Friday, 17 March 2017

The Best of Huntress and Power Girl: Wonder Woman #291 Review

Title: Wonder Woman #291
Story: Book One: Judgement in Infinity
Characters: Wonder Woman (Diana Prince), Zatanna, Etta Candy
Creators: Paul Levitz (writer), Roy Thomas (writer), Gene Colan (artist)
Publication Date: April 1982
Available In: Digital

Summary: A new extraterrestrial being has arrived on Earth-1's Washington DC, but he is not here to go on a tour of America's Capitol Hill. Instead, he is evaluating the Earth and all of its citizens. He wants to know if this planet (as well as its parallel counterparts) that is thriving with intelligent life and advanced civilisations is worth saving by unleashing the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse throughout the multiverse.

Wonder Woman is the first to respond to the emergency and learns a very disturbing truth about her new foe: this isn't the first time the extraterrestrial being known as the Adjudicator has attacked a planet thriving with intelligent life and advanced civilisations. He has a history of destroying such planets that have failed his test of "worthiness" and planet Earth is next. Wonder Woman realises she cannot fight this powerful villain alone and recruits not only the help of the Justice League, but also that of the Earth-2 Justice Society and any other heroes in the known multiverse!

Review: It is St. Patrick's Day today and it is also Women's History Month at the same time. I figured: what better way to celebrate both than to talk about DC's epic multiversal Wonder Woman crossover involving DC's most popular heroines during the Bronze Age?

This is a very interesting comic to discuss because it is both DC's love letter to their female superheroes, and it is a story that testifies to DC's ongoing commitment to growing a more diverse fanbase, in this case, one that is inclusive of women. It was originally plotted and scripted by Paul Levitz and Roy Thomas in 1982 and it demonstrates an awareness to things like patriarchy, and with it, the normalisation of the male gender in our everyday functioning.

Though no women were involved in the creative process of this story--either in an editorial or creator capacity--this comic still benefited from having female leadership. One of the senior editors that was working at DC at the time of this story's publication was Karen Berger, who later became a key figure in comics when she co-founded Vertigo and functioned as its executive editor for 20 years.

Additionally, a 34-year-old Jenette Kahn was also DC's publisher and president at the time of this comic's publication, making her the first and youngest woman at DC to function in this capacity in the 20th Century! So despite the lack of female creatives--something that did improve in later decades at DC--a female voice was still present as evidenced by the themes explored and the characters that take on the lead roles in this story.

This story opens up with an extraterrestrial entity randomly showing up on the Earth, and upon Wonder Woman's investigation of the threat, she learns that the alien is a lot more dangerous than he appears as he has a history of destroying worlds populated by highly intelligent life. Though she arranges an emergency Justice League meeting, and her male comrades go out to help her investigate things further, it is actually Zatanna and Diana who take centre stage in this first chapter.

This is a very significant first chapter for various reasons. For one, Etta Candy is presented here as a larger sized individual with a sweet tooth (something many of us are all guilty of), but she isn't subjected to fat jokes. She is presented as someone who has internalised fatphobia, and like many women in her position who have been pressured into looking a certain way, she too tries to diet and limit her consumption of "bad foods." While not as confident in her body as her Golden Age/Earth-2 counterpart, the Silver Age/Earth-1 Etta still doesn't think too much about it and even tries to "sneak in" a few more pieces of candy before Diana "keeps on task" with her dieting goals.

Another reason this first chapter is significant is because it presents all of its female characters as people and not as caricatures or stereotypes of women. In an industry that has had a history of marginalising women and treating them as objects even when functioning in a superhero capacity, that is very significant progress. Here, Wonder Woman is presented as intelligent and meticulous, but she isn't presented as perfect or flawless. She's presented as having god-like levels of strength and power, but she isn't presented as invincible and can still be challenged, which allows her to demonstrate her problem solving skills.

Another thing that is very significant about this first chapter is the depiction of women as team players and friends. This is admittedly further explored in the chapters that follow this one, but we do get a taste of it here with Zatanna and Diana who investigate the story's villain (identified here as Adjudicator) together. Not only do they learn how powerful this villain is, what he's capable of, and how he tests worlds to decide whether or not they are worthy of salvation, but they even come up with a plan to defeat him. Even when they do fail, they still continue to think their way out of bad situations, but they never do it alone. Diana has Zatanna's back and Zatanna has hers like real comrades.

Despite the many wonderful things about this first chapter, it's also not without its flaws. One of the first noticeable flaws that occurred earlier in the story was depicting Diana as being aware of her own internalised sexism and the normalisation of the male gender, which doesn't really make sense for her character. While it would make sense for other DC heroines like Zatanna and Black Canary to be aware of this internalised sexism due to having been born and raised in patriarchal societies, the same is not true for Diana who spent most of her life living in a matriarchy. From her point of view, the female gender is normative and sexism stands out as exclusively unique to patriarchy.

While it can be argued that Diana's time living on man's world could've caused her to internalise some sexism, it still would not be second nature to her for the same reason that racists being aware of racism would not make feminism second nature to them. Becoming aware of existing problems doesn't necessarily lead to a change in one's mind-map as real life often times shows us. More often than not, old habits die hard, and in Diana's case, she would always see the female gender as normative because that is the context with which she was raised and lived in most of her life.

Another major flaw of this story is the depiction of Indians (from India) as stereotypically poor and starving, especially in one of India's most prosperous cities like Calcutta (now known as Kolkata). This can be attributed to ignorance and a lack of access to resources to properly research living conditions in India in a decade that didn't have Google, and American media often depicting the Indian slums as the "true face" of India (something that still happens today). Nevertheless, it's still discomforting to see, especially since I'm reviewing this comic in an era where there is greater awareness of Indian living conditions thanks to globalisation, and especially greater awareness of the white saviour trope, which is what this part of the story perpetuates.

On the whole, this is still a very strong first chapter despite some of the drawbacks. It sets up an interesting premise for an all female superhero team-up and it puts them up against a powerful villain that's out to destroy planets with advanced civilisations for reasons that remain ambiguous. We know how he sets out to destroy them, but not why--a mystery for DC's heroines to resolve in the next two instalments of the crossover.


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