Anyway, I just read “League of One.” As you may or may not know, it’s basically a fantasy/super-hero cross-genre hybrid. WW is hanging out with cutesy wood-nymphs and mermaids on Themyscira when she hears a prophecy that the JLA will be killed by the last dragon, who has just risen form its sleep somewhere off in Europe. So WW decides to beat up all the other members of the league, take on the mantle of the league her own self, and go fight the dragon and die bravely, thus saving her comrades. She fights the dragon and wins and drowns, but then she’s given artificial respiration by Superman so she comes back to life. The prophecy is fulfilled…and yet Wonder Woman is still alive! Thank goodness!
Or maybe not so much. This book really demonstrated in startling and new ways why this character is just impossible. I mean, Wonder Woman is supposed to be a hero for girls, right? So putting her in a fantasy adventure, complete with fairy sprites and cute gnomes and sacrificing for your friends and one-alone-against-the-dragon…it seems perfect doens’t it? If you can’t use her in a story like this, what story can you use her in?
And yet, everything goes horribly wrong. Let’s take it one by one, I guess:
1. Sacrificing for your friends — This is an absolute iron trope of girls adventure fiction. Boys (like Spider-Man, for example) are always fighting for folks who don’t like them very much — oh the nobility! oh the self-pity! etc. Girls have nobility and self-pity too, but it tends to be spent not on random strangers, but on people with whom they have a bond (think Buffy or Cardcaptor Sakura.) So, okay, Wonder Woman is sacrificing herself for the JLA. Great! Except…well, they’re all guys. And she isn’t allowed to have any real romantic tension with any of them. The JLA is this weird boy’s club; she can burble on about how much she loves and admires the Flash or Green Lantern or whatever, but the emotional connection isn’t real. The pseudo-sublimated-romance with Superman is too distanced and unacknowledged to serve as a source of emotional resonance either. The whole thing ends up seeming stupid and clueless. This panel pretty much sums it up:
That’s a monument with the names of all the leaguers on it, by the way. Later WW knocks the top off it, leaving only her own name. You always castrate those you love…I guess. Or those you are supposed to love because of the bizarre exigencies of corporate continuity. Or whatever.
If you’re telling a fantasy story, incidentally, the heroine is supposed to get the guy in the end. And…yeah, artificial respiration with the big boy scout that is Superman doesn’t count.
2. Brave girl triumphs thorugh inner-resources and purity she didn’t know she possessed — The way this is supposed to work is, you get a normal everyday girl, see, and she discovers she’s got a special destiny, and she goes and overcomes amazing odds through her exemplary bravery and courage.
The problem here is that…well, Diana isn’t a normal everyday girl. She’s super-powered. And she’s been doing this sort of thing forever. And it’s really pretty darn unclear why she should find *this* particular challenge especially frightening. The super-hero tropes just make the whole thing dumb; I mean, she’s Wonder Woman. We know she’s all pure and light and goodness and super strong. Fantasy stories are supposed to be Bildungsroman…but there’s no building here.
Also, did I mention there’s an obligatory Diana-ties-herself-in-her-magic-lasso-to-force-herself-to-be-truthful scene? In other words, she’s not an ordinary girl with whom you can identify; she’s a weird bondage freak.
Not that there’s anything wrong with weird bondage freaks. At all. It just doesn’t work with the fantasy tropes, is all I’m saying.
3. painted fantasy art — I don’t want to be rude or anything, but sometimes….well. Ahem.
DON’T PAINT THE FUCKING SUPER-HEROES!!!!
Just don’t do it, okay? Unless you’re Bill Sienkiewitz and want to do the expressionist thing. But the Alex Ross realism; please stop. You don’t want to make your super-heroes look realistic. It looks dumb. Especially Wonder Woman. In the swimsuit. Really; the more realistic you make her, the more I’m looking at her saying, “Damn! She looks like she must really be cold!” (That’s always what I think when I see those Lynda Carter shows too, incidentally.)
A detailed, painterly dragon looks nifty; a detailed, painterly Green Lantern looks like someone has left the world’s biggest action figure lying around the watchtower.
Admittedly, it’s not all terrible. The scene where Wonder Woman gets rid of Superman is clever and even moving — Superman sees the tears in her eyes before she starts to beat the snot out of him. Plus there are vulture reaction shots, which I appreciate. And then the playful sequence where Diana’s mermaid friend grabs her and magically gives her a fish tail could almost come from Moulton; it’s got a weird lesbian tinge that he’d appreciate anyway. And I like the gnomes. They fit in the fantasy setting. They’re likable and flawed, and bad things happen to them, and you care. But then you go back to the super-heroes and Batman’s using elementary reverse psychology because he’s such a fucking genius and Superman’s beating his breast because he’s been betrayed,..and who gives a shit? They’re invulnerable and pure and boring and you can’t tell any story with them that’s worth a damn.
At least, no story that doesn’t feature…Seal Men!
So…this is probably the last WW post for at least a bit. I’ll weigh in on Greg Rucka’s take on the character at some point, and hopefully Gail Simone’s too…and maybe on the TV series. But there will be a pause. (I think I promised that before; but I really mean it this time.)
Update: Okay, so I’m not ready to review the Hikawhatsis, but you should read this.
Update 2: Okay, I lied, and there’s yet another Wonder Woman post up; this one about Ms. Magazine and Playboy.