Bullets and Bracelets?
In my last post, I praised Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman for its close alignment to the Wonder Woman comics. I felt this way until I realized how Diana hadn’t disguised herself to play in the Amazon games in the movie. These games would determine which Amazon would be sent back into the world of men to bring justice. In Jenkins’ film, a lengthy training sequence that shows Diana’s desire to be trained. Her training leads to a dramatic moment when she decides to leave Themyscira because she must, because the Amazon principles require her to go. Interestingly, no other Amazon volunteers to go, so there isn’t a choice to be made. As queen, Hippolyta could have assigned another the mission. Instead, she accepts that her daughter must go, drawn by the genetics she shares with Zeus and his family of gods.
Differing Origin Stories
Diana is revealed as demigod in the Azzarello/Chiang New 52 relaunch of the character. In William Moulton Marston’s original conception, Hippolyta sculpts her daughter from clay and the sculpture is brought to life by the goddesses who oversee the Amazon existence: Athena and Aphrodite. In Marston’s original story (“Introducing Wonder Woman” in All-Star Comics no. 8) Steve Trevor crashes into the ocean near Paradise Island and Hippolyta turns to Aphrodite and Athena for guidance. The goddesses advise her to send the strongest and smartest Amazon warrior. To identify this warrior, Hippolyta stages a tournament.
Famously, Diana dons a mask over her eyes (or her entire face in the Lynda Carter television version of the story) and wins, proving that she is Wonder Woman. Marston retells this story (with some additional details including battling kangaroos!) in “The Origins of Wonder Woman” (published in Wonder Woman no. 1). Both Marston’s original and his quick review of the story tell us that Diana earns her way to the final game of the tournament: Bullets and Bracelets. In the original telling Diana faces off against Contestant 7 and in Marston’s retelling Diana faces off against her best friend Mala. In both versions, Diana wins. The importance of this ending is that Diana is the most skilled warrior among the Amazons. She isn’t chosen because it is her birthright. Marston’s story highlights that any Amazon could have been Wonder Woman.
The Azzarello/Chiang story contrasts with Marston’s assertion that Wonder Woman is an Amazon-everywoman. In the New 52 universe, Diana is a demigod who has inherent skills and abilities that make her Wonder Woman. She cannot be replaced. She is chosen.
What this Means for Our Current Wonder Woman
This is a marker of a cultural shift. Marston’s story tells the audience that anyone who trains hard and works hard at building a skill can be special. Azzarello and Chiang’s efforts indicate that something born-in makes people different. This can be attributed, in part, to science as our collective understanding of genetics has deepened and become more complex. This is probably why the story clicked along for me and I didn’t initially notice the absence of the tournament and Bullets and Bracelets.
On reflection, they should have been included. Though Jenkins substitutes the battle scene to display the strength and ferocity of the Amazons, removing Diana’s will to participate and her work to become Wonder Woman sends an entirely different message than Marston’s original story. Marston’s assertion that any Amazon could have been Wonder Woman removes the essentialism from the story. It allows readers to put themselves in Diana’s place. If Diana can train, assert herself, and bring justice than I can! Now viewers may be left asking if they are made out of the right stuff. In this world, that might be a dangerous message.
Did you know about the differing origin stories for Wonder Woman? Would the trial have made her a more relate-able character? Why or why not?