Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Meddling Progress: Wonder Woman #43

The following is my review of Wonder Woman #43, which was posted on PopMatters.com.

If there’s one thing that the success of HGTV has taught us, it’s that society has a weakness for reclamation projects. In the same way certain women can’t help but fall for the bad boys in hope of saving them, there’s a kind of broken character that draws us in. Like Pamela Anderson at a hair band reunion tour, we can’t help but embrace these characters. As it stands, Donna Troy is the comic book equivalent of a burned out 80s rock star that just got out of rehab.

Her introduction to the post-Flashpoint era might as well have come with a bad handicap and adamantium shackles. She entered the world as a pawn, which is somehow worse than being another illegitimate offspring of Zeus. Her first act was the textbook definition of a war crime. Even the ancient Mongols would’ve raised an eyebrow at slaughtering an entire population of men that happened to be brothers of the Amazons. While she wasn’t completely control of her faculties at the time, she still has to live with that burden the same way Hallie Berry has to live with her role in the Catwoman movie.

The aftermath of this atrocity has served as the foundation of a new era for Wonder Woman. She’s now the acting God of War, Queen of the Amazons, and an active member of the Justice League. Even Hillary Clinton would call her an overachiever at this point. But while she’s trying to shoulder the burden of all these responsibilities, she still hasn’t come up with a way to deal with Donna Troy. It’s a story that has been set up and teased. Now, in Wonder Woman #43, that story finally starts to unfold.

It’s a story that follows many of the same themes that Wonder Woman has been exploring since the New 52 reboot. It has mischievous gods whose idea of entertainment is tormenting mortals and frustrating Wonder Woman. It has colorful characters with god-like powers who are essentially parodies of classic mythology, but not in the Weird Al tradition. And Wonder Woman is expected to manage this chaos while fighting the injustices of a patriarchal world. The demands on her couldn’t be more unreasonable without asking her to coach the Oakland Raiders.

Yet for all her power and responsibilities, Wonder Woman is largely powerless to help Donna Troy in this story. While Wonder Woman spends most of her time just looking for her, Donna’s story is an ongoing tragedy. However, that’s still an upgrade over being the catalyst for an outright war crime. What makes that tragedy compelling is that she understands the scope and scale of her crimes. She doesn’t try to hide from it. She doesn’t try to justify it. She actually tries to deal with it, which is more than most war criminals ever try to do. And none of these criminals can claim they were being controlled by black magic, except for maybe Kim Jong Ill.

It’s here where we’re also reminded that in addition to being guilty of an atrocity, Donna Troy is still a child. She’s basically an infant in a teenage girl’s body. She has no life experiences, let alone emotional maturity. A teenage mind is barely equipped to cope with calculus exams. This girl has to cope with being guilty of a war crime. It might be the first time a teenage girl’s melodramatic lamentation is completely warranted.

And being so emotionally immature, Donna’s first inclination is to seek an immature solution. She tries to end her life. Being an Amazon, she can’t exactly use Kurt Cobain’s approach. So she seeks out the mythological Sisters of Fate. However, they claim they can’t give her what she wants and not because suicidal teenagers have a tendency to not think things through. Despite being god-like beings, they can’t end her life because her fate isn’t set.

In some respects, it’s an appropriate metaphor for any teenager not guilty of war crimes. They may think that their life will always be defined by one bad day at high school, one day at work, or one bad relationship. That’s not how life works. The universe’s attention span isn’t as big as we make it out to be, especially for those whose experiences are so limited. And for Donna, her experiences couldn’t possibly be more limited without having been born in the lower decks of the Titanic.

Her frustration and self-hatred is the greatest strength of this story. It helps make her character endearing, notwithstanding the war crimes she’s still quite guilty of. The problem is her story is somewhat truncated. Another critical part of this story involves Wonder Woman searching for Donna. This leads to a few ambiguous twists involving someone attacking the Sisters of Fate and a surprise attack by Aegeus. It’s presented as a mystery, but ambiguity makes it come off as bland movie trailer.

Beyond the conflict, Wonder Woman doesn’t give the impression she has a plan for Donna. She doesn’t even indicate she can help her in any way other than bringing her back to Olympus, a place where gods torment mortals whenever they get bored. She still talks about helping Donna forgive herself and accept the weight of her crimes. That’s all well and good from a Dr. Phil perspective, but it’s insufficient for a character whose only life experiences involve being a pawn to war atrocities.

There is still some intrigue to this mystery, but its lacking in substance. It makes the overall narrative in Wonder Woman #43 uneven. It’s worth following to see the story of Donna Troy evolve beyond the grim circumstances of her creation. Beyond that, it’s mostly a generic conflict among gods with too much power, too much free time, and no Netflix.

There is still hope for Donna Troy as a character. Her journey is one that has the potential to be something unique and intriguing. She just has to find out how to circumvent self-hatred and meddling gods. If she can do that, she can be an inspiration for melodramatic teenagers everywhere. And in this day and age, there can never be too many of those.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

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