Wonder Woman is supposed to be the best of women. This isn’t me starry-eyed about a fictional character and forcing her to be a defender and icon. William Moulton Marston created her to be the best of women. The character, besides being heavily rooted in Marston’s love of bondage, was also rooted in his love for women and his desire to promote them not just as being awesome, but explicitly more awesome than men.
While that particular brand of feminism is considered outdated and reductive now, Marston spent a lot of time on the DC comic book exploring how women were better by promoting a myriad of friendships between Wonder Woman and other ladies.
Over the years, female friendships have periodically become a focal point of Wonder Woman books. Though typically those relationships don’t get the same kind of screen time as Steve Trevor—especially on TV and in movies, where Steve is not just her man in distress but her best friend and closest lover. Still, the comics have found plenty of opportunities to promote characters like Etta Candy to the BFF role and highlight Diana’s ability to embody plenty of kinds of love besides the kind that results in genitals mashing together.
Except in Wonder Woman 1984 where Diana is absolutely the biggest trash friend to ever friend.
Wonder Woman 1984 felt like it was going to be a fun riff on Greg Rucka’s 2016 run of DC Comics’ Wonder Woman. In that book, she befriends the earnest, if a little obsessive, Barbara Minvera and then has to rescue Barbara from herself when she turns into an extra from Cats. In the film, the two women meet as friends and equals and immediately have that “I would like to talk to you about life and stuff” pull towards one another. Only Patty Jenkins’ film is heavily inspired by Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman film, where Superman is the hero, Clark is the disguise, and the guy is so fantastic, so otherworldly, that he struggles to make connections with the mere mortals around him.
In Donner’s film, Superman is humanized only by his love for Lois Lane. In 1984, Diana is humanized only by her love for Steve Trevor, a dude she banged exactly once 70 years earlier and knew for about two weeks total. Her love for Steve feels obsessive in a very unrealistic teen romance novel kind of way. After 70 years her home is a shrine to him and other dead friends and she’s made no real connections outside of those that have all died off. She’s a god untouched by mortal concerns but frequently feels like a ghost too.
Things seem like they might, perhaps, just possibly, change when she meets Barbara, a well-educated scientist more concerned with earning accolades than moisturizing some seriously frizzy hair. In their first meeting, the women connect because they’re both women in a male-dominated ‘80s workplace and they’re tremendously lonely. Then, in an extremely sapphic series of events, the two women go out to eat, have a great dinner with meaningful conversation, and then Diana rescues Barbara from the unwanted advances of a drunk businessman.
Immediately afterward, Barbara wishes to be just like Diana but Diana all but forgets Barbara exists because Steve shows up in the body of another man (we should unpack that little plot element at some point too). Our hero’s obsession with Steve, besides humanizing her, is her fatal flaw. She starts losing her powers and is repeatedly distracted enough by Steve to forget to hunt down the bad guy, Max Lord.
The rest of the film could have been sorted pretty easily if Diana took even half a second to look outside her Steve bubble. She might have noticed the sleazy dude making moves on her new friend or maybe noticed her new friend has embraced bold prints, eyeliner, and leggings all of a sudden. Diana basically becomes that friend who stops texting when they get into a relationship. The one who brings their new boyfriend to brunch without asking or can’t stop talking about him when you’re just trying to complain about work. She only gets worse as the movie proceeds.
Diana makes incredible and enormous requests of Barbara as if they’ve done more than grab drinks exactly one time, then lectures her about her addiction to being a superstrong lady with a taste for spikey jackets. She eschews empathy for the bulk of the film and then has the audacity to lecture Barbara when they’re finally reunited at the end of the film and Barbara’s gone full Cat Lady.
Diana’s big bad nemesis is supposedly created out of a sick and obsessive desire to be Diana. Ostensibly Barbara is so obsessed with this woman’s sheer spectacularness that she sacrifices her own sense of self to chase Diana’s. It’s an obnoxious and vaguely misogynistic trope but in 1984 it accidentally sidesteps misogyny because Cheetah feels born more out of Barbara’s desire to be less scared and lonely. She’s created not quite out of envy, but because Diana is a terrifically terrible gal pal too caught up in the bloom of new romance to notice her friend isn’t doing so well.
I don’t think Rucka, or even Marston’s, Diana Prince would have been so self-centered and unempathetic to notice her new friend’s abrupt personality change. Heck, I don’t think most people of any gender would have rescued a person from assault and then not notice or express concern the next morning when the same person has done a total 180 in the clothing and personality department.
For the superheroine that is supposed to be the best of us, Wonder Woman is an absolutely trash friend. I really hope Barbara never invites her to the girls’ get away to Prince Edward Island. She would 100% not notice Barbara’s new earrings and would spend at least four meals talking about similar meals she had with Steve in 1917.
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