Wonder Woman: An Assemblage of Complete Virtue Packed in a Tight Swimsuit
This paper uses actor-network theory (ANT) and Aristotelian virtue ethics to think with/of Wonder Woman as an assemblage of human and non-human actors clustered on a page. It also considers how the emerging assemblage that is Wonder Woman might be viewed as the embodiment of Aristotle’s ‘complete virtue’ or justice. As one of the ‘trinity’ of superheroes of Detective Comics (DC), which also include Superman and Batman, Wonder Woman was created to counter the sadism and tyranny of the Nazi threat during the 1930s and 1940s and has been continually published since 1941. Wonder Woman is a multidimensional icon and an exemplary model of a superhero with a different body and voice, who operates in a different way in the world. She is presented here as a case study to trace possible translations of Aristotle’s configurations of virtue and justice. Using ANT, we argue that Wonder Woman arises from an assemblage of actors that include an armoured swimsuit, a magic lasso, shiny bracelets and a star-emblazoned tiara. By problematising these technologies as actors that commonly invite objectification (the swimsuit) or subjugation (the ropes), this paper suggests possible divergent readings that reveal how virtue and justice can emerge within these relational networks. We test how the sexualised body depictions and overt bondage references in the Wonder Woman comics, and in particular, in our chosen story, George Pérez’s Wonder Woman: Destiny Calling, offer something bolder and more profound—a complex performance of justice. Additionally, this paper intimates the productive methodological powers of ANT in relation to the broader field of comics studies.