Patrick: A lot has been made of Hollywood’s apparent inability to adapt Wonder Woman for the screen. Is that driven by the sexism inherent in action film-making? Probably, in part. But Diana, Princess of the Amazons, suffers from a pretty severe case of “what the hell is she about?” We have easily understandable slug lines for just about any other bankable superhero: Batman is the mortal knight of vengeance; Superman is invincible alien boy scout, etc. There’s a how and a why expressed in both of those descriptions. Those attitudes have aged well, but for some reason, the essential nature of Wonder Woman is harder for creators to assert in perpetuity throughout the decades. What Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang have done in their 37 (and a half) issues of Wonder Woman is reassert just who this character is, and why her fundamental qualities are every bit as iconic as truth, justice and the American way.
Alright, so what am I talking about? What is Wonder Woman’s guiding principle? It’s love. We’ve seen Diana’s ability to love unconditionally expressed as her trump card before — way back in issue 10 when she was able to escape from Hell because she loved her captor — and we’ve discussed up her extraordinary capacity for love in her friendship Zola. The enormous army that has come to support her in the final battle are all motivated by love. This is a thematic concept that can be a little bit troubling: why should the female superhero be assigned a virtue that can just as easily be credited as a weakness? Azzarello addresses this directly by having Diana list some of the less intimidating tenants of love as she thrashes The First Born. Mercy, compassion, nurturing, and then “above all” submission. Expertly, the story cuts away from this battle before we can get closure on what’s so powerful about submission.
In fact, the scene that we cut away to is arguably the climax of the plot of all 37.5 issues, as Zola places Zeke on the throne of Olympus. As soon as Zeke is installed as the new ruler, it becomes obvious that, yes, this son of Zeus is also Zeus himself reborn. I’d declare an I-told-you-so, but Azzarello and Chiang beat me to the punch.
Good point, guys. Strife and I might have been able to call this development three years ago, but who cares? Last month we discussed how Strife might be a weird surrogate for both the audience and the comics industry at large, feeding off the un-ending misery of these characters, and this moment wherein we share her perspective is perfectly representative of how pithy and pointless plot really is. That’s the drama that goes through the grinder again and again, and is little more than a vehicle for the character truths we arrive at along the way.
Back to that truth — when we cut back to Wonder Woman and The First Born’s battle, the tables have turned completely and Diana expands on what makes submission so great. I think this is the most important moment in the whole run, so I’m posting the whole thing here.
“Submission is faith in the strength of others.” That’s beautiful, and moreover, it’s a resonant, honest statement about the power of love. As audiences, we’re too often presented with a Care Bears idea of love: basically, that the power of friendship prevails because shut-up-it-just-does. Consider the end of Guardians of the Galaxy — they can contain the infinity stone because… they love each other? It’s an insincere moment, and one that doesn’t concretely demonstrate the power of anything (other than the power of blind sentiment to end a movie).
All of this dovetails nicely with the final scene of the issue. The entire game is laid bare when Athena reveals herself to be lurking deep within Zola, and she explains that various gears were set in motion by Zeus himself. Why? Even our 11th-hour exposition-dump can’t quite wrap her head around it. She speculates that maybe Zeus wanted to be something different, or maybe he was just hoping the whole thing would be a good time. Intriguingly, those are both viable reasons for DC executing the New 52 in the first place.
But none of that ends up mattering. All Diana cares about in the end is having her friend back. Again, it’s Diana’s appeal for love that ends up saving the day, not her divine lineage, not her new found status as of God of War, and certainly not some silly prophecy. Athena vacates Zola’s body and the reward is a return to status quo, just with a little more love in the world.
Drew, I couldn’t have been much happier with the way this ended. I love the call back to the zero issue, and the acknowledgement that this is the same Minotaur from way back when. Those quick inserts do a great job of subtly reminding us why such acts of mercy are happening in the first place. It’s also remarkable how Chiang renders the beast so sympathetically.
Amazingly, it’s all tied back to the idea that these characters should simply be themselves — Diana, Zola, the Minotaur. That idea extends to the platonic ideal of Wonder Woman: she should always be a creature of love.
Drew: Looking back, it’s easy to see submission (that is, faith in others) as one of Wonder Woman’s defining traits. It’s been a strength in bringing together her supporting cast — trust is a two-way street — but I’m actually struck by how often her faith in others has worked against her. She trusted Hermes, but he kidnapped Zeke in issue 12; she trusted Zola and Hera, but they refused to stay put in issue 15; she trusted Strife, but she drove Zola away in issue 26; she trusted Dessa, but she attempted to kill Zeke in issue 31; heck, much of the action of this run was set in motion by the reveal that Hippolyta had been lying to her for years — the point is, she’s been burned by her willingness to submit a lot. Remarkably, these experiences haven’t shaken her faith — indeed, she’s forgiven every single one of those trespasses — which speaks to the strength of her character.
In the end, that unyielding faith in humanity is perhaps Diana’s greatest — and most distinguishing — strength. I mean, sure, Superman believes in us, too, but he didn’t chose us. Diana believed that there was good in the world of men — she had faith — because she believed what she was taught about love and forgiveness more than what she was taught about the evils that lurk there. That the love that can unite us can be stronger than the fear that separates us is a powerful message, and one that is extremely timely, given the forces of increasing xenophobia and partisanship here in the U.S. In a world ever more divided, this series serves as a stirring reminder that we may find more strength in forgiving our differences.
That lesson also speaks to Wonder Woman’s feminist roots. Any level-headed feminist would agree that feminism is about uniting, rather than dividing, so it only makes sense that the feminist utopia of Paradise Island should be just as welcoming. The reintroduction of the male Amazons may be one of the more controversial changes to the mythology of Wonder Woman (lord knows the explanation of where they came from was), but I hope it’s one that lasts. If Wonder Woman truly loves everyone, and she truly learned that lesson on Paradise Island, it only makes sense that Paradise Island would be welcoming of everyone. It’s an update the character desperately needed in order to reflect modern feminism.
Otherwise, this issue is pretty light on gendered messaging. As Patrick noted, Diana’s listed strengths do emphasize feminine qualities like mercy and compassion, but ultimately, this conclusion all revolves around her friendship with Zola. Patrick cited Diana’s definition as submission as the most important moment of the whole run, and while I agree that it’s the most definitive moment for Wonder Woman, I think this particular story hinges on Diana’s plea to Athena:
This is heart-wrenching in a way this series rarely is, but Azzarello and Chiang prove more than capable. Indeed, the vulnerability of Diana here demonstrates that her greatest strength — love — is also her greatest weakness. The sorrow of lost love is a vastly more relatable weakness than radioactive meteorites or even a bullet in an alley. That that weakness springs forth naturally out of her greatest strength speaks to the power — and universality — of that slugline Patrick mentioned, one that is perhaps now the most clearly articulated of DC’s trinity. That’s a legacy this creative team should be very proud of.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?