Wonder of Wonders

Fri, January 8th, 2010 at 10:58am PST

Comic Books
Gail Simone, Guest Contributor
32

AMAZONS ATTACK - THE QUEEN'S CHAMPION, PHILLIPUS OF THEMYSCIRA
by Mars Getsoian

For today's column, we're taking it down to the basics with a look at the Amazon who is perhaps the quintessential example of a post-Crisis Amazon there is. She's the single most reliable cast member Diana has had since the reboot, and thus has become the default representative of all Themyscirans and a mainstay of storyarcs back home on the island. She's been a General, a Captain, and an Archon, but mostly, she's just Phillipus - and really, that's more than enough.

Phillipus is a rare creature in the Wondy mythos. At the most obvious level, of course, she's a character of color with a meaningful place in the franchise, which frankly is a pretty uncommon thing in Big Two comics in general. Certainly, it was glaringly absent in pre-Crisis Wonder Woman. All of the lasting pre-Crisis Wonder cast were characters inherited from the 40s, including the entire native population of Paradise Island, which meant they were all part of the same uniformly white racial pool that every character in the 40s was drawn from. George Perez rightly took steps to correct this in his reboot, scattering a visible minority of other races in amongst the crowds and making several of his recurring named Amazons distinctly nonwhite (Phillipus most prominent among them), but a vast majority of the Themyscirans are still pale-skinned light-eyed Generic Western European types with light hair. Subsequent writers have mostly retained or undershot that balance, adding piles of white characters to the cast in mostly major roles compared to only a small handful of characters of color in mostly minor roles. Phillipus' tenacity and prominence as supporting cast is noteworthy and important if only for that.

But she's also a rare accomplishment on a simple story level, because she is so solidly supporting cast; she's never had a story arc, she's never really shown much character growth, she's wholly defined by her relationships with the main characters like Diana and Hippolyta. She's basically just there. But she's been consistently there for two decades, now, and that is simply not something that ever happens with tertiary Wondy characters, Amazons, especially. Every writer who's dealt with the Amazons more than glancingly has used a small handful of named Amazons with distinct personalities, none of which overlap with those of any other writer. (Admittedly this makes a certain amount of sense in light of the obscenely high mortality rate on the island, which gets invaded approximately every two months.) Phillipus, though, is always around, no matter the writer. She's the one Amazon who can be guaranteed to show up if any Amazons do, the lasting face of all those anonymous Themyscirans.

Polly and Phil begin the traditional Amazon friendship ritual of "battle to the death."

And when I say "always," I mean right from the beginning. She's very nearly the first Themysciran we meet in Perez' reboot, second only to the oracle Menalippe, who got killed off fairly quickly. As Captain of the Guard (a position that, in Themysciran society, basically translates to "head of the entire army"), Phillipus is essentially the Queen's right hand, and therefore remained a fairly prominent Amazon through the rest of Perez' run as well, enough to be memorable and gain some story traction. When Hippolyta sulks and won't see Diana off on a mission, it's Phillipus who goes in her stead. When Hippolyta goes charging into danger to rescue Diana, it's Phillipus who goes after her to try to stop her. When what seems to pass for an Amazon Senate convenes to discuss opening Themysciran shores to Man's World, it's Phillipus who speaks for the isolationist contingent. When Diana's friends tour the Amazon mausoleum, it's Phillipus who narrates the story of the first death on the island. She gets a lot of good face time.

Beneath the story beats, though, her primary function in the narrative is as Hippolyta's best friend. Perez' Themyscirans were fairly egalitarian and democratic, but Hippolyta was still their queen, and that difference in station has really only grown over the years, putting Hippolyta at a bit of a distance from the rest of the Amazon cast. Phillipus, however, has always been just a little bit exempt, someone who she's able to confide in and lean on and who's always able to question Hippolyta's decisions and freely challenge her. Not that she usually does, mind; her loyalty and devotion to Hippolyta is her defining character trait, and Phil Jimenez even sort of obliquely implied during his run that she's outright in love with her, so she tends to take her queen at her word.

This also gives her an interestingly unique relationship with Diana. Despite the whole "thousands of mothers" flavored text, the line between Hippolyta and the other Themyscirans with respect to Diana has always been pretty stark. Diana's their princess, and they relate to her with either a certain amount of awe and reverence, or at the close end of the scale, a basic peer relationship. "Sister" isn't just a meaningless title; it's genuinely how Diana interacts with them. Some (particularly during Perez' run, when Diana was still very young) are like older siblings, who look at her as lacking their life experience, while others treat her more equally and a few admire her as though she were the cool big sis. But none of them would dare strike the tone of a mother's authority with her. Only Hippolyta gets to tell Diana what to do, or scold her in genuine reprimand, or lay a hand on her in discipline. Rather, only Hippolyta, and by extension, Phillipus. In fact it was Phillipus who trained Diana in the use of her powers, up to and including straight up shooting her in the leg when the teenaged Diana got too cocky to pay attention to self-defense. She's not exactly a maternal figure in Diana's life - their adult interaction is pretty equal, and Phillipus respects her as her princess - but Phillipus had a huge hand in shaping the woman Diana is today, and there's still a vague sense of "I changed your diapers, whippersnapper" to her interactions with Diana that no other Amazon ever demonstrates.

Another maternal privilege: Making Diana feel an inch tall.

Another contributing factor in that is how frequently Phillipus ends up as acting leader of the Amazons. Hippolyta has been on and off the throne fairly often over the years, and inevitably, it's Phillipus who takes up the mantle of office when she leaves. And the Amazons are always quite happy with her in charge, to the point where they immediately elected her voluntarily when the monarchy was abolished back in Phil Jimenez' run. Which, apart from being very convenient as a narrative tool (since it frees up next-in-line-for-the-throne Diana to go gallivanting around Man's World), also makes very good character sense. You don't get to be Captain of the Guard for three thousand years without some political talent and a knack for managing people and resources, and Phillipus has always been a very calm, competent, together character besides. And it's long-established canon that she doesn't seek power for its own sake, and is very much a civic servant - she took up the Captaincy to honor a fallen sister and serve her people, rather than for any kind of gain - and is also not, apparently, particularly prone to pride, since she worked quite well alongside Artemis as co-rulers during Greg Rucka's run, without any sign of friction or battling egos. Phillipus fits quite naturally as ruler of the Amazons, and is one of the few supporting cast members with the credibility (read: history) with the readers to pull it off.

Of course, she's retired from the hot seat now, since the monarchy has inexplicably been restored with no explanation in the volume 3 reboot. But despite that, she's still as deep in the thick of things as always, the loyal best friend and solid right hand of the Amazon Queen and a longstanding touchstone of the Wondy mythos.

When she's not busy overanalyzing and overinvesting in fictional characters, Mars Getsoian moonlights as a freelance writer and works on a novel she will never actually finish.

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TAGS:  wonder of wonders, wonder woman, phillipus, george perez, phil jimenez

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