What Does Wonder Woman’s New Origin Story Mean For Her Feminist Symbolism?

In the course of an interview with Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang, who are writing and drawing DC’s rebooted Wonder Woman, Geoff Boucher raises an interesting question. What does it mean to change Wonder Woman’s origin story, turning her from a statue brought to life by Aphrodite for Queen Hippolyta to Zeus’s daughter:

CC: If you went to the average person on the street and showed them a picture of Wonder Woman they would recognize her immediately. Ask those people her origin story and some of them might know the clay story but many, many others would not know that at all. That’s not a problem you have with Superman or Batman; everyone knows their origin. By making her the daughter of Zeus, we’ve gotten a big driving force behind our story. It gives her a motivation and it’s a key to character that we now feel is very important. She’s a child of the gods who defends us from them, in the same way that Superman is from another planet trying to save humanity and Batman is the orphan who is protecting us from the criminals who killed his parents.

BA: It’s going to be key to a lot of things. We can’t just make this change and leave it hanging. It’s going to inform the first year of stories. She’s got a whole family she’s got to meet. Some are looking forward to meeting her and others aren’t. We’re heading toward the family reunion. Ever been to one of those? At the same time she is protecting this young woman Zola, who happens to be carrying a baby — we don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl yet — who is another one of the children of Zeus. So she’s protecting her half-brother or half-sister who is on the way.

That’s a sort of Buffy-ization of the Wonder Woman mythos that accords with a lot of recent stories that explore scenarios where there are a lot of people with varying degrees of power in the world. The idea that we’ve all got a little Wonder Woman in us has been part of the feminist mythos since the founding of Ms., which put her on the cover of its inaugural issue trying to halt the advance of the Vietnam War, striding past a billboard with the slogan “Peace and Justice in ’72.” A mythology that makes that possibility explicit raises the possibility of a pantheon of new superheroes. But it also risks reducing Wonder Woman to a permanent and perpetual mother-protector role, constantly rushing around defending her divinely-inspired relatives.

Similarly, in their quest for specificity, I wonder if Azzarello and Chiang are reducing Wonder Woman a bit. Her original story may not be plausible, or gritty, but it is about an expression of female will and independence. Not everything needs to be grounded in social realism. Some things can just be mysterious and strange. It’s yet another reason we’re far too consumed with origin stories. Trying to come up with a psychologically plausible explanation for the divine, or near-so, is a bit of a contradiction in terms.