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Interview: Meredith Finch on Wonder Woman’s Vulnerability, Female Friendships, and Defining Strength

tear in her eye

Meredith Finch and David Finch have done something different with Wonder Woman during their run: Diana cries, makes mistakes, and acts human. She’s … surprisingly human for a demi-god. That decision isn’t the only one that the pair has had to justify; before their “War Torn” arc even began, David Finch hesitated at first to call Diana a feminist — although he later clarified that of course she is. The first issue felt a little disappointing to some … including me, I’ll admit. But I read the entire arc, and I had the chance to speak with Meredith Finch about her creative decisions at New York Comic Con this year, and I think you’ll find it fascinating — even if her arc isn’t one of your favorites.

I tend to cringe when anyone makes sweeping generalizations about the differences between men and women, but I do realize that gendered socialization exists. In doing this interview, I thought a lot about what film critic Marya E. Gates had to say about male directors who try to make movies about women: “I feel like one of the things that male directors tend to miss is how intimate women are with each other in female friendships. Women are more likely to hug each other, share clothes or say ridiculous things to each other that they don’t say in mixed company. A lot of that gets lost when men try to translate female friendship on to the big screen.” That quote lingered in the back of my mind during this interview, and it’ll become clear why as you read it, given Meredith Finch’s strong position in favor of telling stories about women, by women, for women.

Maddy Myers (TMS): We’ve seen a lot of different versions of Themyscira. It seems like almost any time somebody envisions that world, people criticize it and say, “that’s not what it would really be like, that’s not what a woman-only society would be like” — but of course we don’t know what that would be like, because there is no real-life analogue. Of course, you’ve faced criticism yourself with your vision as well — but I think every writer has. I wondered what you thought about that coming in?

Meredith Finch: I know when I went into doing this and thinking about Themyscira and the Amazons, and what had come from Brian Azzarello’s run, he had brought for the first time the male Amazons — the rejected Amazon boy children — back to the island. I thought to myself, first of all, you’ve got this strong, established society — and women really do support each other through their friendships. I felt like they would feel very betrayed by the fact that Diana had brought back the men to the island, because they considered her one of them. They had been doing this for years. It had been established for centuries and generations. And now she’s rejecting her upbringing, first of all by leaving them, and then coming back and now trying to impose this massive change on them. So when I looked at that, that was really the basis behind why they had the reaction that they did, in our first arc, to the male Amazons and why it created this power struggle with the loss of Diana’s mother Hippolyta and opened that up for Derinoe and Donna to rival her for the rule and being the queen of the Amazons. I loved the fact that Brian had given me that, but I really wanted to play off that feeling of betrayal: “She betrayed us!”

TMS: One of the complaints I saw some readers had about Brian’s and Cliff’s arc was, they felt like the women on the island were “too violent.” I did think it was interesting that you took the importance of female friendship, and — I would say — left that in the story as the foreground, but also still, the women are incredibly violent. There’s some really dark stuff here, such as

Finch: At the end of the day, I thought, people react in a certain way out of fear and anger. And I think that she brought something to the island that they were very fearful of, that they felt betrayed, and that those feelings and those emotions are always the places that we act out in, and are the very darkest in human nature. Brian had already established them as being — I’ll say, I didn’t necessarily agree with maybe some of the things that happened, but I wasn’t going to go back and recreate that. I wanted to take what was there, and then … play off of that. That scene was a very violent scene, . And we knew that was going to happen. But that’s one of those things where, I let David [Finch] do his thing. He is such a great artist, and such a great storyteller. He really knows how to take a scene and give an emotional impact. When I saw that page — when he finished it — I was horrified. And I think it was supposed to be horrifying. I really have to give him credit for being able to take it that far, and make something that is a terrible genocide — make it horrifying, make it horrible, make it what it is. So I really appreciate the fact that I have David with me and working on that. Because we give each other a balance, where I might be afraid to do something, he will do it. It brings a nice feel, a nice synergy to the book.

TMS: To take it back to the female friendships theme — obviously there are a lot of interactions with male characters in the Justice League, but it seemed like the strongest moments were between the female characters.

Finch: That was absolutely intentional. I thought to myself, she came from an island of women. And women naturally gravitate and have this friendship where they talk about everything with each other. It didn’t make sense to me that she wouldn’t have a girlfriend. It was very important to me that I start exploring that and developing that, to show that she is supported by the women in her life, and by other women beyond her mother, in her life. Having her have those coffee shop moments with Hessia, and having those conversations with Dessa on the island — I just really wanted that, and I want to continue that with her. Showing her with Hera, and Zola, and the gods. Female friendships are very important to me, and we do friendships in a different way than guys do friendships — we bond in a different way. And I wanted that to be reflected in this book. I think that’s one of the things, as a female writer, that I can bring to the book, that a male writer might not.

TMS: I did think it was interesting that in a lot of situations with the Justice League, Wonder Woman would often be placed on the defensive in those conversations — and for better or for worse, I think that might be true for women working in a male-dominated environment. That she would often be needing to justify her actions and choices. I wondered if that was intentional, too, to have her almost acting more safe and at home when she’s in conversations with women in her life, and then with men — feeling more pressured to justify her choices all the time?

Finch: I think, too, because the Justice League is very much — she acts from her heart. And some of what she was doing, with the alien when she attacked him in the cavern and killed him, it was a very emotional moment for her. We all have moments where we just act out of our emotions. I never want her to be perfect. I want her to be able to make mistakes. And then I want her to be able to stand up and say, “Maybe I made a mistake, or maybe I didn’t, but I’m going to stand by what I did.” And I wanted that dynamic to come across with the Justice League. Because they’re all very, like, “We don’t kill! We don’t do this!” Sometimes, who you are is going to be at odds with the company that you’re working for. Or the company that you’re keeping.

TMS: That’s true. I had a question specifically about that — Wonder Woman makes a lot of mistakes in this story. Even in the storyline with the aliens, ultimately it leads back to her realizing, “I made a mistake that I didn’t intend. Things happened that I didn’t intend to lead to this.” I wouldn’t really call that a mistake on her part, per se. But even so, I wondered if you were worried about putting this out there, because it’s a story where Wonder Woman is deeply flawed — she makes mistakes that impact thousands of people’s lives.

Finch: One of the things that I really wanted to explore in the book is that strength is not about being perfect. Strength is about making mistakes and being able to acknowledge the mistakes that you’ve made, own up to them, and then, either rectify them or move on — but being able to deal with the consequences of your actions. So, that was something I did really want to explore with her. It’s not fun to write somebody who’s perfect all the time — and I don’t think it’s fun to read somebody who’s perfect all the time. I wanted people to be able to relate to her, and feel like, “Yeah, I’ve been there. I’ve done that. I’ve had that feeling. I’ve been overwhelmed. I’ve sat down and cried.” When she said to the guys in the Justice League — “Just leave me alone. Leave me alone. I just need my space … I just need to deal with it on my own.” I really did want to do that with her, and I’m going to continue to do that with her story — because I feel like it makes her more relatable.

TMS: Absolutely. I mean, I think that’s cool. Honestly, I just wish somebody would do a Batman arc or a Superman arc that did that too, because it does seem to me like it’s usually women characters — when they have women writers — who end up being like, “Let’s actually make these characters relatable.” And it’s so rare — I’m not asking you judge other writers here. But I do feel like usually only women characters get to be emotional — but that’s not really true in reality. Men are emotional! I think it’s too bad that usually these vulnerable moments only happen with our female characters.

Finch: I’m glad that we were able to do it in our book. And I’m also glad that we’ve had such a positive response from it. Because it was nerve-wracking writing the book and writing those scenes, especially because we started the book so far ahead of when it came out. We started working on it in February, and the book didn’t come out until November. So, we were so far down that path before the book came out and we got any kind of feedback, and I’m really happy that people are responding in a positive way. I’ve had moments where somebody came up to me in artist’s alley — there’s a scene in the second arc where Donna Troy yells at one woman who’s trying to help her get over what she’s done, and she says, “I’m a monster!” And this woman says back to her, “I’ve forgiven you. The Amazons have forgiven you. And now you need to forgive yourself.” I feel like that’s often something that we struggle with, too. So I like the fact that we’ve put those real human feelings, real human emotions into the book, into the women in the book — I think it makes them relatable, and we’re getting good feedback. People are responding in a positive way.

TMS: Since you’re on a husband-and-wife team, I’m curious if you have any stories about something that you disagreed about over the course of this project.

Finch: We disagree all the time! And we always work it out. Sometimes there will be scenes, like that fight scene, where I look at it, like: “Oh my gosh, Dave! This is so graphic!” And he’s like, “It has to be.” And we talk about it, and eventually, [I say] “you’re right, it is. It does have to be.” I was really nervous when we had her crying. Because, it’s Wonder Woman! And he was like, “But she has to, Meredith. She has to cry. This is really moving.” And people have responded to that in such a positive way. Then there are times when I’ll be like, “Oh, you were supposed to draw this in, and you didn’t!” I always feel, though, because Dave is such a great storyteller, that he always brings up the story for me. Sometimes I feel like he might story-tell me into a box, because that’s not what I originally envisioned in a scene — but because he’s such a great storyteller, it always ends up being better. And it forces me to figure stuff out. As a new writer, I’m not — he’s been doing this for seventeen years. I’ve been doing this for two. And I really do rely on his instincts. There’s a reason he is the artist he is.

TMS: Of course. But there have got to still be times when you say, “I know I’m new here, but I know I’m right about THIS part.”

Finch: Absolutely. There are times like that, where I’ll say, “No, I really need this scene. And I need you to do this in this scene.” So, yes. There is definitely give and take. I feel like the two of us bring each other up. It makes for a better story in the end.

TMS: All right. Last question. I meant to ask earlier about the decision to give the aliens a queen — want that meant to fit into the female-led arc?

Finch: It was definitely intentional. I knew I wanted to have — when Dave did the initial design, I knew it was going to be like a bug-type of person, with insect hives?

TMS: Since many insects notably have a matriarchal structure?

Finch: Exactly. So we definitely did it that way. It also had an Earth Mother sort of feel. And we’re going to continue that in our next arc as well. I wanted to make sure that we’re always bringing in strong female leads and strong female villains. I don’t feel like in order for her to be strong, she should have to take on a male character. I don’t always like that we pit ourselves and measure ourselves against men when we measure our strength. I felt like she doesn’t have to fight a guy to be strong. Women are just as strong. I feel like that’s something that’s really important for me, that strength needs to be defined by who you are in yourself, not who you’re pitting yourself against.

(Image via Every Day Is Like Wednesday)

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Maddy Myers, journalist and arts critic, has written for the Boston Phoenix, Paste Magazine, MIT Technology Review, and tons more. She is a host on a videogame podcast called Isometric (relay.fm/isometric), and she plays the keytar in a band called the Robot Knights (robotknights.com).