Phil Jimenez On Feminism, War, the History of the Amazons, and Wonder Woman at 80

30 years ago this month, Phil Jimenez started working at DC Comics — and was quickly asked to do four pages of pencils over George Perez’s layouts on War of the Gods, a giant crossover event celebrating #WonderWoman’s 50th anniversary. Since his goal in comics was to draw George’s Wonder Woman, this was a dream come true.

 

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30 years later, he says, “I’m putting the finishing touches on Wonder Woman: Historia #Vol1 for DC’s #BlackLabel graphic novel line, and I get this fun box from the company celebrating Wonder Woman’s 80th anniversary this month.”

 

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I interviewed Jimenez back in March to talk about Wonder Woman and what she represents in our culture today.

Phil Jimenez is trying to figure out a shortcut. The superstar comic-book creator whose fans eagerly anticipate his daily “warm up” sketches that he posts on Instagram, is trying to figure out an easier way to finish an intensively detailed page from DC Comic’s upcoming Black Label series Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons — the first comprehensive history of the Amazons of Themyscira. 

#GayNrd caught up with the pioneering gay Eisner nominated comic book artist/writer/storyteller/teacher/lecturer and Out 100 alumni famous for his epic runs on Wonder Woman, X-Men, The Invisibles, Teen Titans, and Infinite Crisis.

The time it’s taking to try to figure out this shortcut is probably going to be longer than the actual…,” Jimenez trails off.  “I’ve given myself a ton to draw, and I’m like thinking, ‘There’s got to be a faster way to do this,’ and by the time I’m done figuring that out, it would probably just have been faster just to have done it. I’m drawing an army of like Greek warriors, Ares’ warriors, and the shortcut… I’m thinking maybe I can create like a single version of the armor and just cut and paste it, or maybe I’ll put some of them in shadow. I designed one bit of armor and I had to figure out how do I go about replicating this? And then, of course, you have to manipulate it, so it’s not just cut and paste, and I’m like, “Maybe I just need to shut the fuck up and draw — so, that’s how my day is going.”

Historia was announced nearly two years ago but Jimenez says that the project’s genesis began even earlier and was originally conceived as a graphic novel. The writer, Kelly Sue DeConnick, is the brilliant scribe behind such titles as Bitch Planet,  Pretty Deadly, and most notably, Captain Marvel. Her run on that character, Carol Danvers, is the blueprint that the Marvel Studio film was based on. “She’s just a really incredible writer.”

The artists whet fans appetite about the project last March when he tweeted sketches depicting the new armor of Amazon society. “One more bit of #Amazonarmor to share today; I’ve only shared snippets because I wanted a nice reveal on the page; that said it’s a really fucking shitty time right now & sharing here to entertain & brighten a mood or two, hopefully.”

Jimenez had thought he’d done his last gig for DC after Superwoman and Rebirth where he felt like he’d been compromised. “But then this opportunity came up and I took it with the caveat that they would not solicit it or advertise it until we were done. One of the things I want to do is work on a project without some sort of insane deadline.”

 

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According to Bleeding Cool in a story published in February, “For the DC Rebirth relaunch from DC Comics, Phil Jimenez created Superwoman, a new comic in which both the New 52 versions of Lois Lane and Lana Lang become Superwomen, after the death of the New 52 Superman, only for Lois to die and Lana to continue in her stead, until a continuity change in Superman Reborn changed all that and after issue 8, Jimenez left the book. The series did not last the year after he left. Now Phil Jimenez has been reminiscing on social media about what could have been. He wrote (emphasis ours);”

Jimenez wrote on Instagram: Ah, #Superwoman. What a strange adventure you were. I had such high hopes for this project — plotted out roughly two years’ worth of stories with Lana and Lois and Steel and Natasha and Traci and Lex and the rest of the gang: love triangles and drug abuse; an exploration of women, friendship, and allyship, and their intersections with race and class; sibling rivalry, stolen credit; and the cost of revenge; burgeoning LGBTQ love; panic and anxiety (reflecting my own experiences); memory, loss, grief; and even the weird relationship between Atomic Skull and Bizzaress (I loved them!) — and so much more. I even developed a healthy supporting cast of regular folk, including a deaf character, tho they never got much play.”

 

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“I know the first issue caused quite a stir and I sure wish I could have seen the original story to its conclusion (a common story in my last few years at @dccomics, I realize). That said, I never in my life thought I’d ever get to play with Superman or his universe, and it was a great opportunity and a real honor; and got to work with some incredibly fabulous artists; learned so much (even at this age I keep learning!), and I got to write one of my favorite scenes in comics ever — when Lana Lang calls Lex Luther a giant piece of shit. Literally. That little panel made it alllll worth it.”

 

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But even after that experience, Jimenez knew he had to be a part of Historia, the history of the Wonder Woman’s people and the character he’s probably most associated with because, “It’s the first time in publishing history — I believe —  that that history has been written by a woman.”

Jimenez says, “Wonder Woman’s own history, and that of Diana’s childhood has been reinterpreted multiple times over the years in comics by many creators including women. But the actual history of her people, the history of the Amazons has not. That entire backstory has never been written by a woman. And so, that’s one of the reasons I was so excited about it. So, it’s a total reinterpretation of the Wonder Woman myth. What I really appreciate about it, to get jargon-y for a moment is it’s a super feminist take on this which Kelly Sue and I had some really interesting discussions about because the original version, I think, is the super queer take on it. And so, when I got involved with this, I did a lot of research, of course, and I’ve been doing all these academic papers on Wonder Woman anyway, but about the weird intersection of sort of queer politics and feminist politics and where they intersect and where they divide. And I feel like this book is sort of in that interesting space which is not just it’s not also a giant comic book full of superheroes and gods and things like that, but it’s just really interesting to tone.”

 

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Jimenez has long believed and continues to believe even more that Wonder Woman speaks to us about two important things. One is sex and gender and the other is about war, and how we feel about them. 

 

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He also feels that the interesting core question of her character is whether or not the ideology of war is inherently feminist.

Is war a feminist ideology?

It’s not about should women be soldiers, but about the nature of war itself, and what war does and what it demands of its people, the people who fight in it. And subsequently one of the core questions becomes whether or not that’s compatible with feminism. 

 

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So, there are many working theories. But the two pertaining this question, one is feminism at its core, many would argue, is about demanding equality that all human beings be treated equally no matter their sort of sex or gender. The interesting thing about war is that it absolutely demands that your enemies be dehumanized in order for you to kill them and take and rob from them, right? War in itself is a dehumanizing act, and therefore, is that feminist. And then the counter argument which is really interesting is that feminism, like many other sorts of social forces, was built in opposition to sexism and patriarchy. At its core, it is a fight, It’s not just about getting equality, but it’s about fighting oppression. So, feminism at its core, it’s at war with patriarchy and sexism. So, these are the two kinds of super reductive, but those are the two kinds of core ideologies.”

 

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Jimenez says that throughout the process he spoke to a professor from NYU who was very gracious with their time, and whose expertise is on women and war. One thing, among many, that she said which was fascinating was although she had conflicting  feelings about war being feminist, was that war is an incredible drain on resources, both societal and environmental. It is a highly destructive act, and therefore, you have to ask yourself, is that feminist, right? And then, of course, there are other issues, sexist ideas of women’s roles in fighting, in war, in society, etc. And that women historically, when they are not oppressed, are absolute fighters for their people, for their families, for their lives, for their children, etc. So, the notion is that women are inherently not warriors, raises larger questions about the nature of war itself. 

 

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For me, that’s at the heart of the history of the Amazons, and I think Kelly Sue and I might have different feelings about that — but she’s totally turned me on a couple of new ways of thinking about it. 

One that he discovered revolves around Ares, the Greek God of War, who’s has historically been Wonder Woman’s primary villain. “But,” he says, “what I really come to realize over years of doing a lot of research and academic writing, is that Ares, doesn’t just represent war, both in comics and mythology, but patriarchy. He’s limited to the representation of what we call toxic masculinity today. 

 

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He continues, “It’s fascinating because Athena, is also the Goddess of War, but when associated with her, it’s strategic, it’s defensive, it’s the art of war itself.”

@dcWho’s your favorite ##WonderWoman ?♬ TROP POP – mazemuusic

Jimenez adds, she’s also the Goddess of Cities, and a bunch of other stuff, but here we’re just focusing on war. Ares has historically been personified as a brutal, horrible person. And none of the other Olympian gods, except for Aphrodite is depicted like him. 

It’s fascinating because Athena, is also the Goddess of War, but when associated with her, it’s strategic, it’s defensive, it’s the art of war itself.

Jimenez thinks that speaks to sexualization of war and battle, generally, in Western culture, right? We sexualize it, we make it sexy, to make it tangible to us. And I think there is an exhilarating thrill to it. Chris Hedges wrote, War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning.

 

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And so, war is a really potent aphrodisiac for our psyche. And of course, it’s  violent, and a highly destructive, brutal act. So, one really interesting thing about Wonder Woman, so many people focus on the sex and gender stuff which I think is important, particularly because Marston’s [WW’s creator William Moulton Marston] background, the polyamory,  the kink, etc. But for me, the bigger, more interesting question is what did he get right about dealing with violence.

 

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“Marston truly believed in the art of submission, of completely submitting was love, and that men would stop shooting each other, right? Men’s inability to submit to love which Marston believed, aside from those kinks, was an incredibly potent force. Their inability to do that is why we had war, right? Because of the sense of love being feminized, because of it being weakness, etc. And so, Marston the kink stuff was if you could check it’s that whole loving submission thing that cleanup politics ruled by, you submit to love utterly, it will transform you, and that’s the other thing that was so amazing about those Marston Amazon’s unlike the later press one is that there’s a whole interesting thread about reformation among the Amazons. They did not punish, they reformed. And just thinking about today’s issues like defunding the police and Black Lives Matter, all that are happening while we’re talking about… But we’re talking about what is happening in terms of our society in terms of legacy of slavery, jail time, right? The conversation about reformation. Reform is never there.”

 

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The fact that it was a huge component of Marston’s run where prisoners were taken to Paradise Island to be reformed, to be shown in a different way Jimenez thinks is so important, “so powerful. Of course, nobody remembers that it’s been gone for so long. But those are the components to me that it’s very interesting that sort of queer and feminist questions, again, about sex and gender, about submission, about the feminization of love, about the power of beauty, about war, and this war feminist ideology sustain war, all that kind of stuff, I think is what’s so fascinating to me, so fucking deep about this stuff. So, my opportunity to work on a project that goes with an avowed feminist writer like Kelly Sue and have some exchanges about that, it’s really what sold me on the book.”

Representation and the authenticity of experience have become powerful conversations that speak to the under currents of a project like this and so it seems natural to interrogate him about these issues vis-a-vis Historia and his other works.

 

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So this might make me sound like I’m a huge fucking dick and like I don’t mean it to sound like I’m above it all, but I’m fucking careful, and I like being careful. I don’t have the ego that some people seem to have that says, ‘I can write about anything, and I know anything. My opinion matters so much.’

So, recently I pitched a show that’s loosely based on my own family, hispanic Americans [Jimenez is of Mexican descent] and the lead character’s sister is trans. So,the first thing I did was we reached out to a trans writer friend of mine, Jen Richards, and brought her in. She’s fucking amazing, and I love her. My thing is I don’t want to do this without knowing, because I don’t know everything.

 

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What’s interesting to me about how people react is the resentment, right? Like they are being precluded from having a voice.

I don’t have it. I don’t have that resentment. 

 

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He continues, “There’s going to be times you know what? I need to shut the fuck up. And I’m okay with that. I have opinions and everything, that doesn’t mean I have to share them all the time. No matter what happens, when I shut the fuck up, I always learn something. So, I’m good. And you know what? I’m super careful with representation in books and because I care about it, right? And there’s a lot of people put things out there with good intentions thinking that it will protect them. But I’m really interested in getting it right. I don’t feel like it’s a burden. If anything, my fear of getting it wrong has slowed me down.”

 

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On Historia we created 30 unique Amazons. And I was just saying, I want to get them right. I want to get them right in terms of armor how they look — but also so that they are accurate.

And at the end of the day that’s what Historia is —  it’s Hippolyta’s story, not Diana’s.

Lastly, we discussed WandaVision, whose season finale aired the day of our interview.

Both Wanda Maximoff/the Scarlet Witch and Monica Rambeau  are featured lead characters in the Disney+ series  and are favorites of Jimenez. We briefly discussed the character of Rambeau in particular.

For over 24 years, beginning in 1982, Rambeau was Captain Marvel. “When I started reading comics, she was Captain Marvel. I didn’t know anything about Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell).”

The character of Carol Danvers, who is featured in the Marvel movies, was known as Ms. Marvel for most of her existence, a sort of partner/sidekick to the original Captain Marvel (the Kree warrior Mar-Vell).

“Here’s the thing,” he says, “Monica Rambeau as Captain Marvel was my favorite comic character of all time. When they de-powered her, I was devastated. Devastated. Yeah. Because she was a fucking leader, she was a Black woman, and the leader of the Avengers in the 80s. Talk about fucking historic.”

“So my feeling,” he says, “Is they better return her to that status. In my perfect world  they would actually make her the new Captain Marvel. It’d be totally fine with that. Give her the full  energy spectrum powers and make her the most powerful woman, most powerful character in the Marvel Universe. That’s what I want. How about that?

’nuff said.