Wonder Woman's Latest Enemies: Nazis, The Patriarchy, And Pick-Up Artists
What happens when an all-female society meets toxic masculinity? Wonder Woman's new book explores that idea, with enemies ranging from classic to contemporary to once-classic-now-contemporary. Her top opponents in Wonder Woman: Earth One Vol. 2 include a Nazi superwoman, reawakened in the modern age — and a sleazy expert on pick-up artist techniques.
Legendary comic book writer Grant Morrison (who's lately taken to television writing with his own show Happy) told us about what he's trying to do with this story, serving as the Empire Strikes Back of his take on Wonder Woman.
PUTTING WONDER WOMAN'S ORIGINS INTO THE MODERN WORLD
Like many comics, it may seem like there's not much subtlety in the post-Charlottesville imagery — but Morrison said that his and artist Yanick Paquette's work wasn't about that, and was actually written before these issues were so much at the fore.
"It wasn't even so much trying to be timely — it was about trying to honor [Wonder Woman creator William Moulton] Marston's original vision," Morrison told journalists at DC Comics' Burbank headquarters. "And those are very strange ideas. And you put them in the context of today's politics, and today's gender politics, the whole thing that we're dealing with — they become quite provocative."
Marston was a complicated figure. He was the real-life inventor of the lie detector, and he put the idea of being able to force people to tell the truth in his comics — while also tinging them with themes of bondage and other strongly sexual implications. Now Morrison's trying to confront all those ideas and what they would mean in a real-life scenario.
"To put it in this setting that we're currently in, where I think we're all being mind controlled a certain degree by all kinds of forces," Morrison said.
WHAT WONDER WOMAN HAS TO SAY ABOUT GENDER TODAY
While trying to be contemporary wasn't the explicit goal, the combination of Marston's ideas with the modern world mean the book deals with hot button issues ranging from whether trans women can be accepted in cis female movements, body image, sexuality, women's rights, and more.
The Earth One line of comics tries to set the heroes in more realistic environments, drawing inspiration from the past but giving their origins a modern spin. In the case of Wonder Woman, Morrison has tried thinking about what the Amazonian society she hails from would be like if it was truly all female, free from the influence of men.
"Here's a separatist race of technologically advanced superwomen, but they're quite happy to use mind control on their enemies — that's their idea of weapons of peace," Morrison said.
That prompts deep discussions of fighting for peace versus the use of military, a theme that's permeated modern Wonder Woman stories.
The book also tries to set up traditional Wonder Woman love interest Steve Trevor as something more than that — a friend.
"We don't need to do Steve Trevor as a romantic interest," Morrison said. "It's more that this guy looks out for her, he cares about her. He's like when you have a really good best friend, it doesn't have to be a sexual partner."
WONDER WOMAN VS. PICK-UP ARTISTS
One of the book's villains, codenamed Doctor Psycho, was presented in his 1940s origins as an obvious bad guy. This time, Morrison's taken that early interpretation and infused it with the modern idea of the pick-up artist community.
Morrison spoke with a female expert on pick-up artist techniques to use them in the new interpretation of the character.
"The Doctor Psycho sequence where he sits and talks to Diana [Wonder Woman] is actually based on the script used by pick-up artists," Morrison said. "Even the movements he makes — he mirrors all her gestures, he makes these casting off gestures every time he talks about something that he wants her to perceive as negative."
The new Doctor Psycho is, as Morrison describes him, "ugly handsome," with a look inspired by rocker Nick Cave.
"I think there are natural sociopathic narcissists in the world who are really good at it, but there are also nerds who thought, 'I could weaponize this. I could learn all of these techniques — I could turn it into a set of instructions that will always work,'" Morrison said.
It's a sequel to the first Wonder Woman: Earth One book, where she had to face down the toxic masculinity of Hercules. Morrison said that Doctor Psycho is the modern version of that.
"In the world that we live in of fake news, of simulation, of AR, of all of these things things that are blurring the divisions between what is real and what is fantasy ... this went right to the root of the Wonder Woman concept," Morrison said. "She's an avatar for truth in a world where truth has become impossible to detect. ... Videos can be faked, words can be faked. People can do something right in front of you, then deny it."
OH YEAH — THE NAZIS
The book is framed around Nazi superwoman Paula von Gunther who leads German forces to invade the Amazonian island of Themyscira during World War II, before having to be dealt with again in modern times.
The book was written before Nazis were receiving as much renewed mainstream attention, but Morrison said there's something very basic behind his approach.
"Everybody loves seeing a Nazi getting punched," Morrison said. "Most people don't punch anything. Most people don't get into fights. Most people — there are a few activists who will go out and try and punch one of them, but most of us just love the idea."
After the World War II attacks, the Nazi superwoman is captured and has her mind wiped, her Nazi beliefs taken away from her.
"There's a sadness to the character," Morrison said. "I find it quite horrific almost when we see the Amazons reducing her and taking away her sense of self, and suddenly she's admitting to this inferiority and she's on her knees."
She's still a Nazi — the power of that hatred ends up playing a role in our own times. But some measure of redemption appears possible — Morrison said he's stopping short of saying "hug a Nazi," but that Diana tries to reach out.
"I just realized this is a woman who's been controlled by everyone," Morrison said. "And at the end for Diana to show compassion, and not to beat her into the ground, and to actually say, 'don't worry, we'll make this better, we'll make this better' — even after what she does in the book, which is a fairly horrific act."
WHAT'S NEXT FOR WONDER WOMAN
The seeds are planted in this book for Wonder Woman to face one of her greatest enemies, Maxwell Lord, in the third part of this trilogy. In previous comics, she snapped his neck (it's comics, so he got better) — whether this version of the character will do the same remains to be seen.
Morrison said he plans to use Lord as an avatar of the Greek war god Ares, Wonder Woman's longest time nemesis.
"It's saying here are two cultures, and one culture thinks it has this power — this masculine, this military power," Morrison said. "And it comes up against something ... peace-loving. She says 'Love is our weapon, peace is our shield.' What does that mean? Well, it means they will destroy you in other ways. ... So we're not saying the Amazons are the good guys in this."
While this version of the Amazonian princess has relied on peace more than almost ever before, her warrior nature will be tested.
"The assumptions of this strutting military culture are suddenly undone by something they dare not imagine," Morrison said. "And that applies to current strutting military culture as well."
Morrison promises an ending to the story that leaves the world itself completely changed, offering a conclusion to the world's male-led society.
Wonder Woman: Earth One Vol. 2 is available from comic book stores this week and booksellers starting Oct. 9; Volume 3 is in the works.
You made it! Congrats, you read the entire story, you gorgeous human. This story was made possible by generous people like you. Independent, local journalism costs $$$$$. And now that LAist is part of KPCC, we rely on that support. So if you aren't already, be one of us! Help us help you live your best life in Southern California. Donate now.