Wednesday, May 31, 2017

What's So Wonderful About Wonder Woman?

My friend, Tom, posed a question on Facebook: what is that people find so interesting about Wonder Woman? Now, before anyone gets into an uproar, know this: Tom is a comic book aficionado who doesn't find Wonder Woman to be a very interesting character. This does not make him a misogynist, and this question was asked in earnest; Tom has a long list of female superheroes who who finds to be more interesting and/or dynamic than Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. So, yes: chill out.

It was a fair enough question. It made me think. I am not a huge comic book fan, but I grew up sporadically reading the major titles and following the major characters. When it came to Wonder Woman, I'm also just the right age to have watched the television show, which was one of my favorites. I loved Wonder Woman. I still do. But why? Until my friend posed this question, I'd never given it much thought beyond the whole "she's a cool woman who kicks ass" angle and, let's face it, as Tom points out, there are other women in the world of comics who kick ass. I also love Jean Grey, but not the way I love Diana Prince/Wonder Woman which is weird because, in the entire comic book universe, X-Men is my favorite thing. Yet, my love for Diana Prince/Wonder Woman is steadfast and true. Why?

It came to me, suddenly.

Wonder Woman is essentially an immigrant narrative. Diana Prince is an immigrant who adopts the USA as her own, and does so with a vengeance. This appeals to me, I think, because I'm the first generation in my family born on mainland US soil, and raised with English as my first language. I'm the child of people from another place, who spoke another language, knew an entirely different culture, landed here without a word of English, and eventually grew up to wholeheartedly embrace every good thing about this country, even though they got called "spic." Even though they sometimes got the side-eye for being different. Even though the way they did things did not always fit in with their new surroundings.

My mother, who landed in NYC without one word of English, and who brought with her 'strange' ideas from the Caribbean ended up becoming the most kick-ass New Yorker, ever. No one had more street savvy. No one knew the subway system better than she did. No one had that New Yorker bullshit detector as finely tuned as she did. That's my mother's story. It's also Diana Prince's story.

If I love Wonder Woman, I don't have much time for Superman. I find him to be a bore. Superman lands on earth, in the USA, as a baby. He knows no other reality than that of being a milk-fed boy raised in the heartland. He is, for all intents and purposes, the all-American boy who grows up to be the all-American hero. He is dropped here and his destiny is somewhat preordained. Diana Prince, by stark contrast, makes deliberate choices which land her here as a grown woman. A foreigner in a strange land. She's the mother of all American immigrants and, like so many immigrants, she chooses a life of service to her new homeland, in the name of defending democracy.

There is something about this that is, and always has been, really attractive to me, although I'd never articulated it before Tom posed the question about Wonder Woman, and why she has such a huge and devoted following. The appeal, for me, anyhow, can be boiled down to this: Wonder Woman is an immigrant who embodies every good American value, and not really one of the crappy ones. She's my mother.

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