Wednesday, May 02, 2007

In which I dismiss Steve Trevor, and probably reveal a hideous double standard.

Avi Arad said this:

In the comics, the easiest way to bring real life into the life of the hero is to give him a spouse. [...] Lois Lane and the other women, in the comic books, the woman is the other world that represents all of us, and she is there to support, she is there to demand, she is there to observe and to make you think of her as an ambassador of the rest of us. [...] Otherwise, there is never a personal story to bring all of us into the room.

Ragnell added

Steve Trevor can not be replaced in this aspect and we lost so much when they threw him to the background after Crisis.

Well, I dunno. I like a lot of the ordinary-human spouses/significant others. I didn’t have a problem with the Lane-Kent or Watson-Parker marriages. Heck, I wrote 5000 words on Silver St. Cloud and the other Bat-girlfriends a couple of years ago. Regardless, I never liked Steve Trevor, and twenty years after he was thrown into the background, I still don’t think the idea of Steve Trevor as Diana's soulmate is critical to the Wonder Woman setup.

Granted, I am not really a WW scholar, because I didn’t start reading regularly until the George Pérez revamp. However, the idea that Diana would leave Paradise Island at least in part to follow Steve back to Man’s World seems to diminish her a bit. I feel the same way when the genders are reversed: Clark is a reporter first, and an admirer of Lois Lane second. The mission is the important part of the setup, not the romance.

In the ‘50s and ‘60s, apparently Steve became more patriarchal, such that if Wonder Woman ever decided to settle down with him, she’d give up everything that made her super. I don’t know how Steve changed in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, apart from dying and being resurrected a couple of times. The Pérez revamp connected him to Diana through his mother, a WAAF pilot who crashed on Themyscira and became Diana’s namesake. Steve was thereby aged out of Diana’s eligibility range.

Steve’s audience-identification replacement then got split into a handful of characters: Julia Kapatelis, a professor specializing in Classical Greek; her teenage daughter Vanessa; and Diana’s publicist Myndi Mayer. In effect, Julia became Diana’s surrogate mother and Vanessa her surrogate sister, with Myndi representing the practicalities of the real world. There’s probably some significant dynamic at play among those three characters, but it’s not quite a Maiden-Mother-Crone situation, nor is it exactly a Virgin/Whore. Anyway, I don’t know if it was intentional and I don’t know enough about those archetypes to take that line of thinking much farther. Besides, Myndi didn’t last long, and Diana was left with just Julia and Vanessa (and sometimes Lois Lane) as guides to Patriarch’s World.

I thought the Pérez run was a good revamp overall, because it put Diana’s focus back on her mission and actually distinguished her from Superman and Batman. By not having a secret identity, she didn’t have to deal with “identity issues,” including the classic WW/Steve/Diana Prince love triangle. It also made her less of a traditional superhero, because it gave her a defined purpose and viewpoint. She wasn’t on an eternal crusade to beat up bad guys, she was a social reformer and the representative of an existing functional society. She seemed to spend a lot of the Pérez issues aghast at the inhumanities of which Patriarch’s World was capable, but she wasn’t entirely naïve. She was also more fully realized as a character than Pérez’s other wide-eyed warrior woman, Starfire.

Ragnell puts it best:

You see, the secret is that, even though none of us can say we know who Wonder Woman is, its always been very clear that she knows who she is. There's trouble connecting with other people, and the gods, and her purpose, but Diana has always been centered in herself. Confident. She knew exactly what she was inside.

To me, that suggests Diana doesn’t need a love interest to “complete” her. (Perez and John Byrne both offered cops as potential suitors, but Diana never took Perez's Ed Indelicato seriously, and I can't even remember Byrne's cop's full name -- Mike something.) In this respect she does remind me of Batman, because conventional wisdom suggests that Batman is so driven he also doesn’t need romance. Both appear so devoted to their respective missions that for them to have wistful “If only...!” moments puts chinks in their armor. It’s different for Superman and Spider-Man -- they’re just normal guys at heart, trying to do the right things, trying to fit in. Naturally we want them to hook up, because that’s part of their yearnings. Batman left normal life behind a long time ago, and Wonder Woman was never normal.

Maybe it’s just me, but I never thought of Wonder Woman as “attainable,” so I never needed to picture her as “virginal” either. Or -- wait -- maybe all that stuff about “the mission” actually is my substitute for her virginity ... but that’s not right either. Is wanting Diana to be “pure for the world” the same as wanting her to be “pure for me?” I don’t think so. I just don’t think the setup lends itself to romance.

Now, at the same time I would not be opposed to a new Bat-romance with a normal person -- I liked Vesper Fairchild, before all the unpleasantness -- and therein lies my fear of a double standard. However, with Batman I think it would be a welcome change after so many years of stone-faced “Bruce Wayne is the real mask” stories. With Wonder Woman, even under the current “Agent Prince” setup, that break from a calcified status quo isn’t necessary, because even in the secret-ID days Diana never seemed to have those kinds of issues.

Again, it goes back to Pérez, who placed the reader-identification characters pretty far out of bounds in terms of romantic possibilities. That’s definitely affected my perspective, but I grew up with Lynda Carter and “Super Friends” too and I still knew WW was out of my league.

I’m not saying she can’t have a romance (or a Batman-esque series of romances) with a normal person outside the superhero life. The Trevor Barnes subplot was okay, but it never really took off, and now poor Trevor’s got little hope of returning. It would probably have to be done with some subtlety, so that readers wouldn’t be turned off immediately.

Ultimately, I don’t think it’s necessary, but I'm not opposed to it. Ms. Simone...?


Ragnell said...

Okay, Tom, I guess he didn't make the argument for me.

Steve's not there to complete Diana, he's there to complete culture Basically, if you look at the original Avi Arad quote, he says women. Not a general character type, but general female character type.

Steve was the male character who served that role for the iconic female superhero. He's gone now.

The iconic male superheroes have specific dramatic setup in their casts. Oour iconic female superheros (Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batgirl -- Hell, even Storm over at Marvel) do not have the same dramatic setup. There is no dude-in-distress to balance the damsel-in-distress.

Diana doesn't need Steve Trevor. We do.

Tom Bondurant said...

So Steve is Xander?

Xander is the capable sidekick who still manages to need rescuing on a regular basis. As the normal guy caught up in extraordinary circumstances, he's a character with whom the fans can identify. He was also something of a love interest for Buffy, even if that was unrequited at first and eventually went nowhere.

I was thinking about this last night -- still in terms of the romance angle, because I hadn't read your response -- and I feel more open to the idea than I was yesterday. However, the guy would have to be pretty amazing, because Diana wouldn't do anything halfway ("going all the way" reference not intended).

I hope I understand your Steve argument a little more, and I'll have to give it some more thought.

Tom Bondurant said...

P.S. The self-evident part was the "woman is the other world that represents all of us" line, wasn't it? D'oh!

Anonymous said...

I agree that Wonder Woman really ought to have a male romantic interest/male for her to interact with.

It doesn't have to be Steve Trevor, per se, but she certainly is better off with a character to fill the Steve Trevor/Lois Lane role.