You’re reading The Complete Infinite Crisis, a Comprehensive and Encyclopedic look through the universe-changing superhero event published by DC from 2005 to 2006. Shelfdust are proud to provide a complete overview of the story, and everything that happens in it. Just as we were really getting started, we’ve had to ask some of our favourite experts to step in and make things clearer, however – there’s so much going on!
Emma Houxbois has been helping explain the whole “Wonder Woman murders Max Lord” situation recently, and it’s time for us to head back to her. We know that Wondy killed Lord, but why was that something that happened? Emma, please throw your lasso of truth around this question!!
Why DID Wonder Woman have no choice but to murder someone? Surely there’s always a way out?
Emma Houxbois: This is actually all Kiefer Sutherland’s fault. He was the star of 24, a show that started out with the idea that it was a spy thriller shot in real time with every episode one precise hour of a day that elapsed over 24 episodes. From the second season onwards it became more and more focused on the idea that Jack Bauer, the hero played by Sutherland, would have to torture information out of a “terrorist” because it was the only way to get the information out of them before some calamity like a nuclear bomb was going to go off. It’s the kind of thing you could count on Hollywood movies doing for quite a while before 24 but 24 put very specific emphasis on this at a very politically sensitive time to be pushing that particular scenario.
The first season, which was a very small thriller story about Bauer’s daughter being kidnapped, started in the fall of 2001 and by 2002 when the second season aired, had been completely warped into being a propaganda arm for “The Bush Doctrine” of pre-emptive strike and the paranoid surveillance of the domestic Muslim population. The scenario of being forced to use extraordinary, violent tactics to extract information about an imminent threat was no longer an abstract, paranoid fantasy. It was the rationale being offered to the American public for the expansion of the surveillance state and the AUMF that gave the Bush administration the authority to invade Iraq under the false pretence that it possessed “weapons of mass destruction” that posed a threat to “global security” and the United States in specific.
So executing this particular story in this particular way is a gruesome, completely tasteless restaging of the rationale that had already been used to justify the insidious destruction of American Muslim communities infiltrated by the FBI and the invasion of Iraq and would further be (falsely) credited for the success of the bin Laden raid in Zero Dark Thirty. The comics later punish Diana for dramatic effect, but in the moment they absolve her for her actions by granting her moral certainty through the lasso that this is the only viable course of action, and later give her retroactive absolution by revealing Lord to be a robot impostor. Very much like the Bush administration creating a false morality behind their actions and the Obama administration refusing to prosecute anyone for the use of torture under the aegis of the War on Terror.
I can’t stress enough that none of this is innocent, that it isn’t a simple case of comics mirroring culture. I’m not going to say that it was entirely thought through the way I’m presenting it here, but the way that scenario was being used by popular culture and the fixation on a military-espionage framework in both Wonder Woman and Checkmate preclude it from being an entirely innocent mistake. The basic dynamics here are that the general public is outraged that Diana committed a murder, but Diana was acting on secret knowledge to save untold innocent lives. It doesn’t have the racialized component that 24 exploited, but it’s still using the grammar of the War on Terror for frivolous entertainment purposes.
To my mind, the killing of Maxwell Lord is the most transparent and reprehensible presentation of Wonder Woman as the face of Pax Americana. There is, like you alluded to, always a way out because it’s a fictional scenario and superhero comics use that unlimited potentiality to act as moral teachers. It’s completely ridiculous that Batman is capable of choosing to never kill anyone based on the kinds of situations he gets into, but that’s irrelevant. The point of his no kill rule is to communicate that the preservation of life is the highest virtue that he strives for and his entanglements with people like The Joker exist to put that virtue in tension. So when you have Wonder Woman, allegedly the face of pacifism, in a scenario where she absolutely has to kill someone what you’re telling the audience is that peace cannot be achieved or maintained without lethal force. That the exercising of benevolent power necessitates lethal force. Now we’re not talking about revolutionary or counter-hegemonic violence here. That’s not what’s on the table. Diana is the face of the establishment, of power in the DCU, and again, dressed in the American flag.
We know what the exercise of lethal force by representatives of the state looks like in practice, and it isn’t peace.
Thanks Emma. I suppose there’s only one rational question to ask after this…. who is Jack Bauer?? Let’s circle back round in two days and find out what he has to do with comics! Anything? Maybe!!
Véronique Emma Houxbois is a trans woman cartoonist, drag queen, and youtuber based out of Vancouver, Canada. You can find her on Twitter here and Instagram under her drag name Judith Slays. She also makes comics on her Onlyfans which you can find here.