Friday, August 11, 2006

Ladies Night

Good morning, Gentle Reader!
I found myself sleeping unbelievably long this morning, all the way to 9:30 a.m. I hear your questions now: Amy, are you sick? Are you perhaps unwell, Ms. Reads? Fret not, Friends. While I greatly appreciate your concern, I am not sick at all, but sleeping late in preparation for the 5 a.m. departure tomorrow morning. Road Trip, here we come.
But as I will be rather busy over the next week, and unable to grace your browsers with the prose that astounds the bourgeoisie and makes the angels weep with... wait, no. Those were the essay instructions from my Honors College profs back in the day. I mean, since I won't be able to shout out into the void about sugar and spice and everything super, I've decided to do leave you a nugget to chew on while I am carousing in the Big Easy.

Superheroines.

Already, I find that word problematic. Why aren't they all superHEROES? Why do we need male or female designators for our characters? Look at the history of comic books. We have a Superman, a Batman, a Spider-Man, a Power Man, a Mr. Terrific, and the female counterparts, Supergirl, Batgirl, Spider-Girl (Peter Parker's daughter). Of course, there is also a Spider-Woman, and a Batwoman (who, in her most recent incarnation, is the former romantic partner of Gotham PD's Renee Montoya), a Wonder Woman (and her apprentice Wonder Girl). There is a Huntress, and a Miss Marvel, a Marvel Girl, Black Canary and Gypsy, but very, very few female superheroes have non-gendered names.

Now some may argue that Black Canary, for example, is not necessarily a gendered name. Well, certainly, that argument may be made, but the original Black Canary had a magic purse of tricks, complete with a super-compact. No, Gentle Reader, I'm not lying to you. Why would I?

Let's take a look at the greatest heroine of them all, Wonder Woman. I have argued in the past (an argument that often brings surprisingly controversial results) that Wonder Woman is stronger than Superman. Where is the evidence, you ask? Well, she's super-strong. She's matched up to him again and again. But more importantly, she has no weaknesses, and Superman has three (kryptonite, telepathy, and magic, four if you count red suns). In issues past, Batman, our lovable neurotic paranoid, decided that if the metas ever got out of hand, it would be up to him to stop them, so he devised a failsafe to counter every major hero. This, of course, blew up in his face when the OMACs became cognizant and started indiscriminate killing in Infinite Crisis, but that's neither here nor there.
What is here and there is this simple fact: Batman carries kryptonite on his person at all times. It's the only way to defeat Superman if he gets out of control (and honestly, does a year go by in which Superman *doesn't* get out of control?). But his ultimate plan to defeat Wonder Woman?
Lock her in a room and let her defeat herself.

That's *smart*, boys and girls. That's just *smart*. In one little detail, the comics establish that Wonder Woman's worst enemy is herself. She's immortal, she flies, she has superstrength and magic weapons (a lasso of truth, bullet-deflecting bracelets, god-made armor), and the only way the smartest superhero of them all could determine how to defeat her is to lock her in a room and let her wear herself out.

And she proves that her worst enemy is herself when she kills Maxwell Lord to stop his mind control over Superman. This horrific event is televised over international channels, and the world turns upside-down. Not only did Wonder Woman kill a seemingly innocent and unarmed human, but she did it on international television. The OMACs go nuts, the world erupts into chaos, and everyone begins to fear, truly, those stronger than themselves.

Wonder Woman broke the cardinal rule for metas: she killed a human. Superheroes don't kill humans, even if it's the only way to stop Lord's mind control of Superman. Wonder Woman has a history of selfless and heroic acts, like, for example, when Medusa got loose and threatened to turn several million football (European, not American) fans into stone over live broadcast, and Wonder Woman blinded herself in order to defeat her. But in that one moment, she reminded everyone, hero and non-hero alike, that she is not human. She is an immortal warrior princess from an island of Amazons. She was forged from clay and given life by the gods. She has a pure sense of justice, but doesn't, perhaps, know the value of human life.

See what I mean? That's complicated, that's complex, and that's *way* smarter than comics used to be in the past. Wonder Woman's current image is still caught up in her inception, as the bondage fantasy of William Marston. We see the silliness of her, of her sidekick Etta Candy, of the immobility caused when she's tied up by a man. With Greg Rucka, we see the politician, the alien (always, always more alien than Kal El, who is truly, at heart, Clark Kent), the hero blinded by justice.
What's very interesting about Rucka's run on Wonder Woman is that she's never given a romantic interest. So many superheroines have romantic entanglements of some kind. Black Canary and Green Arrow, Oracle and Nightwing, Wonder Girl and Superboy, Catwoman and Batman, the list goes on and on. But no so with Wonder Woman. What is it about her recent incarnations that transcend sexuality? A crossover event with The Flash during the Medusa trials has Wally gripping the lasso of truth and pondering how coldly beautiful and *frightening* Wonder Woman is. No one jokes with Wonder Woman about her beauty, her sexuality, or sexually threatens her, as many criminals do with other heroines. At least, not in Rucka's run.

In summation, we're looking at possibly the strongest superheroine cross-universes. She has the beauty of Aphrodite, the wisdom of Athena, the grace and blessing of the gods. She stands at a little over six feet, all blue eyes and black hair and muscles. And she's *cold*. She's damn near asexual. What, then, does that say about society's views about strong women?
It's a good thing and a bad thing all rolled up into one.
The good thing: she's not reduced to the processes of her body. Or, rather, she is, but not in the way that so many women are. Wonder Woman is all body, inasmuch as she has a superbody. She is a superhero. There's no way around that. She has immense physical strength (and when I get back, we'll talk about the overwhelming amount of intangible vs. physical powers granted to female superheroes) and she is a warrior.
The bad thing: is this, then, suggesting that strong women are, or should be, asexual? Is Wonder Woman cut off from sexuality and romantic entanglements because she is strong, or because she is distant and cold? I'd like to believe it's the latter. At the end of Infinite Crisis, Wonder Woman decides to go off and learn what it means to be human. We'll see how that unfolds.

But until then, Gentle Reader, some reading.
Gail Simone, one of the strongest female voices in comic books today, once wrote an intriguing article about the role of women in comics, and how most were reduced to the very processes of their bodies. i.e. their dead bodies were used (and stuffed into refrigerators) in order to torment their superhero lovers.
Gail Simone's Women in Refrigerators.

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