Please don’t be misled by the title: I don’t have anything against Wonder Woman. In fact, I like the character quite a bit. I just think she should suffer for her own good.
Wait. That last sentence probably came off as either patronizing or downright perverted. Allow me to explain.
Suffering makes the hero
The ancient Greeks brought us stories of Zeus, Hercules, and that guy who accidentally killed his dad and married his mom (yeah, I know his name was Oedipus, but it’s funnier to say it the long way). Anyway, the ancient Greeks believed that a hero isn’t made by bravery or super powers or goodness-of-heart. They claimed it was about one thing, and one thing only: suffering.
I think maybe those who saidthat were oversimplifying a bit—after all, their heroes had braveness and superpowers and (sometimes) goodness-of-heart—but there’s no denying that we like heroes better if they go through some kind of uncommon ordeal.
Which Olympic athletes get the most attention? The ones with a tear-jerking backstory like a death in the family or a rise out of poverty. Who are the most universally loved movie heroes? Not the ones who blithely ignore pain (they have a certain following, but not a universal one), but rather the heroes like Indiana Jones, whose knees wobble for a moment when they get hit to show that they are a moment away from collapse. They’re more human that way. They have more to overcome, which makes them more heroic.
And who are the most popular super heroes? Batman tops the comic charts every month, and he doesn’t even have any inherent super powers. Yes, he has amazing gizmos and ninja training, but he can be battered and broken just like any other man.
It’s natural for us to root for the underdog. We want to see someone overcoming their weaknesses because it gives us inspiration to overcome ours. The inverse is also true: it’s harder to identify with a character whose eyeballs can repel bullets without even blinking. That’s cool as heck, but in the end it makes it much more difficult to tell a compelling story about the hero whose only weakness is that he’s too good.
What About Wonder Woman?
Wonder Woman is popular, but this year it seems the most popular female costumes at conventions are the Gotham Knights—Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, Batgirl, and Cat Woman—probably because each of them is mortal and vulnerable.
Wonder Woman, on the other hand, is as iconic as Superman… but she’s also just as flawless. Sure, she’s been hurt and she’s lost loved ones, but it isn’t tied into the essence of her being like Peter Parker’s shyness or The Incredible Hulk’s angst.
If you interview random people on the street, I bet at least 75 out of 100 can tell you Batman’s traumatic back-story and why it drives him to fight crime. I bet not 1 in a 100 could tell you anything Wonder Woman has suffered.
Wonder Woman’s origin is tied closely to the ancient Greek myths: the Amazons were an ancient Greek story, and Diana (Wonder Woman’s true name) is the Roman version of Artemis, goddess of the hunt. For a hero with roots in Greek mythology, she doesn’t suffer much. She lacks the very first ingredient on the labels of her heroic forerunners.
If Wonder Woman is ever finally re-invented via a new television show or movie, I hope she suffers. Not because I hate her, but because it will make her stronger, more human, and more widely beloved.