Having the moral high ground is a lot like having Monopoly money. It’s value is mostly symbolic and rarely, if ever, pragmatic in a meaningful way. For many years, the Amazons could claim without question that they had the moral high ground. They were warriors that embodied the highest values. They fought in the name of love, compassion, and justice. They’re the kinds of values that only tyrants and internet trolls could oppose. Even if those values were symbolic, it made them more noble.
That nobility helped mask the fine print of the Amazons’ principles for many years. That fine print contains clauses like the provisions in an Apple user agreement that specifies how all the love and compassion is not applicable to men. They’ll love and cherish one another as sisters. They’ll fight the good fight against aliens, gods, and Lex Luthor. But when it comes to the male population as a whole, they come off as more petty than young Madonna.
That caveat was easy to overlook in some respects because the history of the Amazons was tied to the atrocities they suffered in the past. What gave them the moral high ground in the first place was their ability to rise above these atrocities as a society. Then, the New 52 brought about some inglorious details that highlighted other parts of that fine print.
They already lost a big part of the moral high ground when it was revealed how they slaughtered men after seducing them to produce more Amazons. They did manage to keep a sliver of it when they chose not to go full-on Spartan with discarding male babies. But with the creation of Donna Troy, the Amazons let it get even more inglorious. And if there’s any moral high ground left to retain, it has to be salvaged in Wonder Woman Annual #1. In the end, however, they only managed to salvage a portion.
The culmination of the conflict between Wonder Woman and Donna Troy had been hyped up like a title fight over the course of multiple issues. And Wonder Woman had to go into this fight somewhat handicapped because she had been dealing with another conflict that unfolded from the fallout of her battle with the First Born. Both of these conflicts were pretty disconnected, so much so that Wonder Woman is essentially a victim of circumstance. And no matter how powerful a man or woman might be, circumstance will find a way to screw them over.
Wonder Woman really couldn’t do anything about Donna Troy because she was caught up in something else. It comes off as underhanded in some respects, her having to be distracted for this conflict within the Amazons to manifest. It’s like Wonder Woman is being punished for trying to do too much. However, the conflict involving the fallout from the First Born actually establishes something important for the struggle against Donna Troy. Even if she is trying to do too much, Wonder Woman’s heart is always in the right place. Not many people since the death of Mr. Rogers can say that.
By resolving the conflict with the trapped aliens who had been awakened by the First Born’s defeat, Wonder Woman made an important statement. First, she showed the value of not resorting to the Dick Cheney approach to dealing with problems, finding a peaceful resolution first. Second, she maintained her claim on the moral high ground. That made her battle against Donna Troy more meaningful because it makes clear that she’s the only remaining Amazon who can claim the moral high ground. And unlike Mr. Rogers, she’s willing to fight to maintain that claim.
When the battle against Wonder Woman and Donna Troy finally unfolds, all the right emotions are in place. The artistic detail provided by David Finch highlights all the visceral details of this title fight between two Amazon heavyweights. And unlike the Mayweather/Pacquiao fight, it’s much more satisfying. It’s also much cheaper than an overpriced pay-per-view package. But even if it is more satisfying, the aftermath is somewhat mixed.
At the very least, nobody can complain they got ripped off. However, the impact of Wonder Woman’s fellow Amazons feels a bit too muted. Under Donna Troy, they committed an atrocity that’s as much a war crime in the 21st century as it was in the 1st century. They just stormed a village full of innocent, unarmed men and slaughtered them without mercy or provocation. On top of that, these men were their brothers and they had fought beside them in the battle against the First Born. It’s the kind of family treachery that would disgust even Game of Thrones fans.
However, Donna Troy’s defeat doesn’t really deal with this crime in a satisfying way. Sure, Donna is deposed and the Amazons involved are punished, but the lack of impact on the Amazons as a whole is troubling. They really don’t seem to mourn the loss of their Amazon brothers. They react the same way most people react when they find out that they overpaid for a Prius. Wonder Woman is the only one who sheds a tear. Sure, one of her sisters is nice enough to kill the old woman who pulled the strings from behind the scenes. But the rest don’t even apologize for doing absolutely squat when they had a chance.
The Amazons haven’t just lost the moral high ground. They crumpled it up, threw it on the ground, and spit on it. Now only Wonder Woman still has this symbolic claim. The problem is it really doesn’t seem to matter much to her sisters. She can do the right thing all she wants. She can be the paragon of Amazon values until the end of time. Her sisters aren’t going to apologize for the glaring inconsistencies in their philosophy. Like debating creationists on a message board, Wonder Woman is dooming herself to frustration by trying to inspire her sisters to be better.
This incomplete resolution makes Wonder Woman Annual #1 feel disheartening in too many ways. The Amazons still come off as thugs more than warriors. Other than Wonder Woman herself, the emotions in this story might as well have come from Kristen Stewart. The Amazons are in need of redemption. But by all accounts, they’re a long ways from getting it and their efforts in achieving it are haphazard at best. And for the tribe that birthed Wonder Woman, they deserve better.