Monday, June 6, 2011

Post-Pointal Discussion: Wonder Woman and the Justice League

Looking at DC's return to the JLA Magnificent Seven Six + Cyborg, the first thing I'm reminded of is Jim Lee's prior co-founding of Image Comics when, as Gerard Jones put it, "...Marvel had lost its five hottest artists, and Jim Valentino." This of course led me to gripe about the exclusion of only one founding member of the team, the Martian Manhunter, but also got me to thinking about the nature of the team and Wonder Woman's place in it. You see, there has never been a single member of the Justice League as erratic as Wonder Woman.

Beginning with Justice League of America #40, Wonder Woman missed between 1/3 and 1/2 of every ten issues published. Black Canary replaced her full time as of #74, by which point Princess Diana had renounced her throne and powers to become Diana Prince, international adventurer. Wonder Woman returned at around the same time as the launch of her TV show, with a major plot point in her solo series being the performance of a series of tasks to justify returning to the League. A defining trait of the returned Amazing Amazon was that she was kind of bitchy, spouting feminist platitudes and demonstrating her equality by slapping fellow heroes when it suited her. She was also still in the habit of taking off several issues a year, but she wasn't nearly as truant as in the late '60s, and the practice was more prevalent among other heroes by that point. However, she took a four month summer in 1983, plus November off. In 1984, she was one of a group of major Leaguers whose absence during a Martian invasion led to Aquaman disbanding the team, which reformed without any of them. Outside of a flashback guest spot in 1985, Wonder Woman never appeared in the first series again.

In 1987, Wonder Woman's entire history was jettisoned, and she was retroactively removed from any form of Justice League membership. In the new continuity, Black Canary once again replaced Wonder Woman, this time from the very beginning of the team. The Amazing Amazon deigned to join a spin-off team in 1989, Justice League Europe, but quit without notice after just one issue. She finally officially joined Justice League America for the long haul in 1993, replacing the "deceased" Superman as team leader. Her return marked the beginning of one of the worst runs in the team's history, both creatively and in terms of the quality of group members, which involved record high turnover rates. Under her term, the Justice League fractured into three competing groups, all of which saw their books canceled in 1996.

JLA was heralded as a return to greatness for the Justice League, so of course Diana was the first member of the "Magnificent Seven" to drop out of the book, when her solo series "death" saw her mother Hippolyta replace the heroine. Diana was back fairly soon, but friction between the two books' creative teams saw Wonder Woman somewhat sidelined in adventures. She was given more to do by Mark Waid and Joe Kelly, and made the leap from JLA to 2006's Justice League of America relaunch that shook Martian Manhunter, Green Lantern Kyle Rayner, Flash Wally West and Aquaman loose for the entire run. Of the four, only Aquaman will join Wonder Woman at the launch of the 2011 volume, although it must be noted that the entire "Magnificent Seven" line-up abandoned the book in its final years (unless you count their former sidekicks/proxies.)

I think the 1990s proved that Wonder Woman alone can't "make" a Justice League team, the way only Superman or Batman really can. Still, it's hard not to see the League as a lesser entity without the presence of the Amazing Amazon. Unlike the World's Finest duo, Wonder Woman is the only hero to transition from full membership in the first super-hero team, the Justice Society of America, to DC Comics' premier collective, which Diana co-founded (while the boys made token appearances.) Wonder Woman doesn't just represent icons or women on a given team, but the continuity from the original super-group to the latest flavor. That said, she remains the super-heroine-- the one everybody knows, and makes her fairly irreplaceable as the greatest female who could possibly serve on any super-team.

Further, Wonder Woman doesn't "talk down" to her teammates. Since she started out with Golden Age heroes that fell by the wayside to Silver Age replacements, and at a separate company from Superman & Batman for much of the 1940s, she's much more "of the super-people" than functioning above them. There was a time in the '90s when the Justice League was basically Superman & his Underwhelming Hangers-On, while Batman was seen as carrying a disproportionate amount of the sales/firepower weight in other incarnations. Wonder Woman may not "make" a team, but she also doesn't haughtily walk ahead of them, either.

For this reason, I sometimes wish Wonder Woman would be allowed to work on an entirely separate team from Superman & Batman, to give her more room to stand out and develop beyond being "the best of the girls." Diana has never really had much of a relationship with Martian Manhunter or any of the Flashes or Green Lanterns, aside from being one of the few people who could make Guy Gardner reasonable. There was a nice flirtation once with Aquaman, which I can stomach a lot better than her sexual tensions with Superman and Batman, but all three place her as the object of desire in a mostly male unit. In this latest group, there's also Cyborg, who has spent thirty years working fairly regularly with Donna Troy. Considering the disparity between the lip service given to Diana and Donna's closeness versus how little time they've actually spent in the same comic stories over the past sixty years, it would be kind of shameful if Diana ended up spending more time with Victor Stone than the former Wonder Girl.

Anyway, another reboot for another decade with another Justice League. I'm glad Wonder Woman has gone from lengthy abandonment to essential status, and hope she sees more action this time than the insides of Superman's newly single mouth, as rumors threaten.

...and the Justice League


Count Drunkula said...

At first, I thought you wrote "there has never been a single member of the Justice League as 'erotic' as Wonder Woman". Heh.

I always thought that Diana should be the field leader of the JLA, and when Superman and Batman are busy, she SHOULD be able to headline the premiere team.

Diabolu Frank said...

Whenever I hear someone talk about Captain America or Wonder Woman being sexy, it's like they're talking about my parents.

Despite my criticisms, I thought Wonder Woman was a very positive team leader, but egalitarian to the point where it called the League's effectiveness into question. She brings out the best in who she's commanding, but she's a might too enthusiastic about Nuklon, Obsidian and the Yazz. At least we knew J'Onn was actively seeking out better JLIers, even as their reputation preceded them. J'Onn's a better administrator, Wonder Woman's a solid field commander, and Batman's the general. To my mind, Superman's the weak link in the chain, because he's so indecisive, self-possessed, and avoidant. Inspirational figureheads should be seen and not heard. New leader Aquaman has a couple of those problems himself, but he really shows conviction in his bad decisions.

Count Drunkula said...

Superman should NEVER be characterized as "indecisive, self-possessed and avoidant". I'm not disagreeing with you; I'm indicting previous writers' characterization of him. Those three adjectives are completely counter to his essence; he's a man of ACTION.

Diabolu Frank said...

True that. Even in his years of Superdickery, at least he would man up and get things done. I think the original stories remain among my favorites because Superman was powerful enough to change the world, instead of being so powerful that he barely deigns to maintain the status quo.