Monday, June 09, 2008

Three's a Charm


Today's the day I talk about Trinity!

First, I want to say, I applaud the concept of the DCU trinity. Now, it should come as a surprise to no one who has read this blog for any length of time that I like the idea of a set of characters that anchor (or, perhaps more accurately, "pillar") a literary universe. Things like "trinities", "pantheons", and the like are very mythic, and we love the mythic here at the Absorbascon. It ennobles (enriches? justifies, LOL?) our comics when they have mythic dimension and symbolism. It easier to tell stories that mean something when the characters in them already mean something.

I also like that, for DC, that set is a trinity. That's not really a necessity, you know. For the longest time, DC has actually been a duumvirate, of sorts. As Geoff Johns has the Toyman say in the most recent issue of Action, "You're either a Superman person or a Batman person." The "World's Finest" has been the paradigm DC's operated under since Batman and Superman first appeared together, I suppose.

It's been productive and useful in many ways, but it has drawbacks. It's needlessly adversative; you're naturally led to pit one side against the other (at least, if you're Frank Miller, you are). It's also rather shallow. One of the worst faults of the news media is their natural tendency to create or simulate conflict by reducing everything to two opposing sides or positions (whether it's appropriate or not); the world's usually a lot more complicated than that. I can accept shallowness in my news media, but not in my comic books. And it's tediously lacking in variety. When you've got only two basic elements to work with, you just have to compare and contrast them over and over and over again. If you read Superman/Batman you know exactly what I'm taking about. With three basic elements, you can compare and contrast them individually or any pair against the remaining element; that's a huge leap in variety from the one-note two-step dictated by the world of World's Finest.

There's another advantage to a trinity of characters (or concepts, or whatever): it generally feels more stable, more complete. It's no accident that most rhetoric (including the paragraph that precedes this one) tends toward triadic presentation, that we countdown from 3 rather than 2 or 4, that we (particularly Aristotle but excluding Geoff Johns) think of stories as having a beginning, and middle, and an end. If you doubt the stabilizing power of the 3, sit at a four-legged table versus a three-legged one, and ask yourself which one wobbles more.

I also like that the Trinity is Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. Now, that may seem like a foregone conclusion, but like the general concept of a trinity itself, it's by no means a necessity. They aren't the three most powerful heroes in the DCU (although they certainly aren't slouches, either!), nor even the best sellers. Instead, they are the three most culturally significant characters, whose images are most widely recognized and whose meaning is most generally understood. That's appropriate and shows that DC has an eye on more than just its short-term, fanboy interests.

I've heard people complain that including Wonder Woman into a trinity of heroes is uneven, awkward, forced. It's felt that there's not enough substance to her symbolism, that what she represents is unclear, that, currently, she's not their conceptual equal. Perhaps. But even if that is so, that's all the more reason to do it. You can't abandon an important opportunity to put Wonder Woman on the same conceptual level as Batman and Superman simply because... she's not already there! That makes as much sense as when my companion Ken misspoke this weekend, saying, "I can't drink when I'm sober."

I demand Equal Conceptual Rights for Wonder Women. Being included in the trinity will help -- already is helping -- speed up the process of solidifying, elaborating, and publicizing who Wonder Woman is and what she stands for. Even in the first issue of Trinity, we see that her approach to having a secret identity is very different from that of the Last Son and the Dark Knight. Similarly, her interpretation of their shared dream is used to distinguish her from "the Boys". It's my fervent hope that her exposure in Trinity will lead to something I strongly believe she needs, a second title (Sensation Comics, I assume).

In so many ways, "the Trinity" makes more sense than "the World's Finest". Superman, always super; Wonder Woman, super in costume and normal without; Batman, always normal. Superman, with two parents; Wonder Woman, with one; Batman, with none. As I have mentioned before, Truth, Justice, and the American Way. Focus, restraint, and balance. The city, the country, the city-state. Adoption, creation, self-creation. Admiration, fear, respect. Etc., etc., etc. And that doesn't even begin to explore the two-against-one combos: native versus alien, modern versus ancient, male versus female, privilege versus poverty, super versus non-super.

I am all for Trinity, the concept, the choices, and (so far) the execution.

And you?

27 comments:

The Watch Dog said...

And let us not forget the "Rule of Three" that dominates so much joke-telling! "A priest, a rabbi, and a minister walk into a bar...." Maybe Trinity will be funny as well.

(There's a reason for the Rule of Three. Two establishes a pattern; three breaks it, creating absurdity/humor.)

I suspect I'll enjoy this comic. You're right about the variety created by adding a third. Superman and Batman are always posed to represent such opposites, and it gets repetitive. Wonder Woman will subvert and moderate those absolutionist tendencies. And I'm thrilled to see Womder Woman getting the status she deserves. I, too, hope that this will improve her visibility and maybe lead to another monthly comic.

I am *not* fond of the whole "Wonder Woman is Truth" business; it seems forced and, especially now that she has a secret identity, a little off. She has a lasso that forces people to obey her and tell the truth. That doesn't make her Truth. And I never really liked the "no superpowers as Diana Prince" business, for a variety of reasons. But you have a lot of good points, and after reading your post I'm looking forward to Trinity even more.

rlsims said...

So far, I like the book a lot. I agree that the continuing rising Wonder Woman to equal stature in DC lore with Bats and Supes is a good idea, I like the contrast of the characters in their breakfast meeting, and I think Busiek has a nice ear for each of the characters.

The lead story did end pretty abruptly, but I think I read somewhere that Busiek is going for an extended Sunday Funnies approach. And the classic adventure strips often did stop abruptly with a cliffhanger. So he's succeeding in replicating that, if that's his goal.

Don't know if the folks we are seeing in the backup will be around for the whole year or not, but they seem an interesting contrast. I don't think I would have thought of Kirby's version of Morgaine Le Fey as a major villain for this work, but she could work well.

And I think I might like this Bagley cat.

Scipio said...

"I am *not* fond of the whole "Wonder Woman is Truth" business"

Indeed. If you read the post I linked to I think you'll see that matter in a different light... .

Scipio said...

As for the anti-Trinity, yes, it's not exactly what one would expect. However, it's looking like it's going to be

a magical, otherworldly woman
a high-tech genius
and
an alien powerhouse.

It's hard to argue against that as an anti-Trinity!

Gustavo said...

I will give Trinity a chance, even though I'm so completely over Bats. But then, the Supes/WW thing never works on its own,so that's another reason in favor of the three of them together.

On the other topics on the debate table, I like the Diana Prince persona, and I like that she's powerless -always the tv show fan - even though I'm not completely sure of the logic behind it with the current incarnation ( which even with retcons, I still consider the post Crisis Perez one ).

As for Sensation Comics, if that ever comes to be ( I really doubt it ) it's going to be Gail's merit and not Busiek's:even if Trinity is a blockbuster, no one will give Diana the credit, but the big, multi titled guys.

Mallet said...

I'm of two minds on it.

While I enjoy the concept of these three getting into far flung adventures, it just feels as though I've already seen it? Pretty much every month in Justice League we have a sceen where these three get together and chat. Heck, thats all I can really remember them doing the first story arc (didn't they all show up and beat on Amazo at the end?).

David said...

the true trinity:
green lantern
flash
aquaman


space/air
land/time
water/sub-terra

Aquaman kills, Flash won't, tho he might mindwipe, green lantern would never

this trinity would destroy bats supes and wondy

David said...

the very problem with establishing the anti-trinity is how weak is joker/cheetah/luthor.. whereas an anti-trinity of dr zoom/BlackManta/Star Saphire makes so much sense it hurts, the possibilities are endlessssss

Citizen Scribbler said...

Wonder Woman is "Truth". Huh. I thought Superman would receive that tag and Wonder Woman would be given "The American Way". She works proudly for Uncle Sam and fights to ensure that we all live up to our ideals of harmonizing compassion with strength.

Sensation Comics is a rather provocative-sounding title... I like.

I wholeheartedly support cementing WW's place in the grand trio. Perhaps, in the distant future, when nearly all those possibilities have been explored, a fourth, fifth and so on may be added as the narrative complexities of the comic book form evolve over the decades.

But I'm still not sold on trying "Trinity". I tend to prefer the lesser gods (as it were). But I'm always down for a good yarn. No spoilers necessary, just tell me true- is it a morsel likely to compel one to return to the table for another course?

-Citizen Scribbler

Scipio said...

No, Wonder Woman is Justice.
Superman is Truth.
Batman is the American Way.

It's all in the linked post.

Scipio said...

"the true trinity:
green lantern
flash
aquaman"

I'll agree with you, David, that I would like to see those three also used as a trinity of their own.

Perhaps we can follow up on that in a later post....

Anonymous said...

More than anything, I look at the three this way:

Superman - perfection of strength and virtue; the unattainable ideal.

Batman - mankind functioning at its best; the attainable ideal.

Wonder Woman - ... Okay, this is where it gets tough; Superman and Batman seem to have the two poles pretty well covered. So what is Wonder Woman in all this? Of late, she's been portrayed better than ever, as a diplomat and a warrior who offers to put down her arms even when victory is within reach. I like that, but what do I make of it? Perhaps it can be framed this way: Wonder Woman is about the inspiration to strive for an ideal, specifically the unattainable ideal.

Wonder Woman as an embodiment of inspiration. I think that more or less works. It doesn't cover huge portions of her character history, but then again, Batman wasn't always the master athlete / fighter / tactician, and Superman used to spend most of his time screwing with Jimmy Olsen's mind.

Frank Lee Delano said...

I wanted to say I agree with most everything you said in both "Justice, Truth, and the American Way" and "Three's a Charm."

You know, "World's Finest" worked best as a trinity as well, but there the balance/reactive was Robin the Boy Wonder.

I haven't read Gail Simone's "Wonder Woman" yet, as I'm waiting for the trade. I hope she's doing a better job with Diana than most. I haven't felt like anyone's had a strong handle/angle on the character since the William Messner-Loebs run.

I've wanted to write "Sensation Comics" almost as much as "Wonder Woman" for years. Well, not almost, but a lot. I'm brimming.

Superman is the perfectly integrated, authority respecting, non-interventionist, polished god-amongst men.

Batman is the completely isolated paranoid vigilante tarnished man-amongst-gods.

Wonder Woman is friendly foreigner, accepting of other ways while espousing her own philosophy. She is respectful of authority, but deteriministic enough to collide with the will of god and man as needed. She is diplomatic, but will resort to violence to correct perceived wrongs. She is a demigoddess-- the controversial role model-- unattainable in form but not in ideal.

Trinity: Light. Dark. Contrast.

Finally, I like Despero, and placed him in my own villainous trinity (with Maxima and Vril Dox II.) Morgan LeFey has already been beaten by Wonder Woman and Superman seperately, and nevermind Riddler 2.0, so he's only one of the three to inspire trepidation.

Frank Lee Delano said...

P.S. The second DC Trinity is Flash/Green Lantern/Green Arrow, and is very possible with Barry, Hal and Ollie all back amongst the living. There was a time Wally/Kyle/J'Onn could have semi-worked, but that's no longer true. You could also make a duo out of Aquaman and Martian Manhunter, but would anyone really want to?

running42k said...

Excellent analysis. I assume that when you mention focus, restraint and balance, that Wonder Woman is definitely restraint.

I just hope that Wonder Woman wasn't put in the Trinity in order to develop a sexual tension element. If it was then if moves from Trinity to Three's Company.

Scipio said...

Superman is restraint (because he is impressive for what he chooses NOT to do): WOnder Woman is balance.

SallyP said...

Beautifully articulated as usual, Scipio. I like the idea of Wonder Woman as Justice, it seems quite appropriate. I also like the idea of Wonder Woman as the third choice, the gray, to the dark and the light of Batman and Superman.

Interestingly, Justice is not Mercy, and frankly, Wonder Woman is the only one with the balls to dish it out.

Ragtime said...

My anti-Trinitarian argument is too long for a comment, so I posted it on my blog.

The short answer, though, is that 4 is better than 3 because who the heck wants to read about a table that doesn't wobble?

Tony said...

Trying to pin down what Wonder Woman is "about" may be too limiting.

One of the great things about Batman and Superman is that they can be "about" all kinds of different things, depending on who's writing them. They are both icons, but they gain richness from the fact that they "mean" different things to different people.

When Wonder Woman has a strong enough mythos to be iconic, yet still open to interpretation, then she'll be part of the trinity.

Tony said...

Just to clarify, I think Scipio's on the right track. At the end of this post, he lists a number of things the Trinity can be "about." That's the key, right there.

Anonymous said...

"Just to clarify, I think Scipio's on the right track. At the end of this post, he lists a number of things the Trinity can be "about." That's the key, right there."

Sure, I'll agree that complex characters with long histories and many good stories can be "about" a great many things. But when I think of a character, there's usually some aspect of them that is pre-eminent in my mind; it's not to the exclusion of other aspects, just pre-eminent. Now what sticks in my mind may not be what sticks in anyone else's, but that's why God invented the Internet: so we can argue about whether the Martian Manhunter is "lonely survivor recovering from loss" or "versatile coach of less-experienced heroes".

There are lots of characters out there that don't have enough impact on me for me to have an opinion of what they're "about". I am not motivated to buy their comics.

Mike Loughlin said...

I always see Wonder Woman as a mediator between the extremes of Batman & Superman, so she has a role in the Trinity. I agree that she fits, and provides a "grey area" viewpoint. I don't see Batman & Superman as polar opposites, viewpoint-wise (method-wise, sure), but DC sets them up as such.

The problem is, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Flash, and at least two Green Lanterns could fill the same role. Maybe they're not as iconic as Wonder Woman, but they are all experienced heroes who have the respect of and a position between the Big 2. I like WW in that role, but I don't feel that makes her the only one or even the best one (I say pre-crazy J'Onn) to be the 3rd member.

I do see the Supes/ Bats/ WW Trinity as being full of possibilities, but they're mostly unrealized.

Justin said...

FLD: I love the Flash/GL/GA sub-trinity, and I think its subtle significance is indicated by the fact that when DC made the Wally-Barry switch, Lantern and Arrow eventually followed suit in that exciting decade we call the '90s. And when they brought Oliver Queen back, it paved the way for the return of Hal and Barry.

There is, in fact, a beautiful symmetry to it:

Barry replaced - Hal replaced - Ollie replaced - (MORRISON JLA) - Ollie returns - Hal returns - Barry returns (?)

Ideally, either all three are next-gen heroes, or none of them are, it seems.

Rohan Williams said...

You know, I'm generally not a fan of Wonder Woman being elevated to the same status as the World's Finest, but you- and a number of the commentators here- make some persuasive points.

I still don't think her character is as well developed (get your minds out of the gutter) as the other two, but maybe that's the point, to throw an X-Factor into the traditional Supes/Bats routine. I hadn't thought of it that way before.

Frank Lee Delano said...

Justin, with the exception of Wally West, I was a big fan of the next gen Trinity.

I did wish Kyle Rayner had been a bit deeper, but he was great in the Firestorm/Spider-Man/awed neophyte role. He grew into the obnoxious lefty role, which seemed tired. Or maybe that was just Winnick?

Connor Hawke had similar elements, but I thought he was less naive than culturally disconnected. He could have been the balance here.

Wally would have been more fun as the flakey conservative hypocrite of the 80's, but by the time of Kyle & Connor, he was a seasoned veteran with his own Speed Force Family. When not defined by his criticism of Kyle, he was twice as boring as Barry, with none of his charm.

I think the 70's Silver Age trio had/will again have a better dynamic, and hope Barry joins the Robinson Justice League to spotlight that. If you're going to anchor a DC team, you really need all three to make it work at its best.

David said...

it seems the inherent problem w supes/wondy/bats is no one agrees which one is supposedly "truth" 'justice' and the 'american way' - obviously in the superior trinity of gl/flash/aquaman hal (pre-spectre) is the american way, whereas aquaman is justice and flash is truth ;
furthermore the anti-trinity of Black Manta and Dr Zoom with Star Sapphire would easily defeat The Trinity, (Black Manta as a Black Luthor, Zoom as a hyper joker, and Star Sapphire all powered up to WondereWoman levels) Yeah!

The Mutt said...

Sky Father. Earth Mother. Dark Prince.

They are in virtually every pantheon of gods people have ever created.