Darwyn Cooke’s (with Dave Stewart) DC: The New Frontier introduces us to a new incarnation of Wonder Woman. In Chapter 4: Gods and Monsters, we see a newspaper story written by Clark Kent. The article, “Superman and Wonder Woman Ease Suffering for Indo-China” is accompanied by a photograph of Wonder Woman holding a girl waving a flag on her back (Cooke 80). The photograph is captioned, “Wonder Woman: WInning the hearts and minds of the disenfranchised” (Cooke 80). Importantly, the article tells us that “This administration would like to stress that their mission is humanitarian, not military, in nature.”
We follow Superman through a battlefield littered with dead men, into a remote village hut, and find Wonder Woman surrounded by Cambodian women, standing on a table with a bottle in one hand and a glass in the other. She invites Kal-El to “join the celebration” as the women pull their guns on him (Cooke 81). Wonder Woman tells the women that they can relax because he is “[…] the Mighty Superman. He won’t hurt you” (Cooke 81).
Acting on her Own
From Superman we learn Wonder Woman hasn’t checked in with the United States’ government in “over two weeks” (Cooke 83). She replies that he “[…] can tell them I’m over here winning the hearts and minds of the disenfranchised” (Cooke 83). This reveals Wonder Woman’s relationship to the government and her lacking desire to keep tabs on her efforts.
Superman asks her about the field of dead men and she replies that she “[…] noticed a small camp at the mouth of the river” (Cooke 84). In the camp, she finds women trapped in animal cages (Cooke 84). To address this, she invaded the camp and took the men’s weapons (Cooke 84). She released the women from the cage and tells Superman, “And then I opened the tiger cages, these women had been living like this for weeks. Nothing more than animals…sexual cattle , they stood in silence facing their tormentors” (Cooke 85). Wonder Woman notes that she “[…] placed the weapons in the clearing, the choice was theirs” (Cooke 85).
Superman is horrified by this. Wonder Woman explains: “These women have reclaimed their home. And their dignity” (Cooke 86). She says, “I have chosen to train them to survive the coming war. Surely you see the virtue in that” (Cooke 86). Superman is enraged that she “allow[ed] cold-blooded murder…and then [… celebrated]” (Cooke 86). She replies that after watching the slaughter of their village she has “[…] given them their freedom and a chance for justice” (Cooke 86). Superman reminds her that she is not acting in accordance with “our protocol” (Cooke 87). She replies, “Of course, Karl. The rules are the rules. We can’t get involved, it’s some dirty act of sabotage that our government sanctions” Cooke 87). She suggests that Kal-El, “Take a good look around. There are no rules here. Just suffering and madness. I want you to go back and tell the undersecretary that” (Cooke 87). She then commands, “There’s the door, Spaceman” (Cooke 87).
A Woman of Principle
This brief interaction reveals a tough and principled Wonder Woman. It demonstrates how she lives by her Amazonian principles by releasing the women and allowing them to make a choice about how to deal with their captors. Interestingly, her choice to leave the weapons where the women can make a choice shows us her belief in women’s independence.
This scene relies on the contrast of Wonder Woman and Superman. Though they were both deployed by the U.S. Government, Wonder Woman values a humanitarian mission that she has identified. This is a Wonder Woman who has ideas of her own and isn’t interested in the government’s rules. Interestingly, this Wonder Woman understands the press (she repeats the photograph’s caption) and the government as entities separate from humanitarian efforts. This is a depiction that reminds us that at her core, Wonder Woman is loyal only to the principles of her Amazonian roots including fairness and sisterhood. This is a particularly interesting contrast to early Wonder Woman who comes to America, with the blessing of her mother, Artemis, and Aphrodite to save America as a haven of democracy and women’s rights.
Which is more important? Loyalty to the mission directives? Or personal investment in a cause? What comic book stories do you follow that face the same challenges we see Wonder Woman face here?