“Where Have You Been?”:

Wonder Woman and the Dawn of Justice in a Polarized World

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

“This is how a democracy works. We talk to each other. We act by the consent of the governed, sir. I have sat here before to say that shadow interventions will not be tolerated by this committee. Neither will lies. Because today is a day for truth. Because only by speaking – only by working together can we…can we – can we…can…we create a free and a…”

-Senator Finch

Wonder Woman is a rarity among super-heroes. While most are satisfied with beating up, delivering, or killing criminals amid witty one-liners, Diana is frequently a champion of the entire pursuit of justice, working to achieve healing and harmony, from Wonder Woman Vol. 1 #3 (Feb/Mar 1943) when she supports the reform of Nazi Baroness Paula von Gunther, to Wonder Woman Vol. 3 #18-19 (May-June 2008) when she defends the conquering aliens the Khunds from extermination. Her physical strength is matched only by her insight, wielding her Lasso of Truth that compels people to both tell the truth and see the truth about themselves. Wonder Woman’s existence as a comic book character in the real world is as miraculous as any of her origins in the DC Universe.

Although revered as an icon of feminism, Wonder Woman has had little effect on how the real world sees justice. In the decades since her creation, real-life justice has largely not reflected her ideals of problem-solving, but rather ideals of exploited ignorance, significantly structured around drug laws that unequally exert punishment on low-level, non-violent, non-“white” offenders (Boucher, 2017). This is in part because Wonder Woman has had less of a media presence than the most popular super-heroes, who frequently reinforce such ignorance. In The Wolverine (2013), when Yukio asks Logan how he knew there would be a pool to cushion a villain’s fall after being thrown from a skyscraper, Logan replies, “I didn’t,” to comedic effect.

Like the world of the comics, Wonder Woman came to Western culture to bring humanity a better way (Lepore, 2014). But despite being referred to as one of the “Trinity” of DC Comics, culture literally has yet to accept her as an ambassador (McCann, 2016). For all of Wonder Woman’s history, it seems that humanity has yet to listen.

When Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) introduced the very first live action film version of the character, it was a Diana not introducing her Amazon philosophy to the past, but returning to it in the present with flying colors after decades of reeling from the implications. Although audiences will soon be seeing Diana in her own film, presumably the story of why she gave up, it is in Batman v Superman where her real introduction lies, and it is a reflection with powerful implications, as Wonder Woman’s return to action, complete with her Lasso of Truth, represents a unity between the polarized ideals of Batman and Superman.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

In the real world, where scapegoating and hyperbole are prioritized over education (Boucher, 2017), it should come as no surprise that polarization has continued to increase, from lawmakers to movie reviewers. Western society is a place where critical interaction with information is low (Donald, 2016) and science must be defended (Davis, 2017). In this world of misinformation, Wonder Woman is needed more than ever to champion justice.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice explores super-heroes in such an environment. The world in the film starts out very much like the real one, and focuses on the arcs of two justice-bringers with very polarizing mentalities. But this world is at the dawn of becoming something very different, for it now has to grapple – literally as well as figuratively – with a seemingly omnipotent figure selflessly trying to help as many people that he can. In a montage juxtaposing Superman’s actions with the pundits and politicians around those actions, Senator Finch says, “To have an individual engaging in these state-level interventions should give us all pause.” Superman is trying to provide a symbol of hope, which increasingly seems “the dream of a farmer from Kansas.”

Perhaps least convinced is Batman, whose severe methods make him appear as a “devil” to even those he rescues. Bruce Wayne claims to Alfred that he has always been a criminal. Yet over the course of the film, Bruce becomes so deluded by hatred toward Superman that he no longer dispenses justice at all, merely playing into what Lex Luthor is feeding him. When Batman chases LexCorp’s motorcade in his Batmobile, he is not after the criminals, but the Kryptonite they carry. When Luthor causes tragedy at the United States Capitol, Bruce allows a forged note from the villain to blind him to anyone’s pain but his own. Congress is destroyed, but all Bruce can think about is the clickbait.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Since this story of polarization is told within a universe rather than the eyes of a single character, fused into it is the introduction of Wonder Woman, a former hero who had lost hope and given up her calling. As Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne increasingly fall into Luthor’s hands, heroism is in the ether. Upon Clark and Bruce’s first meeting at Luthor’s party, Diana is introduced, moving in the shadows between the echoes of the song “Night and Day.” The film builds tensions between solo heroes struggling to communicate, rarely speaking directly to one another, allowing themselves to be manipulated and lose track of the bigger picture. As director Zack Snyder discusses in a special feature for the film entitled Gods and Men: A Meeting of Giants, “The sort of third character in the movie is media…And I think it’s an interesting way to see how Batman perceives Superman ’cause he doesn’t know who Superman is, all he knows is the public face of Superman.”

It is when the heroes communicate with each other that the day is saved. At first, Diana keeps humanity at a distance, but when Bruce sends her an e-mail containing Lex Luthor’s files on metahumans – “Where have you been?” it reads – a hope in unity is sparked that inspires her to act when the world’s hatred around her spawns the monster Doomsday. As someone adrift since World War I, Diana is in limbo between the two main characters, but ultimately becomes the “Dawn of Justice” that unites them. As executive producer Geoff Johns remarks in the Uniting the World’s Finest special feature for the film, “[S]he’s a bit of both Batman and Superman.” This allows her to represent a moderation between the two, a larger purpose that unity in their differences can achieve. Zack Snyder also comments in the featurette that Wonder Woman is representative of “a future where these characters can work as a team.”

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

When Batman and Superman join forces, Wonder Woman materializes out of thin air, and only then, when this “Trinity” truly comes together, is the world equipped to confront its hatred. Only when Doomsday is held in place by Diana’s Lasso of Truth can Bruce’s Kryptonite do its work, and Superman’s hope finally defeat it. Wonder Woman is called to action by the prospect of unity, and is also what that unity needs. She brings something crucial, yet amazing, to justice in the worst of worlds. When Diana says to Bruce, “I don’t think you’ve ever known a woman like me,” she represents what humanity has seemingly not been able to comprehend – gathering communities, identifying problems, and working toward harmony, beginning with direct, truthful conversations.

Hatred, much like in the real world, claims casualties, and Diana tells Bruce, “Man made a world where standing together is impossible.” But these characters now know they can be something greater, that heroism can be reignited, together. Indeed, Bruce responds, “We can do better. We will. We have to.”

The version of Wonder Woman introduced in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice thus provides powerful points for reflection about the continuing legacy of this character within the past, present, and future of the real world. And this Diana, although leading the way for what is to come, is not so distant a figure as society might think. It will be interesting to see what she will bring further to cinema, super-heroes, and the people who talk about them, in the world she has longed to change.


Boucher, Ian. “Introduction” in Humans and Paragons: Essays on Super-Hero Justice. Ed. Ian Boucher (Edwardsville, IL: Sequart Research & Literacy Organization, 2017).

Davis, Wynne. “Saturday’s March Aims to Stand Up For Science.” NPR. 22 April 2017. http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/04/22/525112932/saturdays-march-aims-to-stand-up-for-science.

Donald, Brooke. “Stanford Researchers Find Students Have Trouble Judging the Credibility of Information Online.” Stanford Graduate School of Education. 22 November 2016. https://ed.stanford.edu/news/stanford-researchers-find-students-have-trouble-judging-credibility-information-online.

Lepore, Jill. The Secret History of Wonder Woman (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014).

McCann, Erin. “U.N. Drops Wonder Woman as an Ambassador.” The New York Times. 13 December 2016. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/13/world/un-wonder-woman-campaign.html?_r=0.

Wonder Woman Vol. 1 #3. William Moulton Marston (writer) and Harry G. Peter (penciler/inker/colorist). Ed. Sheldon Mayer. DC Comics, Feb/Mar 1943.

Wonder Woman Vol. 3 #18-19. Gail Simone (writer), Bernard Chang (penciler/inker), Jon Holdredge (inker), I.L.L. (colorist), Rob Leigh (letterer), and Travis Lanham (letterer). Eds. Nachie Castro and Matt Idelson. DC Comics, May-June 2008.

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With a background in television production, film studies, and communication theory, Ian Boucher earned his Master of Library and Information Science at Kent State University to become a librarian to advocate for information literacy. He is fascinated with the stories cultures tell themselves, and writes about film and comics in that regard. Continue the conversation with him on Twitter @Ian_Boucher.

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Humans and Paragons: Essays on Super-Hero Justice

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