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When I started soliciting moments for this series, this one came up more than any other moment. To write about it, I am once again pleased to have as my guest poster the gifted and knowledgeable Wonder Woman writer Bluefall. And the moment? I’ll give you just one word and I’ll bet you’ll guess. Snap.
Bluefall is writing about the moment in Wonder Woman #219 by Greg Rucka and Rags Morales when Wonder Woman kills Max Lord after he tells her it is the only way to stop his murderous mind control. Her thoughts follow.
Let’s just get this out of the way first: part of the reason this moment is so memorable is, quite simply, that the powers that be won’t let us forget it. If you were reading DC titles in 2005, you saw this scene. A lot. It was repeated half a dozen times each across three dozen titles, from varying perspectives and to varying purpose but always to the same ultimate effect of burning it permanently into the fanbase’s brains. Even half a decade later we’re still seeing lifts and copies and references occasionally. The creative types at DC wanted it to be a big moment, and they made it one.
That said, even without the corporate push, the neck-snap was a pretty unforgettable moment, because it says something pretty powerful about Diana. This will be a bit roundabout, but bear with me.
See, superhero comics have a long legacy of promoting diversity and acceptance through metaphor. The DCU in particular has robots who sacrifice their lives for the sake of loved ones and vampires who reject the hunt and help heroes to hunt their peers; its very flagship character is an alien living among humans as a friend and equal. There’s a fundamental and very compelling message in the fact that anyone, no matter what they look like or where they come from — whether angel or demon, monster or machine, mutant or god — can be shown to be every bit as valid a person, every bit as capable and deserving of choice, of life, of love, of heroism, as any “normal” human. And for a long time, the Wonder Woman franchise has been a particularly deliberate adherent to that message. Diana herself is, after all, an ambassador, whose whole mission in life is to foster peace and understanding between disparate cultures. Her origins as a propaganda piece for gender equality have grown into the portrayal of a passionate crusader for the equality of all, no matter their phylum, planet, or plane of origin.
And Maxwell Lord was the ultimate test of that philosophy. Post-Crisis Diana, after all, was never really a superhero. She’s an envoy and a warrior, and her diplomat’s idealism has always been tempered by a soldier’s practicality. When a monster threatens innocent lives and refuses her attempts at negotiation, she will slay that monster, if need be. As she did the very first opponent she ever faced in Man’s World, as she did during the war with the khunds, as she has done to gods and demons and robots and dragons since. And as she did to Medusa mere months before her confrontation with Max, while the whole DCU and most of her readership cheered her on. These were sentient beings, all, capable of choice and redemption, worthy of life and respect; but in the moment when they fought Diana, they were too dangerous, too monstrous, for her to risk anything but swift and absolute resolution. Just as, in this moment, was Maxwell Lord. By his actions, by his statements, and by the power he possessed, he was identical to every other foe she’d ever slain, except in the single attribute of his race.
So when Diana snapped his neck, she proved herself completely, proved that she absolutely and truly does believe all creatures are equal, whether they look like her or not. She will slay a monster to save a person, and she defines both by their actions alone, instead of some arbitrary prejudice like whether they happen to be monkey-shaped carbon-based bipeds. She will do so without shame, doubt or hesitation, regardless of the impact on her image or the judgmental condemnation of her friends, because it’s the right thing to do, it’s the only thing she could do and remain honest to who she’s always been; because the lives saved by her action are more important than any cost to herself.
It’s true that since then, her in-universe friends, along with half the stable of DC writers, have tried to use this moment as a bludgeon against her, as a sign of how corrupt their universe had gotten and how badly she had lost her path and how much she needed to change. But that will never alter the fact that, as dark and bitter a choice as it was for her in-universe, it was still an absolute triumph for her character, a demonstration of respect, egalitarianism and honor that marks her a hero even among heroes, and as memorable a moment as she’s ever had.