Comments on Science Fiction

Jon Mollison discusses a Podcast about Science Fiction by the SETI institute. He’s very right to point out the bias here – emphasizing the Campbellian Trinity, leftist leanings, and a penchant for the boring stuff (though I’m not so harsh on the boring stuff – you just need to be in the right mood for it). I think it’s all pretty interesting and worth a listen, though the limitations of the interviewer’s knowledge of the field are a little cringe-worthy. And you might be triggered by certain of these gaping holes, as was Jon.

Most of the interviews are taken up with discussing the relation of science and science-fiction. The genre, for obvious reasons, has a pedigree of inspiring young men to be scientists and of scientists using the genre to explore ideas. It struck me how many of these connections were almost purely about the technology or man’s response to technology. Then comments denigrating “simplistic” black and white morality, well, triggered me.

My own preferred brand of science-fiction is Space Opera. I like stories about new technologies, but unless it’s grounded in some human plot I tend to think “Huh, that’s interesting…” then promptly forget it. My proclivities make it so I’ll generously forgive certain logical inconsistencies (like the questionable military prowess of the Amazon culture in Wonder Woman) if a story magnifies certain distinctly human traits or struggles (like the glory of fighting for the good even in the face of insurmountable odds). This also extends to Science-Fiction, where I’ll ignore the wrong or now outdated science if the real thrust are the eternal things (John Carter, Star Wars, EE Doc Smith).

The stories I like are, by and large, the stories which encompass the “Golden Age of Science Fiction” – you know, the stories you read “when you were 13”? I think we could do with more of those stories. The thirteen year old, just entering the age of reason, is trying to grasp what he is to become – he is seeking to understand man and how to be a man. The stories he craves and consumes with abandon are those which give him those models – heroes, self-sacrifice, overcoming great odds, adventure, romance. They unconsciously seek to navigate the realm of reality which unites abstract qualities with individual instances.

Something, I contend, is very screwy with the adults of the modern world in the way they denigrate this. There’s nothing wrong with having one’s taste change, arguably mature, to prefer the writings of a Walker Percy, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, or Haruki Murakami. I’m fine with things getting complex, nuanced, and deeply self-reflective. But I’m not okay with this becoming a denigration of that earlier literature and, by extension, a denigration of eternal truths in favor of some ambiguous relativism about morality and reality.

In fact, the best literature is that which can both fire the imagination and passions of a 13 year old boy and ensnare the reflective intellect of a 50 year old scholar. Shakespeare is perhaps the perfect example of this – works made for action and bawdy loving plebeians now enshrined in academia and high culture. And I think the best of Science Fiction, especially the Space Opera from the early to mid 20th century, can do this as well. I know Burroughs can, if people gave him a chance. Guys like John C. Wright are definitely doing it today. And if Jon Mollison keeps going the trajectory he’s going, he’ll probably be helping it happen in the future as well. Get your 13-year old boys to read this stuff and cherish it. They’ll better be able to wade through the mess of adulthood for it. Heck, you older folk could probably do with reading some of it as well.

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Review: Spacehounds of IPC

E.E. Doc Smith has been on my radar for a while. Considered the father of Space Opera with admirers like Heinlein, Lucas, and Strazynski and a major writer in the pulps, he seemed to perfectly fit the niche I’m currently interested in. While I’m sure others are groaning that I didn’t start with his Lensman or Skylark books, I still rather enjoyed his Spacehounds of IPC (1931). And it’s free from Amazon, so…

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The Nuts and Bolts

The story is a little disjointed, but charmingly so. The three parts, divided for original publication in Amazing Stories, tell interlocking stories, but the whole reads far more like a travelogue of adventures rather than a single tale. There’s one event which starts everything in motion – an attack by an unknown menace from Jupiter – but Smith takes off from there to recount the survival of the protagonists first in the ruins of a spaceship, then in the wilds of Ganymede, a satellite of Jupiter. The second portion recounts the interaction with new aliens species – from Titan, a moon around Saturn, and Callisto, another Jovian satellite. The third shifts main characters with the addition of rescuers from earth going to war with the belligerent Jovians. This variety could be annoying for those wanting a specific thread to follow, and it definitely has some slogging moments, but the whole is rather charming.

The writing is definitely something out of the early 20th century adventure genre. The prose is as purple as you get, with over the top adjective and adverbs galore, but used unironically which is it’s own sort of breath of fresh air. The dialogue can also be over-the-top with overly wrought hip-scientist lingo – you might get sick of hearing “all x” by the end of the book.

A final critique before some of the thematic stuff. Smith’s romantic plots just make you want to smile in their naivete. I’m sure some will scream about sexist simplicity, but to me these types of plots are heartwarming. Women are attracted to strong, confident men. Men are attracted to beautiful, confident women. Crash them together, and you get a married couple. Other tales can deal with the emotional complexity of these matters. Sometimes you just want to see heroic men and women marry off in heroic bliss. It’s fun.

Science, the glory of man, but not his salvation

Smith definitely has the early 20th century optimism about science. The great discoveries are just around the corner and will be jettisoning us into a future of space exploration and mighty marvels!

But he doesn’t give science this veneer of salvation that pervades our current culture. This is cool stuff, sure. And there’s definitely a bit of making fun of the superstitious. But ultimately it is men who save the day, not science. If someone is not human and attains great scientific skill, like the Hexans of Jupiter, you become monsters.

Smith is all about making the science serve the humanity of his heroes, especially as this is an adventure yarn. After spending a year to build a powerplant, using the wreckage of their life-boat and building many a thing from stone-age technology, the protagonist Stevens, about to run off to look for his missing love interest, reveals that he has become a Conan-life figure in his physicality:

“Swiftly he came to a decision and threw off his suit, revealing the body of a Hercules—a body ready for any demand he could put upon it. Always in hard training, months of grinding physical labor and of heavy eating had built him up to a point at which he would scarcely have recognized himself, could he have glanced into a mirror. Mighty but pliable muscles writhed and swelled under his clear skin as he darted here and there, selecting equipment for what lay ahead of him.”

-Smith, E. E. (Edward Elmer). Spacehounds of IPC (Kindle Locations 902). Kindle Edition.

But Smith is no Robert E. Howard, disdainful of civilization. He recognizes that a bit of engineering ingenuity can turn a brawny warrior into an unstoppable hero. The science here expands what Stevens is capable of, magnifying his own humanity:

“He donned the heavily armored space-suit which they had prepared months before, while they were still suspicious of possible attack. It was covered with heavy steel at every point, and the lenses of the helmet, already of unbreakable glass, had been re-enforced with thick steel bars. Tank and valves supplied air at normal pressure, so that his powerful body could function at full efficiency, not handicapped by the lighter atmosphere of Ganymede. The sleeves terminated in steel-protected rubber wristlets which left his hands free, yet sheltered from attack—wristlets tight enough to maintain the difference in pressure, yet not tight enough to cut off the circulation. He took up his mighty war-bow and the full quiver of heavy arrows—full-feathered and pointed with savagely barbed, tearing heads of forged steel—and slipped into their sheaths the long and heavy razor-sharp sword and the double-edged dirk, which he had made and ground long since for he knew not what emergency, and whose bell-shaped hilts of steel further protected his hands and wrists. Thus equipped, he had approximately his normal earthly weight; a fact which would operate to his advantage, rather than otherwise, in case of possible combat.”

-Smith, E. E. (Edward Elmer). Spacehounds of IPC (Kindle Locations 899). Kindle Edition.

Passages like this reveal an intense appreciation of humanity, something that can be lost in a lot of science-fiction writers as they fall into philosophical abstractions or the glories of science. Science is not about controlling the world or remaking our nature. Rather, the technologies we can develop are the ways in which we perfect our dominion over creation – protecting ourselves from our enemies and aiding our friends and allies. They maximize our humanity, not change or save it.

This emphasis on the way science maximizes may be a scary prospect for some, especially those of us in an age of scientism which denies that humans have natures, but I think Smith’s view here is important and enlightening. Science is not a problem. Rather, it’s that we’ve given up on the kind of optimism in human nature these sorts of science-stories relished in. The scientist heroes like Stevens and the later Brandon and Westfall are not out to change man or enforce their will by their intellect. Rather, they seek to reveal the glory that is man by his exploration of the universe.

It’s a modern and heroic vision that was present in the old philosophers and scholastics – to study the world is the glory of man, and to be fully man is to give glory to God. Smith doesn’t go that far, but I don’t mind reading into it.

The definition of human

The second portion of the story shifts as the heroes make their way off Ganymede in search of needed materials to build a super-radio. In the midst of this, they are attacked and then saved by another group of humans, these from Titan. The Titanians are humanoid in shape, but with a biological development radically different from our own – their bodily temperatures are incredibly low and they have low tolerance of high gravity. Even with all these differences (and Nadia’s distaste for their looks!), they are recognized as human.

Here’s another very interesting point that Smith hones in on – humans are not defined by biological structure, but rather their intellectual capability. How very aristotelian of him! This is something you also see in Lewis’ Space Trilogy as he encounter humans biologically very different from earth-men, but still fundamentally human. It is not DNA which makes us what we are, but that we have the capacity for reason.

Smith doesn’t get into the scientific how, but he’s also pretty clear that all these humans come from some similar source. Either a similar evolutionary development, or some original stock which evolved differently on different planets. He leaves it up in the air. More important is the recognition of the “other” as one who is “intellect of my intellect” in some fashion.

There are limits, of course. The heroes will soon encounter the six-armed Hexans (ha!) and snake-like Vorkulians which are wildly different from humans not only in biology but psychology. They are, properly, not human. Smith doesn’t get deep into this, but it’s an interesting little exercise – encountering races different from us, but still are us; and races similar to us, but still not us.

Who is the monster and who is the man? It’s fascinating stuff.

Final Thoughts

I commend the book. It’s got its slow moments and jerking the reader around as to what sort of story it is could annoy some. But it gives a good model of scientific speculation that doesn’t deify science, but does highlight how it reveals the true glory of man. And it’s fun! Those of us with a streak of snobbery will be bored at time, but the 13-year old in you will love it. Let him love it.

Smith is definitely a writer I want to come back to sooner rather than later. His Lensman stories are calling my name. If anyone can recommend a specific ebook edition, I’m all ears.

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Comments on Lord of the World by Robert Hugh Benson

It took me a good while to get through Lord of the World by Robert Hugh Benson. With it’s climax occurring in Pentecost, it’s fitting that I finally finished it during the Octave.

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An apocalyptic tale, Benson envisions a world which is overcoming all supernatural religion in favor of an ascendent humanist faith. Julian Felsenburgh, clearly the Antichrist, arises at this moment in history to bring about universal peace and ultimately become a god-like figure obtaining the worship of the world. In the midst of this, we follow the story of Percy Franklin, a priest of Rome thrust into the center of the ecclesial response to the situation; Oliver Brand, a politician in the English government who participates in Felsenburgh’s rise; and Mabel Brand, Oliver’s wife who acts as the reader’s experience of the new humanist religion. The story is far more of a travelogue of this world and time, the characters caught up in events greater than themselves and ultimately learning to trust in greater powers (or accept self-destruction in denying them).

The apocalyptic genre of recent times has basically become an opportunity for an adventure story with moralistic sermonizing – see the protestant Left Behind series or, though I greatly like it, even Catholic Michael D. O’Brien’s Fr. Elijah. Benson moralizes, but he’s far more interested in putting in parallel different kinds of moralizing than positing one over another.

Fr. Franklin is a man who gives himself wholly to God, and so experiences both the great consolation of faith along with the dark tribulations of a world which denies that faith. But in Oliver, we see a man who seeks to overcome all division, to bring about peace, which he is fully assured has been frustrated by Christianity. And in Mabel, we find a woman who desires to give herself to that which is greater than herself – Christianity is a beautiful lie for her, fulfilled in the glorious ascendancy of man. All three of these are put in tension, both in the plot and in the literary voice of the narrator.

Benson is still Catholic, though. He knows that Franklin’s way is that of Christ. However, he doesn’t allow that to mitigate the feeling one has for the non-Christians. One can feel the exuberance of both Oliver and Mabel and even be tempted to see their way of things. Their final ends leave one full of pain. By the concluding events of the book, you recognize as a counter to Mabel the “beautiful lie” of a humanistic atheism.

Any and all triumph in the book is not the triumph of being correct – it is the triumph of Christ. The final images, of bombs dropping as a final mass is being prayed, do not give self-satisfaction but rather drive one to pray that prayer of Advent – Maranatha; Come, Lord Jesus.

A note on the prophetic aspect of the book: With over a century of distance from Benson’s time, the world he outlines is somewhat laughable while still holding a bite. It’s laughable, because Benson is still firmly in the Edwardian era and envisions a post-Christian world marked by a culture still firmly entrenched in the mores of the time. He couldn’t imagine that by the 21st century we would actually jettison most of the natural virtues of his society.

Still, while the culture and practices did not survive the 20th century, the basic thrust of the post-Christian age is prescient. We no longer appeal to the divine, to some good beyond ourself, but rather ground our morals in purely human terms – utilitarian ethics mixed with glorification of self-expression. In a world, Liberalism ascendent. Benson is not the only to see this. From the beginnings of the age of revolutions, the Church has been saying this would happen – that man divorced from God and the hierarchy of the good would soon have no measure of morality but himself. And from this measure would come a morality utterly self-destructive.

Don’t let the externals fool you. At our heart, with some few signs of fighting back and the katechon still having vitality, we are still on the trajectory Benson outlines.

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Comments on Wonder Woman, Part III: Elevation of the Genre

So Wonder Woman balances realism and heroism and it manifests a truly feminine feminism. It also elevate the whole superhero genre.

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I will be the first defender of superhero movies as more than just mindless action. From Nolan’s Batman to the Russo’s Captain America, these movies, at their best, have made comment on contemporary issues while manifesting a variety of eternal themes, most especially heroism.

However, the superhero genre has always had a fault in juxtaposing these extraordinary individuals as paragons of human ideals and yet always ending things with their fists. The balance is often struck by having some primary villain which needs to be defeated, or by means of some allegorical storytelling. Better stories, like Captain America: Civil War, reveal the complexity of human struggles and how these can escalate to violence. All, though, tend to posit that some specific villain needs to be defeated to win.

In Wonder Woman, we see this basic idea whimsically played with before, not deriding it, but transcending it. It’s a wonderful arc from naive “destroy the bad guy, save the world” to a maturity which recognizes the wickedness in man himself but affirms the need to continually fight against it.

In a way, it manifests John G. Cawelti’s Generic Transformation. Genres, in his theory, go through a four-stage transformative process of exhaustion – satire, nostalgia, demythologization, and reaffirmation of myth. No one stage is present on its own in any given piece of media, though each piece of media tends toward one of the other.

Wonder Woman begins with Diana wanting to go out into the world of men to defeat Ares. As told to her by her mother, Ares originally corrupted men and the amazons were created to ultimately kill him and free man from his influence. She quickly identifies the cruel, peace-hating, warmongering General Ludendorff as Ares and seeks him out. Along the way, she is forced to confront the horrors of war and even the failures of her friends. Steve keeps from killing Ludendorff for political reasons and a liberated town is gassed in the aftermath. Diana then takes it upon herself to ride down the general and kill him.

It’s here, in a great twist, that the real enemy is revealed. Ludendorff, while a definite bad guy, isn’t Ares. And Ares, well, he may have tipped man this or that way, inspired their plans and weapons. However, as he makes clear himself, the wickedness Diana seeks to remove is not his doing. Man has corruption within him. Ares did not put it there. He has just recognized it and desires to speed on man’s self-destruction so as to remake the world as a paradise.

It’s at this point where the movie both demythologizes and reaffirms the myth of the superhero in one fell swoop. Diana’s original assumption is proved as naive. You can’t fix the world just by beating the bad guy. Killing Ludendorff doesn’t halt the war. And killing Ares won’t fix the heart of men. Diana is confronted with an enemy she can’t beat into submission or slay with a sword – sin.

Trevor, always aware of this, commits the ultimate act and sacrifices himself to try and end the spread of the dangerous gas. This is even more horror loaded onto Diana, losing the man she’s come to love. It’s a moment that can send anyone over the edge, and she becomes, for just a moment, a true goddess of wrathful war.

In the end, though, it is Trevor who brings her to reject Ares and recommit herself to fighting for the good. Remembering his final words to her, words of love even in the midst of horror, she is also called to listen to her better angels. She does not fight to end the war, though that is a commendable goal. She fights to defend the good. And though man is full of wickedness, he is also full of good. She loves and chooses love no matter the horror.

The superheroic myth is reaffirmed, fighting with extraordinary might with and for extraordinary ideals, for love itself. It’s actually a beautiful ending, one which proclaims that love conquers all without ever feeling saccharine or preachy.

Many wish to see in Batman a Christ image – a man who takes on the disrepute of the world to save us from crime. I’ve always found this wrongheaded (for all my love of Batman). Vigilantism is never justice and never Christ-like love.

In Wonder Woman, we see a much better Christ image. She confronts the horrors of the world, has them loaded upon her, but through it all clings to love. Yes, she does finally beat Ares with her fists, but the whole event leaves her transformed, aware of the evil in men’s hearts, but ever fighting, ever giving, in order to turn his heart to love.

It’s things like this which make me fascinated with genre fiction. You can do this in more literary and high brow media, but it has a visceralness when done in genre fiction. The elevation strikes us in the gut, in the passions, in the imagination. Yes, it should rise to the intellect to become truly transformative, but sometimes the passions need to be in order to let the mind take the reins. Wonder Woman does just this with astounding success.

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Comments on Wonder Woman, Part IIb: Embracing the Feminine

Continuing the comments on the feminine themes in Wonder Woman:

c) Gender complementarity

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The relations between the sexes is also on display, not as a struggle for supremacy, but rather as complementary. Diana is experientially innocent about men and the relations between men and women, but she is knowledgeable and confident nonetheless. She does not understand why literally sleeping with Steve Trevor, fully clothed and apart, would be a problem when they’re on a small sailing boat – the whole scene is both comedic and sobering, revealing our own impure minds in the face of her confident innocence.

This innocence also comes out in a confident docility to Steve’s lead. She knows that Steve is the one who can get her to her goal, so she lets him guide her. This does not make her passive, standing up to the weak and immoral, even when that means deriding Steve himself and breaking with him for failing her. This kind of confident docility is a hallmark of traditional femininity, destroyed in the memetic idea that “Well behaved women rarely make history.” Diana is plenty well-behaved and can be heroic because of it.

d) Martial Might and Compassion

A final point about the violence. It’s true that violence and force are usually the domains of men, but I think the movie makes a deft move by saying not only is it NOT the proper domain of men, but that violence, more properly physical force, is an extraordinary response to extraordinary sin.

This is the fundamental message of Hippolyta, Diana’s mother. She wishes to protect the young Diana from a warrior’s training, not because she is against the use of force per se – she is a warrior herself and relishes in her sister Antiope’s martial might. Rather, she hopes the conditions which require the use of force – hatred, envy, desire – will not touch her daughter. She may be wrong in overprotecting Diana, but the impulse is a good one.

It’s also one that is distinctively feminine. The masculine, even if it wishes to eschew the horrors of physical force, has a tendency to embrace it. It is by physical force we men often exercise our fortitude. The feminine exercise of fortitude is more often expressed in intense compassion. Diana embraces this wholeheartedly. Her mission to kill Ares is a desire to free men from the hatred she presumes he spreads. Her acts of physical valor are first and foremost a response of compassion to the plight of others – when a woman asks Diana for aid, the men wish to move on and stick to the plan while she wishes to care for those right in front of her. Her ultimate moment of badassdom is elevated not by her might, but her invocation of love even in the face of man’s wickedness. Even small little acts reveal this intense compassion, like running to see a baby, desiring to know what people do during peace, or comforting the PTSD-rattled Charlie.

Wonder Woman reveals a very clear picture of eternal feminine traits while not getting caught up in some universal abstraction of womanhood. It’s refreshing and will probably piss a lot of the “righthinking” sort.

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Comments on Wonder Woman, Part IIa: Embracing the Feminine

Wonder Woman deftly traverses the choppy waters between realism and heroism. It also traverses the mess that is modern day feminism. I’m incredibly pleased with it, though there are naysayers. What they fail to recognize, or refuse to recognize, is the way the movie highlights a distinctively feminine physicality, healthy gender complementarity, and the might of womanly compassion.

a) Some comments on Modern Feminism

While there are a slew of little articles discussing the feminism in the movie – mostly drawing attention to Diana being a well-drawn character and a few of the subverted sex jokes – there’s already a few more “substantive” articles deriding its failures as a feminist film. From wanting to make clear Wonder Woman is only a bodacious fantasy figure to complaining the movie wasn’t a “woke-feminist manifesto”, you’re already hearing the outcry. I would be willing to bet that the upcoming weeks are going to be finding more of this outcry gaining traction among the Ivory Tower sort as the movie breaks the box office and becomes a major part of the cultural landscape.

This isn’t surprising. Wonder Woman is definitely feminist in a certain fashion, but not in the fashion that is currently in charge of the intellectual institutions. For the modern feminist, feminine as a category needs to be relativized beyond recognition (a similar point is made about manhood – let’s not get my blood pressure up about that). Womanhood is whatever a woman deems it to be, one’s sex is radically fluid, and anything which dwells on the specifically feminine is probably sexist and misogynistic. Woman needs to be understood only in relation to other-woman, to the point that lesbianism is the model of proper womanhood. That Wonder Woman failed to indulge in this nonsense in long period among the all-female amazons is probably of great consternation to the feminist brahmins.

b) Feminine Physicality

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So what is the feminism we see in Wonder Woman? From the beginning, the physicality of femininity is on display. The warrior culture of Themyscira cannot shy away from this, and while far tamer than the likes of Frank Miller’s 300, it similarly exposes and relishes in this physicality. It is a physicality that is distinctly feminine, though, highlighted by Zach Snyder’s trademark slowdown spectacle. Curves and grace, a lightness of step, an embodiment that manifests and highlights creation (see the horsemanship exhibited). It’s the sort of difference that is shown between male and female gymnasts. Both are graceful, but the quality of the female’s grace is of a whole new level.

And yes, one sees outliers, but they are just that. And even then, the most butch of women have a grace few men can mimic.

These scenes are especially poignant for what they do not become – fantasies of the male-gaze. We never witness an unnecessary bathing scene, lesbian moments, or in-training wardrobe malfunctions. I would disbelieve the claim these weren’t discussed, and I applaud the decision to leave them behind. Instead, we get a purer vision of feminine physicality which stirs far more the heart than the loins.

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Comments on Wonder Woman, Part I: Realism and Heroism

Wonder Woman Logo

Wonder Woman is by far the best of the DCEU movies. It may very well be the best superhero movie out there. I’ll leave you to find a proper review elsewhere. I want to make some comments over the next couple of days.

Firstly, we finally have a proper balance between the gritty “realism” the prior movies have attempted with the noble heroism such iconic characters deserve. Secondly, We also have an embracing of the eternal feminine in the face of a culture seeking to relativize that concept, along with masculinity, into oblivion. Finally, we see a maturity of superheroic story without the loss of childish whimsy – something akin to the “reaffirmation of myth”, the fourth stage of John G. Cawelti’s Generic Transformation (see the Nerdwriter for his application of this discussion to Logan).

I’m not going to bother keeping from spoilers, so those wanting to avoid them should head out now.

So first, realism and heroism.

For much of pop-culture, gritty realism is the order of the day. The fantasy book market is replete with Game of Thrones clones which seek to nihilistically revel in just how wicked and evil men are and one-upping each other in giving the noble and virtuous horrific, foolish ends. Shows like House of Cards, True Detective, and Breaking Bad flirt with the same.

The superhero genre, for a variety of reasons, has a polarizing reaction to these types of stories. On the one hand, led by much of of Alan Moore’s work, like Watchmen, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and V for Vendeta, authors have embraced these themes and given us the more “serious” storylines of Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Millar, Frank Miller, and Grant Morrison. However, there has always been a backlash and a desire to return to the virtue-laden and heroic roots, as seen in the rebooting work of Geoff Johns (see his Green Lantern stuff) and the later work of Alan Moore (see his Tom Strong series). For every dark take on Batman or Daredevil, there’s another author who wants to bring some swashbuckling back to the characters. For everyone who wants to show the absurdity of Superman or Captain America’s boyscout heroics, there’s another author who wants to put the paragons of virtue back on the pedestal.

In the movies, we’ve seen this polarization occur in the Marvel vision which mostly endorses heroism and virtue and eschews gritty realism (though we get this in the Netflix series), while DC has attempted to go the opposite. From Man of Steel, which showed a troubled and distraught Superman, to Batman v Superman which made Batman a sociopath, to Suicide Squad, which floundered in going the lovable rogues route, all of the DCEU movies have tried to be darker and edgier and basically failed at every turn. I mostly blame this on Zach Snyder who seems obsessed with “dark and serious = mature” while shooting movies filled with moments of spectacle and no substantive scenes.

In Wonder Woman, the problems of the last movies are handily overcome by recognizing that a sober realism which recognizes horror and sin is not counter to but parallel to and even integrative of a true and transcendent heroism.

The setting for the majority of Wonder Woman’s action is World War I (an interesting choice which helps elide the “every villain is a nazi” syndrome). There is no glorification of war here and it takes a toll on the innocent Diana. Raised for battle, but never actually seeing it, the audience gets to vicariously experience her revulsion at the effects of war. From witnessing her sister amazons die, to the horrific condition of trench warfare, to the wounded soldiers and innocents caught up in the conflict, the movie never shies away from making clear that war is an ugly mes.

However, every moment of horror becomes also a chance of heroism and Diana, through both her innocence in the early parts of the film and her mature compassion in the later portions, rises to the occasion. She defends her homeland, she breaks the siege, she seeks out and destroys her enemies. Never is sin a time to curl in upon herself. Even in her greatest moments of seeming failure, she is challenged to rise above it and does so.

This is also seen in the lesser, ordinary characters. Steve Trevor is always seeking to bring about an end to the conflict, even at the sacrifice of his own life. Sameer, Charlie, and Chief, their merry men, all follow Diana into the thick of battle and are ultimately inspired to selfless acts of heroism.

Every horror is but a challenge to greater heroism, a heroism which seeks to transcend the self and bring about the glory of the good – “where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.”

This is what the prior DCEU movies wanted to be and failed. Let’s hope they can correct course and continue in Wonder Woman’s lead.

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