Wonder of Wonders

Fri, November 6th, 2009 at 12:58pm PST

Comic Books
Gail Simone, Guest Contributor

IDENTITY, NO CRISIS
by Martin Gray

Merchandisers everywhere love the secret ID

When Wonder Woman was revamped in 1987, there were a number of big changes made to the character and her world. Steve Trevor was no longer the love interest. Diana was divinely powered rather than "simply" the most athletic and learned Amazon. And there was no secret identity - Diana Prince was gone.

The business with the powers I could live with - she'd been godly gifted previously, in the Sixties, but everyone soon forgot about that. As for Steve Trevor, well, he'd been an idiot in so many runs, perhaps it was time to give some other guys a crack at Diana. But the secret identity?

Nah, we need the secret ID - hey, ID is even Di backwards.

I know the arguments: why would a woman as awesome as Diana, who had come to Patriarch's World to sort us out, waste time pretending to be less than awesome?

Well, there's the question of downtime. Diana has always had the profile that comes with being a top superhero, but with the revamp she even took on the added step of hiring a PR firm to build up her image in a bid to make people accepting of her message. She was recognised wherever she went, whether fighting villains or giving a lecture, complete with paparazzi and constant pleas for autographs, hugs, the touching of garments. And while Diana undoubtedly has the vitality to carry on pressing palms day and night, it's not great for a person's mental health to be "on" all the time.

So, doesn't it make sense to create a private place, not so much a hideout - the press and foes can quickly track down such things - but a disguise. If at first glance you don't look like a famous super-heroine, people aren't going to take a more appraising look.

While the biggest visual difference between Princess Diana and Diana Prince - the spectacles - sounds as easy to see through as the glass they contain, ask anyone who wears specs full-time what happens when they take them off to clean the things. "Oh, you look so different," everyone cries, as if reading from a script. Plus, it would be easy to have a glamour attached to Diana which would throw people off. She could look exactly like Wonder Woman wearing specs, with her hair differently styled, and no one but the very astute would even begin to notice.

The Golden Age Diana Prince was no wimp

Another complaint about the notion of a secret identity is that Diana is all about truth, so it would betray the core of her being to have her lie about who she was. I'd argue that the truth business is terribly overemphasised in modern continuity. Sure, Diana was the Goddess of Truth for awhile, courtesy of writer/artist John Byrne, but that was for only a short time, years ago. And, as current writer Gail Simone recently reminded readers, Diana's not the avatar of truth - her golden lasso is. There's no technical reason she can't fib a little.

So what if she's dressed as Diana Prince and becomes friends with a person, never mentioning her other gig as Wonder Woman? Do we let everyone know everything we get up to? Don't we all have double lives, to an extent? I get on great with my workmates, but see hardly any of them outside office hours as I like a proper break from work; seeing workmates as close friends leads to shoptalk and the feeling that life = work. All Wonder Woman would be doing is building some privacy into her life and protecting Diana Prince's friends from information that might endanger them. As Diana Prince, she'd be able to indulge her hobbies and interests rather than be expected to be useful all the time.

Am I dissembling? Maybe so, but we're talking white lie at best. Our heroine gains some much-needed space, and the world gains the economic value of Diana Prince, nurse, secretary, UN translator, astronaut, whatever...

George Perez, in his tenure as Amazon caretaker, tried to make up for taking away the secret identity by given Diana a pseudo-mother and sister in Julia and Vanessa Kapatelis, a second family she could "be herself" with. And what happened? Julia is kidnapped by the evil sorceress Circe while Nessie is so chewed up by jealousy over not becoming Wonder Girl that she winds up the twisted Silver Swan. The tragedy destroyed Diana's relationship with mother and daughter for a while - maybe forever, as we never see the former supporting cast stalwarts. It's obvious that, had the Kapatelises not so publicly been friends with Wonder Woman, their lives would have been rather more comfortable.

But wouldn't a private life leave Diana less time to do good works? Yes, and thank God for that. In "Wonder Woman" #170 writer/artist Phil Jimenez gave us an engaging issue in which Lois Lane spends a day with the superheroine. Among the activities Lois witnesses are Diana appearing on a TV chat show, carrying out advanced scientific research and visiting sick children. There's a tiny bit of down time but the impression we're left with is that Diana is all humanitarian works, all the time. She's doing good, but hardly comes across as rounded - more like obsessed.

Post-Crisis, Wondy was too busy to be Diana Prince

Focus is, of course, required for a woman tasked with a huge mission, but so is perspective. Diana came close to being a super-Stepford wife, reminding me of "The Revolt of Wonder Woman" from "Wonder Woman" vol. 1 #144, in which her sheer efficiency as a non-stop superheroine has the world telling her she's not like a human being, she's a "fighting machine." People say this openly to her, believing she has no feelings. Diana begins to despair of ever finding anyone who'll appreciate her as herself rather than a crimefighting automaton. Of course she does - a person has to have some time off or emotional collapse will follow even if a physical one is staved off.

Would people die were Diana not to go looking for lives to save? Possibly, but she argued with the Flash in a Greg Rucka-written issue, "Wonder Woman" Vol. 2 #197, that a forest fire, as part of nature, should be allowed to run free, even if creatures died. And she is a member of a team of superheroes - surely the Justice League could pick up some of the slack. Hey, they have monitors and everything!

One of the reasons I like a secret identity - never mind the fact that Diana's creators intended for her to have a double life - is that it allows for more soap opera. I don't want to see Diana constantly fighting to preserve the status quo with little evidence she actually has a status quo worth defending. No, I want drama in the fight scenes, and drama in the downtime - conflict of a different flavour. Even the everyday frustrations can provide for fun moments - seriously, there was a Seventies issue of Wonder Woman which had her doing her laundry (before moving on to fight that issue's nasty). And the quieter moments make the outbreaks of drama all the splashier.

What's more, I can't identify easily with a perfect superhero, but I can certainly empathise with a working woman having a lousy - or even great - day at work. And imagine that if things get too tough I can dive into a fire exit, transform into something fabulous and go glide on air currents for a while.

An ongoing argument among Wonder-fans over the last decade has centered on her lack of a boyfriend. There have been two serious attempts to show Diana forging a relationship with a chap: Trevor Barnes and Tom Tresser, aka Nemesis. In both cases we saw Diana feeling awkward around the guy, stumbling in her attempts to relate. In both cases, the gentleman became the target for a lot of criticism from readers, but Diana should take her share of the blame - never mind her goddess-given wisdom, for a woman with 'the power to open men's hearts, she displays a tragic lack of emotional intelligence. I can see why authors write Diana this way - who wants to read a romance wherein everything goes right, or in which one partner is so much brighter than the other? But it makes Wonder Woman - princess, adventurer, diplomat - look like a bashful teenager.

Yet, transfer the romantic action to the other persona and it's a different matter. Gauche mistakes are more forgivable if attached to Diana Prince as opposed to Wonder Woman. We get a tension between the "real" Diana and the slightly spun version, and we wonder which man will see through her transparent mask, or how he'll react when she tells him the whole truth - as should be her ultimate goal. And the question of whether a man is "good enough" for Wonder Woman takes on a whole different tenor.

The heck with bungled emotions supposedly showing a "fully rounded" heroine - that way lies angst. I prefer my heroes to be more upbeat than me; certainly they can be fazed by crises, but they should face them with positivity. Having Diana Prince around as repository for the quieter parts of Wonder Woman's personality would free up the heroine to reclaim her original personality: the relentlessly positive, cheerful, spunky gal of the Golden Age who had millions of fans.

Today's Diana Prince looks back to the Seventies TV show

Why am I arguing for the return of the secret identity now when it was actually brought back a couple of years ago? Because its return, at the start of a relaunched "Wonder Woman" title by writer Allan Heinberg, was apparently motivated by DC's desire to have the comic align with the then-expected Wonder Woman movie, which would almost certainly feature Diana Prince. Whatever the case, we've not seen a great deal of DP in the subsequent Gail Simone run, and the woman we do see doesn't provide much contrast to the superheroine, being a kick-arse secret agent.

In my opinion, Diana Prince should operate in a different realm than her alter ego. Her life should provide a contrast. It seems to be, though, that once Diana leaves the superspy agency for the day, she's back to being the superheroine in a pad she shares with a bunch of super-gorillas. Entertaining as the apes are, I want to know who else lives in Diana's building, what they think of her, how she relates to them.

I'm not asking for the meek and mousey Diana Prince of the early Silver Age, or the Diana Prince in name only ruff-tuff version of today, but someone in between. I want a woman more in line with the Seventies working girl - independent, capable, smart, funny, sexy... more at the sensational side of normal than actual Wonder Woman.

So there you have it - my case for the full return of the Diana Prince identity - no secret.

Martin Gray is a journalist in Edinburgh. He's a regular comics reviewer for, er, himself at Too Dangerous for a Girl: dangermart.blogspot.com

TAGS:  wonder of wonders, wonder woman, diana prince

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