In my post about Greg Rucka’s Wonder Woman yesterday, I realized I forgot to sneer adequately at one of the things that most annoyed me in his scripting for WW 196-200. Namely, the gods.
I don’t mind that Rucka turns all his gods into irritating American suburbanites and/or hipsters (Aphrodite as bored housewife; Cupid as stoned California drop-out, etc.) That’s fine; whatever. Some of the dialogue is kind of funny, I guess. I sort of laughed when Ares told Cupid to stop hitting on his great aunt and Cupid says “like that ever stopped anyone in this family from getting game.” I don’t know. I don’t expect a ton from Rucka at this point; I guess I appreciate any indication that he’s trying at all to entertain me rather than educate me or encourage me to fawn over his Amazon paragon.
So, right; updated gods — not especially clever, but par for the course. What really irritates me, though, is the theology. At one point, Ares explains at length to WW that he (Ares) is now more powerful than Zeus, because nobody is scared of the sky but everybody loves war. Putting aside the question of whether Zeus couldn’t somehow piggyback on climate change fears, I just want to say — I am so, so, so sick of the whole “it isn’t the worshippers who get power from the Gods — it’s the Gods who get power from their worshippers” wheeze. It was tired when George Perez dragged it out for his WW series, and after Neil Gaiman picked it up, dusted it off, and then (in his elegantly canny British way) jumped up and down on it for years…well, there wasn’t a whole lot left.
And yet, here’s Rucka, trundling along years later, spouting this crap like it’s actually insightful or meaningful or anything but the tedious ploy of a nonbeliever who wants to have a deity for verisimilitude while pissing on him (or her) too. The logic is patently ridiculous…and as a result it makes the Amazons look like idiots. If they know that their prayers and belief give the Gods power, then, you know, why not think about something else for a while? Why worship a figment of your imagination? Doing so isn’t profound, and it’s certainly not an alternative to man’s world, where everybody is always already worshipping their own immaculate feces. (And, yes, Alan Moore’s worship of his own imagination also irritates me, though at least, unlike Rucka, he actually does have an imagination.)
It seems to me like if you’re going to use gods in a super-hero comic, you can do one of two things. First, you can just treat them as super-heroes, which is more or less what Lee/Kirby did with Thor (at least in all the Thor I’ve read; maybe somewhere they try to build a theology/philosophy to explain the gods, but I mercifully missed that.) Nothing wrong with gods as superheroes; it’s entertaining and goofy and involves people hitting each other with unusual weapons andl/or force blasts, which is what comics are all about.
Or, second, you can actually, you know, have some kind of concept of transcendence and use the gods to explore that. That’s what Marston did in the first WW series. His Aphrodite and Ares are archetypes connected to his ideas about femininity and masculinity and love and war. Aphrodite especially is definitively transcendent; she’s wiser and more powerful than any other character. It makes sense that the Amazons worship her, because she actually seems to know things they don’t.
Of course, the things she “knows” about submission and love and gender roles are things you could disagree with — but Marston believes in them. What’s most irritating about the “gods are there because we believe in them” meme is that it true to some extent — but the truth is vitiated by putting it so clumsily. Yes, fictions do have power, and the power has something to do with belief. But that belief is at least in large part the artist’s belief in his or her own work, and it is created not just through saying, “hey, I believe in that,” but through genius and craftsmanship. Marston’s Aphrodite means something because Marston took the time to make her mean something; she’s transcendent because Marston thought there was transcendence, and thought about how to express that in his work. Rucka’s Ares, on the other hand, just says, “conflict is important,” as if anybody couldn’t have figured that out for themselves. And then he says he’s powerful because people think conflict is important. Just give it up, already. Don’t lecture me on the meaning of existence when you can’t even figure out how to tell a decent comic book story.