I love comic books. I have since I was a small child. I found solace in them. I found a way to cope. I found a way to live.
My favorite character is Batman. I wrote about that before. So, I do not begrudge people finding their heroes in comic book characters. However, I do take issue when people tear down other characters to make their favorite look “cool.” It bothers me because I know how important those characters can be to people. These characters mean much more than just cheap entertainment. That is why I am so baffled by an article featured on the Good Men Project.
Devon Sanders wrote an essay for Wonder Woman anthology that was never published. The title on GMP is Dignity in Satin: Wonder Woman Taught Me How To Be a Better Man. Yet the essay appears to show the opposite.
It starts off well enough. Sanders recounts first seeing the Wonder Woman TV show as a child. This began his love of the character. He states how he viewed her as regal and impressive, even though Lynda Carter should have looked ridiculous in her costume. Things take a different turn as Sanders explains what makes Wonder Woman so important:
Lynda Carter knew what many others did not. Superman’s “S” sells itself. As difficult as it may be to believe, it is easy to cloak oneself in “Bat Shark Repellent” and let the moment speak for itself. Lynda Carter found Wonder Woman’s core and let it shine for everyone to see. If the Wonder Woman were to survive, Ms. Carter had to bring to the role that one divine thing women seem to have in greater supply than most men: Dignity
This is the first of many digs at Batman, Superman, male heroes, and men.
Setting aside the camp of the 1960s Batman show, can we really say that Adam West did not attempt to bring dignity to his Batman? Or that Christopher Reeve did not bring dignity to Superman?
This seems an unnecessary attack on male heroes and the actors who portray them. Yet Sanders continues. He gives a list of the qualities he thought one needed to be a “superman,” each more asinine than the last. He goes on to write:
In watching that first episode of Wonder Woman, I was taught more about gender equality than any lecture I ever could have sat in at anyone’s school. In Lynda Carter’s first episode, I found out that women, unlike men, are elegant in satin briefs.
In satin, I glimpsed dignity.
Why the attack on men? Why trash what they look like in “satin briefs?” I hate to break it to Sanders, but few people look good in satin. It is not a forgiving fabric. However, plenty of men can make it work. Reeve made Superman look regal, imposing, and dignified despite wearing satin tights and a cape.
At this point, it looks like Sanders simply does not like superheroes, so he shores up his comic book credentials:
Full disclosure: I’ve been reading comics for over thirty years now, through the “up” times of the early 90′s speculator boom and the “down” times, where comics are always seemingly on their last legs (which someone in the mainstream media proclaims like, every other year or so) and someone is always asking, “Where is our newest Watchmen?”
Personally, I think the better question to ask should be, “Where can I find more of the moral ambiguity in the comics of my angry youth?” Don’t get it twisted, I love and admire The Watchmen mainly for the spotlight it’s shone on the “super-hero.” Yes, The Watchmen certainly had and still has something to say about the time in which it was made. But ultimately, its heroes lack something fundamental to the super-hero aesthetic. In the end (and The Watchmen did have an end), these characters took looked upon themselves and realized their greatest sin.
They failed to inspire.
I agree. The characters from Watchmen are not very inspiring.
That is the point.
The book deconstructs superheroes, revealing what kind of people they would actually be like if they walked among us. The truth is they would not be inspiring. They would be human, just as flawed, troubled, and morally ambiguous as the rest of us.
In contrast, the heroes those characters satirized do inspire precisely because they were not (at the time) morally ambiguous. You never had to wonder what Batman, Superman, Flash, Green Lantern, or Wonder Woman would do. They would always do the right thing, even if they had to be a bit of a douche to do it (I am looking at you, Batman, as you slap Clayface’s cure right out of his hand as it begins curing him).
But that has nothing to do with Sanders’ point:
In Gotham City, a child had to kneel in a pool of his parents’ blood in order to find a purpose. This child would eventually become one with the night, becoming a Dark Knight, The Batman. Years before, a rocket, carrying an infant, slammed into a Kansas cornfield and all anyone could do was hope for the best. That child would later become the greatest of all heroes, a man of steel. He would become Superman. On the fictional Greek island of Themyscira, home to the Amazons, Wonder Woman’s mother, Queen Hippolyta prayed to the Greek gods of old and received one of their greatest gifts, a daughter. Where other heroes lives were born of death, this princess’ was born of life. She was later named Diana, after the goddess of the moon and the hunt. This child had the blessing of swiftness bestowed upon her by the god Mercury. She was blessed with a loving heart by Aphrodite. By Athena, she was blessed with wisdom. Above all, this was the greatest of her gifts. One, ultimately, defining her in ways lifting a tank over her head never could.
I see Sanders’ point, yet I am confused by why I should find greater inspiration in a woman made to be perfect than in an alien who struggles to become human or a man who seeks to prevent the tragedy he suffered from happening to anyone else. What makes Wonder Woman’s origin so inspiring while Batman and Superman’s origins are blips on the superhero radar?
I will probably never inherit a vast fortune in order to wage a one-man war on crime.
I have never crash landed in a Kansas cornfield, surviving it in order to discover I have powers beneficial to mankind.
I can identify with Wonder Woman more than any other superhero for three simple reasons.
• I was raised by a single mother.
• I was raised with conviction.
• I have been underestimated.
To be a Black man in this world is to know that with almost every new room you walk into, you will be upon sight sized up, scrutinized and possibly underestimated. I can’t say for certain but I have always imagined this to be a bit of what it is to be a woman.
Again, I see Sanders point yet fail to see why he makes it. Why is Batman reduced to his wealth? Why is Superman reduced to being an alien? Are there no qualities Batman and Superman possess that Sanders could relate to? Or do characters have to literally embody his life experience in order for him to relate to them?
Wonder Woman, with every new room she walks into, imparts upon those around her the greatest of gifts: the understanding of dignity. In that, she stands apart from her super-hero brethren. This character was decidedly born of wonder. In that, she is made unique.
I would agree with this statement. Wonder Woman is unique among superheroes. With rare exception, Wonder Woman is the only superhero “born” to be a hero. She is the only one who does not have to work for the status. Superman must be raised to be a hero. Batman must teach himself to be a hero. Wonder Woman is simply given the status, first by birth and then by the “Man’s World.”
She came to, as she called it, “Patriarch’s World” (The United States) fully realized. With a mission. The world had need and Diana answered its call.
Really? In what version of the DC universe? Pre-Crisis? Post-Crisis? Post-Infinite Crisis? Post-Final Crisis? Current New52? In all of those versions, there were already heroes, many of them with god-like powers, defending the United States and the world. We can argue about how effective they were given that the U.S. and world kept being attacked. However, we cannot claim there was a lack of heroes.
It is an interesting dismissal of male heroism to make such a statement.
How could she have done otherwise? She was the absolute of the gods, the greatest of their gifts. With her ability to wrestle super-powered despots with her bare hands in fields of battle, the world bestowed upon her a new title, one she was who could practically lay claim to godhood, surely never would have chosen for herself. That name became her. She became the name. She became Wonder Woman.
Well, that is not entirely the case. Wonder Woman seemed fine with taking the title bestowed on her. There were no qualms about it, no attempts to choose a lesser name.
Later on, in the field of government, as Themyscira’s sole ambassador and by utilizing Athena’s gift of wisdom, she would come to wrestle down despots through the conviction found in her words and manner. She became a champion of just causes, giving voice to those who’d had theirs quieted. In doing so, she further proved the name of Wonder Woman, to be one well-deserved.
With the power of the gods as her birthright, a wonderful by-product emerged. In her choice of mission, she discovered her greatest ability: Compassion.
Perhaps we are reading about a different character. That has never struck me as Wonder Woman’s greatest ability. But there is a reason Sanders expresses that sentiment:
I think is the key to understanding Wonder Woman. She, as a character and as an icon, in a philosophical or physical fight, would probably be the first name to leap, alliteratively, from the mouths of the heroic inhabitants of the DC Comics Universe as the one person most would want on their side in a time of crisis.
No, it is rather universal that Superman is the go-to hero that everyone want in a time of crisis. He can do everything Wonder Woman can do, he can do it better, and, unlike Wonder Woman, he does not kill.
In battle, you simply need someone who cares; a diplomat willing to find common ground with the opposition.
Superman does that. Indeed, Superman is more equipped to do that than Wonder Woman because he understands humility. Think of it this way: who is more likely to really care, one who has suffered or one who has not? Superman lost his world. He grew up knowing he was different and faced challenges as a result of that. When he found out who he was, he had to learn to keep a foot planted in both worlds. Yet at his core, Superman longs to be human. He longs to be one of us. So he uses his powers to show us what we can be. He has no borders, has no specific allegiance (although he is a U.S. citizen), and is willing to work with all sides to find common ground.
For this reason Superman is not an official diplomat. He cannot be. To be a diplomat is to pick sides, and in order to embody the best of humanity one cannot pick sides.
A warrior brave enough to fire the first warning shot, a leader brave enough to back up their play with force, if necessary.
Again, Superman already has that covered, and if he does not do it, Batman will.
Someone not entirely willing to bow simply to the idea of acceptable losses. You need someone willing to want to beat the odds, no matter how grave. Someone who wants everyone who stands at her side to return home to the ones who care for them most.
Again, Batman already has that covered. How covered? He punked Darkseid. He threatened to destroy Darkseid’s world unless the villain released control over Supergirl, something Darkseid admits neither the “Kryptonian or Amazon” had the “strength of character” to do.
Sanders seems to imply that Wonder Woman is the only hero or the only true hero, as if the rest of the Justice League lack the willpower for sacrifice, compassion, and hard decisions. That is not the case, although this one major difference between Wonder Woman and the rest of the Justice League:
If Wonder Woman should have to crush her enemy beneath her boot heel in order to accomplish this feat… those are the only losses she’s willing to accept.
Exactly. Everyone else has a no-kill policy. Every major player. Except Wonder Woman. She will kill.
Her track record doesn’t lie. Many the comics panel has been drawn where in the aftermath of battle, one character stands, head held high, alone and triumphant amongst the ruins of the defeated. Just as surely as Superman bursting out of chains has become comic book iconography. Just as sure as a horned silhouette has become symbolic with Batman, Princess Diana battered yet unbroken and presented as the last (wo)man standing, over the years, has become her very own comic book iconography.
I keep seeing a theme in Sanders’ essay: building Wonder Woman up by tearing all male heroes down. Like this statement:
Like any true hero, she strives to make things better. Unlike other heroes, Wonder Woman does not wait for things to get worse.
You are right. When the world is about to come to an end, everyone just stands around trying to look cool. Only Wonder Woman acts. Only Wonder Woman sees a problem and says, “I better step in before it gets worse.”
It is not as if Barry Allen spent the whole of Crisis on Infinite Earths trying to warn everyone and ultimately gave his life in order to prevent the end of all existence. Never happened (technically, with all the retcons this may be true). I suppose that is also why Batman never created contingency plans for taking out the Justice League just in case any of them went bad.
I do not understand the dig at male heroes. There is nothing wrong with being inspired by Wonder Woman. However, there is something wrong with tearing down the heroes who inspire others just to make your preferred hero look better.
Here is another example:
“If I let my child out into this world, will they be safe?”
This is the thought that runs through the mind of every good parent. This is the same thought running through Queen Hippolyta’s mind at any given moment and Wonder Woman, as a daughter, knows this. Diana, unlike her comrades-in-arms Batman and Superman, was born not out of sacrifice but of a mother’s desire to love.
For this one, let us just stick with the recent films. In Batman Begins, it is clear that Bruce’s parents love him. It seems ridiculous to assume that Thomas and Martha Wayne had Bruce for the express purpose of dying in front of him a decade later.
Likewise, in Man of Steel Jor and Lara El specifically have Kal for the purpose of expressing their love, not just of him but also of their race. They so love their son that when they discover their world is dying, they create a ship to send him to a world where he will be able to survive. They give their lives to do this. That is the ultimate act of parental love. His Earth parents love him as well. Johnathan Kent loves him so much that he tells Clark not to use his powers out of fear of how people would treat his son.
But let us look at why Wonder Woman is more special than Batman or Superman:
Diana was raised in an Amazonian society where everyone was taught to respect the uniqueness of the individual. Like her Amazonian sisters, she was blessed with immortality. As Diana, she was born the last of the Amazons. As Diana, she knows having family is also a blessing. As someone blessed with immortality, she’s come to respect and understand the short, mercurial nature of the human life. Wonder Woman, herself a stranger in a strange land, as she probably sees it, there is no better way to honor human life than her to do so with dignity.
That does not make a lick of sense. Diana is raised in a world where people, short of an accident or murder, do not die. All the people she grew up with are still with her. She would never know that family is a blessing because her family and race are more or less intact. Likewise, as someone who does not die, she would never understand human life. She literally would have no point of reference until she set foot in “Man’s World.” Even then, this would be such an odd experience that it is doubtful she would suddenly get it.
In contrast, both Batman and Superman have first-hand experiences of the short, mercurial nature of human life. Batman witnesses his parents die in front of him as a child, a moment so traumatic that it makes him dedicate his life to making sure no one else ever experiences the same thing. Superman witnesses his human father die and learns that even with his power there are limits to what he can do. (Man of Steel plays this out in a different way, ultimately losing that impact.)
Wonder Woman has no such lesson. This is likely why the current creative team decided to change her origin story.
Wonder Woman is what most heroes strive to be. Their mother’s child; strong, proud and assured, making her the most human of heroes.
Again, why tear down other heroes to build Wonder Woman up? And why this silly notion that heroes strive to be “their mother’s child?” Does that mean that Spider-man is not a true hero because he wants to live up to his uncle’s adage about great responsibility?
It does not stop there:
Wonder Woman displays a mental clarity that other heroes simply seem to lack. She is simply comics’ most self-possessed super-hero. She believes in herself. She believes in her mission. She believes that every experience she’s ever had has brought her to this day. In this, she commands the respect of others. Wonder Woman once in motion, she is confidence personified.
Right… And everyone thinks Batman is simply cosplaying? This is a man so intent on his mission that he will sabotage his relationships with his closest friends and family. Everyone respects Batman. Even Darkseid. Batman does not show doubt. This is why people with god-like superpowers are afraid of a powerless human in a suit.
Lately, I find it much, much harder to give my time and money to “genius” teenagers who clumsily walk headfirst into unshielded radioactive danger. Sure, characters of that kind will always occupy the avenues of my heart zoned “Nostalgia,” but these days, I need my heroes to be something more than the by-products of radioactive ignorance. I need for them to be heroes in the truest sense of the word. As a grown man, I need them to be brave, strong, and self-reliant.
So a 16-year-old boy willing to fight people who can and will kill him if given the chance, while never killing any of them, never asking for help, and willingly sacrificing his relationships in order to save people is not a hero? He is not brave, strong, or self-reliant? He is just a faux genius teenager who was accidentally bitten by a radioactive spider than gave him powers? He is just the by-product of radioactive ignorance, not the by-product of his own conceit and anger, which led him to let the man who later kills his beloved uncle get away? That death and the guilt that follows is not what motivates the boy into action and heroism?
However, a woman who grew up in a sheltered world, never experiencing pain, suffering, or death, who is bestowed her powers by the gods, and never must prove herself worthy of her status or powers is a “hero in the truest sense of the word?”
In writing that last line, I’ve come to realize that the majority of comic book characters should act more like Wonder Woman.
You mean like killing people rather than trying to change them?
Thirty-plus years ago, I saw dignity take form in satin.
Today, I believe I’ve been made a better man for it.
“Better” is not the adjective I would choose. A better man does not need to tear down other people’s heroes to make his hero look good.