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Wonder If They'll Ever Learn

(This  Stripped column originally appeared in the August 13-19, 1998 Long Island Voice. Click on the artwork for a larger image.)

by Beth Hannan Rimmels


"One hundred nations will descend upon you! Our arrows will blot out the sun."

— The Persian ambassador in 300

"Then we'll fight in the shade."

 — Spartan warrior

I've always had mixed feelings about "message" stories in comic books. I totally disagree with the argument that comics should not try to teach lessons. Most good writing makes you think, so why hamstring the medium by disallowing it? Besides, I've seen "edutainment" work firsthand.

On the other hand, a lot of well-meaning, message-teaching and benefit books suck. Remember Marvel's Heroes for Hope, a fund-raiser for Ethiopian famine relief about 10 years ago? While its intentions were stellar, the story was predictable. It was the most awkward sort of message book because it taught something you already knew: When people are allowed to starve to death, we have an obligation to help. Basically, the title was a way for people to send money to the relief efforts without writing a separate check. Marvel should have designated a certain issue, or set of issues, to raise money without changing the ongoing plots. That way, readers could help a cause and, presumably, get a good story.

Which brings me to Wonder Woman: The Once and Future Story (DC Comics, $4.95), a one-shot in which Diana translates ancient Greek tablets found in Ireland while trying to help an abused woman. The talent behind the title is impressive — script by Trina Robbins' (Great Women Superheroes) and pencils by Colleen Doran (A Distant Soil). I have always had a soft spot for Wonder Woman but the Amazing Amazon hasn't looked this good since George Perez was doing her.

The story itself has some interesting touches. The tablets Diana translates tell the story of Amazon Queen Alcippe's abduction by Theseus and how her daughter Artemis wins the mantle of champion to do the reconnaissance for an Amazon invasion. Artemis is surprised to find that her strong mother has been emotionally and physically broken by Theseus and is afraid to flee. Artemis herself is beaten to near death by Theseus but is hidden away by two Irish slaves until she can recover.

The cultural cross-pollination between the women is intriguing. Artemis and her sister Amazons worship Cybele, the mother of the gods, whereas the Irish slaves are devoted to The Morrigan, the Celtic goddess of magic, water, revenge and, appropriately enough for Amazons, the supreme Celtic war goddess.

The Celtic influence gives Robbins an opportunity to add the "Wonder Woman" touches so that Artemis parallels Diana. Artemis' bracelets are Celtic and have been carefully hidden away by the slaves. They also smuggle for her some black wool from which she fashions a raven symbol to sew on to her red tunic, evoking Wonder Woman's golden eagle.

Yet I can't help feeling that by making this a special one-shot rather than a fill-in issue in the regular Wonder Woman series, the effect is weakened. It feels like preaching to the choir. Wife abuse — abuse period — is horrible and must be stopped. But I don't quite see how this story will cause a potential abuser to recognize the trait in himself or a victim to find the strength to end their denial, particularly considering the heavy-handed way in which Moira and James' relationship is portrayed. Part of the reason why victims stay with their abusers is because they can convince themselves during the good periods that the bad periods are over. James' behavior veers only between bad and worse.

I don't have a solution. Message stories are valuable, but there has to be a way of doing them that will affect the people who need it the most, or else the message ends up a wrong number.


Column 1998 Long Island Voice. Artwork 1998 DC Comics.