I’ve never been a good fan. I am grumpy, contrary and deeply perverse. So Gail Simone kind of sneaked up on me and, before I knew it, became my new trusted brand. I don’t think I really noticed till I was excited because she was writing Wonder Woman
I resisted reading Simone for so long because she was pushed at me in the same way Wonder Woman was, a woman in man’s world, a symbol—an icon all women and feminists should read or proof that the industry isn’t sexist, which is funny given her old website. That’s not her, though. (Sorry, Gail). In the end I picked up Wonder Woman because I liked her other work.
A friend loaned me issues of the female superhero team book Birds of Prey (DC, 2003-2007) and Birds of Prey: Between Dark and Dawn (2006) and I enjoyed it. I liked her use of marginal DC characters. But I really started to like Simone with Welcome to Tranquility (Wildstorm, 2007-8), Simone’s book (with art by Neil Googe) about a murder and its aftermath in a superhero retirement community. The book’s part of the charming superhero deconstruction or reconstruction with Alan Moore’s America’s Best Comics line, titles like Kurt Busiek’s Astro City (Wildstorm), Grant Morrison’s shortlived “hairy-chested love-god Batman” and cartoons like, Justice League and Justice League Unlimited. (In fact, Simone wrote what might be my favorite Justice League Unlimited episode, “Double Date,” featuring Black Canary, Green Arrow, Huntress and The Question on a nebulous date-adventure).
Speaking of supernooky, I realize that I never really thought about the attraction between Huntress and Catman in Birds of Prey (#106-7) and The Secret Six (DC, 2008- ). You know, a hunter and a leonine guy. That pairing might be charming in Silver Age comics, but it’s often mechanical and bloodless now. Inside the story, though, I don’t even really notice how cute a coincidence their identities and their relationship is. Simone is smooth.
I should’ve realized I was a fan when I checked Killer Princesses (Oni, 2004) out of the library. It’s Simone and artist Lea Hernandez’ story about a super-assassins sorority. The assassins, Faith Hope and Charity, are insufferable people, but I didn’t slip the book right back into the book return. Controlling a reader’s loss of sympathy and protagonists’ increasing unreliability is no easy trick especially when, in so many comics, the protagonist is always a hero, even unsympathetic protagonists who do rotten things like the Killer Princesses.
Though I’ve tried, I’ve had a hard time liking the Amazon Princess. Wonder Woman herself is a topic for another time, but I think one of the problems with female comics characters has been that they are written as an idea of what a woman is or should be. For me at least, it’s worst with Princess Diana herself, probably because for Fredric Wertham’s evil twin, William Moulton Marston, “Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world” (Daniels, Les. Wonder Woman: The Complete History. San Francisco: Chronicle, 2000: 22). She would be “dominant” while “loving, tender, maternal and feminine in every other way” (23).
Sniggering B/D jokes aside, who can write the perfect person? Who wants to read that? Luckily for me, Simone says: “I’m not interested in perfection, and I don’t think the readers are, either.”
Simone’s Diana is noble, virtuous, righteous even, but she’s not perfect. The easiest way to write an exemplary person is to write them from the outside, showing their impact on the world and other characters’ responses to them. Simone chose a harder route. She writes Diana from the inside and I like the funny, honest voice Simone’s given her. Diana of Themiscyra is still alien but her virtues are ones I understand rather than being generally well, “dominant,” perfect and untouchable. Diana’s strength comes from knowing who she is, as she tells a squad of superintellligent gorilla super-soldiers. (#14). And Simone, being a writer and therefore mean, targets this strength, her sense of self, making Diana decide if she will help a genocidal space warrior society, contaminating Diana’s self through her own lasso after a soulless man touches it and confronting Wonder Woman with horryifying Hollywood versions of her past selves—playing with the tension between Diana the person and Wonder Woman the symbol.
And, yes, I love superintelligent gorilla supersoldiers. I love space warrior societies. I really love 1970s style sword and sorcery barbarian Diana teaming up with Beowulf. With straps for her armor. And I love that in the space warrior and barbarian stories I don’t have to gloss over narrative about how females are for breeding or sap a warrior’s strength to get to the good parts. Though I admit, I have found barbaric brooding hilarious.
I enjoy Simone’s minor characters and humor and the effortlessness of her writing. If there’s anything we agree about at the Gutter, it’s that good writing should be smooth and appear effortless. And, in the end, Simone might not be perfect, but I trust her enough to read about characters I thought I didn’t like.
“Carol Borden is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world.”–William Moulton Marston