Crowning Moments of Awesome: Wonder Woman
How did I become a Wonder Woman fan? It boils down to the fact that she’s my wife Sarah’s favorite comic book character. Sarah’s not a huge comic nut like I am, but in my attempts to get her more interested in my hobby, I chased down back issues of Wonder Woman. And what I learned is that she is awesome, through and through.
One hard part about listing the most awesome Wonder Woman moments is that I first have to figure out what interpretation of Wonder Woman I’m going with. Unlike Superman and Batman, she’s not automatically a huge seller, despite her iconic status. DC Comics has constantly tried to reinvent her, struggling with the fact that she is the prototypical feminist character in an industry that is dominated by adolescent males who, unfortunately, are not always the most progressive folks when it comes to seeing women as something other than sex objects. She’s been a warrior woman, a pacifist, a female version of Superman, a true goddess, and a waitress as a taco joint – often simultaneously.
For this list, I’m going with what I think makes Diana of Themyscira stand out as unique among superheroes: her focus on the positive aspects of femininity. William Moulton Marston created her as a response to the fact that his society saw femininity as weakness, and that not even women wanted to be womanly. Even in comics today, the feminine aspects of superheroines, except for sexuality, are often downplayed. Yes, they can kick ass alongside the men, but when they are shown to be at their best, their masculine traits are emphasized over their feminine ones. Wonder Woman, by comparison, is at her best when the traits usually downplayed in superhero comics are emphasized. She is tender, compassionate, and peaceful. When she does fly into battle and start kicking ass, she does so with grace and never uses more force than is necessary to win the day. Unlike other superheroes, she doesn’t have a code against killing, but will only do so to protect others. Essentially, Wonder Woman is a mother or a sister, with the entire world as her family. That means that she is very tender and merciful to those she loves, but is a terrifying opponent to those who would harm those she loves – which, in her case, is everybody. So this list is focusing not only on Wonder Woman the ass-kicker, but on the moments where she combines that badassery with the compassion and sense of truth that makes her a paragon even among other paragons.
#10: Origin Story (All Star Comics #8 or Wonder Woman, volume 2, #1)
The origin of Wonder Woman remains one of those handful of stories that hasn’t really been changed by continuity reboots. Sure, it’s been updated, such as the George Perez post-Crisis on Infinite Earths reboot we have here, but the details remain the same, even surviving intact in most of her television or film adaptations. In both her Golden Age and modern-era origins, she was an Amazon of Themyscira and the daughter of Queen Hippolyta. When it comes time for the Amazons to designate an ambassador to go to Man’s World, a contest of skill is held, but Diana is ordered to stay out of it, for Hippolyta does not wish to see her child put in harm’s way. Wonder Woman, never worrying about harm that might be done to herself, dons a mask (or, in the post-Crisis version, a helmet) and competes against her mother’s wishes. She then proceeds to win contest after contest in the tournament before finally unmasking herself before her mother and winning the right to become Wonder Woman.
The story is one of the more iconic superhero origins out there. Along with Superman being the last son of Krypton, Batman witnessing his parents getting murdered, and Captain America being given the super soldier serum to fight Hitler, it’s one of a handful of stories that have remained largely unchanged over the past 70 years. It’s both a coming of age story for Diana and a look at how she chose to become a superhero. It demonstrates not only her skill, which stands atop the already-high Amazonian scale, but also the fact that she is going to do what is right, no matter how sheltered she is at that point in her life or who is telling her to stand down.
#9: Keeping Batman in Line (Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia)
The Hiketeia is writer Greg Rucka’s first work on Wonder Woman and was a sign of things to come once he began a terrific run in the character’s main book. The story involves Wonder Woman swearing a sacred oath to protect a woman named Danielle Wellys. Unfortunately, Danielle also killed a drug dealer in Gotham, and Batman wants to bring her to justice. The resulting story is an interesting look at honor and duty, as Wonder Woman is uncompromising in her oath to protect her supplicant while Batman refuses to let a murder go unpunished.
And the reason I like this fascinating, morally complex story? Wonder Woman knocks Batman on his ass.
In accordance to the Law of Superhero Crossovers, Batman and Wonder Woman fight, and the result is about as one-sided as it should be. And I have to admit, that’s pretty satisfying. Too often, Batman is written as a Bat-god rather than the mortal man he is. I blame it on writers over-relying on The Dark Knight Returns, where a sanctimonious and battle-hardened Bruce Wayne fights and almost wins against Superman. It made sense in the story, especially since Superman has an easily exploitable weakness and the story dealt with a dystopian future where Batman had become deeply scarred by his war on crime and Superman was basically a governmental puppet. Lots of writers overlooked those points and decided that forever after, Batman should be a total asshole who can beat God with enough prep time. Outside of a few comic book moments where he’s been shown as vulnerable and human (mostly written by Grant Morrison, whose stuff I otherwise don’t care for) and his excellent portrayals in cartoons, Batman has been an ass of a character for decades now, and I like seeing him get punch in the face once in a while.
What really qualified this as a moment of awesome rather than just a bit of catharsis for me is the scan above, where Wonder Woman decks Batman out of the building and away from Danielle and then very authoritatively states, “We will speak of this again, later. Go away. Now.” Batman, the uncompromising dark avenger of the night, proceeds to leave with his tail between his legs.
99% of the time, Wonder Woman is the nicest lady on the block. But when she means business, she can stare down Batman.
#8: One Man Army Corps versus One Wonder Woman (Wonder Woman, volume 2, #221)
I am not going to include Wonder Woman breaking Maxwell Lord’s neck in the buildup to Infinite Crisis on this list. Part of it is because I like Maxwell Lord and think that he got kind of screwed when DC decided to retcon him into an evil mind-controlling douche. Most of it is because while the moment itself was pretty cool, all the hand-wringing and angsting that went on between Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman afterward was annoying and largely out-of-character.
What I am including on this list is some of the other buildup to Infinite Crisis, specifically when Brother Eye, a supercomputer built by Batman, winds up getting out of Bruce Wayne’s control and sending robotic OMACs (One Man Army Corps) to kill superheroes left and right. Wonder Woman, fresh off of a battle with a mind-controlled Superman in which she got her wrist broken (and where the iconic neck-breaking took place), proceeds to kick ass left and right. In the scan above, she gets dumped into molten iron, leading the OMAC she’s fighting to write her off as dead. After all, it worked for the T-1000, didn’t it? Instead, she calmly comes out of the molten iron and proceeds to thrash her robotic foe, all with a smile on her face. This is, I believe, mere hours after dealing with Max Lord. With any other superhero, we get issue after issue of angsting over taking a life. With Wonder Woman, she does what she needs to do, continues to kick ass, and does it all with a smile on her face. That is who Wonder Woman is: a woman with boundless love for the world around her, who will kill one person to protect a million, and who takes pleasure in her ability to fight to protect the world, no matter how much physical or emotional pain she is in.
#7: Inspiration in Hell (Wonder Woman, volume 2, #135)
Once upon a time, Wonder Woman died. Then she became a goddess. She was brought into the Greek pantheon as Diana, goddess of truth – fitting, since she was basically the physical embodiment of the concept already. However, being a mortal and a superheroine, Diana didn’t exactly have a great time as a goddess. She didn’t kowtow to the rather frustrating notion that the gods are only allowed to help those who pray to them, or that some prayers are meant to go unanswered. Finally, when some of her friends wound up trapped in Hell, she basically decided that this godhood thing was for chumps. Zeus had forbidden her from physically manifesting before her friends, but she gets around that by providing them with inspiration, giving them hope even in the depths of Hell that convinces them to go on and win the day. For this little stunt, Diana got kicked out of the Greek pantheon as punishment by Zeus and returned to Earth as a mortal again…or rather, a very strong and nigh-invulnerable super-powered mortal with the weapons of the gods.
I choose this moment because I have a lot of respect for a character whose belief in justice and compassion is strong enough that she will go up against anybody, including the gods themselves, in order to do the right thing. Unlike mortals, who always have a big question mark in matters of faith based on the fact that we can’t prove the existence of those powers we believe in, Wonder Woman is on a first-name basis with her creators. She was not born but rather created by the gods, imbued with their power and essentially owing her very existence to them. And she’s still willing to tell them to go stick it when they’re in the wrong.
#6: Tossing Aside the Lasso of Truth (Wonder Woman, volume 3, #37)
The lasso of truth is a gift to Diana of Themyscira from the gods themselves. It forces people to look into their own souls and realize the truth about themselves. And one time, she threw it into the ocean.
The issue in question would be one in which Ares, the Greek god of war, decides to reach out beyond the grave and try to mess with Diana’s life by utilizing her “weakness:” her love for her friends and family. (What is Ares doing dead? Diana caved his head in with an axe a few issues prior.) As a result of his meddling, the issue’s climax features a battle between Wonder Woman and her sister, Donna Troy. I’d love to explain Donna’s backstory, but she’s gone through so many retcons by now that I’m a little dizzy just thinking of it. For now, let’s just say she’s almost Wonder Woman’s equal and leave it at that.
During the course of the battle, Wonder Woman naturally tries to break Donna out of her state by ensnaring her with the lasso of truth, which frees a person from mind control. However, the lasso actually causes Donna pain instead, interacting with some psychic tampering left over from another villain called Genocide. Without hesitation, Diana proceeds to toss her lasso into the ocean, which immediately serves as a reality check for Donna, who is shocked that a gift from the gods would so easily be tossed aside. Wonder Woman points out that it is a wonderful gift, “But it is still a possession. You are my sister.”
They hug. And the reader goes, “Awww.”
#5: Take My Hand (Wonder Woman, volume 3, #19)
As one might have been able to deduce from checking out my list of awesome Hulk moments that included the jade giant getting trounced by Zeus, burned in lava, and stripped of 90% of his flesh, I have a soft spot for heroes who take a beating and keep on going. Now it’s Wonder Woman’s turn for one of these moments.
In short, Wonder Woman winds up helping an alien race known as the Khund who are being killed off. One particular Green Lantern who has a well-justified hatred of the Khund and picks a fight with Diana over the matter. Diana manages to beat the Green Lantern handily by using the fact that his anger unfocuses his willpower and makes him vulnerable. But she would rather maintain the peace she helped establish than win the battle, and offers her hand to the Lantern. The Green Lantern, still with plenty of rage, gets back up and starts pounding the crap out of Diana. He vents his anger for two full pages, leaving Diana in the battered and bruised state seen above. Then he stops, because he realizes something very important about Wonder Woman: she hasn’t moved. She hasn’t defended herself. She is still offering her open hand, hoping to resolve the situation peacefully. And she does.
#4: Making Darkseid Scream (Wonder Woman, volume 2, #188)
Darkseid. The Revelation. The Tiger-Force at the core of all things. When you cry out in your dreams, it is Darkseid you see. And when he cries out in his, it is Wonder Woman he sees.
Darkseid is basically the biggest big bad in the DC Universe. Created by Jack Kirby, he is the embodiment of the notion that life brings only pain, and that free will is a bad thing because of the agony a wrong choice can inflict on a person. He seeks nothing more than to eliminate the burden of choice from the universe, and he has power surpassing that of Superman to back him up. In the crossover event Our Worlds at War (which ended with an issue featuring a cover shot of Lex Luthor’s twin towers in Metropolis lying in ruins…unfortunately timed to come out on September 12, 2001), Darkseid proved instrumental to the heroes’ victory. But his powers had been stripped from him, and in order to restore his full strength, Wonder Woman had to give up a piece of her soul, placing it inside Darkseid. Naturally, when the day is won, Darkseid goes on to gloat about how his victory is complete, while Wonder Woman lost hundreds of Amazons in battle and had to give up a piece of her own soul. Looks like things suck for Diana…until Darkseid gets home.
On Darkseid’s home world of Apokolips, it goes back to business as usual, with him ruling the world with an iron fist. Fifteen issues down the line, inexplicably, he shows mercy to someone he would normally execute with his Omega Beams. It turns out that because Wonder Woman now has a piece of her soul in Darkseid, he now has a sliver of compassion in his otherwise black heart. This causes Darkseid to scream in agony. He’s taken hits from Superman and seen terrors beyond human imagining, but the real way to hurt him is to make him a somewhat nice guy.
#3: A League of Her Own (JLA: A League of One)
In the graphic novel JLA: A League of One, Wonder Woman learns that an ancient dragon is awakening, and that there is a prophecy that the dragon will destroy the Justice League of America. Some might disregard the prophecy, but Diana has met the Oracle at Delphi personally, and she knows that these things usually turn out to be accurate. So instead, she manipulates it. After all, if the Justice League consists only of her, then she’s the only one who will die.
Almost any given event of the graphic novel can count as an awesome moment, as Wonder Woman systematically goes through the Justice League, taking them out of action one by one so they can’t join her in the upcoming fight. Each of these events also doubles as a heart-wrenching moment, since in order to achieve victory, Wonder Woman has to do something she never does: lie. Even though she’s a terrible liar, nobody calls her on her bluffs because she’s Wonder Woman, and she never even tells white lies. However, the excellent art shows off how gut-wrenching Diana finds all of this, to the point where it practically causes her physical pain.
My personal choice for the top moment of the story, though, is when her gambit is validated. The dragon’s fire seeks out lies and sets a person ablaze from the inside out. While it burns Diana, it doesn’t destroy her because she is still the spirit of truth despite the deception required to remove her friends from the battlefield. As she emerges mostly unharmed from the fire, she finally realizes that she did what she had to do – even boy scout Superman, with his secret identity and double life, has his share of big lies. All of her friends would have died in the dragon’s fire, but she saved them.
Ultimately, Wonder Woman does take out the dragon, and fulfills the prophecy by dying herself…sort of. Her heart stops beating, but Superman arrives shortly afterward and revives her using CPR. It’s the classic fake CPR you see in Hollywood, which is very medically inaccurate, but I’ll give it a pass, because it’s Superman and he probably has super-CPR as one of his many powers. Plus, if Wonder Woman really died there, then who knows how many more awesome moments we’d be missing out on?
#2: Look Ma, No Eyes! (Wonder Woman, volume 2, #210)
I don’t like it much when people say Wonder Woman doesn’t have a good rogues gallery. Sure, she doesn’t have the honor of fighting bald corporate execs, evil clowns, or a pudgy guy with metal tentacles, but she’s got some impressive villains such as Circe, Cheetah, and Giganta. And she has the entire lineup of Greek myths. Case in point, this moment involves her battle with the mythical Medousa, a gorgon who could turn people to stone and force them to look into her eyes with her honeyed voice.
I went over this for the most part in my Superhero Makeovers rant for Wonder Woman. Medousa turns a child to stone at the Themysciran embassy, then escapes Wonder Woman’s wrath by calling upon the gods. Forced to go through the the rituals imposed by the gods, Wonder Woman meets Medousa the next day for a fight to the death. What she doesn’t realize until it’s too late to stop it is that the witch Circe has cast a spell to ensure that the fight is televised worldwide. Medousa’s plan is to kill Wonder Woman, then turn her gaze on the cameras, where anyone watching at home will be instantly petrified, making for thousands of sacrifices to Poseidon. Diana, showing some resourcefulness, fights with two lairs of protection: a helmet that covers her eyes, then a blindfold. Medousa manages to remove both of those and also stab Wonder Woman, though. When it comes time to deliver the killing blow, Wonder Woman resists Medousa’s commands to look at her long enough to grab a serpent that had been cleaved from the gorgon’s body, then blind herself with its acidic blood. End result? Medousa gets her head chopped off by a blinded Wonder Woman, and Diana spends quite a while without her eyesight.
Now, if she’s the champion of the gods, why didn’t Athena just restore her eyesight right away? Well, that leads to…
#1: Seeing Through Athena’s Eyes (Wonder Woman, volume 2, #217)
You can make a pretty good argument that Diana blinding herself to defeat Medousa should be the #1 spot on this list. But if we’re talking about Wonder Woman, we’re talking about compassion, so I thought it more appropriate to end on a moment that defines her positive aspects a bit more. Time and again, she’s willing to throw away her own well-being and even her own life to protect others, be they her friends, innocents, or even her enemies. Her biggest strength is her mercy.
Following the defeat of Medousa, it becomes apparent that the child who the gorgon turned to stone was all part of the elaborate machinations of Athena, goddess of wisdom and chief patron of Diana. A fight between Zeus and Hera had almost destroyed the island of Themyscira, and Athena sought to depose Zeus and take over his place at the head of the Greek pantheon. Her plan was well-woven and very elaborate, but hinged on Wonder Woman being placed in a position where she would have no choice but to kill Medousa. In order to do this, she allowed Medousa to petrify a child, taking Diana’s famous mercy out of the equation for the following fight.
In the stories that followed, Wonder Woman suffered greatly due to Athena’s plot. She also had many chances to be rewarded for her sacrifices. She defeated the champion of Zeus (while blind) and gave the throne to Athena. She wound up fighting demons, monsters, and even her own allies to demonstrate that she could still function as a capable member of the Justice League while blind. She ventured into the realm of Hades and fought an alliance of gods. Several times during these long, painful trials, Athena offered Diana a divine favor. Each time, Diana asked not for the restoration of her sight, but rather the return to life of the child Medousa had turned to stone. Time and again, her request was refused, since the child’s death was integral to Athena’s plan for the greater good. Nevertheless, Wonder Woman never yielded in her request and never considered asking for something for herself.
The whole situation can be compared to the book of Job from the Old Testament, except that it’s not Diana’s faith that’s being tested but rather her selflessness. Eventually, her steadfastness in continually asking for something that Athena had stated she could not grant got Diana the best of both worlds. Athena finally relented and restored the boy to life, and Diana left gratefully, still not asking for the restoration of her sight. In recognition of her greatest champion’s sacrifice, Athena granted one additional favor that had not been asked for: she bound Diana’s eyesight to her own, allowing her to see with the wisdom and clarity of Athena herself.
While the eyes of Athena isn’t a power that comes up often in comics these days, being able to see through the eyes of wisdom can be a significant ability when used properly. And while many superheroes try to live up to the responsibilities of their powers, it’s not very often that we see a protagonist gain a power as a result of that responsibility. It’s the Spider-Man lesson turned on its ear: with Diana’s great responsibility came great power. The fact that she didn’t ask for her sight to be returned and that she continued to trust and serve Athena even after all the trials she had gone through pretty much sums up Diana’s appeal. When written well, Wonder Woman is a feminine character in an industry dominated by male power fantasies, who combines all the “girly” feelings out there and turns them into a great strength. And empowered by her femininity, she can kick ass and take names with the best of them.