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[This story contains spoilers for Wonder Woman 1984]
The mid-credit scene in Wonder Woman 1984 is somewhat of a Schrödinger’s Cat for movies.
The surprise appearance of Asteria (played TV’s original Wonder Woman Lynda Carter) could, perhaps, be nothing more than a fun nod to the role that Carter played onscreen in the 1970s — or, maybe, it could be a clue that the Wonder Woman movie mythology is about to become far more complicated.
The name Asteria comes, as so much of the Wonder Woman property does, from Greek mythology. Asteria is pursued by Zeus — the mythological god who, in Wonder Woman movie canon is the heroine’s father — to the point where she eventually threw herself into the Aegean Sea to escape him… at which point, depending on the version, she either became an island before marrying another god, or found herself pursued by Poseidon before transforming herself into an island.
Strangely enough, she becomes entirely different islands in the two versions. Greek mythology is almost as ridiculous, almost as complicated, as comic book mythology. And speaking of comic book mythology, there are two different Asterias in DC’s comic book canon, but neither would appear to be the on-screen character played by Lynda Carter. Neither do either appear to offer any significant signpost about what, if anything, the scene signifies in any larger sense.
The first comic book Asteria appears in 1998’s Elseworld’s Finest: Supergirl & Batgirl, where a character with that name appears for one panel with no further information given, other than the fact that she appears to be a member of the Justice Society of America. Given that she has literally one line of dialogue — “You didn’t see any of it? You missed a great show, Timmers,” if you’re curious — and exists in a world where there’s already a Wonder Woman who doesn’t seem particularly attached to her one way or the other, it’s unlikely that this Asteria provides much of an answer to the on-screen character’s conundrum.
That said, at least that Asteria looks human — or, you know, Amazon. The second Asteria in DC’s comic history comes from 2018’s “Drowned Earth” storyline, which ran between the Justice League and Aquaman series for a couple of months at the end of that year. The Asteria that appears in that storyline is a mechanical bird with two heads that is, Wonder Woman helpfully explains, “named after an ancient sister who fought against the gods. Her name means ‘of the sky.’” The bird disappears midway through the story, having served its purpose of guiding Diana to where the plot needed her to be, but more importantly for our purposes, the original Asteria that the bird is named after makes no appearance in the story.
None of this necessarily adds anything to the little information we’re given about Asteria in the movie, although the idea that an Asteria fought against the odds may prove important later at some point. It’s possible that Asteria’s name is less important than the character she’s portrayed as in the mid-credit sequence, however: an Amazon who, before Diana, left Themyscira and has spent her time in the wider world saving the day in secret… just like Diana. In other words, Wonder Woman before Wonder Woman, an idea made even more metatextual by the choice of actress playing her.
In comic mythology, Diana isn’t necessarily the first Wonder Woman, depending on the continuity of the era — don’t ask — and certainly isn’t the only Wonder Woman, with others either being inspired by her example or replacing her in the aftermath of a crisis that has taken her from “Man’s World.” In a storyline in the late 1990s, it even was retroactively established that Diana’s mother had ventured out into the world as Wonder Woman during World War II, and becoming the “first” Wonder Woman in the process. Is that where attention should be paid, with regards to Asteria?
Carter obviously isn’t playing Diana’s mother Hippolyta — Connie Nielsen does that in both movies, after all — but she might be playing a character who serves a similar role, in terms of retconned precursors to Diana, especially given the opening of the movie. It’s not just that Asteria inspired Diana when she was a child; Diana also wears Asteria’s armor in the climax of Wonder Woman 1984. The implication that there’s more than a little bit of Wonder Woman to be found in Asteria’s story is hard to miss.
Could Asteria become an important part of DC mythology — even if only in the movies — by extending the legacy of the Wonder Woman identity even further back in history, beyond the World War I setting of the first movie? Only time, and the potential of a third Wonder Woman movie, will tell.
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Santa Barbara International Film Festival