WWWWW? That is, What’s Wrong With Wonder Woman? She has the most unfulfilled potential of any superhero in the DC or Marvel universes. Put that in corporate terms: there is no other character that could rake in a larger increase in money than Wonder Woman if she were handled right.
According to DC, Wonder Woman is the most famous heroine of all time. Among heroines, nobody has been in more comics, on more t-shirts, sold more dolls, or been on more magazine covers than Wonder Woman. But, let’s be honest, this makes her a big fish in a damn small pond.
Yes, she’s better known than other woman superheroes. She is also better known than black superheroes. What conclusion do you draw from that? I think it means not that Wonder Woman is so prominent, but that other characters have not been pushed enough. Not that Wonder Woman herself is treated that well.
DC’s big three are Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. But how many titles are Superman and his near imitators like Supergirl and Power Girl in? How many titles revolve around Batman? Wonder Woman has a single, bimonthly title. Where’s the Batwoman, Batwing, Talon, and Batman Incorporated titles for Wonder Woman? There is no title for either Wonder Girl. Wonder Woman is in less titles than Spider-Man.
Every live-screen-action version of her except the one starring Lynda Carter has been a disaster. Some have been so bad that it makes me want to betray Earth to Starro the Conqueror. I note the CW has delayed its entry into the field, which is either conscientious of them or they have realized they have another lemon in the works.
Greg Rucka is one of many who tried to re-form Wonder Woman, and his Eyes of the Gorgon is a mixed result. In its favor, it makes significant use of mythology, it makes a mature and complex use of plot and counterplot, and it seeks to integrate the myths into the modern political world.
In the mythical realm of Olympus, Circe and the resurrected gorgon, Medusa, plot to kill Wonder Woman. In addition, several goddesses plot to overthrow Zeus as king of the gods. Connections are made to Egyptian deities, specifically Neith, Bast, and Isis. A complex conspiracy is then initiated.
Who is gathered and what they want for their loyalty is interesting. How the two Olympian plots eventually meet and how one depends on the other is what keeps you reading the story. Athena, the goddess of wisdom, leads the conspiracy to overthrow Zeus. This is interesting simply because Hera is not the leader. As the queen, surely she would lead the charge. But in the end, it is Athena who plans, and who eventually brings Aries on side, or thinks she does. Aries has his own iron in the fire.
On the other side, Circe also plots. And instead of three Egyptian goddesses who disappear, she has the three gorgons. Yes, Medusa has been resurrected. Both conspiracies involve revenge, either against Zeus for constant infidelity (including one apparently forthcoming because he was watching someone bathing in his magical viewing pool, or what other people call internet porn) or against Wonder Woman. This is a strong plot line and sets a standard.
The problem is, against that, there are other things that just don’t work. On page one we are on Olympus, watching goddesses talk. Ignore Aphrodite, naked but for a pink semi-see-through veil and sunglasses. Look at the bow at the bottom right. I know the bow they’re trying to draw but the one that’s there isn’t that one and it wouldn’t work. It may be a small thing but it jars.
And the goddesses. The Egyptian goddess Neith looks like a strangely Caucasian female version of Allan Quartermain (watch the eye patch appear and disappear – or maybe that’s a shadow of the brim of her hat that only happens once). Athena has a laptop and is dressed like a nerd, and don’t we all associate nerds with fierce warriors of great wisdom? Demeter, with her impossible bow, is dressed in punk fashion with warpaint, shredded khaki pants, and an off the shoulder blouse. They look like the whole style was scabbed off Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.
Like most attempts to “update” the gods and bring them into the modern age, it doesn’t update the gods, it just lessens them. Wonder Woman may sometimes be a bad feminist icon, she is always a bad Pagan one. I’m not sure why, since there are over a million Neo-Pagans in the United States whom sociological studies tag as avid readers, which is to say, the ideal market for a comic book. But Eyes of the Gorgon does show her as devout if not particularly insightful in the religious principles she’s supposed to live by.
So where’s the big weakness? It’s in this world. In this version Diana is the ambassador for Themyscira (formerly known as Paradise Island) and the embassy is in New York. Actually, embassies are in the capital city of a foreign country. Diplomatic missions to other cities are called consulates. Since it’s in New York, it might be a mission to the UN, in which case it’s called a permanent mission. Calling her mission in New York an embassy is kind of like that bow.
I do like this bit of backstory, though. After years of Wonder Woman as the secretary of the JSA and later the secretary of the JLA, she gets to be ambassador and she doesn’t have to follow instructions or policies or even consult with the rulers at home. That’s more than Aquaman has ever accomplished — there are no embassies from Atlantis in the DC universe — but that is another issue for another time. But does being ambassador mean that Wonder Woman has responsibilities and makes proposals to foreign governments? No, she goes to a party where the President of the United States is going.
Diana wears a dress to that party that could be called a kind of modernized peplos, a form of ancient Greek outfit. Her two companions also seem to wear modernized ancient Greek clothing. It looks good, it’s a style that might prove popular. But why are they wearing clothing in a style the gods themselves have abandoned? It doesn’t make sense. But it could have made sense if the clothes indicated traditionalist versus modernizing factions. But in Eyes of the Gorgon it just means Diana is going to get a chance to rip her dress off, later. But back to the party where important issues are discussed without the nuisance of an actual appointment or official meeting or somebody keeping records or anything.
The American navy is sitting off the island Themyscira, ninety miles off the Carolinas. The U.S. President feels there’s a security issue involved because Themysciran culture is secretive and martial. Despite its declaration of neutrality, he would prefer a treaty of nonaggression. The Themyscians declare they can’t do this, because it would violate their neutrality.
Since when? They’re saying they will maintain their neutrality by holding onto the possibility of attacking the United States? Really? Invading countries is not being neutral. Not when Themyscira does it, not when North Korea does it, not when Germany did it in World War II.
By the way, Themyscira is about as far from the Carolinas as Cuba is from Key West. I get it.
The United States wants trade. The Themyscirans say they have everything they need and the United States would benefit, they wouldn’t. President Horne points out if they have a cure for cancer, shouldn’t they release it? I would wonder (along with Plato in the Republic) how a small population could have the creativity to write all the plays and, in the modern world, novels and movies to properly enrich its citizen’s minds.
This is an unconvincing part of the book, and if this was all there was to it, I’d simply say don’t bother. Actually I wouldn’t even be reviewing it.
This brings us to another issue. There are scenes and comments in it that seem to just be there to make sure you know what ideology you have to follow. Two boys are playing with dolls (sorry, action figures) and the rules say they can’t use guns. So how do they fight (not by punching each other, obviously)? They don’t, that’s the point. There’s a better way to find solutions. Does Ambassador to nothing in particular Diana use this better method? Nope. She trumpets it and in that she follows one of the original stated intentions for the character, but she doesn’t follow those rules.
At another point, Diana invokes Sappho, which she’s done for years wth her cry of ‘suffering Sappho.’ Not Elephantis, who, like Sappho, wrote about sex. Not Tellesia, who gathered the women and slaves and successfully defended Argos after the king was killed. But they’re not cool. Not here, at any rate.
And, of course, there’s the conspiracy of men who think women are inferior. Well, not men, gods. They’re not going to put up with mere women ruling. This, too, is part of her original creation, but after seventy years it seems dated, in style if not in substance.
It’s all as if somebody behind an editorial desk has determined what the story “needs” to keep in good with the people who count to people who sit behind editorial desks. Other than that, put in action sequences (fights). People hitting each other will entertain the masses.
That kind of plan can work. Shakespeare used it in his plays, in that characters will say something and then repeat it in terms the working class who bought standing room only tickets could relate to.
When it comes to action, Eyes of the Gorgon gives you something to hold onto. Wonder Woman has improved in these stakes in recent years. Instead of being in the midst of a battle but not getting in a fight, instead of being drawn running at an enemy, or throwing a golden lasso at them, now she belts them. Throughout the story she punches, she clotheslines, she shoulder blocks. And then, there are the weapons. Sword, spear, ax, shield; she carries them all into battle. Yes, the woman who preaches peace and love punches out her enemies at the drop of absolutely anything.
It’s not just that she fights, because peace has to be a mutual decision while violence merely takes either party. It’s why and how she fights. She’s so proud to fight. She’s trained to fight. And she fights incredibly stupidly for someone with super strength she doesn’t use properly and super speed that she doesn’t use at all. In fact, the style she uses parallels the style used by a character with accelerated healing and no super speed that Rucka is writing now, Lazarus.
But there is an extended problem with Wonder Woman’s fighting that shows how badly constructed this world is. It’s that Olympian law allows challenges between the champion of one deity and the champion of another. Winner takes all and no refusal is allowed.
Is that as far as the gods have gotten? Do they have no sense of procedure or natural justice? And more important, is Themyscira subject to those laws? If so, it is not a country and has no more right to establish an international embassy than Arizona or New Brunswick.
So, making Themyscira a republic and Diana a former princess becomes bogus even within terms of the story. It becomes just a cheap attempt to tie fictional events to the real world. It also ignores people who still live in a monarchy: Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Japan, Thailand – are they all inferior people or something? And that’s the big problem.
The real world, the one that’s meant to make us think this whole story just might happen, the one that grounds it, is not realistic. As such, it’s hard to invest emotion into the mortal realm, and so when Olympus meets the Earth and everything hangs in the balance, it is too small a weight. It could have had much more impact and made a truly memorable story. I would have liked it to have more impact because there are good elements to this book.
And the book had some force, though that seems to have been misapplied. I mean, in this book Diana Prince runs an embassy and has written a book and therefore become a media figure. This idea that Diana is a media star has been pushed several times. The worst of them was that 2011 TV pilot.
The intrusion of the Olympian world into this one should add a layer of burden of responsibility on Wonder Woman. She not only has to protect her people as an ambassador (who doesn’t get her agenda from her rulers), she has to protect human society from the gods. But this strength only comes through in rare moments. In that, Eyes of the Gorgon is much like Wonder Woman, herself, only occasionally living up to great potential.