Scribbler’s Saga #39 – Power Couple

Posted: June 5, 2017 in Uncategorized

One of many choices for Diana…

© 2017 G.N. Jacobs

Write long enough and we will all come up against a minor problem for what to do with your characters: the Triangle/Power Couple. You see it on a lot of shows where things have gone on a while and they need to shake things up. On Dharma & Greg, four or five seasons in towards the end (I’d stopped watching by then completely burned out on the sitcom format) the writers tossed in Kevin Sorbo to tempt Dharma. On King of Queens the show ends in divorce (I only caught a few minutes towards the end). On the flip side, many shows have a couple that sticks it out for the entirety of the show and the viewers root for them in all their twists and turns with other possibilities (Luke and Laura on General Hospital, perhaps?). 

The other obvious choice…

Comic books are no stranger to these related phenomena. My favorite case study in comic books: Wonder Woman/Batman/Superman. People coming late to the movies might be shocked, shocked that Wonder Woman hooks up with either one of the DC’s alpha male spandex-heroes. Depending on when you jumped out of reading comics and back into watching the movies you might ask –

Well, isn’t she, like, hooked up with Steve Trevor?

Isn’t she, like, a lump of magically animated clay raised in the Amazon way that eschews men?

Isn’t Batman, like, a total horn dog playboy as part of his distraction campaign to deflect ugly ‘aren’t you Batman’ questions?

Isn’t Superman hooked up with either Lois Lane or Lana Lang?

Isn’t Wonder Woman basically a thinly disguised lesbian icon?

Wonder Woman was hooked up with Steve Trevor in the Golden Age saving him from his crash within swimming reach of Themyscira. They fought Nazis together. They platonically never fully consummated this relationship due to the eventual advent of the Comics Code and the same innate ‘keep them apart as long as possible’ vibe that drives shows like Moonlighting or Bones.

But, once you move Wonder Woman out of the World War Two era trying to balance the march of time with a woman that always looks her best as a twenty-five-year-old brunette, old boyfriends like Steve Trevor fall away and die. Unless a writer decides to use one of the many ways in DC comic book magical physics to bring Steve Trevor back, the dude usually stays out of the picture.

Diana of Themyscira did at one time hail from a clay statue made by her mother Hippolyta after moving to the island. But, comic book publishers run through cycles of we have so much clutter in our literary universe let’s start over with world altering events that allows us to make subtle changes for clarity. Since Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1986, Wonder Woman has the simpler backstory of Zeus seduced Hippolyta and made Diana an immortal demigod, much like Hercules, explaining her powers and perpetual youth.

I suspect, but can’t necessarily prove with textual references, that removing the clay statue origin might have been part of a way to have Wonder Woman participate in adult relationships without worrying about the Comics Code (largely a legacy appellation by the mid-1980s kept around for form, until finally killed off in the 1990s). A clay statue animated by magic origin would be presumed more resistant to the needs of flesh and she wouldn’t necessarily need sex the way the rest of us do.

But, being the daughter of Zeus replacing clay, Wonder Woman needs lovin’ a little bit more. Actually, if philandering is genetic and not just a function of alpha male godhood as depicted in the surviving Greco-Roman legends, Diana needs a lot more sex. Like Daddy, like Daughter.

Raised among women warriors, many readers have assumed that Diana would present as a lesbian. But, she leaves the island for long periods of time to help the men of Man’s World, The Patriarchy or the Modern World take our collective heads out of our asses. There is an undeniable literary pressure to have her periodically hook up with men to help feed the fantasies of boys for the Nordic shield-maiden, Eowyn of Rohan, or even the three or four female Pharaohs that ruled in their own right, long before Cleopatra.

Wonder Woman’s sexuality, a sticky wicket that so far hasn’t kicked off the usual angry cries rooted in identity politics. Lesbians want the Amazon for themselves, but the publisher needs her to be feminine enough to tease boys into reading the book. So far, modern Wonder Woman writing asserts that she’s very bisexual, thank you very much. Greg Rucka gets most of the credit for this on Wikipedia.

Seems to me that bisexual Wonder Woman tries to dodge a few of these bullets inherent in the common discussion of LGBTQ. If sexuality is something we’re born with (a view I’ve come to accept unless future science screws us), then it follows that we have to parse out the difference between people who must be gay because their genes, or gene triggers (the related science of epigenetics) deem it so, and many people who are opportunistically gay, whether a single-gender prison, or island of Amazons.

Now the predominantly male writers and artists of DC’s third tier of the Big Three might have gone full bore mansplaining asshole by making her a straight woman trapped by growing up around other Amazons into being a lesbian. If we take the statistics of homosexuality at face value, she would supposedly have between a 90 and 95-percent chance of coming to Man’s World the first time and going native, winding up as a dutiful farm wife in Wisconsin. Cue feminist outrage (considering that I like Wonder Woman as a hero, not a housewife, I might help…just this once).

This aggressive male appropriation of Wonder Woman that is likely only to show up in the darkest fan fiction corners of Wattpad has some basis in the original mythology of Amazons. The Amazons were just normal women who simply banded together to resist men at their worst. But, they had the same procreation needs as other tribes, so they raided nearby villages for men sending them home when they were done. Male children went home to their fathers. Girls stayed with Mommy.

Modern writers have played with this motif a bit. The Legendary Journeys of Hercules threw Hercules and Iolus into a curious situation where a neighboring male village is continuously raided by Amazons. It had become such a regular thing that the same Amazon would pick out her man from the village and repeatedly hook up with him. Effectively creating a marriage with the gender separation rules of, say, an Orthodox Jewish marriage. Hercules had to solve the issue by reminding both sides of the modern opinion that neither should dominate, but work together.

It is this tradition that William Moulton Marsden used creating Wonder Woman and this is what people think about the comic book Amazons. Leading to the assumption that Diana could and would hook up with men. But, Greg Rucka clearly establishing bisexual on his run dodges the extremes of both camps by expertly making Wonder Woman a character everybody can borrow for a little while depending on the story that needs telling.

So that covers the could Wonder Woman hook up with the two spandex-dudes that make up DC’s First Trio of heroes question. Could doesn’t necessarily mean should. Anyone with a library card must be shouting at the screen dude, Batman and Superman will kill each other over the girl! The comic book continuity explored this possibility already in an alternate DC universe, originally Earth-3, but later called Earth-2 by Grant Morrison when he went back to use these versions of the characters after Crisis. The gimmick, the heroes in this universe are all evil.

Superwoman (Evil Wonder Woman) is hooked up with Ultraman (Evil Superman) in an official context because Ultraman has so much personal power he can take what he wants. Superwoman sneaks out to be with Owlman (Evil Batman) on a regular basis. Ultraman regularly catches them and breaks up the moment, but usually finds a reason to keep his rival alive.

In the main continuity, Wonder Woman has been with both Batman and Superman depending on which hookup Editorial thought would sell more books. Most recently, Superman and Wonder Woman were a thing that just broke up this month in the middle of the Rebirth event. Both the beginning of this relationship and its end required much of the confusing reality altering jiggery-pokery that are one of the expectations of comic book narrative. Reality changed and Superman chased Wonder Woman getting her to agree to be part of that power couple. Reality changed back as it always does and suddenly Lois Lane may or may not be back in the picture.

Fans tend to get nasty in their mental preservation of the legacy characters that have always been the way they are, but for a few minor digressions designed to hook new readers. Captain America is NOT A FREAKIN’ NAZI! Nor is Superman going to permanently leave Lois Lane. We argue that Superman is too much of a good guy to permanently dump Lois for anyone. We also argue that Supes might be so normal and therefore boring in a relationship that Wonder Woman would leave of her own accord.

The arguments in favor of Batman as the boyfriend in this DC power couple narrative goes like this – She understands warriors coming from a warrior culture. Batman is by definition a borderline psychotic with unrequited orphan pain driven to dress up like Dracula and beat Gotham’s criminals within an inch of their lives. He becomes Gotham’s fierce protector and Diana has a point of contact that allows her to converse with him at a meaningful level.

Some have also suggested that Batman’s underlying pain sparks a presumed feminine need to fix the broken in Diana. This is a loaded assumption sure to spark a wide range of opinion from all kinds of women and other Wonder Woman fans. Women come with a wide range of thought and characters like Wonder Woman are designed to reflect all of that experience depending on who writes and draws her at any given time.

Certainly the flip side of the she wants to fix Batman argument contains the seeds of why she leaves him when Editorial deems it so. A man frozen in his pain by his editors or all consuming rage in the real world might not change fast enough for the good woman in his life and, thus, she files for divorce and takes the cat.

The argument for Team Superman. Diana is very nearly the single most powerful woman in DC’s version of our universe, the cool one where men can fly and women rope evildoers with the Lasso of Truth. She might worry that hooking up with an ordinary man with a big brain and utility belt might get him hurt. Superman as depicted in Smallville had his own version of this problem, humorously waiting until Lana Lang became a kryptonite fueled spandex-heroine for a full day of earthquake sex.

I’m sure someone would also make the argument that a Superman/Wonder Woman relationship represents a classic immigrant story where one type of immigrant, a Kryptonian-American, hooks up with another type of immigrant, an Amazonian-American, cast adrift on the far shore of America. Their shared outsider status gives the happy couple things to talk about as they discover what America means to them.

When it comes right down to it, I don’t really have a strong preference for any of the three general classes of relationship options for Wonder Woman. I usually assert Team Batman because of the understanding warriors attitude. It is a shared experience. And the she attempts to fix assumption can be entertaining to watch the way all fool’s errands and train wrecks are. But, as I write this I realize that I have a deeper reason for mildly asserting Team Batman.

Most of the Wonder Woman stories that appeal to me are the Young Diana/Fresh off the Boat stories where she serves as the average writer’s vehicle for the confusion about everything we see in our world. A confusion that exists for all of us, even when we’ve been around a while and are much more used to the Way Things Have Always Been. We can use Diana to explore just how far women should go as a feminine standard bearer in modern life. We can use Diana to raise an eyebrow at a presumed hair trigger male attitude on a subject for a sense of balance, if not actually going for hearts and minds leading to change.

I refer to these stories as Young Diana because while she is immortal like Superman, in most versions, is assumed to be, she spent most of that long life on Themyscira training like King Arthur in Avalon, or dead Vikings in Valhalla waiting for when she would be needed most. She doesn’t spend very much time in Man’s World and thus has an amusing naïveté about how things work. The trailer for the upcoming Wonder Woman movie has that cute moment where a fully armed Diana gets trapped in a revolving door with her shield and sword, so I’m not the only potential writer milking Fresh off the Boat for its narrative value.

It seems to me that Batman is the better partner for Young Diana, the stories I seem to understand better. Batman can act as social guide as she figures out her shit and learns to be comfortable in her skin. And depending on whether Batman Editorial wants to hook new readers by reverting the Dark Knight to his solitary hunter’s ways that includes affairs, both frivolous and meaningful, with everyone from Vicki Vale to Catwoman, the fact that Batman doesn’t ever really change can be used for Diana to have a reason to leave also works.

One of the problems with writing for Team Batman or Team Superman, for that matter, is that DC Editorial doesn’t want to give more than two years in print to either camp. The recent Rebirth moment where changed reality wiped out a Superman/Wonder Woman relationship that only went about two years this time. Most previous versions of the Batman/Wonder Woman relationship have also only lasted about that long or even less time than that.

To really develop a Batman/Wonder Woman relationship, DC Editorial might have to commit to about five years of books allowing for quite a few permutations of Get Together, Try to Make it Work and then She Walks Out the Door Crying. We’ll see this probably at the same time that pigs fly without rocket packs, because DC Editorial wants our reading dollars now and knows that their characters need to revert to time established norms.

However, this hypothetical extended relationship would have one interesting effect on Batman himself. The Dark Knight has existed on a pendulum of dark and gritty at one end and semi-campy fun at the other end since the creation of the character. I grew up with Adam West Batman (1966), who never whined about his orphan pain though everyone reading along in the books already knew these things. Modern Batman since Batman (1989) has gotten progressively more dark and brooding referencing the death of his parents nearly constantly.

Given that I keep hearing my comic book friends complain that Batsie should just lighten up, I’m reasonably sure that no one knows where to draw the line in the middle seeking balance between motivation and that fact that the worst things in our lives form scabs, if we live. But, one way to seek that mythical balance in the middle would be this untapped longer term relationship with Wonder Woman. She learns Man’s World and he chills out about his parents being dead and allows the scabs to form.

So if by my work it out as I go along reasoning that Batman is Diana’s better fella when she is new to America, then I also just backhandedly argued that Superman might be the better Experienced Wonder Woman partner. Both are immortal and thus will outlive everybody else in their lives. Batman will get old and pass the mantle to other characters (something briefly explored in a few animated series and Frank Miller’s Return of the Dark Knight). Lois Lane will also pass.

This leaves Clark and Diana to fall into each other’s arms on a who’s left basis, which has the value of solving the Lois problem where an Amazon wouldn’t want to hurt another woman by taking her man. But, this type of story doesn’t appeal to me probably because I see my spandex-heroes as a way of cheating that we all die and want to hold onto my mental youth until my last coma. So mildly Team Batman…but only when I don’t want to have fun tossing Diana in with an interesting woman in DC continuity, just because it would be something of a challenge.

At the end of the day, I see myself as a presently unpaid professional. If DC Editorial ever tosses me a few issues set during the next Superman/Wonder Woman era (it will happen again, it’s comics) with no instruction to shake things up, I’ll work it out and get paid. This truth is why my Team Batman affiliation is only mild.

I used these permutations of the Batman/Wonder Woman/Superman triangle as an easy way to highlight that a writer has to answer these questions even about our own characters. Do they work together and why? Once you answer the question between your ears, put it down on paper.

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