Tuesday, May 30, 2017

My Big Fat Greek Origin Story

An Introduction to Wonder Woman, Part I
by Kerey McKenna.

Because I’m the resident comic book nerd here at Nerds who Read, the editor has some questions for me before the latest superheroine movie opens this weekend.

“Kerey!” he shouts into a phone while counting the money from his self-published novel Full Asylum [Available on Amazon –ed]. “I’m going to do a review of Wonder Woman. If the movie flops, I'll need to know all the ways they deviated from the source material for my piece 'Blunder Woman!' If it’s successful I'll need to know everything they did right for my review, 'She is Wonder Woman: Hear her Roar!'”

“Okay, Chief,” I reply. “Well, right off the bat I can tell you that this will be the first version of her origin story set in World War I.”

“Don’t call me Chief!” Mike the Editor bellows as he reviews competing contracts for a movie deal. “And why is the change in setting important?”

“Well when she premiered in 1941, the Second World War (which would soon involve America) was what everyone had on the brain. Every subsequent adaptation either held that she fought in World War II and lives on to the present day (like Captain America Steve Rogers) or updates the time and conflict to something contemporary (like how Iron Man originated in Vietnam but the movie updated the conflict to modern Afghanistan). There are some narrative reasons for the shift back to 1914 but probably a bit of marketing too.”

“Why marketing?” Mike demands while looking over head shots, comparing actresses to play the flame-haired Amazon heroine of Full Asylum. Clearly he has Amazon women on the brain.

“It differentiates her from that other star-spangled wartime superhero, the one over at Marvel. Also it would be hard to sell toys if the baddies are decked out in Nazi regalia. That’s why Captain America now fights the fictitious ‘Hydra,’ Chief.”

“Hrrm, don’t call me Chief. And don’t talk about a lot of Marvel characters. I want to know about DC. Where does Wonder Woman come from in the comics? What are her powers and costume? Who are her friends? Who are her enemies?”

“Well, Chief, ‘comics canon’ can be a bit hard to pin down. She’s been in publication almost as long as Batman and Superman. But really she only received one transition to the screen of her own: the 1970s TV series with Lynda Carter. Over the years a lot of creative teams have taken a crack at retooling the character. For example, since 2011 DC comics has published around four canon reinterpretations of her origin. Each reboot was seemingly done to undo and reverse the changes of the previous reboot. DC is actually working on yet another Wonder Woman reboot as they unwind the reboot of their entire universe. I mean just comparing and contrasting the last four reboots in relation to each other for you and our readers would be pretty daunting.”

“Hrm, you may have point there.” Mike responds. “Tell you what, why don’t you just walk us through more of the adaptations if these last four are giving you so much trouble?”

“So to save effort, instead of a walkthrough of the four most recent takes on her origins, you want me to do a walkthrough of more of them? Spanning a longer period of time?” I rubbed the bridge of my nose. “Okay, Chief. I’ll write something up for you.”

“And have it on my desk before the premiere. AND DON’T CALL ME CHIEF!”

Anyway, that’s my assignment. So here goes…

Where does Wonder Woman come from?

Diana comes from the mythical island paradise of Themyscira, a land inhabited exclusively by women (the Amazons) since the days of Greek myth. Protected from outsiders and the ravages of age by the patron gods and goddesses of the Greco-Roman Pantheon, the Amazon women are beautiful, in peak human (or demi-god) shape, and immortal (or at least extremely long-lived).

How Diana, or any girl for that matter, came to be born on an island of only women is a point of contention. Originally it was held that Diana’s mother Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, sculpted an infant out of clay and the gods imbued it with life.

Of late, though, the “magic infant clay golem” origin story has come into disfavor. Many post-2000’s revisions revise things to claim that the clay story was a fabrication. They make much hay out of revealing DIANA HAD A FATHER, usually a god or demigod like Hercules, Hades, Ares, or the big guy himself, Zeus. Double drama points if the god or demi-god in question is antagonistic to the Amazons.

The nature and character of the Amazons themselves tend to vary from adaptation to adaptation (get used to that phrase): sometimes they are an insular group of misandrists stuck in the Bronze Age. Other times they are keepers of high magic and advanced technology like anti-gravity, invisible planes, and a purple light beam that can cure any illness or injury, as long as the plot doesn’t require a character to die. Whichever end of the technology spectrum they fall on, the Amazons feel they have created a utopia by not having any men around to muck up the works.

All that changes when a stranger washes ashore Diana’s Island. Which moves us on to…

Steve Trevor

Steve Trevor is to Wonder Woman what Lois Lane is to Superman: they’re both mortal love interests who have a knack for getting in over their heads and needing daring rescues.

Steve is an American military intelligence officer. Exactly which branch of the military employs him and in which conflict he serves tends to vary from adaptation to adaptation. In any case, he is shipwrecked on Themyscira by accident (After all no mortal man would ask for directions. ZING!).

Steve is a square-jawed man of action and espionage who just tries to roll with the punches when he wakes up surrounded by a bevy of Amazon beauties.

Diana, seeking adventure and feeling responsible for this strange but obviously hapless refugee, takes it upon herself to take him back to his home. In some versions she intercedes to save his life from summary execution, like the legends of Pocahontas interceding on behalf of Captain John Smith. In other tales, the Amazons are perfectly happy to aid his departure from the island and hold a tournament among themselves to decide who will have the honor. Either way Diana gets the assignment to bring him back to “The World of Men” and decides to stay and serve as a force for good in that world.

Off the island, Steve is Diana’s love interest and guide to the strange ways of the modern world. To keep him safe and to stay close to the intrigue of Steve’s military intelligence work, Diana often assumes the secret identity of “Diana Prince.” Her undercover role tends to vary from adaptation to adaptation. Sometimes she’s a military nurse, other times a member of the admin staff. Professional clothes, glasses, and hair in a different style. (I wonder if she exchanged notes with another “strange visitor from another world” with a “mild-mannered” alter ego?) In still other versions, recognizing that her job would get Steve Trevor a life sentence for treason for sneaking a foreign national into the workings of US military intelligence, Diana eventually discards her coke-bottle glasses and lives openly as Ambassador of Themyscira, representing her people on the world stage.

Of course, coming, as she does, from the Island of the Amazons, it's natural that Diana would want female companionship, which brings me to her friend, and in some adaptations, rival for Steve's romantic intentions, Etta Candy.

To be continued…

Check out Part II here.

Kerey McKenna is a contributing reviewer to Nerds who Read and SMOF for the annual Watch City Steampunk Festival in Waltham, Massachusetts. Check it out at www.watchcityfestival.com.

To learn more about Wonder Woman's 1940's pinup-inspired incarnation, Bombshells, check out Kerey's review, "A Justice League of their Own."

Photo Credits: ComicBookBrain.com, ytimg.com, Alex Ross, Tumblr, pinimg.com

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