Monday, July 20, 2015

Equals in an Unequal Struggle: Superman/Wonder Woman #19

The following is my review of Superman/Wonder Woman #19, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


When things are good, every relationship feels like the opening theme to a 90s sitcom. It’s all smiles, laughter, and terrible music from the Hootie and Blowfish type bands. Even Tina and Ike Turner probably had their good days. It’s only when things get bad that we find out which couples are the Waldens and which couple are the Bundies.

Since DC decided to do the most obvious romantic pairing since Mulder and Scully in the X-Files, the Superman/Wonder Woman relationship has evolved in an astoundingly mature way. There was no beating around the bush, Ross and Rachel style. There was no drawn out melodrama that every reality show ever has tried to capture. Superman and Wonder Woman just came together, embraced the opportunity, and actually made the effort to create a functioning relationship.

In fact, they’ve put more effort into their relationship than every couple that ever got together in 90210. They’ve gotten to a point where they truly carried themselves as equals, making complementing their strengths and confronting their weaknesses. They’re not defined by their romance, but they are better because of it.

Now, Superman and Wonder Woman’s relationship is being tested in a way that even the worst romantic comedy has never attempted. Superman’s identity has been exposed. His powers have been severely curtailed. On top of that, someone is intent on destroying the ruins of Clark Kent’s life and spitting on the ashes. If ever he needed the support of his girlfriend, it’s now. If ever there was a hardship for a relationship, this is right up there with a weekend at the in-laws.

Superman/Wonder Woman #19 puts Wonder Woman at ground zero of the ongoing effort to make her lover miserable. She doesn’t have to be part of this fight, but she chooses to be part of it because she cares about her lover just that much. In doing so, we get a story with an engaging, dramatic narrative that never feels overly dramatic. There’s no part of this situation that’s ideal for either Superman or Wonder Woman, but that’s exactly what makes the drama meaningful.

They’ve already had a decidedly bad day since showing up in Smallville. They arrived to investigate the disappearance of its people, which includes Superman’s old flame, Lana Lang. That day gets even worse when they encounter the Suicide Squad. At this point, a tornado and a string of outdated Wizard of Oz jokes would have been less frustrating. It leads to a fairly basic clash that nobody is going to mistake for a war with Darkseid, but it still creates some meaningful moments.

In any other circumstances, this is the kind of fight that Superman and Wonder Woman could brush aside in the same way Bill Gates brushes aside a check from Applebees. But with Superman’s powers being limited, the battle takes on a much more urgent tone. He can’t just cough in a way that’ll blow Black Manta, Harley Quinn, and Deadshot into the next County. He has to get his hands dirty and take a few bullets. It forces Superman to be less upstanding than usual, carrying himself like a hung over Rocky Balboa at times. But it doesn’t stop him from being Superman.


This also doesn’t stop Wonder Woman from being the warrior and lover she’s always been. She’s used to protecting those weaker than her, but she’s probably not used to Superman being among them. Even so, the battle never becomes like an inverted version of Super Mario. She doesn’t have to be his hero. She just has to keep being his lover. She fights by his side, not in his place. It may not make for a good Nintendo game, but it does reveal a mature and evolving relationship.

Beyond their relationship, there’s also a compelling story unfolding behind the scenes. During the battle against the Suicide Squad, we find out that they’re not responsible for the disappearances of the people in Smallville. That means even the Amanda Wallers in the government are clueless as well. It further deepens the mystery. It’s not as simple as Lex Luthor attempting to troll Superman in the worst possible way. There are other forces at work here.

We get some hints as to who might behind this, but not nearly enough. We can only confirm at this point that whoever is behind this, they’re not done tormenting Superman. And for some reason, they think it’s a good idea to mess with a very irritated Superman, who also happens to be Wonder Woman’s boyfriend. Ignoring the death wish behind this plot, it raises a few intriguing questions that warrant further exploration.

It’s also at this point where another important aspect of Superman and Wonder Woman’s relationship is exposed. While Wonder Woman doesn’t have to save Superman in the Princess Peach tradition, she still has to treat him when he gets wounded. She also makes it clear that his vulnerability worries her, as it probably should for any caring lover. It makes for a tender moment, but it never becomes too much like a Greys Anatomy sub-plot. Superman doesn’t let it.

Instead, he makes it clear that he doesn’t want Wonder Woman to change how she goes about being Wonder Woman. He does the exact opposite of what the majority of love stories in Disney movies do, telling his lover to not change who she is or how she lives her life. It may be jarring to those used to seeing women upend their lives for a handsome man or men doing the same for a beautiful woman, but that’s what helps set Superman and Wonder Woman apart. It is truly a relationship of equals.

That mutual trust and shared struggle is what makes Superman/Wonder Woman #19 feel like another important step in the development of this relationship. They’ve shared major battles together. They’ve shared the frustrations of being on the same team as Batman together. Now, they’re sharing each other’s personal struggles and even when one of them is weak, it still feels like a relationship among equals. That sort of thing is difficult to find in an era of radical feminism, men’s rights activists, and Kardashian marriages. But that’s exactly what makes it so meaningful.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

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