I may be a bit of a Batman fan (that sound you just heard was every co-worker, friend and family member-those that will admit it anyway-rolling their eyes so far back they can see their own brain.
I’ve always admired his absolute and unwavering conviction to his moral code (while also realizing that his obsession with those same values is also his greatest weakness). I’ve long admired the fact that if he couldn’t outfight you, he’d outsmart you and he had a plan for absolutely every contingency. And while plenty of Bat haters dismiss his arsenal of weapons and gadgets as the true secret of his success, the fact is his ingenuity, his discipline and his unknowable willpower make him one of the greatest heroes in comicdom. He is the ultimate pragmatist, devoted to his cause but never blinded by distracting pipe dreams and fairy tales. And while the others heroes in DC’s pantheon may talk a big game, when it really hits the fan Bats is the first person on every other hero’s speed dial (including Superman).
But right now, it looks as though Wonder Woman (who has also long been one of my favourite super heroes) it wrestling the top spot away from The Dark Knight.
Wonder Woman’s solo movie overcame just about every odd on her way to box office dominance last summer. Despite some initial concerns over her box office performance, Wonder Woman became the DCEU’s highest domestic grosser and she is currently DC’s second highest global performer. She still owns the year’s fifth highest North American opening and she is the second highest grossing film on domestic shores so far this year. Globally, Wonder Woman is the planet’s sixth highest grossing movie of 2017.
Not bad for a flick some had written off just weeks before it’s release.
And she didn’t just dominate the box office. Wonder Woman’s first solo outing was almost universally loved by critics and fans alike, something no other DCEU entry can say (and unfortunately, I have serious doubts Justice League will be joining her on that particular list).
What was the secret behind Wonder Woman’s big screen success? For the first time since Christopher Nolan brought the Dark Knight detective to the big screen, DC had a movie where the film makers truly grasped the core of the character that made them appeal to so many people for so long. And I’d argue Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins, the film’s writers and star Gal Gadot hit this particular nail on the head better than Nolan and company did with Batman.
If you take a look at characters that have been around as long as Diana has (she turned 76 this year), you can break them down to one essential description. There will of course be other layers on top of that archetype, but as long as that narrative heart keeps beating, the character will remain alive in pop culture’s imagination.
Batman is a terrorist whose chosen prey are criminals (I’ll be the first one to admit he’s a borderline psychopath). Superman is a messiah who is constantly disappointed when we fail to live up to his example. Captain America is the never realized American ideal brought to life. Wolverine is a living weapon desperately trying to hold on to his waning humanity. The Punisher is a mass murderer who targets criminals. You get the picture.
Despite all her retcons and re-imaginings, despite the fact that her origin seems to change every twenty minutes, Wonder Woman has remained true to the premise at the heart of her character (except for a stretch during the 90’s when every publisher under the sun was going out of their way to mess up their top characters as much as possible).
More than even Batman, Diana is the definition of a warrior. While she is the personification of strength, courage, honour and discipline, she is also the embodiment of mercy, compassion, empathy and grace. She never loses sight of the human cost violence exacts and is always aware of the consequences her acts will or may have. And while Batman imposes his will through fear (and Superman offers an impossible beacon of idealized hope), Diana offers a better tomorrow through courage, empathy and faith in self.
Don’t get the idea that she’s a pacifist though. She has power to rival that of Superman and spent centuries training and studying war. She is one of DC’s most powerful super heroes and will stand her ground or fight the good fight whenever needed against whoever needs their ass kicked. And unlike Bats, she will kill if her opponent is truly evil and killing is the only possible recourse (there would be no Joker in Diana’s world). In case you doubt her prowess and strength as a warrior, enjoy the video below from Batman/Superman: Apocalypse. She’s even taken the Man of Steel down on more than one occasion.
But Wonder Woman is no mere fighter. She also possesses the wisdom of a seasoned warrior. She knows when violence is needed and will never throw a fist (or tank) until absolutely necessary. In the meantime she will use diplomacy and reason, she will weigh every possible option and her decisions will always be measured against the human equation; how much suffering she may cause against how much she will prevent (or avenge). She embraces dignity and respects everyone including fallen foes if they deserve it.
And looking around the world right now, we could use Wonder Woman a lot more than we could use Batman. In an age where a billionaire can insult a POW, mock a disabled reporter and offend women, latinos and muslims to thunderous applause and be rewarded with the most powerful political office in the world, we need someone who will defend the weak and the persecuted with both strength and dignity. In a world where massacre has become routine, where knowledge and reason have become objects of scorn and contempt, where evil can cloak itself in religion or a flag and be forgiven, where toxic nationalism rises like a deadly storm across the world and Nature herself seems under siege, we could use a champion who inspires the angels on our shoulders while kicking the teeth out of the devils hiding in the dark.
At the end of the day, Wonder Woman is a messiah who can save us from self destruction. It isn’t something Batman could do, something he isn’t built to do. Wonder Woman, meanwhile, is composed of the very qualities needed for such a Herculean task.
To paraphrase Batman himself, Wonder Woman is the hero world truly needs right now, even if it doesn’t deserve her.
So what does this mean for Batman. Well, I think I have solution. While Diana has become my new favourite super hero, I can still seat Batman at the head of one particular table. But while he still remains my favourite comic book character, right now I’d choose Wonder Woman to save the day ten times out of ten.