I gave up on the DC’s “New 52” Wonder Woman series when it was revealed that in this version, the Amazons were man-raping murderers who abandoned their male children back in issue #8 (or was it #7?). Other people have done a better job than I can in this small space of explaining how friggin’ terrible a job Brian Azzarello is doing with the comic – and the only reason I had stuck with it until that point was because I liked the art.
As such, I was not aware of the most recent indignity Diana was meant to suffer until I read this excellent, but ultimately sad essay by my friend Robert Jones, Jr about why he was giving up on mainstream comics. He has the event perfectly pegged in that essay, so I recommend you read that and come back here. I won’t waste my time trying to re-explain what he has already explained so well. It is sufficed to say that rather than identify with the narrow-minded sexist Orion, to laugh along with his chauvinism, I can’t help but feel like he is just the kind of character Wonder Woman was meant to challenge and combat—not tolerate.
Anyway, I recently got my hands on a couple of issues of Wonder Woman from the early 70s written by Samuel Delaney, in my attempt to hunt down the earliest example of black writers in mainstream comics (and so far, he is the earliest I could find). The story behind his very short-lived run is another awful example of how marginalized groups are set against each other, since Gloria Steinem’s objection to the direction they had taken Diana Prince (removing her powers and classic costume) was used an excuse to remove Delaney from the comic, when he was trying to construct an arc in which Diana takes on the real world issues of women living in a patriarchal culture (and not the one who had masterminded the power loss).
So, with these two issues fresh in my mind, I thought about the opening panels to issue #203, which involve Diana Prince, the Wonder Woman, being harassed on the street when I saw that Orion panel. Her inner monologue provides what might be didactic exposition to us today, but I think is nevertheless something that I think the culture still needs. Such public harassment and its toleration or trivializing is of the same order as the Orion butt slap. It is the kind of “boys will be boys-it-is-meant-in-good-humor-it’s-a-compliment-just-ignore-it-if-you-don’t-like-it” that still exists and that makes things like the Hollaback movement to end street harassment so important.
Of course, Delaney’s two-issues are far from perfect and Diana is depicted a bit inconsistently, what with her claim of not liking women and not wanting to join a women’s organization (though in the end she does). It takes her friend to shame her into joining up and helping out, when it seems like the kind of thing someone from the Amazon paradise she is supposed to come from would be down to do from the get-go. It is odd in light of her role as a paragon of women and advocate for them.
More than 40 years later, it seems, that Wonder Woman still has to deal with the same masculine hostility. At least in issue 203 she confronts her harassers and runs them off with a few well-placed karate kicks, but in 2013 it seems to be a good little superheroine she has to swallow Orion’s presumption of privilege in order to keep her place in the hostile work environment of the superheroic world.