions and there’s an explosion (or rather implosion, as the wavefunctions collapse) of white light.
Outside the smoking, damaged museum in the daylight, Helen is staggering away from the building in a daze. A mechanical hand grabs her neck from behind. The villain, furious, demands to know where the lasso and bracelets are. If Helen tells him, he’ll let her live as one of his sex slaves.
Diana now shows up, awake. Except she’s now over 6 feet tall. She was good looking before, but now she’s statuesque (whilst being realistic and, ahem, in proportion). She’s Wonder Woman (though it’s the papers who call her that later!). The villain says that, while damaged, the suit he’s in is based on an anti-Superman design. And since I can’t stand drawn out comic book brawls, Wonder Woman smashes it with one punch.
Right, that’s enough fanfiction. Well, almost. Future issues might deal with stuff like:
- The Amazon reality and Hippolyta being a manifestation of “the Wonder,” a magical force that exists across universes;
- Other ways the existence of Amazon reality subconsciously influenced Man’s World, such as the (reactionary) idealist theories of Plato
- The super-adjusted Diana/Wonder Woman hybrid (rather than a Captain Marvel/Bill Batson or Marvelman/Mike Moran style dynamic) trying to adapt to being a wholesome celebrity whilst maintaining a healthy social/sex life and managing it;
- The Amazonian reintegration, and the new influx of Amazon technology and philosophy into our world;
- Diana as diplomat vs the patriarchal structures of power;
- The nerd villain from the first two issues being the agent of an underground online community called Stormhead, who are neofascists under the control of Baroness Von Gunther, a Nazi who wants to use Amazon technology to establish a Fourth Reich that will last forever
- Helen’s encroaching jealousy at the fact she could have been Wonder Woman leading to her being possessed by the renegade mathemagician Circe, who it transpires actually just wanted to take over Man’s World for herself but managed to trap herself in the un-reality between the Amazonian world and ours, occasionally inspiring moments of chaotic feminine wrath putting checks on male dominance to amuse herself, like Boudicca burning Rome, the Tangut princess that fatally castrated Genghis Khan (or the werewolf in Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing…)
- So, in other words, feminism (Wonder Woman) versus matriarchy (Von Gunther) versus radical feminism (Circe) versus patriarchy (everyone else)
…But you’ll never know, as I’ve just overdosed on Lemsips and manuka honey, and by the time I wake up tomorrow afternoon I’ll be back to normal and won’t give a fuck about Wonder Woman any more.
Laurence Thompson is an English writer, currently working on the sequel of an award-winning independent film. He is almost certainly drunk.