In the Circle Simone challenges the Utopia that was Paradise Island / Themyscira.
It’s easy to portray societies as monochrome. It’s a trope turned to cliche in SF/Fantasy. For example Star Trek TOS featuered a Nazi World and a Gangster World, often uniformity is a desert world, or a forest world. Like the Biosphere human society is more complex. Sure the Bell curve distribution creates an average where most cluster, but it’s the extremes of human potential for good and ill that make the most compelling stories.
Wonder Woman and Superman were created by America’s Greatest Generation. I’m getting this out there because World War II is the crucible where these mythic characters were forged, ( more of Forging and Smiths later ) and understanding that sheds light on their selfless heroic natures.
They aren’t driven by guilt or revenge or obligation to do good, they do what they do because it’s the right thing to do.
It was a time when conflicting ideologies clashed. Superman and Wonder Woman represented the heroic ideal, and were both examples of redemptive narratives. Both the Ubermensh and the Amazon were redeemed by Siegel and Marston into aspirational symbols.
The Amazon's under Marston's pen were removed from the propaganda of Greek Myth. Just as the Roman’s portrayed the Celt as barbarians, so the Warrior Society of the Kurgan's was misrepresented. Marston's proto-feminist agenda gave us a matriarchal society - a utopia, without men.
Diana became an ambassador for the values Marston attributed to women.
In a 1943 issue of The American Scholar, Marston wrote:
Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. Not wanting to be girls, they don’t want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.
Perhaps it was a commentary on the doctrine of Isolationism that threatened to keep America out of the War, that Diana leaves Paradise and embraces the Allied cause.
In her own way Wonder Woman becomes that immigrant to America. She fights for those democratic values. One of the wonders of the Angloshpere, is that English as a language reflects the best characteristic of that international and interracial culture, English is a melting pot, it absorbs and adopts, recreating itself on the tongues of successive generations, much like comic books - maybe, it also hangs onto tenaciously to the language of Shakespeare and Dickens, English Canon. Unsurprising from a culture built on the principles of the Common Law, Law by precedent, through which English speaking peoples built their respective legal and democratic systems.
Superheroes have a long tradition of upholding that Common Law. Over in Morrison’s Action Comics Superman is Robin Hood reminding the rich and the powerful, the elected Kings of Metropolis, that they can make the rules - but they are subject to the Common Law, just like King John in Magna Carta.
So while the Anlgosphere can celebrate largely being on the right side of the Argument in the conflicts that have shaped the modern world; the two world wars, and the cold war, no nation or company of nations can pretend to be all that.
While the Nazi remain the shorthand for the universal bad guy, not all Germans during world war two were Nazi’s.
Children do tend to see the world in absolutes. As we mature we begin to appreciate there are shades of grey. Marston was writing for kids, and he was pushing his own feminist agenda, for that reason his version of the Amazon Utopia was an important event in the evolution of feminism, but it was also of it’s time.
Right now there is controversy in Comic-book-land over DC’s New 52’s Wonder Woman #7.
When George Perez rebooted Wonder Woman last time in 1985 his work was rightly IMO praised. One change I didn’t like was the loss of the Amazon’s advanced/special technology. The comic book Amazon’s have always been isolated, cut off from society. If they are held back in the iron age, as was the case from 85’ - it’s a logical narrative conclusion that they would also hold onto the mores and values of that time too. On the face of it - this is what the latest reboot seems to tell us. Of course three thousand years ago were brutal times. However they were not without virtue and honour. It seems almost redundant to note that Greco-Roman Classical culture continues to influence our modern world. Thus I don’t subscribe to the argument that a noble and driven hero like Wonder Woman can not emerge from such an archaic society. Indeed it’s a common trope in Comics, from the Shining Knight to modern Captain America.
What I liked about Simone’s "The Circle" was that she imagined the possible consequences of a functionally eternal all female society without children. I won’t spoil the story if you’ve not read it, go and do so!
In short not all Amazon’s were good, or even nice. There were shades of grey.
In a more complex world, with older readers, it’s beholden on comics to step outside the cliche. No society is perfect, and certainly a Utopia that is mono-racial or mono-sexual, for me, by definition falls short of the utopic-perfect ideal.
Right now I don’t know for sure whether Hephaestus in Wonder Woman #7 has told Diana, the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. He’s a Greek god, so there is good reason to wonder.
(Plus the fact if the Amazons are immortal, and they’re breeding every 33 years, over three thousand years that’s going to be a big population problem)
But I am reminded of the 1985 reboot of Superman where John Byrne gave us a cold and cruel - sterile version of Krypton.
Changing a key aspect of the narrative, taking a broadly utopian society ( even Marston had Reformation Island ) to a broadly dystopic society has long lasting consequences. For example Superman had to reject ( rather than celebrate ) his ancestral heritage in the 89 Krypton Man story line.
However such narratives are too simplistic in my view. It’s not fair to portray a society as being homogeneous. Entirely one hundred percent Nazi for example, even if that was the government of the day.
The reality was before and during World War II there were many members of the Anglosphere who supported the enemy, directly or in the case of say America First advocated isolationism. Conversely many German and Japanese American’s fought against their kith and kin. Across the world subjects of Empire enlisted to fight for a country they had never seen, because they were convinced by the justness of the cause.
In short I don’t have a problem with Wonder Woman #7, not yet, because the story isn’t finished yet.
A lot like the moment in the horror movie when the antagonist is dead… but isn’t - I expect there is more to come.
My word of caution, for what it is worth, to Brian Azzarello, is even if the Amazon’s are semen stealing, Seaman murdering, enslavers, Diana shouldn’t exist in a vacuum - logically there must be others among her sisters who don’t subscribe to the old ways of doing things. And for the record I’d still prefer these gals to be ascendant.
Wonder Woman a feminist icon?
What people mean by this question asked with incredulity, usually boils down to either obsessing about her chest size, and or the fact she’s wearing a ‘bathing suit’
Even though professional female athletes compete wearing less than iconic Wonder Woman costume ( and yes believe it or not the USA doesn’t have a monopoly on Red, White and Blue, or Stars n’ Stripes for that matter. )
I suppose the argument taken to its absurd conclusion ( everything is better with pants ) into that Wonder Woman would be a ‘better’ feminist Icon if she was wearing a Burkini.
Niether outfit is wrong in and of it self. It’s like the old adage, fire is wonderful servant but a terrible master.
Of the gals in Wonder Woman fancy dress last month, or any month I’m confident that almost all chose the classic outfit because they wanted to wear it.
And since when has sexy been a bad thing?
And being coerced into anything like a fire run amok has always been a bad thing - right?
In conclusion look at Marston’s panels at the top. Seriously the comic book is making the argument for Women in the Work Place, and the Armed Forces being a good thing - a desirable thing.
I genuinely feel if any side of the argument has the right to be incredulous it’s this one. Of course Wonder Woman is a Feminist Icon.