Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A Royal Struggle: Wonder Woman #38

The following is my review of Wonder Woman #38, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


There's a reason why the royal family is regular fodder for British tabloids. It's the same reason the Kim Kardashians and Donald Trumps of the world are fodder for American tabloids. There's this eerie fascination with high society, be it royal or rich. These people live in a world so different and so detached from reality that, like the wreckage of a derailed freight train, we just can't look away. It's not something most people are proud of, but it's an industry that still has a fertile market.

If Wonder Woman and Themyscira existed in real life, she would certainly have her share of tabloid headlines. These are the same publications that regularly report that aliens have placed chips in the brains of every President since Lincoln. But when real gods and goddesses are involved, it has a special level of intrigue. So much so that the affairs of Wonder Woman's world would probably require its own TV network. If Oprah has one, then Wonder Woman could certainly manage.

It's this world that has become so chaotic and so disorganized that it's several steps beyond a train wreck. And Wonder Woman, the feminine ideal who is supposed to be able to have it all in that classic feminist mentality, has been struggling to manage it. She's the God of War, the Queen of Themyscira, a member of the Justice League, and Superman's lover. That's a lot of responsibilities to juggle, even for a demigod. And in Wonder Woman #38, even the embodiment of feminine strength struggles with it.

The core of this part of Wonder Woman's story isn't built around one major struggle. It's a series of smaller struggles that are overwhelming her. It's death by a thousand paper-cuts rather than death by guillotine. Granted, a smaller struggle by her standard still involves being a god and dealing with infighting on an island of immortal warriors, but these struggles still come off as real and genuine. Her fears and insecurities manifest in a very real, albeit not entirely literal, way that makes her relatable in a way usually reserved for shows that rip-off Dawson's Creek.

It's jarring in some ways. Wonder Woman isn't supposed to be vulnerable. This is the same woman who can battle the entire Olympian pantheon on Monday and still have enough strength to fight off an invasion by Darkseid on Thursday. However, Wonder Woman really doesn't do much battling in this story. In fact, she does next to none. On paper, that sounds like it shouldn't make for a good Wonder Woman story. But in practice, it's still a story worth telling in the sense that it's probably the easiest story to overlook.

For Wonder Woman and the many characters like her, male and female, there plenty of stories about them fighting epic battles and winning with varying degrees of style. But there aren't quite as many stories about how they manage their lives in between battles. Wonder Woman battles the First Born, becomes both the God of War and Queen of the Amazons in the process, and somehow finds time to be a member of the Justice League in between. How does she cope with that? This story offers some insight into that question. In terms of an answer, at best it leaves room for improvement.

Wonder Woman confides in her insecurities, but she's not crippled by them. She's still Wonder Woman. She's not going to curl up into a fetal position and whine about it. She understands that being the God of War and being the Queen of the Amazons carries with it some heavy responsibilities. To her credit, she attempts to imbue her own values of compassion and understanding to these tasks. But in the same mold as "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington," these ideal values clash with the same fodder that keep tabloids in business.


The gods of Olympus still plot against her. The Amazons she's supposed to rule don't care for all these new changes, as kind as they might be. Compassion and understanding just aren't enough in a world where people need to get upset about something and trolling message boards just aren't enough. Wonder Woman can do all the right things for all the right reasons, but it's still a struggle and that's what makes her story so compelling.

But as compelling as it is, the story itself moves along at a painfully slow place. In addition to not doing much fighting, the other ongoing plots surrounding the newly-introduced Donna Troy and the the Justice League don't make much progress. There is some, but it comes off more as a movie trailer at times. It helps that there is still plenty of character depth to compensate for this lack of progress. It's just not as balanced as it could be.

If this part of the story were a tabloid story, then it probably wouldn't get many people worked up. There aren't any scandalous affairs. There are no hookers or drugs involved. There aren't even any embarrassing photos of bad hangovers or botched botox. But there is a power struggle in both Themyscira and among the Olympians. Power struggles may not get the same headlines as scandalous affairs, but they do feed into the public's fascination. Even if the details are mostly teasers, there's still a story worth following in Wonder Woman #38.

Wonder Woman's humanity and vulnerabilities take center stage in this story, but there are still conflicts unfolding all around her. And if the ending is any hint, she'll have to share that stage with Donna Troy. The pressure is building for Wonder Woman. There's only so much that even the world's strongest woman can handle. At some point, she has to confront her limits. That doesn't make her less a feminine ideal. It just makes her someone who can keep fighting, despite tabloid-level scrutiny.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

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