DC Comics stirred up a whirl of controversy last year with the publication of Justice League vol 2 #11, in which Superman and Wonder Woman start dating. Longtime fans of both characters remain upset by this pairing. Wonder Woman fans feel that dating Superman will damn her to “love interest” status rather than being recognized as an iconic superhero in her own right. Superman fans want to see him with Lois Lane or no one at all. However unpopular the move may have been with longtime fans, the decision has evidently been very popular among DC’s editorial staff, who have decided to double down on their investment.
This week DC rattled the cage once again with the announcement of an upcoming Superman/Wonder Woman ongoing title. This is the first time Wonder Woman has had a second monthly title since Sensation Comics was cancelled in 1952, and she’s literally second billing to her boyfriend. Wonder Woman fans are not happy, and it’s easy to see why.
Superman/Wonder Woman the relationship is probably a bad idea, but Superman/Wonder Woman the comic could actually be good for both characters.
1. Put the two characters on equal footing.
Since Clark and Diana’s infamous “kiss heard ’round the world” in Justice League #11, the Superman/Wonder Woman romance has been featured as a subplot in that title, in Superman books, and in the DC Valentine’s Day special back in February. So far, however, Superman is yet to appear in the monthly Wonder Woman title. Good. She ought to have her own stories without having to share the spotlight with another superhero, least of all The Superhero. But Diana is showing up in Superman stories, and that lends credence to the idea that Wonder Woman is becoming a a love interest in Superman’s universe rather than being treated like her own woman.
This is where Superman/Wonder Woman could come in. This is the title that could focus on them both equally, not in Superman’s world or in Wonder Woman’s, but in a little of both, or in an entirely new setting. It needs to have the same feel as the popular Superman/Batman (2003-2011), where the reader got into both of their heads, heard their thoughts about each other, and understood why, against all common sense, these two men were close friends. Superman/Batman served to show why these two very independent characters need each other, particularly “Public Enemies,” the opening act.Imagine how much more powerful that could be with a romantic relationship if handled with the same respect. A lot of fans don’t understand the choice to pair Wonder Woman and Superman up – this could be their opportunity to convince us that they really do work together.
A new ongoing World’s Finest team-up book, this time called Batman/Superman, is launching just a month before Superman/Wonder Woman. This may sound weird, but the more similar these two books are to each other, the better they’ll both be. If fans are afraid that this new book will treat Wonder Woman like a love interest rather than a superhero, DC needs to take that expectation head-on, and demonstrate that they take her as seriously as they take Batman.
2. Don’t make it about sex.
Already, speculation rages online about Superman and Wonder Woman’s sex life. Superman/Wonder Woman writer Charles Soule took questions about the title on Twitter, and of course a huge chunk of those questions were about super-sex. And it’s true, fans have had fun arguing about whether there’s such a thing as safe sex with Superman for decades, but the comics have always been silent on the issue. This is even more true when it comes to Wonder Woman, whose sexual history has remained a non-issue for ages.
This is not not NOT the time to break from that standard. With the release of Superman/Wonder Woman, there’s now an expectation building among DC’s prized “awkward, sexually-frustrated young male” demographic that there may finally be some officially-licensed super-wanking material on the way. DC has to confound this expectation, and leave it to the fans’ imaginations, where it’s lived for as long as either character has existed. No attempt to portray their sexual relationship in any specific way is going to do justice to either character or, for that matter, to whatever wild fantasy the fans have already imagined. Let it be, for the good of everyone involved.
3. Play out the fans’ concerns on the page.
Fans of Wonder Woman are concerned that being involved with Superman diminishes her character and will ultimately mean that she’ll be defined by that relationship rather than by her own merits. If the character has the same concerns in-universe, that could be a really interesting running subplot. (Behind the action-adventure, of course.) Diana has feelings for this icon, and begins a relationship with him that the public can’t stop talking about. Suddenly nobody’s talking about her without mentioning Superman in the same breath. As a major superhero and an independent woman, that’s got to bug the hell out of her, and maybe make her consider ending the relationship before it takes over her life and her image.
Meanwhile, Superman may not get why this is a problem. He’s Superman, after all, and whether he’s aware of it consciously or not, he’s accustomed to being the story wherever he goes. He’s a modest guy, but he’s also a victim of his own privilege and whether he means to or not, he’s probably going to come across as patronizing and self-centered. But he means well, of course, because he’s Superman, the Best Guy Ever. So he’s going to have to learn to step aside and let Diana shine, not just beside him but sometimes in front of him, because that’s the give and take of a relationship. Superman can grow a hell of a lot from this relationship if he’s given the right opportunity.
Not only would this be a great thru-line for the characters, running alongside the high-flying, world-crushing action that ought to be taking place in the book, but think of how much the fans could learn from it. Superman/Wonder Woman could be an opportunity to teach the old-school, closed-minded male reader some respect for Wonder Woman, and maybe even women in general. Some of us need an attitude adjustment, and that’s something this title could provide, as long as it doesn’t devolve into exploitation and fan-wanking.
Do I expect this to be the direction the comic takes? In all honesty, I do not. But as either Wonder Woman or Superman would say, all change begins with hope.