WTF? Wednesday: Punishing Diana

In the world of many superheroes, killing a villain is verboten. Theoretically, doing so would undermine their moral authority and blur the line between angels and demons — even if the target is a cold-blooded murderer with no remorse and a high recidivism rate. Better to break a few of the bad guy’s bones and ship him or her off to the nearest prison or high-security facility for sociopaths. Right? Not always. Sometimes a character does something so heinous and/or is such a threat to society that a hero is justified in choosing the nuclear option.

I’m speaking specifically of Wonder Woman, who wisely took out evil mastermind Maxwell Lord in the events leading up to Infinite Crisis. Later, in a stunning display of self-righteousness, Batman and Superman castigated her for saving their asses and, possibly, the world. Worse, Wonder Woman eventually was turned into a remorseful sad-sack in post-IC events. Lord was a menace on a global scale. Out of paranoia, he hatched a deadly plan to destroy metahumans, and when Blue Beetle (Ted Kord) found out and refused to join him, Lord put a bullet through the Kord’s head. He then used mind control to sic Superman on Bruce and Diana, and Bruce was lucky to have escaped with his life. Did we mention that he was the driving force behind that scary OMAC cyborg army?

Under the influence of Wonder Woman’s lasso, Lord confessed that the only way to free Superman from his dark influence was to kill him. The lasso doesn’t lie, so Diana snapped Lord’s neck. Yet, she was immediately vilified by her fellow Trinity-mates when the act was broadcast worldwide. Batman, still paranoid from the mind-wipes (See: Identity Crisis), basically told her she should have stayed on her island and to get lost.Continuing the horse’s ass theme, Superman chimed in: “You’re trying to help people you can’t even relate to. … They’re scared of us. They’re scared of us because of you.”

V. and I have talked about this many times, and she has my back. Take it away, V.!

“Bruce is a giant fucking judgment ball. I hated that scene. The premier woman in the DCU was cast out for doing the thing that needed to be done — for being a warrior and perhaps being “masculine?”

Let’s review: Diana stops a maniac from manipulating an insanely powerful being who happens to be a dear friend, and she’s the bad guy? And if Superman was so worried about frightening mankind, why didn’t he consider how much more terrified people would have been if Lord had remained his puppet-master? Talk about bad PR.

I’m not saying that the incident should have been treated lightly. It’s a very big deal when a character as principled as Wonder Woman gets to that point. I can see her being somber and taking it seriously, but not being overly remorseful.

Back to Batman. If anyone should have put the drop on a pathological criminal, it’s him. In the case of the Joker, who has left a long, bloody trail of death, Bruce’s rigid no-killing code is ludicrous. That made his angry criticism of Wonder Woman all the more infuriating. And don’t get me started on Superman’s nemesis, Lex Luthor, another master of serial destruction. (The idea that the DC “can’t” remove the Joker or Lex because they’re legacy villains is another issue.)

One could argue that killing is a slippery slope; that if you start with Maxwell Lord it’s just a matter of time before you’re crushing Killer Moth. But again, this is extreme, relentless menace we’re talking about. Really, what else should Wonder Woman have done with so little time to decide?

This was undoubtedly a dramatic and controversial plot point that got fans talking, and from an editorial standpoint, a strong response is always better than the sound of crickets. But as far as we’re concerned, Diana was done wrong for doing the right thing. (On a side note, major props to Brian Azzarello for giving Wonder Woman her full Amazonian swagger in that first relaunch issue. It’s a beautiful thing.)

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26 thoughts on “WTF? Wednesday: Punishing Diana

  1. One element that sometimes gets overlooked was how masterfully Greg Rucka set up Diana’s actions. Some issues before, Diana had to kill Medusa before she can turn tens of millions of TV viewers to stone. No one in the superhero community came down on Diana for that killing, even through Medusa was intelligent, and had as much right to live as Maxwell Lord. Medusa was a “monster” so it was all right in society’s eyes to kill her. In Diana’s eyes, Maxwell Lord had shown himself to be a “monster”, and so it was all right to kill him as well.

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    • Indeed. FANTASTIC point, Mr. MacDonald.

      I’d also like to chime in and say that Rucka is on record in the notes on 52 as saying he did not agree with the vilifying of Diana for Lord’s death. But being that it was a roundtable of writers on that series … he drew the short straw. I should dig it up and get the verbatim.

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  2. An intriguing argument, for both sides.
    But ultimately, while I sympathize with Diana, I have to agree with Batsy.

    As for his not killing the Joker, I recall that the only thing he’s ever really said on the subject is the fact that not a day goes by that he doesn’t DREAM of ending that madman. In a way, it’s actually the Joker’s ultimate goal; to force Batman to accept that the world is a cold, dark place where taking a human life is a perfectly justifiable way to solve a problem;

    That the world is nothing but a sick joke.

    In a way, proving that the Joker is wrong is probably one of the few things keeping Batman sane. Batman can’t kill the Joker any more than the Joker can admit that human life is sacred.

    And we are caught in the crossfire.
    That’s what they mean by “Titanic struggle between good and evil”.
    If either side budges an inch, then the other gains advantage,
    as apparent in the “slippery slope” argument you’ve noted above.

    But that slope is more slippery than you may realize. You don’t go straight from The Joker to jaywalkers. there are a thousand smaller steps that you won’t even realize you’ve taken

    There really is ALWAYS a better way. That’s the sucky thing about being a good-guy. You can’t allow the bad-guys to force your hand. Even when facing monsters which are THAT far over the line of redemption. More often than not, the worst supervillains out there aren’t out to destroy the world as much as they are out to destroy that one truth: There is ALWAYS a better way.

    Or from another angle; it isn’t greed, hatred, or even evil which causes Luthor to despise Superman. It’s vanity.
    Luthor isn’t intentionally trying to destroy the world. He wants to conquer it– to buy it. He doesn’t consider Superman any more of a threat than any of the other superheroes he has fought. He’s just more afraid of him. The thought that ANYONE can possibly outshine him in any way positively infuriates him. He owns the biggest companies, the biggest buildings, the biggest weapons. As far as he’s concerned, he owns the world. We just don’t know it yet. But that fact that some alien from another planet is not only strong enough to be a serious threat to his perfectly logical and rational rights, but that the people of the world love him for it? That drives ol’ cueball up the freakin’ wall.

    Absolutely NOTHING would delight Luthor more than to see Superman sink to his level.
    It would justify (at least in his warped mind) everything he has ever said or done. It would make Luthor a total saint in the eyes of the world.
    “He was right. This is how we must live”

    In a sick way, the worst of the worst are a bit of a buffering force of their own. Both Luthor’s and the Joker’s efforts to climb the criminal ladder have directly caused them to be a threat to other criminals a well as the rest of us. Keeping both of these lunatics alive might just be the only thing preventing even WORSE whackjobs from springing out of the woodwork. Once you start killing, you just can’t stop.

    At least not until there’s no one left alive on either side of the line.

    I do believe that Diana should be feeling every bit of the guilt she currently is. But I also agree that her friends should NOT be judging her right now. She does not require punishment, she requires counseling. She feels bad enough all on her own for what she’s done. Helping her to handle that guilt is what a friend should be doing. She’s a superhero; the weight on her shoulders rather requires she has super strength (bad pun. But hey, it’s a comic book).
    These events and choices will bother her for the rest of her days. Her friends should offer sympathy, not judgement.

    Next week there will be another Maxwell Lord. And the next week. And the next. We can’t kill them all without losing the ability to identify them– we may not even be able to kill one without doing so.
    That is the slippery slope in it’s rawest form; The line between Good and Evil is a GREAT deal finer and more subtle than we may think. Even in this case.

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    • What a thoughtful and well-reasoned response! I see what you’re saying. It could be like giving someone a power they don’t deserve and taking their bait, however bloody. The main thing that made me side with Diana in this case is that she had so little time to react in a dire situation. I’m also thinking of the act itself vs. the greater good. However, I appreciate your assessment.

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    • I love this explanation. The crazy thing is that I believe each person was right. Diana did what had to be done, but Bats and Supes’ comments shouldn’t fall on deaf ears. However, at that time, she should get counseling, not vilification.

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    • not making fun of the weight of the world on her shoulders line but if her father is Zues that would mean her grandfather is Atlius, the Titan who holds the world on his shoulders.

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  3. That is one of my favourite issues that Rucka did.

    For me when Diana did what she did by offing Max Lord, she did what had to be done to safe guard the WORLD. She was not just saving Superman or Batman because she cared for them she was taking the hard road to the greater good. And she killed Max in the quickest and most humane way by snapping his neck.

    The thing that I liked and disliked about that issue is that it shows just how much Superman and Batman really did not and do not understand Diana. They forget that she is a warrior born and trained, and she is also royalty, she was taught to make hard decisions. Diana was born to her mission, SM and BM were not.

    Superman became a hero because his home world was destroyed and he was sent to Earth and our yellow sun gifted him with great powers, and because he had the sound upbringing of his adoptive parents Martha and Jonathan Kent.

    Batman became a “hero” because his parents were killed before his young eyes and he swore that would never happen again to anyone if he could help it, but first he wanted to get the guy who took his mom and dad away from him.

    Diana did what had to be done, and I think that is what really bothered and frightened SM and BM the most, they could never do it.

    And it to me was not a snap instant response her breaking Max’s neck, what a lot of people also forget that Diana is also gifted by Athena who is the Goddess of Wisdom. She never does anything lightly, she feels deeply. She uses less violence in getting her badguys than either Batman or Superman, but if it is a war they want they will get it from her.

    I found it a tad sexist that Diana was made a pariah for what she did, for what needed to be done. Batman created the OMAC system which Max Lord nicked/ hijacked, and he also did not pay any mind to Ted Kord’s findings, as much as I adore Bruce Wayne/ Batman he can be a paranoid sanctimonious git, and Superman can be often be the boy scout often worrying too much what others will think of him (especially Lois but I digress), and he also did not pay any mind to Ted Kord’s findings. The only one who listened to Ted out of the big three was Diana, and to me that shows her love, compassion, understanding and decency.

    Diana did not need counseling after what happened, lord love a duck, she punished and questioned herself and grieved greatly for what happened. But would she do it again? I think yes she would. Not because she is twisted, power mad, or has a god complex, but because out of all three of them she acted the most human. Batman who is human and is often seemly cold and bloodless in his reasoning and dealings to the point that many have questioned his humanity and humility , and Superman who tries to be as human as possible, even donning a very average man human persona when Clark Kent, they acted the least human and humane throughout the whole OMAC situation, and Diana who is a gollum/goddess/princess acted the most human and humane.

    In closing although it was a very sad time for Diana/Wonder Woman what she did made me love her all the more, and I stand by my shero always!

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  4. I have to agree with Diana on this decision. While I understand Batman and Superman’s arguments and their reasons for not crossing the line, there was no other way to solve the problem. That was straight from Lord’s lips.

    Beyond that, when did Diana ever say she stood on the same ground as them on the issue? She’s a freakin’ Amazon warrior. She’s probably killed thousands in her considerably long (and war-filled) lifetime. She knows where the line is and she has never used execution except when necessary.

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  5. I think either Superman and Batman, or Wonder Woman could be right as it doesn’t depend on the situation or the people involved but the setting. And the DC universe is a very diverse setting, with dark pessimistic stories (realistic) and more light hearted optimistic (idealistic) stories existing within the same continuity. In a idealistic story heroes can triumph over the odds, but in a more realistic story heroes often don’t have another option, or they can’t always win or (gasp) killing isn’t always wrong. But the story they were in was a realistic story and so Superman, perhaps the most idealistic character, is an unrealistic idealist (meaning he’s wrong) and Wonder Woman, who took the realist option is right. If it were a idealistic story but the same events Wonder Woman would be wrong.

    Superman and Batman don’t have bad ideas, just idealistic ones, and in a realistic story, just like in real life, ideals don’t always match up with reality.

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  6. I’m not much of a Wonder Woman fan and more of a Batman fan but I do remember reading that issue and had, pretty much, the same thoughts as you gals. I was definitely on the side of the Amazonian then. Maxwell needed to be dealt with and being the sadistic asshole that I am I probably would not have been so quick on the snapping of the neck like WW. I probably would have broken a few knee caps first, maybe pulled a few teeth and some other torturous acts to make him suffer first before ending him.

    So, if there was one thing I disagree on here is that WW killed him too fast. Ted Kord was a friend of mine and one of my favorite JLI members. I took it personal when he was killed off :)

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    • I think this is actually the point which reminds us that WW is a purer-than-life idealist too — her ideals are simply different from the “no killing” code. She, unlike Bruce, doesn’t torture (when she’s written right). Killing, on the other hand, can be an act of mercy.

      Her code is explicitly different from the code of “Man’s World”, and must be written to be different.

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  7. “In the case of the Joker, who has left a long, bloody trail of death, Bruce’s rigid no-killing code is ludicrous” – wrong, wrong, WRONG! Let the courts sentence him to execution, or build better facilities to hold him, but DON’T expect Bats to kill him… that’s NOT what he does! And I think that’s part of his condemnation of WW… the Joker’s the single greatest challenge to his rigid code, and I think sometimes that fear of what Bats could become once killing was an option is all that kept Bruce from offing him. Bruce is, I believe, really talking to himself when he condemns Diana… he can’t afford to blur that line, for his own sake.

    Supes is different… idealistic in the extreme and supremely powerful, to function he needs people to believe his awesome might won’t be turned against them… and Max is an internationally known rich guy who appears to be a normal human, not a Doomsday or other obvious monster. Plus, the ‘absolute power corrupting’ thing – I think he clings to strict moral codes to keep him ‘honest’.

    So, basically, in attacking Diana’s position, they’re essentially reinforcing their own, and with particular passion – could be, in a tiny part of their minds that they dare not look at, they’re thinking ‘I wish I could do that!’.

    Just my interpretation, of course, I had to come up with an excuse for them acting like such dicks… to my mind, Diana’s actions were appropriate and in character, and methinks Supes & Bats did ‘protest too much’. It should be noted that they all got back together, when neither Supes or Bats is known for being very forgiving in such matters… to me, that says they understand, but can’t be seen to agree.

    All of which was tough on WW… but, somewhere out there, I think Ted Kord gives her a big ‘thumbs up’! I certainly do.

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    • Bruce is, I believe, really talking to himself when he condemns Diana… he can’t afford to blur that line, for his own sake.

      Brilliant, Mark. Still, projection pisses me off any day of the week. And I wonder if the writers had that much depth when writing it.

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    • Was it ever revealed as to why The Joker killed Bruce’s Parents? May it be possible that he was a criminal who had a family and was working as a thug to pay of his loans for a house and college education but when he said he was done the big mob boss refused to pay his last and largest payment and threated to kill his wife, child and mother if he did not kill the Waynes? Once he did he recieved the money and paid every thing off but returned home to find every family member had their throat cut open in the classic smile image he is know for talking about. so the reason he wants Bats to kill him is so Bruce can get his revenge and the Joker can finnaly be put out of his missery.

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  8. Go back and look at the covers of old Wonder Woman comics. Frequently the cover depicts Wonder Woman fighting herself (As a robot, clone, etc.). I have always thought it quite revealing about how heroines are viewed, when her greatest enemy is viewed to be herself.

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  9. I am thoroughly impressed by the thoughtful comments. This moment in Diana’s continuity has long been a sticky one in my mind, and I think it kind of awesome that it is in all of yours, too.

    Rucka did such an amazing job with the character, all other writers of Diana have paled in comparison. Her decapitation of Medusa and the execution of Max Lord are the less than glamorous side of being the warrior that she is. But as with any “person,” they have many sides to them. One of her sides … if you threaten thousands, even millions of lives, she will kill you … monster or human. Frankly, someone has to. She can handle the repercussions of those actions, Diana will not be corrupted by that kind of power. Dare I even bring it up, but that very point is what the 13 month Odyssey culminated into.

    I could get off on a tangent on the allegorical ramifications of one of her primary characterizations being PURE of spirit and all, but I’ll save that for another day.

    Cheers! And thanks for the lively comments!

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    • No, thank YOU… and, y’know, it WAS rough on Diana, but it’s probably gotten her some (unspoken) grudging respect from haters – the ones who accuse Bats especially (but also Supes) of being gutless for not ‘finishing the job’. Turns out Diana DOES have the guts… when the need is there. Haters find it difficult to say nice things, though.

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      • That is true Mark. I think that many were actually shocked that Diana/Wonder Woman was the one to do what had to be done, and the fact that she is a woman. Many people really do not understand the character, and I have heard insipid hater statements from men and women about the Wonder Woman, that she hates men, is just a feminist propaganda icon, that she is a sexist and ridiculous throw back, that her outfit is gratuitous, and this comment came from a female Catwoman supporter who said to me that WW is not a good feminist role model but Catwoman is! Now that made me laugh out loud, I do wonder what she thinks of her new and improved 52 Catwoman?
        There have been a lot of good points in this discussion and this is why I so love your blog E and V, you mix the fun with the serious and you do it with panache!

        Oh and I do think they should have brought Ted Kord back to life in the new 52, I really like him and missed him and when he was murdered because he was right I actually cried.

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  10. We must all also remember that this is fiction – therefore Superman and Batman are right; there IS always another way. The fictional comic book world does not work like our real world. And when you have established over several decades that the ‘Good’ characters never kill, you have to hold to that even if it seems like nonsense (like, oh I don’t know, glasses as a viable disguise is nonsense.)

    So when the ‘drama’ of the story involves a ‘Good’ character killing someone, it must follow that the others will be indignant that she didn’t ‘simply’ find another way.

    But of course there is the argument that Diana is a warrior. Yet she is an immortal warrior who battles immortals on her home turf (at least akin to immortals, I mean does anyone really ‘die’ when your extended family members are in charge of heaven and hell?) So again, human life is a different thing and the taking of said life is held in a different regard by those sworn to protect it.

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  11. batman did specifically say at least once (in DKR) that he wondered how many people he’d killed, by letting the joker live.

    there is a very simple way WW could have stopped lord without killing him. she could have killed superman instead. problem solved! if there was another, non-lethal solution, neither superman or “i have a plan for everything” batman seems to have applied it.
    someone brought up the role of judges and the trial process, but typically, when someone is on a killing spree and cops shoot them, it’s not considered murder, or even a moral or professional failing on the part of the police.

    perhaps (in the logic of the DCU) WW should not have killed him, but it always seemed that she was arbitrarily being held to a standard that no one else is. i’m pretty sure that, say, a DIY lobotomy of criminals without a trial is generally frowned upon, but superman doesn’t appear to be torn up by that. and batman… batman has assaulted, interrogated, and essentially tortured criminals to get information. so i’m not a fan of unnecessary violence, but i’m not clear actually what the rules on this are, or who applies them and why they have that unique privilege.

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