Wonder Woman Crosses the Fascistic Line

alex-ross-wonder-woman-my

I know “Kingdom Come” is quite old (published in 1996 by DC comics), but I admit that I haven’t read it until recently.  A friend of mine lent me the trade paperback and the first thing that caught my eye was the amazing artwork by Alex Ross.  As you can probably tell from the image above, the entire comic book is painted in gouache, so the word “amazing” doesn’t do his work justice; it’s a masterpiece!

“Kingdom Come” takes place in DC’s Elseworlds where new superheroes of the future known as metahumans have replaced the old superheroes (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc.).  These rogue metahumans show no regard for human life, however, and one of them ends up splitting Captain Atom in half, causing his nuclear energies to release and kill millions of people.  The entire world is thrown into alarm and we learn through the narrator of the book, Norman McCay, that Armageddon is approaching.  In such desperate moments, Wonder Woman finds an exiled and bearded Superman who shows no interest in helping the humans again.  Eventually, Wonder Woman convinces Superman that the world desperately needs a leader who will reestablish truth and justice.

Overall, I’m relatively pleased with Alex Ross’ visual depictions of Wonder Woman.  She’s not drawn out of proportion and isn’t showing off sexy poses as if she’s in a men’s magazine.  There were only one or two unnecessary images where her skirt gets lifted to show her underwear, but it’s not as explicit and noticeable.  I really got the sense that the writer and artist wanted readers to focus more on her character rather than how she looked, and while we can appreciate that, her character’s personality and role in this particular book really bothered me.

What ticked me off was how Superman would constantly hover over her as if she was a reckless child who needed parental guardianship.  He learns that Wonder Woman was exiled from “Paradise Island” (a matriarchal society), because the Amazons believed she failed in her mission to bring peace to the outside world (i.e. the “man’s world”).  Aside from fighting for truth and justice, Wonder Woman struggles with an internal conflict because she is now forced to live in a world that is not even her own.  Let us be reminded that Superman, or Kal-El (his Kryptonian name), is also an outsider, but Earth (i.e. the “man’s world”) never cast him out; instead Superman abandoned his life as a superhero and went into exile.  Wonder Woman, on the other hand, is disposed of by her own people, the Amazons:  women.  She was forced into exile.  It seems that the matriarchal society is harsher than patriarchy.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the book is how Wonder Woman becomes a fascist.  Superman tries to appeal to the metahumans and encourages them to behave as real heroes instead of heartless monsters, but only a few of them join him.  Unsure about how to deal with these rogue metahumans, Superman turns to Wonder Woman who suggests imprisoning those who don’t join!  Superman says to Diana (Wonder Woman), “I’m not used to forcing others to follow my lead.  Now I’m supposed to jail those who won’t?  To act as judge and jury against our own kind?  That’s a fascistic line, Diana!”  Wonder Woman responds, “Then get ready to cross it.  We are at war, Kal… And we will take prisoners.  We will have to.  They’re not our kind.  We’re protectors of humanity.  They are barely human.”  Superman continues to express his concern for her, saying things like,  “you’ve changed” or “this is not the real you speaking,” and yet remarkably, Superman is the same and stable character that we all know him as.  It’s as if the deaths of Lois Lane, Jimmy Olson, and Perry White (murdered by the Joker) didn’t throw his personality off balance.  As mentioned before, he went into self-exile and all it took was Wonder Woman to mend him back into action.  But the same does not apply to Wonder Woman, who is so extremely afflicted by her forced exile that she behaves in contradiction to the moral compass that her character represents.

What starts off as imprisonment turns into Wonder Woman’s call for justice “by any means necessary.”  When she is warrior-clad with her hair tied back, Superman comments like an over-possessive boyfriend, “yet another side of you that I’m not comfortable with.”  She snaps back, “Get used to this one.”  Wonder Woman shows her sword to Superman, who asks if she expects to use it.  “I expect to be a soldier” she says with a stern and deadly look on her face.  When Wonder Woman becomes no better than the rogue metahumans who show no regard for life, Superman shouts, “Why do you undermine my authority!”  Wonder Woman shouts back, “We’re going to confront the prisoners and give them an ultimatum.  They must surrender,” and if they refuse, “then it’s war!”

It’s important to point out that Wonder Woman is the only female protagonist in the book (there are other female characters that we see, but they hardly have any speaking parts), and she’s also the only character of DC’s three iconic heroes (the others being Superman and Batman) who turns reckless and ends up killing a metahuman character named Von Bach.  Yes, Batman doesn’t join Superman earlier in the book and actually teams up with Lex Luthor instead, but he later  undermines Luthor’s plot in mind-controlling Captain Marvel.  In other words, Batman  eventually joins Superman for the climatic battle (it was pretty predictable).  But these three characters — Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman — have always epitomized moral judgment and the ethical principles of truth and justice.  To see one of them detract from what a traditional superhero stands for may be interesting to some, but when it’s a character like Wonder Woman who hardly suffers as much as Superman did in this particular storyline, it just doesn’t make any sense.  After she kills Von Bach, Batman tries to talk some sense into her and says she won’t earn her royal position back by killing.  Wonder Woman shoots Batman a death glare and flies into a rage, shouting “You aristocratic bastard!  How dare you condemn me!”

As the both of them do battle in the sky, Batman (on his flight-enhanced suit)  remains on the defensive and tries to reason with Wonder Woman (sort of like how Luke Skywalker tries to reason with Darth Vader at the end of “Return of the Jedi”).  Wonder Woman finally returns to her senses when she sees stealth bombers perparing to drop nukes on the superheros and metahumans.  While this is happening, Superman brings the brain-washed Captain Marvel back to his senses so that he can stop the nuclear bomb.  Notice how Captain Marvel is violent because of mind-control, while Wonder Woman is full of rage because of her personal struggles and ego.  It’s as if the male superheroes can’t lose themselves in face of their own challenges.

At the end of the book, Wonder Woman goes back to normal and enjoys a nice lunch with Superman and Batman.  We also learn that she ends up pregnant with Superman’s baby, but the focus rests on Superman and Batman who have a nice embrace of friendship, as if they were violently fighting each other throughout the book.  If anything, the real moment of forgiveness should have been between Wonder Woman and Superman and Batman.  I don’t like either ending, to be honest, because they reduce Wonder Woman to an inferior.  She was unable to keep her head on straight amidst the turbulent and changing times, while her male counterparts held their composure.  The fact that the ending hardly focused on Wonder Woman, aside from her being pregnant,  shows how much of an insignificant character she was.  If anything, she was an obstacle to Superman and Batman.  It wasn’t Superman or Batman who wound up killing, it was Wonder Woman who did.  She turned to the “dark side” and made the situation worse.

As I closed the book, I reflected on how I would have enjoyed it more if Wonder Woman was portrayed better.  Then I thought about how many comic book readers may overlook the sexism and praise it for being an amazing story with beautiful artwork.  Beautiful artwork, indeed, but an amazing story?  I think male readers are more privileged to say that.

~Broken Mystic~

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23 Comments

  1. Aafke said,

    January 28, 2009 at 11:01 pm

    Looks like great art-work, sounds like a really stupid story… :(

  2. brokenmystic said,

    January 28, 2009 at 11:06 pm

    Hey Aafke :)

    I really like the concept and everything, but Wonder Woman’s character ruined all of that for me. After writing this, I found a list called “top ten reasons why no one cares about Wonder Woman,” and it just made me think about how we really need a new interpretation of her character.

    But yeah, the artwork is awesome!

  3. Aafke said,

    January 28, 2009 at 11:23 pm

    It’s not fair they let some bozo mess about with a good character and destroy it!

    So if you like this artwork I suppose you also like Don Lawrence? Or is that too European?

  4. Crimsonsilk said,

    January 29, 2009 at 12:04 am

    Its refreshing to hear a guy pointing out a female getting a rough ride against her male counterparts. I love comics and the artwork in this one seems particularly lush, judging by the pic you’ve posted; but the subtle sexism in comic-land gradually wears me down.

    I haven’t read the story but from your summary, I agree with your point of view. I would also object to her becoming pregnant as it seems this is being sold as the height of her success, and all she is ultimately good for. Or maybe the writers were trying to suggest pregnancy hormones were the reasons behind her aberrant behaviour, lol.

    Good review, I enjoyed it :)

  5. Kelson said,

    January 29, 2009 at 6:33 am

    For what it’s worth, the ending scene where the three heroes meet for lunch and Wonder Woman is revealed to be pregnant wasn’t in the original version of the story. When it was initially released as a 4-part miniseries, it ended with Wonder Woman visiting Superman on his farm and the two of them reconciling, then Norman McCay going back to preaching.

    The epilogue was added later on, when the series was collected and put into one volume. I have no idea why, other than the obvious trying to get fans who already bought it in one format to buy it again because this time it had new material.

  6. brokenmystic said,

    January 29, 2009 at 7:04 am

    Crimsonsilk – Thanks for your comments. I really liked your points about Wonder Woman’s pregnancy. You’re right, it seems that it’s the height of her success!

    Kelson – Thanks for letting me know about that! I didn’t know this was a different ending.

    Does anyone know any good Wonder Woman comic books? I’m really interested in finding a really great book on her.

  7. Avi said,

    January 29, 2009 at 8:22 am

    Great article as I mentioned before. Unfortunately until recently a.k.a. the last 3 years, I was strictly a Marvel guy. It took Geoff Johns work on The Flash and The whole Identity/Infinite Crisis to pull me into DC so I was never a big Wonder Woman fan. Hence, I cant share any great stories. What I can do however, is track down some more absurdly sexist covers that I have seen over the years. They would blow your mind. And lets all not forget the way women were portrayed by Image comics thought the 90′s. They were just over the top!

  8. Fargebarge said,

    January 29, 2009 at 5:43 pm

    I don’t see what all the crying is about. It’s Wonder Woman… nobody cares. All this about how women are portrayed “over the top” and how they are getting a “rough ride” is complete nonsense. They are fucking comics. First off, everything is over the top… for fuck’s sake, Superman wears a unitard in primary colors and has his choice of shooting lasers out of his eyeballs or irradiating the ladies with his x-ray vision… WHILE FUCKING FLYING. And how is Wonder Woman’s fucking INVISIBLE AIRPLANE and lasso of truth NOT over the top. Also, shut up!

  9. Aafke said,

    January 29, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    The way in which women were portrayed turned me off comics.
    UNtil I read Neil Gayman’s Death, and I always like Moebius, and the European comics.

    I found the idea of Wonder woman ending up pregnant totally absurd and ridiculous! Where does that come from??? Who wrote that story-line? Did they unfreeze some preserved comic-writer put on ice in the 1950′s????

  10. brokenmystic said,

    January 29, 2009 at 6:47 pm

    @ Fargebarge,

    So when people are speaking out against sexism in comic books, it’s called “crying?” I suggest that you educate yourself about how the media (comic books included) perpetuates stereotypes about gender roles. I also suggest you read my other post called “The Objectification of Women in Comic Books” here:

    http://brokenmystic.wordpress.com/2008/05/03/the-objectification-of-women-in-graphic-novels/

    The fact that you said no one cares about Wonder Woman is exactly the reason why I wrote this. She’s the only female protagonist in “Kingdom Come” and if no one cares about her, then why bother having a female character in the comic book? Oh right, because she can bear a child. Superman’s child, of course.

    Your misunderstanding is evident when you compare Superman’s powers with Wonder Woman’s. No one here was talking about their powers; we’re talking about how male and female characters are being portrayed differently. Wonder Woman is the only character out of DC’s three iconic superheroes who goes off the deep end and kills someone, which betrays everything that her character stands for.

    Maybe you should read my post again with a more open mind.

  11. brokenmystic said,

    January 29, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    @ Aafke,

    Mark Waid wrote “Kingdom Come.” And I think the whole idea with Wonder Woman’s pregnancy was that a new superhero was going to born from her and Superman. It’s “Elseworlds” so I guess it’s meant to make the readers imagine what could happen. Now that Kelson mentioned that it was added later on, it makes more sense as to why it seems like it was just thrown in there.

    I hear many positive things about Neil Gaiman’s portrayal of women. I’ll have check out those comic books you mentioned. Thanks!

  12. Avi said,

    January 29, 2009 at 9:42 pm

    Though I am not a Neil Gaiman fan, and that’s spelled “Gaiman” lol, I always found Death to be an intriguing character. As for Wonder Woman having Supe’s baby, I think that Brody’s explanation in Mallrats was perfectly recited.

  13. Aafke said,

    January 29, 2009 at 9:57 pm

    Ooooops, freudian spelling-mistake! ;)

  14. Avi said,

    January 30, 2009 at 10:21 am

    HA!

  15. Sobia said,

    January 31, 2009 at 9:37 pm

    Great critique BM! Your analyses are always so refreshing and feminist. In such a male dominated domain there is the worry of such critiques not occuring enough. That’s why I’m so glad you do these.

    Where the F did this misogynist Fargebarge come from? Dude, if you hate women take it elsewhere.

  16. Joseph said,

    February 1, 2009 at 9:42 pm

    This is a great analysis. More than any of the other DC icons Wonder Woman has always reflected the preoccupations and prejudices of her writers. It seems like she is either portrayed as too wimpy/sexual or completely asexual/militaristic. In Kingdom Come she is mostly the latter. I don’t know about you, but reading this story I had one of those “this is everything that is wrong with America” moments: A hot-looking, emotionally remote Amazon with giant breasts who kills people while wearing a bathing suit made out of the flag? Yeah, no thanks.

    You asked about good Wonder Woman comics and the thing is there mostly aren’t any. I think the character persists despite, not because of interesting stories. No one ever really explores what a warrior from an immortal matriarchal society might be like but the concept is so provocative that it keeps the character front-of-mind despite the sexist, nationalist, ham-handed treatment she usually receives. The current run written by Gail Simone is mostly well thought of, but I haven’t really read it enough to recommend it one way or another. DC is such a mess right now that it is hard to suggest any of those books to anyone.

  17. SC said,

    February 2, 2009 at 3:34 am

    Wonder Woman suggests imprisoning those who don’t rein themselves in, to protect the public from the damage that they’re causing (the whole reason for Superman’s return). It’s not unreasonable.

  18. brokenmystic said,

    February 6, 2009 at 8:59 am

    SC,

    Wonder Woman doesn’t just imprison the metahumans, she also ends up killing someone, which goes completely against what her character stands for. She’s not protecting the public when she resorts to killing; on the contrary, she’s endangering the public more. Superman lost his Loved ones at the hands of a murderer and he abandoned Earth by choice. In contrast, Wonder Woman was forced into exile because she didn’t fulfill her mission. The difference is that when Superman returns, he’s the same stable character that we all know him as. Wonder Woman’s character is clearly more afflicted by her exile than Superman is and it’s because she’s depicted as being more egotistical, which is a sign of weakness among her peers. She clearly becomes a fascist before her two male-counterparts bring her back to her senses.

  19. Sammer Z. said,

    February 16, 2009 at 4:58 pm

    I’ve never read comic books, but I found your analysis interesting. Its easier to put Wonder Woman into a stereotypical role of an emotional woman unable to make rational decisions or actually save the day.

    Sexism that sells in every other aspect of our society, sells in this as well.

  20. jsmith said,

    February 18, 2009 at 10:21 pm

    Hmm,interesting how lots of folk who don’t read the book agree with you. It’s all how you look at it . Some folks would say Superman suffers from inaction and naivety ,even Batman tries to turn people in a superstitious cowardly lot.The trinity on the whole act out of character. Of all three Diana is an amazon warrior and her killing Von back is no different to max Lord or lobbing of Medusa’s head. She is not a mass murderer but her training involves picking up swords and it is not to tickle people with it. If she has no choice she will use it. This book is about gods walking above people and then them realizing they all are made mistakes. Wait until you see the up coming DVD animated movie,WW lobs off lots of heads.

    If WW was man noone of you would have a problem what she does. That in itself is a kind of sexism. Batman talks down to Superman but that’s okay he’s Batman. WW challenges Superman,who hems and haws half the time. You call that stable?

    This book was good and it is not black and white and it would be nice of people would read before they condemn.

  21. brokenmystic said,

    February 19, 2009 at 12:51 am

    Jsmith,

    Accusing individuals such as myself for criticizing “Kingdom Come’s” portrayal of Wonder Woman just because she is a woman is not only a very typical argument, but it is also very insulting.

    What you need to understand is that although there may be cases of sexism against men, it is NOT the same as sexism against women. I’m going to tell you why: men are still in control. The comic book industry is male-dominated and filled with predominately male superheroes. A male superhero may experience sexism, for example, but that’s nowhere near the amount of sexism female characters experience — from objectification to stereotypes to exploitation. If a male reader complains about sexism against men, he can conveniently find another male superhero (or another book written by a different writer), whereas a female reader may struggle to find a decent and fair representation of women.

    You need to look at the larger picture with Wonder Woman. Superman and Batman all have successful movie franchises. Where’s a Wonder Woman movie? Oh right, there’s an animated film — compare that with the success of “The Dark Knight.” Remember “Catwoman” and “Elektra” and how they both bombed in the box office? I strongly argue that female characters are not taken seriously enough. Look at the box office successes of “Iron Man,” “The Incredible Hulk,” “The Dark Knight,” “X-men,” and “Spider-man.” All of them have male protagonists.

    In regards to “Kingdom Come,” you don’t see how Wonder Woman was more of an obstacle to Superman and Batman, especially towards the end. You don’t see how Superman constantly hovers over her like an over-possessive boyfriend. You can make your arguments all you want, Jsmith, but you need to study how repeated images get cultivated in the mainstream media. This is not the only time we see a woman in a comic book being mistreated and marginalized. We see this PATTERN throughout many comic books. Like “Identity Crisis,” for example. The antagonist turned out to be a WOMAN, a JEALOUS WOMAN. I don’t know how much more stereotypical you can get.

    If there are stereotypical male characters in comic books, there are always plenty of other male characters to balance the gender representation. But you have one central female character in “Kingdom Come,” and she ends up being an over-emotional fascist. Maybe you should read my post on the Objectification of Women in comic books to see how these images are recurrent.

    http://brokenmystic.wordpress.com/2008/05/03/the-objectification-of-women-in-graphic-novels/

  22. Wonder Boy said,

    March 1, 2009 at 12:01 am

    Very interesting analysis, but I also agree with the point that jsmith makes – each of the “DC Triumvirate” are depicted as behaving out of their normally accepted character, being affected in different ways by the events preceding the main story in the book. Yes, Wonder Woman’s pride is damaged by her exile and she often reverts to a more visceral Amazonian nature, but at the same time Superman has adopted a dangerously laissez-faire attitude toward the world he once protected and seems fairly aimless for much of the story, motivated only by the vigor and memory of the way things used to be that Wonder Woman is able to provide him with. The changes in the Batman’s character are more subtle, but he does seem to have grown more obsessive in his protective watch over his city.

    My take on the personality changes affecting all three of these characters was that Batman seemed to get off the easiest, and that this reflected a narrative choice on the part of the author to allow the most human of comics’ heroes to remain the level-headed model of reason, who is still able to use his wits to win out in the end, while allowing the more powerful heroes to be, ironically, far more susceptible to human foibles.

    Having not read much of anything related to Wonder Woman prior to Kingdom Come, I was actually inspired to find out more about her based on Mark Waid’s intriguing characterization of her as a, refreshingly, multifaceted and powerful female character. Unfortunately, as you say, there is a definite dearth of good Wonder Woman material out there.

  23. avery4peace said,

    June 16, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    Brokenmystic.
    I have to agree with your general point about women in comics. It’s very seldom that you get a well rounded female lead, or a consistently strong female character. However while I see your points on the kingdom come books IMO your looking at it from the larger lens of all comics and not taking what in this one at face value. the 3 main characters are all flawed and I was intrigued and frankly impressed at Wonder Womans strength of personally. She wasn’t following anyones lead. She saw a path for herself to fix the problem and she went for it. (like a man) -call me a fascist- but in the world that presented itself I’d say a natural reaction might be excessive force, temporarily until you got some order. The fact that her motivation for getting there had less “emotional” weight than sups had, in my mind, doesn’t matter. It’s a conclusion that anyone could come to by thinking the problem through. And if your from a country that’s a monarchy and your princess, telling people what to do “or else” probably isn’t that foreign to your thinking. Plus Her MISSION was to bring peace and she what she had been doing before obviously hadn’t worked. so mix in that little frustration and exile and seeing the whole world go to crap. I don’t have a problem with her in this book AT ALL. She was a great catalyst and interesting to watch/read. Batman was doing almost the same thing just in one city. But he has a code/mission not to kill. I’ve never known Diana to have such a code. She a trained warrior. the Amazons fought with/for the gods. With swords and arrows clubs and knives and magic. in wars . where people were killed. When she shows up in WW2 he fought in the war against the AXIS, though they didn’t show it It wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that she killed a few NAZIs. So the Kingdom Come world was fairly chaotic. A bloody fight to bring it some order to me is not a far reach for her character taking a broader view. Maybe just maybe in the heat of battle she went overboard but I don’t think it’s because she’s a woman or somehow morally weak. and again killing is a line that she probably crossed in the past in contrast to Bats and Sups.

    I think you do have a good point on the quick and unspoken resolution of her relationships with Bats and especially Sups. But I don’t think she should have been filled with huge remorse and come back crying to bats and sups ” I’m sorry I lost my head.. you were right all along.. sob sob” that would have been horrific. No she held her head up. She made a mistakes but no one could predict the outcome. She made the best choices she could see for the greatest good. She was wrong but the humans nuked the meta-humans and even Sups almost killed all of the United nation representatives at the end too. He had to be talk down before he came to his senses. His emotions almost made him cross the line as well.

    As far as getting pregnant goes it was interesting and hooked into to the whole next generation riff the continuing process of teaching meta humans how to live in harmony with others theme.
    And I mean what wrong with a woman getting pregnant. If you don’t mind me saying so . Sheshh. I don’t think it was gratuitous or sexist. But that’s me. It’s only been recently that any character have actually had their own children. And most of the time they kind of lame or bad parents. (Plasticman reluctant dad, Green Arrow didn’t claim his son etc..) , here’s 2 responsible parents in the superhero world YAY.
    Anyway that’s my take.

    peace


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