Today, Michael and Spencer are discussing Wonder Woman 12, originally released December 14th, 2016. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Michael: There was a lot of emotions on both sides of the recent U.N. decision to drop Wonder Woman as an honorary ambassador. Detractors believed that the fictional character was “the epitome of a pin-up girl,” while lifelong fans see her as a figure of peace and equality. Regardless of your personal feelings, when you step back and look at the whole thing, it’s just another example of us defining what Wonder Woman – and women in general – are allowed to be. In both “Year One” and “The Lies,” Greg Rucka has been exploring how we have historically defined Wonder Woman, while building towards what she is today.
Rucka and Nicola Scott open up Wonder Woman 12 with a blur of news coverage of Wonder Woman – the mysterious “Super Woman.” This fascination over the character reminds me of the swarms of mall-goers who had undue interest in her wardrobe back in Wonder Woman 9. While the focus of this coverage is on Wonder Woman stopping the terrorists, there is a line where a reporter kind of dismisses “controversial” Dr. Barbara Minerva and the theory that Amazons can fly. Maybe I’m trying to raise a pitchfork where it’s not needed, but I thought I’d note that potential bit of mansplaining.
This is followed by what I’d categorize as a clunky bit expositional homage, as Minerva justifies her use of “Suffering Sappho” – an old catchphrase of Wonder Woman’s. I appreciate what Rucka’s trying to do here, but this knowing conversation between Minerva and Etta Candy feels less like a conversation between two human beings and more like an editor’s note from Stan Lee and the bullpen. Similarly stiff dialogue came towards the end of the book where Etta talks about “the fates” working against them on that one, as if she knows she’s in a Wonder Woman book. I know, I know: nerds are gonna nerd.
It’s revealed that the terrorist organization the SEAR group has been working on behalf of Ares, who himself appears at the end of the issue. It’s been hard not to think of Brian Azzarello’s Wonder Woman run while reading this current iteration of the title, especially since Ares focused so heavily into it. Azzarello featured The God of War as a member of Wonder Woman’s family and she eventually inherited that title herself. However, in Wonder Woman 12 Diana makes it very clear that Ares is no friend of hers, describing his way as “madness.”
I’ve been trying to decipher the message of the SEAR group in relation to Wonder Woman, Ares, and essentially Greg Rucka. Rucka is clearly embracing Wonder Woman as the ideal of peace and equality that I mentioned earlier. Wonder Woman is also a warrior who will fight to defend what’s right; she will fight for peace. Despite that, Diana has a difficult time understanding the motives of a terrorist group like the SEAR group who “makes war when there is peace.” For Diana, I think the notion of war boils down to whether or not it is a just war.
Ares is expressing himself through the SEAR group, who we discover via lasso of truth are dedicated to “terror, panic, discord, and war.” Ares is trying to create war where there is none. Is that terrorism or just the antithesis of peace? In the context of Wonder Woman, does war beget terrorism or vice versa? A lot of meaty philosophical morsels to munch on there.
Nicola Scott gets a lot of time to draw Diana in all her glory, unburdened by dialogue – just living in the emotional moment. As Minerva, Etta, and Commander Michaels lay out the conflict in front of them, Scott draws a series of pages that show Wonder Woman at the peak of joy and the pit of sadness. The double-page spread that places Wonder Woman dead center among vignettes of her testing her powers could easily act as a splashy ad for the series. It’s a joyful page that’s almost too joyful as Steve Trevor smiles with glee as he fires a machine gun Diana’s way. Scott channels Diana’s joy and wonder at her powers followed by her sadness that she can never go home again. Another example of emotional truth comes when Diana tries a can of “Soder Cola,” which almost perfectly mimicked my first drink of soda pop when I was a kid – except I tried to scrape off the fizz from my tongue.
What’s happening Spencer? Do you think we obsess too much over what Wonder Woman should mean (at least compared to other superheroes)? What’s your take on Ares and the SEAR group? Am I spinning my wheels with my musings of terrorism and war? And most importantly, am I too grumpy when it comes to “suffering Sappho?”
Spencer: Michael, I think it’s common knowledge that Wonder Woman is a superhero that writers have been struggling to get a handle on pretty much ever since Marston left the book 60-odd years ago; there’s a pattern of each new Wonder Woman creative team throwing out everything that came before in an attempt to find some sort of iconic take on the character that will take off in the way that, say, All-Star Superman or The Dark Knight Returns did. Here at Retcon Punch we like to theorize that deconstruction has become as intrinsic a part of Batman’s character as, say, the Waynes’ murder — I feel the same way about Wonder Woman and the search for what, exactly, she’s all about.
That’s often frustrated me in the past, but I think Rucka mitigates that by making the attempt to define what Diana means the centerpiece of both his ongoing stories; just acknowledging what he’s doing eases some of my concerns. More importantly, Rucka and his collaborators aren’t just looking to define Diana through grand speeches or obvious themes — their intentions play out through the actions of even the supporting cast. Take that “Suffering Sappho!” scene Michael’s so grumpy about.
Aside from her poetry, Sappho is best known as a symbol of same-sex love, especially between two women. With that common fact in mind, look at this page, really look at it. Yeah yeah, I know, I tend to think everyone’s gay, but c’mon, these two women exchanging some particularly bashful, longing, flirty looks as they bond over the poetry of Sappho? That can’t be unintentional.
It’s also not the only queer moment in this issue. When Steve asks Diana if she left behind anyone “special” on Themyscara, she freely admits that she did, and that her name was Kasia. This isn’t played as a shocking reveal, and even Steve, to his credit, reacts with compassion and understanding, not shock or jealously. Rucka and Scott are building Wonder Woman into an inclusive, LGBT-friendly book, a sentiment supported by the lead character, her supporting cast, and their attitudes towards one-another.
That’s important, because “who…others love” is one of the reasons the SEAR Group gives for sowing terror and making war. Rucka and Scott thus use Diana’s villains — in this case, Ares and his SEAR Group — to define who she is as well. As Michael points out, Ares and his ideas of war are very clearly set up as the antithesis of everything Wonder Woman stands for. That’s evident in the way Diana and Ares interact — his tree disrupts everything Diana knows about Themyscara, and is one of the few things capable of physically scarring her — but also in their disparate views of the world.
It seems important to note how modern the picture of war Rucka and Scott sketches is. War isn’t as simple as tanks and boots on the ground anymore, and Ares’ methods here reflect that: Ares wages war via guerilla terrorists and bio-weapons instead. His most potent weapon, though, might just be hate itself, and that rings more true than ever in our modern political climate. In fact, Ares seems to think that hate and violence are not only inevitable, but that they’re all human beings truly are.
There have been times when I’ve been inclined to agree with Ares, but Diana cuts right through his delusions and lies (as she’s apt to do). Her compassion for Ares’ pawns proves him wrong — when he’s confronted with the true gravity of what he’s a part of, this SEAR goon doesn’t embrace it, he rejects it and begs forgiveness. It isn’t a part of his nature, it’s something he’s learned. Hatred and war aren’t natural, they’re learned behaviors; Ares’ hate simply begets more hate.
I think that’s why Rucka so thoroughly rejects the role Ares has played in Diana’s New 52 history up to now. Azzarello and Chiang are talented enough to find a way to make the mantle of “God of War” work for Diana, but I don’t trust too many other creators to do the same; I was already getting frustrated by the version of Wonder Woman I’ve seen popping up here and there (such as in the recent DC Animated features) who was not only in love with violence, but actively sought it out. Thankfully, that’s not Rucka’s Diana. She loves everyone, be they friend or foe (or even animal), and can’t even begin to understand the SEAR Group’s senseless hate and slaughter. There simply isn’t room for “war,” at least as Ares defines it, in her viewpoint; it’s something she never learned, and something she vehemently rejects. Yes, Diana is a warrior, but she fights to protect, not to hurt others.
So maybe why I don’t mind Rucka working so hard to reestablish what it means to be Wonder Woman is because I agree so strongly with his take on the character. A champion of peace, truth, and unconditional love? We need that version of Diana more now than ever before.
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