Necessary Trade-Offs

September 18th, 2008 by | Tags: , , , ,

The Big Three of DC, Wonder Woman, Superman and Batman, have always had a certain status in the DCU. Part of this comes from popularity, although admittedly Wonder Woman’s popularity has been low of late. Part of it comes from longevity. Everyone has memories of them. Most of it, though, comes from their iconic nature.

Superman is the one last hope of a dying race. He is sent to an unknown place where that hope is brilliantly realized, even if the sense of loss remains. He represents every parent’s wish for their child, and the responsibility that every child feels when it makes its way in the world.

Batman is the personification of solitary, relentless obsession.

The well known phrase used to describe Wonder Woman is ‘beautiful as Aphrodite, wise as Athena’ but it sites entirely the wrong goddesses. Artemis is much more appropriate. The perpetual virgin and goddess of the hunt, Artemis was also the protector of newborn animals. This is what Wonder Woman evokes; purity, strength, ferocity, and the defense of the weak.

These three, and their situations, are archetypes that everyone recognizes and responds to.

Except that Superman is not Krypton’s last hope. Kryptonians hedged their bets by sending his cousin. And his other cousin. Also a dog. And a monkey. And a horse, in case the dog, monkey, and two cousins need a ride somewhere. There may also be a cat. But everyone loves cats, right?

Batman, the solitary night stalker, could be running a daycare center. Yes, the daycare center would get shut down by the state fairly soon, but until it did it would be full. No other hero has collected such a large number of sidekicks.

Wonder Woman has had crushes on various men for decades, and right now she’s aggressively pursuing Tom Tressor, I guess because his name sounds so much like Steve Trevor.

I can’t help but feel wistful for the icons, the perfect, immovable ideals that the originals represented. The Last Son Of Krypton has an emotional and aesthetic wallop that can’t be matched by three cousins and a petting zoo. The Dark Knight, the lone crusader who pits himself against every criminal in a vast, chaotic city is an extraordinarily spare and beautiful picture. That picture has gotten pretty crowded. And Wonder Woman? The virgin huntress? She’s wooing a man with a nectarine pit.

But if you take Supergirl and Powergirl out of the Superman mythos, you lose not only two fantastic characters, but the sweetness and the emphasis on family that is so great about the Superman books. The Batkids bring warmth and enthusiasm to the Batman mythos. And Wonder Woman is such a difficult character to relate to. Romantic love and all the failings and vulnerabilities that it brings out in a person gives readers a toe-hold, a way of understanding an immortal, invulnerable, an infinitely wise character.

There is something thrilling about iconic characters, and plenty of wonderful stories have been told using that aspect of the Big Three. However, a lot of good comes from knocking those characters off the pedestal. Not only does it introduce new and different characters, but it adds richness and texture to characters who would have been only splash pages. There’s something to be said for being a human instead of a god.

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2 comments to “Necessary Trade-Offs”

  1. Simone’s gender-bent love story in Wonder Woman is one of the best things in comics right now, period.

  2. @Jbird: I’m enjoying it more as a look at Amazon mating customs than the pairing involved, but I do think it’s interesting. Plus, Simone has made some interesting comments about the match, so I think that there is a surprise coming.