Since I’m working night shifts this week, I’m sitting at home today, waiting for a particular sound: the sound of the Internet breaking in half (again). In another well-executed public-relations move through the mainstream media (Good Morning America, Entertainment Weekly), DC has announced its central New 52 line of comics will feature a landmark relationship: Superman and Wonder Woman are going to be a couple.
Purists are going to lose their heads, arguing Superman is meant to be with Lois Lane. The argument ignores the fact the two characters spent years apart over the course of their histories in various media; I’m specifically reminded of the time in the 1980s in Superman and Action Comics when Clark Kent and Lana Lang were together as adults during Clark’s stint as a TV anchor.
Still, anything that purports to go against the status quo (or “tradition,” as it’s usually presented) always seems to elicit strong reactions among comics fans, especially when availing themselves of the immediacy of online communication. I doubt this time will be any exception. If Marvel hadn’t debuted a multi-racial Spider-Man last year and DC hadn’t reinterpreted one of its Green Lantern characters as gay this year, the Superman/Wonder Woman relationship would’ve had the potential to stand out as the a perfect example of how comics fans can overreact to something that “happens” to fictional characters.
When I heard the “news” (a loosely applicable term, in these circumstances) this morning, what occurred was the fact this wasn’t exactly an unheard of development for DC’s iconic characters. I’m sure there have been several instances of a connection between the Man of Steel and the Amazon Princess, but the first thing that came to mind was a story in Action Comics #600 in 1988. Similarly set in a relatively new, relaunched DC continuity, it featured a Superman/Wonder Woman team-up that opened with the following splash page.
The super-hero kiss was featured on the cover as well. Of course, what was more noteworthy about the comic book in question was the fact it was a collaboration between John Byrne and George Perez, the writer/artists responsible for successful, inventive reinterpretations of Superman and Wonder Woman, respectively. Ultimately, it was a traditional and enjoyable bit of super-hero storytelling, but ultimately inconsequential to continuity. The pairing was never meant to be one that stuck.
DC has promised its latest foray into super-hero soap opera will be of greater significance, both to its New 52 continuity and, judging by the media splash it’s endeavored to create, culturally as well. There’s definitely a certain logic to the romance in the context of the New 52, and interpersonal dynamics always makes for more interesting storytelling than bombastic super-hero fights. While this particular love connection is clearly a stunt primarily aimed at bolstering sales and fostering greater interest in DC’s products, it also offers the opportunity for character-driven plotlines, and I don’t just mean the spectacle of watching the two most powerful people on Earth DC dating. I would expect we’ll see Justice League writer Geoff Johns and others at DC explore how the relationship affects and is perceived by others.
Really, my only qualm with the move is the potential pitfalls in terms of poor characterization. Wonder Woman is a symbol of both strength and femininity, and it’s not unheard of in culture (pop or otherwise) for a male protagonist’s female love interest to be secondary to the man, even subservient. We’ve seen instances in which the “girlfriend” simply becomes an extension of the male character, there to help to define him or give him something to do. DC ought to be careful not to transform Wonder Woman into a meeker character, into a smitten schoolgirl. Mind you, given what we’ve seen of the New 52 incarnation of the character, that seems unlikely. If anything, it’s more likely we’ll insecurities and inexperience come out in Superman’s character, and juxtaposing such vulnerabilities in an invulnerable man could prove to be quite entertaining.
We’ll have to wait and see if the execution of this concept/corporate promotion fulfills the promise that lies in it. Mind you, I doubt it’ll be the permanent change in the status quo DC officials have claimed it to be. After all, in super-hero comics, changes — be they different costumes, marriages or deaths — boast all the permanence of sidewalk chalk art.
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