Thursday, June 09, 2016


One of the aspects of ancient mythology that I enjoyed studying the most was mythic syncretism. It's the process which variant versions of a myth meet, interact, and eventually synthesize into one broader but unified myth.  

Mythic syncretism is an exciting literary process and one that stretches beyond the tastes of individual authors and audiences; it's key to making sure that stories are not ephemera but contribute to the evolution of myths that can last across time.  Much of what we take as original, essential characteristics of our comic book characters is in fact the result of the syncretism process.  One of my earliest posts was about how the Mad Hatter as we know him today is the result of such syncretism.  Syncretism is why I don't freak out as much as other fans do when the television or cinema version of some hero's story "isn't right" and doesn't agree with canon. Well, of course, it doesn't.  If it did, there would be little reason to make it.  Maybe it will contribute some new wrinkle or viewpoint to the myth. Maybe what it does will be too out-of-line, and be rejected; but even that contributes to the reaffirmation of the existing myth.  

It's a fascinating process, as if entire civilizations were individual authors trying to establish a continuity that encompasses different and sometimes contradictory stories about particular characters or events. It often reveals what the purpose of the myth itself is, which elements are most essential to it, and sometimes makes the story a more universal one, accessible to a broader audience.

Very much as DC is trying to do right now. The writers (and the characters they are writing) are trying to reconcile divergent sets of stories (the New52 DCU and the Post-Crisis DCU...maybe the Pre-Crisis one as well).  And nowhere in the DCU is that process being embraced for what it is more fully than in--appropriately enough--the mythology-based Wonder Woman Rebirth #1.  

Wonder Woman quite literally address her realization that she has more than one backstory: "why does my story keep changing?"  Vowing to get to the bottom of it, she repudiates her recent characterization as a God of War.  She crushes the Helm of Ares (which should not be doable even for her) and points out the first casualty in war is....the truth.  This, along with her vow to uncover who has deceived her and why, is a unequivocal reaffirmation that 'truth' rather than 'war' is the core concept of the character.  

I have to note that 'truth' being one of Wonder Woman's  core concepts is NOT original to the character.  If you read her Golden Age adventures, you'll see that the core concepts are ones of aggression/submission and love/hate.  What we now call 'the lasso of truth' was in fact a lasso of CONTROL  Because 'submission to a loving authority' was the concept that Wonder Woman's creator, William M. Marston, thought of as being at her core.  History had a different idea, as it turned out, and through various other post-Marston versions of her, Wonder Woman became about truth; it was a result of syncretism.  

In the Superman books, Rebirth is an issue of responsibility.  Details of recent history be damned; this looks like a job for Superman and he's going to do it, and chance the consequences, because Superman is a man of action.

In the Batman books, Rebirth is a mystery.  Batman and his fellow detective the Flash intend to find out which thief stole history from the DC and right that injustice.

In the Wonder Woman books, Rebirth is matter of myth, of figuring out which version of her story is true, because myths matter.  In the fashion of Greek myths, Wonder Woman speaks about concepts in a personified way, e.g., "the lie is afraid of me" and "hostility, the child of fear".  She vow to "find the source of the deception".  My hope is we are seeing the reintroduction of the perfect foe for Wonder Woman; not Ares God of War (because Wonder Woman has always been quite willing to do battle for what is right), but rather Deception God of Lies.

In any case, I am for now, definitely along for the ride.  Because this is a Wonder Woman that works for me.



CobraMisfit said...

I agree whole-heartily. Making her a demi-god made sense logically, but God of War was a step too far.

If Rebirth is about re-centering characters, there's some meta-awesomeness going on with Wonder Woman getting to the core of her own backstory.

I, too, am in for a pound with her.

And if they put her in the white jumpsuit, all the better!

Mark said...

Posts like this are why I love the Absorbascon :)

As I kid, I encountered comics before mythology. Once I started reading myths (the classic Bulfinch's Mythology), I remember struggling with the lack of continuity (though I didn't know that word) between stories. Thankfully, I outgrew that problem.

I do think a big part of why syncretism has worked for Superman and Batman has been the volume of successful projects that have existed across media. Along with the various in-universe reboots, there have been lots of opportunities to experiment and try different ideas, concepts, characters etc. Whatever is ultimately absorbed or not absorbed on a permanent basis into the comics mythology, characters like Green Arrow, Flash and Supergirl are going to be enriched by their current television experiments.

I'm hopeful that Wonder Woman will benefit from the recent attention and that Rucka will move the character forward rather than just decide that the "truth" is the status quo of his previous run on the book. You can make an argument that comic characters thrive despite of not because of their fans but I think that is especially true of Wonder Woman whose fans are like a literary John Birch Society (obviously, not in a literal/political sense). I think the Azarello run was great not because every idea worked perfectly but because of its willing to try some new things (including one of the better uses of Orion; it's almost too bad Kirby didn't build his 4th World Saga around Wonder Woman instead of Superman; I think those concepts would work better if they leaned harder into the idea of them as myths created by modern society - e.g. Granny Goodness as Goddess of State Institutions - than the space side).

Bryan L said...

"e.g. Granny Goodness as Goddess of State Institutions"

Wow, I really like that idea. It ties neatly into myth, since a lot of early myths sprang up to explain what was then inexplicable, like lightning or sunrise.

Government is pretty abstract to the average person, like many modern institutions. Having a personification of these hard-to-grasp modern constructs makes a lot of sense.

Orion = modern warfare (using equipment as part of his persona). Mr. Miracle = the urge to get away from it all. Desaad = torture (like waterboarding). Steppenwolf = covert operations. The Forever People = youthful rebellion, which morphs into authority (the Infinity Man), just like youth grows older. Lightray = hell, he could represent science, in the form of relativity.

Update their outfits, like they did for Orion, and you've got something. It even dovetails with Kirby -- New Gods replacing Old Gods.

Mark, submit a proposal to DC stat.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this too.

I rather doubt that Rucka will take Wonder Woman *all* the way back to her roots: Loving submission/bondage seems so much more of a Marvel thing, these days.

Slaughter said...

"Truth" is rather weak-sauce for a basic super-hero concept. Its like saying your politics are all for "progress and development", because I have yet to hear a political campaign based on Regress and Undevelopment (any absorbascommando remembers "We shall destroy freedom and democracy forever?").

So Truth. Truth is good (and shall set you free). Lies are bad. Deep.

So Wonder-Woman is gonna fight... FOR TRUTH! So... Wonder-Woman is gonna be a Detective or Investigator? Is the Lasso of Truth constitutionally legal? I bet Diana could pull the private detective look and still look hot? How does this relates to fighting monsters, gods and mages?

John said...

Hm. I actually do think the New Gods might have worked for Wonder Woman, at that. Gods that are about the things we fear today, making them actual new gods instead of just superheroes who have listened to far too much Wagner. And Wonder Woman could easily have changed her "New Wonder Woman" course at the time to fighting those social fears. Nice call!

Otherwise, I'm sure I've said it before, but immersing Wonder Woman in mythology never really otherwise gelled for me, still feeling like something quickly grafted to the franchise (in the rather recent past) at the last minute to make her "different," but makes her so different that she's off playing D&D instead of joining the mainstream DCU, only showing up armored in JLA to scream about warfare and swing her Vorpal Sword (+3).

What's funny about trying to untangle her continuity, though, is that Wonder Woman, historically, has two associated characters who are pretty much known exclusively for tangled, rewritten continuity, Wonder Girl and Fury. Hopefully, Wonder Woman's attempt at resolution will be more interesting and end better than the other two...

Mark said...

With Wonder Woman, I don't think it is mythology per se but rather the outsize influence "Xena the Warrior Princess" has had on the character.

The one legacy of New 52/Rebirth will be that pretty much every DC character will have their history turned into a continuity soufflé. They even managed to screw up Black Canary - the one character that benefited from COIE.

Redforce said...

Ugh. The 'C' word. The second biggest Enemy to Comics Today (displacing Surrealism! Decompression is #1 still). It's great to get nods to the past via in-character word/thought balloons and panel boxes ("*Ish #52!-Ed."), but Continuity has become this straight-jacket that most writers seems to willingly wear when writing comics. They have to Follow The Rules and Tell A Serious Story- about men and women in spandex involved in soap-opera/wrestling psychodramas. Really... I'm not saying you can't use comics to Tell Serious Stories- but writers, please quit acting like you are ashamed of your very livelihood and write some Fun Comix, please!

Sr. Favo said...

What's wrong with Continuity? Good continuity gets kept, bad continuity should get wiped away and when somebody asks, just do this:

Continuity to me is the brick and mortar that allows more complex stories to be woven. Otherwise you're left with pre-Marvel shared Universe-style super-hero movies:
Act I: Obligatory Origin Story (which everybody knows of)
Act II: Hero meets villain
Act III: Hero fights villain once and for all, win. Villain dies (often gets killed) or goes to jail.

Oh, and in the second movie the heroes fight two villains. Because that's how its done.

Imagine a movie adaptation of Civil War without the previous movies. Like, who's this Captain America guy, and this guy in armor with a mustache, why they're fighting each other, and why should we care?

Sr. Favo said...

Tangent: Talking about Non-Continuity... what happened to Elseworlds? Haven't read one in years, last I did was Last Family of Krypton.

Would love to see someone with a less deterministic and more buttlerfly-ish view of Alternate History write one. Heh, has DC ever given one to a Alternate History written? Wonder what would SM Stirling do with the Justice League...

Redforce said...

@Sr. Favo
Nothing is wrong with Continuity in and of itself. Continuity is a great way to connect a current comic to the rich tapestry of the past and can be a good springboard for stories. The problem is writers and editors that are slavishly devoted to making everything fit into some larger Continuity, instead of referring to past events and re-using parts of older stories to connect to the present.

Anonymous said...

For me, the worst part of continuity is, BAD STORIES NEVER GO AWAY.

John said...

Mark, you missed the character who outsizes Black Canary's Post-Crisis "promotion" by an order of magnitude: The Martian Manhunter. He went from an obscure wannabe whose claim to fame was "Superman is out of town, so..." to "the Heart and Soul of the Justice League," someone who inspired almost all of the major characters in some way, and faced down Darkseid a few times.

As to continuity, my own view is that...I recently stumbled across a Calvin Coolidge quote that "prosperity is a tool to be used, not a deity to be worshiped." I feel the same way about continuity. Great tool in the belt, but when it becomes an end in itself, it's trouble. And the fact that DC's writers so often opt to destroy continuity to build a new one from scratch shows that they believe it's an end in itself.

It's also the wrong term, of course, since comic books are intrinsically discontinuous works, what with the gaps of time between panels and issues. One might argue that this is just a semantic argument, but it's worth pointing out that this is how DC approaches the idea: How can we bridge literally every change that happens so that there's no ambiguity?

What DC arguably "really" wants is just a set of "canonical stories," the incidents that definitely happened, as opposed to all other stories that may have happened differently or were total fabrications.

Mr. Preece said...

This hobby is largely about following characters over long periods of time. We left the monthly one-and-done decades ago. The casual consumer is a non-factor these days. (How often to people just pick up random, non-#1 issues these days?) People INVEST in a franchise and then follow it through thick and thin.

Continuity is essential to that approach. Nerd rage rightly ensues when a publisher makes abrupt changes (Spider-man being an example). If you make the last 10 years worth of purchases meaningless, why should I buy the next year's worth? Why should I value this month's comic if the publisher doesn't? The illusion of a woven tapestry of life matters to many.

Lack of consistent continuity is why I rarely buy Marvel or DC comics anymore. I've stuck with Hal Jordan because all my issues add up to one long life (he's probably DC's only major character who hasn't been rebooted). I dump a character when they stop and start all the time, such as Hawkman. I read the New52 Flash so long as I could pretend he was the pre-FP Barry; that ended with the New52 Wally--couldn't pretend anymore.

Continuity really just means that you move FORWARD from what has already been done, instead of going BACKWARDS to redo it.

Dark Horse and Del Rey proved this with their Star Wars licenses. You can build without starting over for 25 years and still have lots more to tell. You just go find writers who agree to build rather than insist on destroying. And you will keep your readers, your customers, happy and loyal for much longer than Marvel or DC have been able to do with their start/stop approach.