In comments a couple days back I was encouraged to check out Bluefall’s series on Wonder Woman When Wondy Was Awesome. I didn’t read the whole thing, I must admit, but I poked about a bit here and there, and did read through her post on the book League of One, which I read and reviewed earlier myself here.
Bluefall’s certainly an entertaining writer and an attentive reader. She makes a strong (though to me, not convincing) case for League of One being something other than a complete piece of crap. For example, she has a nice point about WW’s attentiveness to relationships:
Diana’s plans, on the other hand, rely entirely on the League’s greatest strength, on her assumption that her friends will look out for each other. She’s able to defeat J’onn and Kyle because they trust her; she gets Clark out of the picture by forcing him to rescue their friends. She’s able to launch the League into space in the first place because she knows they’ll be okay. He plan succeeds because she sees things in terms of relationships and reactions, rather than individual physical traits.
For me, unfortunately, this is largely vitiated by the fact that all the relationships in the book are both unbelievable and vapid; it’s not especially impressive to be able to parse interpersonal dynamics when all your interpersonal dynamics basically consist of bland corporate boy scouts declaring allegiance to one another (except for Batman, who, you know, is dark because he uses reverse psychology.) Not even bluefall’s quixotic insistence on referring to them all by their first names can convince me that these badly painted figurines have any inner lives not imposed by front office dictat. Still, I guess the book should get points for the earnestness with which it attempts to move the corpses about in a lifelike manner.
What I mainly took away from reading these posts is that bluefall really likes Wonder Woman (or “Diana”.) That’s a big part of how she reacts to WW comics, it looks like. That is, she knows she likes WW, and she judges the comics to some extent on how well they live up to her image of what Wonder Woman should be. For instance, in talking about John Byrne’s run, she commented that she liked the way that Byrne made Diana as powerful as she should be relative to other characters in the DC universe.
I think this is maybe part of the reason some of my posts have rubbed some WW fans the wrong way. Because, the thing is, I really couldn’t give a pile of kangaroo-horse poop (to cite a creature indigenous to Paradise Island in Marston’s run) about whether WW is as powerful as she should be, or about whether she’s as noble as she should be, or whether she behaves in character, or out of character, or is depowered and dressed in white, or whatever. I love the original Marston/Peter run, which I think is one of the few truly idiosyncratic works of art to come out of the super-hero genre. And it’s fun to see other creators try (and largely fail) to deal with the bizarre thing Marston and Peter created. But I don’t care if creators get her “right” except insofar as they tell a story that seems worth reading. If you can tell a good story making WW able to push planets around, that’s fine; if you can tell a good story making her only slightly stronger than Etta Candy, that’s fine too (Marston probably did both of those things at some point.) If you want to make her impulsive and eager to hit people and that works, cool; if you want to make her preach peace and love and you can get that to work, more power to you (I suspect Marston did both of those things as well.) I don’t like most of the WW stories I’ve read by folks other than Marston because they’re boring and dumb, not because WW isn’t sufficiently noble or iconic or whatever. In short, I’m not a fan in the usual sense; at least not of the character.
I don’t necessarily have anything against fans…or even against fan fiction, which is where this kind of investment in a character abstracted from a particular story tends to lead. I haven’t read a ton of fan fiction, but there is some of it I like quite a bit. Some of it I really don’t want to look at, but that’s just personal preference, not an aesthetic line in the sand.
Still, I think super-hero comics do run into a problem with the fan-base…that problem being that there isn’t in fact a canon. The WW bluefall likes isn’t the Marston/Peter WW, which is old and embarrassing and weird. It’s not really the Silver Age WW either, which was embarrassing in different ways; nor is it really the modern day WW, who, after all, bluefall tends to judge against an ideal, and often to find wanting (the swimsuit, for example, would be ditched if bluefall had her way.) And I think that’s all fairly typical; the ideal WW that fans enthuse about is…an ideal; it’s not an actual character or version of the character, but rather some platonic vision of the way the character would be if the perfect writer wrote her, or, I guess, if she were real.
The thing is, when you unmoor the character from any actual creative team, you drift into one of two problems. On the one hand, you end up with stories written by folks who don’t care about the character and don’t really have any idea what to do with her…and WW has certainly had that happen to her over the years. On the other hand, though, you can also end up with stories that are just devoted to showing how wonderful the character is…and WW has had her share of those, too. In fact, that seems to be the whole point of “League of One”; it’s aggrandizing fan scruff for WW fans who want to be assured that WW is just the awesomest there is. See, she beats the whole Justice League! And she beats a big bad dragon because she’s so much purer than everyone, even Superman! She’s so good and brave and awesome, just like WW should be! (Bluefall does object slightly because the script intimates that Superman could actually beat WW in a fair fight, which bluefall feels is wrong because, I guess, nobody can beat WW, damn it. But since WW beats Superman by trickery anyway, bluefall is willing to let it pass.)
In short, with no agreed upon canon,there’s a strong tendency for the character to drift towards that bane of fan-fiction, the Mary Sue. Wikipedia has a good definition:
Mary Sue, sometimes shortened simply to Sue, is a pejorative term used to describe a fictional character who plays a major role in the plot and is particularly characterized by overly idealized and hackneyed mannerisms, lacking noteworthy flaws, and primarily functioning as wish-fulfillment fantasies for their authors or readers. Perhaps the single underlying feature of all characters described as “Mary Sues” is that they are too ostentatious for the audience’s taste, or that the author seems to favor the character too highly. The author may seem to push how exceptional and wonderful the “Mary Sue” character is on his or her audience, sometimes leading the audience to dislike or even resent the character fairly quickly; such a character could be described as an “author’s pet”.
Mary Sues are, as I said, usually created by fans…but everyone writing WW is pretty much just a fan at this point, the original creators being long, long gone and their concept in most respects abandoned. In any case, there’s a self-conscious reiteration of, well, wonderfulness in League of One that is extremely tiresome, and which is a consistent though less discussed aspect of super-hero decadence. At its core, League of One isn’t all that different from Marvel Zombies. The second is characterized by desperate desecration, the first by desperate consecration. But both are more interested in the act of burnishing/befouling the icon than they are with telling a story. (Which, come to think of it, is what I said about All Star Superman, now that I think about it. And, of course, I was right then too!)
Incidentally, this post is part of a series on WW’s post-Marston iterations. The entire series is called Only One Can Wear the Venus Girdle and you can see all the relevant posts here.