Here are some more paintings from the second wave Pre-Raphaelite, John Roddam Spencer Stanhope. The painting below is taken from the story of Psyche. She had unintentionally aroused the ire of Aphrodite when men, aroused by her beauty, had turned from worshiping the goddess in favor of her. Later on in her story, she becomes Aphrodite’s servant and is sent on a series of impossible tasks, one of which is to venture into Hades. She is one of the relatively few characters in Greek mythology to make it back alive from the place of the dead. Charon was the pilot who ushered the dead across the river Styx and into Hades.
This next painting is a personification, another example of allegorical art.
Here is Venus, another mythological subject…
… and, from Greek mythology, a depiction of Andromeda, the maiden who was rescued by the demigod Perseus from the sea serpent Cetus when she was chained to a rock.
I will end my discussion of this artist with his portrayal (on two panels) of an event from the New Testament: that of the angel appearing to Mary.
The fourth story in DC Comics’ The World’s Greatest Super-Heroes by Alex Ross and Paul Dini is Wonder Woman: Spirit of Truth. The plot follows the pattern of giving the backstory first. In this case it is the founding of Themyscira by the Amazons on Paradise Island followed by the creation of Diana from clay by her mother, Hippolyta, the Amazon queen who has been empowered by the goddess, Aphrodite. Continuing the pattern, the story moves on to the recurring theme of the series.
As is probably evident by now, the recurring theme in this collection is the difficulty that superheroes have in dealing with the attitudes of the people they are trying to serve. This goes beyond getting human beings to behave. It is impossible to over-ride free will and force people to receive the right help in the right way. Our species can be funny that way.
Although there are plenty of instances where Wonder Woman can do her normal superhero thing, there are others in which her efforts are not well-received.
Take, for instance, this sequence where she prevents a tank from crushing a girl. The recipient of her heroism runs away from her in fear.
As another example, a Muslim crowd takes offense at her appearance and looks upon her activity as meddling by a cultural outsider. Instead of a hero’s welcome, she is greeted by a hail of thrown rocks.
Humbled and frustrated by these incidents, she (as Diana Prince) confers with Superman (as Clark Kent). I think their appearance here in their “secret identities” is effective because it reinforces the advice he gives her. Having been humbled himself in the first story, he mentions that it would be more effective to work beside people rather than above them. In other words, identification helps bridge the gap in perception between ordinary individuals and those who are extraordinary.
There are some interesting portrayals of Wonder Woman trying to become more involved with humanity by working in war zones as an explosives remover and (as in the illustration below) a nurse.
The following sequence in which she prevents the use of women as a human shield is perhaps one of the better known from this story.
I really liked the approach of inserting this character into real world situations (of which I have shown only a few). I also liked the idea of a nearly perfect character of mythological origin concealing her supernatural ability in an effort to communicate more effectively with people.
Next week: the final story of this excellent graphic novel.
It’s time to come full-circle. Since I started this series, enough time has elapsed for me to do some background research on Wonder Woman, a character that I read about only a little when I was a boy. I will date myself by mentioning that I remember the Silver Age of comics when each issue cost only ten cents. That was also my weekly allowance, and I would walk two blocks to Sullivan’s drugstore on the north side of Indianapolis to purchase the latest issue of Superman. Not much of a surprise there, but Wonder Woman was neglected.
There is more material about her than I originally thought. I mentioned in the first post of this series the original date of her release, and I honestly didn’t realize how long she had been around (since 1941). So let’s do the obvious first by going over her backstory. It is based in part on some concepts from Greek mythology.
In 1200 B. C. the Amazons were supposedly created by Greek goddesses as the reincarnated souls of women who had been murdered by men. One soul (the unborn daughter of the first of these women) was “saved back” to be “born”. This happened in the 20th Century when her mother, Queen Hippolyta, was told to mold clay from Paradise Island into the likeness of a baby girl. The daughter, Princess Diana of Themyscira, was endowed by the gods with various powers and traits.
Demeter gives her strength, Athena wisdom (not always evident in later portrayals) and courage, Artemis a hunter’s heart and communion with animals, Aphrodite beauty and a loving heart, Hiesta “sisterhood with fire” (not quite sure exactly what that one means), and Hermes speed and the ability to fly. She is later sent from Paradise Island and into the world as an emissary to mankind. Her secret identity is Diana Prince.
She is allegedly a feminist superhero, but her real world creation is a nuanced story. There is a backstory to the backstory. More next week.