In the 1940s comics that first featured Dr. Fate, his parents were a Swedish archaeologist and his spiritualist wife. In a larger, pop culture sense, however, he was the child of Helena Blavatsky and Howard Carter.
Like all the early heroes, he distilled elements that were floating around in the culture already. Both archaeology and spiritualism had their roots in the mid-1800s. Archaeology grew out of the attempt to trace the history of Biblical events, and to establish just how much of the actual narratives could be confirmed by outside evidence.
My brother, who was something of a comics nut (still is, actually), had a bedspread made up of panels that were reproductions of the first issues of Action Comics, Detective, etc. We could recognize Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern, but one guy had us puzzled.
Who was the guy in red with the white cape? He seemed kinda like Superman, in a fancier outfit. (Unfortunately, we were not the only ones to think this. But let’s keep things in order.) Both he and Superman were doing anti-social things to cars; the man on the cover of Whiz! comics had pitched it into a far-off wall, and seemed pleased about it. Continue reading →
The Ages of Wonder Woman: Essays on the Amazon Princess in Changing Times – ed. Joseph J. Darowski A Golden Thread: An Unofficial Critical History of Wonder Woman – Philip Sandifer The Secret History of Wonder Woman – Jill Lepore Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine – Tim Hanley
All four of these books address one central issue: what is it to be a heroine and a woman? We’ve had the philosophical take on both Superman and Batman, as well as Batman on the couch. (Hell, the philosophers even had a bash at Green Lantern.) With Wonder Woman, it seems that books are like buses – you wait for ages and then there’s four at once.
Long ago, at the very beginning of Roman civilization, there were kings. One king, Tarquin Superbus, took the royal prerogative a bit too far and blackmailed a noble matron named Lucretia into sleeping with him. (He tells her that he will kill her and his slave, then tell her husband he found them in flagrante.)
She, to take back her honour, and keep Tarquin from blackening her name, sent word to her husband of what had happened, and killed herself. A dissident noble named Brutus used her death to start a civil war and depose Tarquin, thus beginning the Roman republic.
I suspect that the last thing the Amazon princess has ever worried about is wardrobe failure. Some of us mortals, however, have questioned whether a beauty-pageant style outfit is really suited to crimefighting. Batgirl and Spider-Woman, among others, have switched to more sensible, modern uniforms. (Although in Batgirl’s case she just had to lose the kitten heels.)
I assume, like everyone else, that WW is being rejigged for the movie, which is good news, because she’d look pretty silly standing next to Batman and Superman wearing a swimsuit.
The only problem I have with her new outfit is that her bracelets have these blades that shoot out to make her look like the guy in 300. I mean, this is a woman mighty enough to pair comfortably with Superman. She doesn’t need weapons. I keep imagining a weird variation on the old ads for Ginzu knives: buy now and we’ll throw in these arm blades. They slice, dice, and eviscerate! Order now and we’ll add a second set free!
Still, it’s about time she got a costume you can imagine fighting in. The artist Jim Lee came up with the look, but J. Michael Straczynski, the writer, also had input. He famously wanted the clothing on Babylon 5 to be comfortable and have pockets, because in the future people will still want to carry stuff around. We are assured that he gave Wonder Woman a place to stash her stuff, too.
When I wrote this post nine months ago, I was responding to the new Supergirl comic series, now sadly cancelled. The TV show, however, seems to be going strong. Perhaps now DC will try again.
Anyone who’s studied Supergirl’s history can’t blame her for being angry. When she first came to Earth, back in the 1950s, Superman did not always treat his cousin kindly. You would think he would be delighted to finally have another Kryptonian around, but no. He parked her in an orphange, where she had to wear a dowdy disguise and fend off potential adopters. (Mike Madrid’s TheSupergirls compares her to a Victorian heroine, whose fate rests in the hands of an adult guardian.)
Despite this, she finally does manage to find a family to take her in, and enjoys the sort of stable, loving family that Clark Kent had. (When you look at Superman’s treatment of Lois and Kara through the 1950s, you have to assume he was mainlining Red Kryptonite the whole decade.)
Looking at the Martian Manhunter now, what I find myself wondering (apart from why the green skin) is why Mars? Apart from alliteration, I mean.
No doubt its nearness played a part, although these days that works against him, as we know a great deal more about Mars now. The idea of human-like life on Mars has gone by the wayside. and if you asked anyone these days about Martians, they would probably think of Marvin the Martian instead.
Don’t get me wrong, I like Batman and all, but I don’t see why every DC comic has to be equally grim and dark. Surely each should have its own feel? (The same should be true for the movies, by the way. I remember describing Man of Steel to a friend as “Superman Batmanned”.)
So thank goodness for Barbara Gordon, whose Batgirl takes a completely different route. This isn’t to say that she doesn’t have difficulties, or face challenges. She just handles them differently.
I know I’m not the first person to comment on this, but I’m really pleased with the new Aquaman. Anyone who watched the old Super Friends show no doubt wonders what the point of our finny friend is: he can swim, right, and communicate with fish? To anyone who just watched the show, Aquaman must have seemed only marginally more useful than Bouncing Boy. (A true Ronseal hero, the name said it all.) There’s even a song, Aquaman’s Lament, in which the hero bemoans his general uselessness.