Friday, July 03, 2020


Why Wonder Woman Can't Have A Rogues Gallery

For years, there's been an argument that Wonder Woman has one of the weaker rogues galleries within the supervillian spectrum. Now, true, her adversaries aren't as flashy as Batman's. Most of them are, at best, Clock Kings to her Batman. Heck, they're not even as on-the-nose as Spider-Man's animal-meet-other-animal dynamic. What Wonder Woman's rogues gallery has is nuance. I would argue that Wonder Woman may just be a hero WITHOUT a rogues gallery. It's all just a matter of perception. We need to view “rogues” through the eyes of one Diana, Princess of Themyscira AKA Wonder Woman. She has no true enemies. She has never declared a war on crime. If there is anything she's against, it is suffering and let's be honest, many who oppose her are suffering in some way. Wonder Woman doesn't have enemies. She has persons she hasn't reached. If Wonder Woman is at a cookout and The O'Jays’ "Love Train" comes on, she's gotta stand up, dance and sing along harder than anyone. That's her entire jam. That's her anthem. 

When your whole focus is aeipathy, an unyielding passion, you can never truly have a "rogues gallery." Her compassion won't allow for it.

The brilliance of writer Greg Rucka's initial Wonder Woman run is that he states, explicitly, in its very first pages what we should've realized all along: Wonder Woman is an ambassador. 

Yes, she is more widely known as a princess but I've always suspected that is in no way how she envisions herself. Wonder Woman sees herself as an extension of her mother Hippolyta's heart and that heart beats for Themyscira. It is a place of equality, knowledge and most of all, loving diplomacy and that love and the place where it comes from has chosen her.

In the first pages of Rucka's run, he literally has her walk through the doors of her homeland Themyscira's newly established American embassy. She is smiling. She is enthusiastic. She sees, in full, the possibilities diplomacy can bring to the collective table. Sadly, that enthusiasm was largely met with suspicion. 

Themyscira, where she calls home, sat cloaked in isolation for centuries. They worshiped old gods; they claimed their origins from these old gods. The Themysciran Amazons were known for their ferocity in battle and here was the princess, Diana, their greatest warrior with her hand outstretched, ready to be received.

The world with its focuses on division was not ready. Especially from a woman.

I thought it was brilliant. 

Wonder Woman, child of the Greek gods is, essentially, a modern-day Sisyphus. The suffering of others is the boulder she will gladly push against and hope to defeat for the rest of her days.

Some, for unknown reasons, view Diana's grace as something to be tested. Much in the way that I suspect that she sees herself as an ambassador, the world at-large sees her as a threat. Before the world-at-large got its first glimpse of Princess Diana, she fist-fought Ares, the God of War. Let's think about that, she fought Ares and walked away knowing the war against War was winnable. In Wonder Woman we have someone willing to fight to the death for peace. In order to assure that there will be a tomorrow, she is willing to throw down today. As surely as she was blessed with the wisdom of Athena, she was blessed with the righteous war spirit of her mother.

She is not Batman. She does not go out into the night looking for signs of trouble. She operates more as a beacon for the troubled and yes, the troubled find her.

And there it is, troubled souls find her

The current Silver Swan, Vanessa Kapatelis, was crippled during a battle between Wonder Woman and Major Disaster. Over time, she and her mother, Julia became closer with Diana to the point they became as close as family. Sadly, Vanessa's mother passed away and as Diana's responsibilities grew, she saw less and less of Vanessa leading her to feel abandoned by the one person she felt she had left in this world. Following an experimental procedures gone out of control, Vanessa had a psychotic break and became a dark version of a fictional hero she'd created with Diana during her convalescence.

Barbara Minerva, a brilliant polymath, she's forced into marriage with an old god and forever bound with the cannibalistic form of The Cheetah.

Veronica Cale, with a mind as great as any in The DCU, sees herself locked into a battle of wills and ideologies with Wonder Woman. In all actuality, she's at war with her own self-hate which ultimately lost her her daughter and the care of her former best friend, Doctor Cyber.

The tragedy with most Diana's rogues gallery is that had someone intervened at a crucial moment, they could have been counted among the allies. 

Of course, other Wonder Woman villains are just kinda... underdeveloped? 

Giganta, a character created nearly eighty years ago, gained more personality in Gail Simone's run on the All New Atom series as The Atom's love interest. That was a decade ago. To this day, writers tend to write her as "grows big, fights Wonder Woman" or "glorified background goon villain events, will soon be knocked out with one punch."

When you consistently use characters as cardboard stand-ups used to fill a panel, of course, they become viewed as weak. This can be fixed. All it takes is care and the right person to see the potential within Wonder Woman's sphere. 

Not very long ago, writer Paul Dini did a thing. In Batman: The Animated Series episode "Heart of Ice," Mister Freeze became one of the most complex and relatable characters in DC Comics. 

Wonder Woman's rogues gallery is almost entirely in play for a break out. In the pages of Justice League Dark, Wonder Woman villain, Circe is displaying nuance rarely seen in her home title, Wonder Woman. Doctor Psycho, the misogynistic mindbender, seen recently in the Harley Quinn cartoon series, is sadly more relevant than ever. Ares, the God of War, should be someone Darkseid, seeker of The Anti-Life (!) Equation, should always have on his radar. Someone just has to care enough to make it happen. 

Unyielding passion. Care about the rogues as deeply as Wonder Woman. That is the key to making Wonder Woman your own. 


See, this is why I follow this blog: the quality-to-post ratio is still absolutely unrivaled.

On the larger topic of rogues galleries, I was thinking about why it's hard to come up with one for, say, Green Arrow. It occurred to me that there are two main classes of galleries:

- Villains who don't stand a chance against the hero, like with Superman or the Flash. The villains are more nuisances to the hero, but they keep his life interesting.

- Villains who are much more powerful than the hero, like many of Batman's enemies. The heroes can still prevail if they are multifaceted enough, like how Batman can bring cunning to bear against Killer Croc.

That's why it's so hard to come up with a rogues gallery for, say, Green Arrow: he's low-tier enough that every potential foe is of at least his power level, but even with trick arrows he can't punch up like Batman. There's just no room for a rogue's gallery. If anything, Green Arrow would be easiest to position as a nuisance villain to a more powerful hero.

Which leads to the idea of hero / villain rivalries where the conflict is more philosophical than physical, as an alternative to good physical match-ups. Green Arrow would probably make for a great match against the Kingpin, where Wilson Fisk has to publicly praise this Robin Hood Of The Poor while hiring crews of apparently ordinary muggers to try to stop him. The real battle is on the "meta" level.

And that gets us to the closest thing I can think of as a rogues gallery for Wonder Woman: embodiments of abstractions. Ares as a God Of War could probably be made to work, where he is not just a capering villain but rather an embodiment of mankind's violent tendencies. As for other foes who represent other philosophical concepts (indifference, shyness, lack of education), well, I'll leave that to better creators, but the risk is that it may not always be easy to know what to say about villains who are ultimately one-note morality play extras. So even going the philosophical route, it's difficult to give Wonder Woman a rogues gallery.

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