The goddess Circe, who Odysseus meets on the island of Aeaea during his travels, is used in the DC comics as a villain, primarily opposing Wonder Woman, but who has at times also faced off against characters like Superman and Batman. She has appeared in comic books and on the cartoon show Justice League Unlimited to oppose the superheroes. She uses magic to battle them and is considered to be one of Wonder Woman’s most dangerous foes.
Like many characters in the Wonder Woman saga, the villain Circe is based on the mythological character of the same name. In the world of DC comics, the character Circe is presented as the actual Circe who met Odysseus far in the past, who has lived on until the present day. There are even some points where her actions within mythology influence here actions within the comic books. In the comic books, she is shown to have had a rivalry with the Amazons of the island Themyscira, especially Hyppolyta, queen of the Amazons and future mother of Princess Diana, who becomes Wonder Woman. In the comic book lore, Hyppolyta sends Circe to Tartarus where she is forced to spend long years suffering for her evil deeds. The gods eventually allowed her to go free under the condition that she not seek revenge against Hyppolyta. Circe agreed, but focused on Hyppolyta’s daughter Diana, who had been born during her time in Tartarus, instead. Circe now finds herself a sorceress in a world based on science opposing one of the greatest superheroes of all time. In the first meeting between the two women, Circe transforms Wonder Woman into a pig using the same magic to change men into beasts that she is shown to have in the Odyssey. It is only after making a deal with Batman that Circe agrees to restore Wonder Woman to her true form. It seems that Batman reminds Circe of Odysseus, whom she loved in the past. However, her grudge against the Amazons is only temporarily pacified, and she does return later to face Wonder Woman and other superheroes again.
We see that the authors of Wonder Woman have taken a noteworthy character from classical mythology and brought here into a contemporary, albeit entirely fictitious, setting. However, instead of taking the character and completely reinventing her, they have simply extended the known story of the actual mythological being beyond what is written and into the present time. Thus, we see the actual Circe battling Wonder Woman instead of a cookie-cutter villain based on and named after the Circe from the Odyssey. Her rivalry with the Amazons as well as her time in Tartarus are completely the product of the comic books, but could conceivably have been a part of the mythology and realistically, at least in the comic book sense, set the stage for Circe’s presence in a modern world and her rivalry with Wonder Woman. Circe’s magical abilities in the comics are consistent with those used on Odysseus’s crew to turn them into swine, but in later issues they are expanded to include other bestial incarnations, natural and otherwise, which deviates from the mythological paradigm, but serves for a more exciting plot. A villain who turns Superheroes into rabid half-beast monstrosities makes for a far more entertaining and exciting storyline than one who turns everyone into swine.
One thing that is neither consistent with the mythology or from comic to comic is the appearance of Circe. In the Odyssey, Circe is described in book 10, line 152 as a dread goddess with richly coiled hair. However, in the comics and cartoons she is presented at different times as having short straight red hair, long curly purple hair, long wavy blonde hair, and medium length straight purple hair, and here wardrobe changes constantly from robes to tights, to miniskirts. Of course, this is simply the different artists taking different liberties with the appearance of the character, but the enormous discrepancies from incarnation to incarnation could make it hard to follow. However, because of the non-specific description in the Odyssey, it cannot be determined which portrayal, if any, is accurate of the actual Circe.
One theme seen when Circe appears is, except when antagonizing Wonder Woman specifically, she tends to focus her efforts against the male superheroes, while uniting the female superheroes against them. In one example, she transforms all of the male superheroes, including Superman, into beasts and has all of the DC comics’ female villains hunt them. It is then up to the female superheroes to protect the city from the transformed heroes, protect the heroes from the hunting villains, and find a way to reverse Circe’s spell. In this particular example we see Circe as a symbol of feminine power and unity overpowering the more predominant male power. Male heroes in comic books are far more easily recognizable, and a storyline like this brings both female heroes and villains into the spotlight. Another example of Circe focusing on male characters is when the villain Lex Luthor becomes president and Circe tries to convince him to make her his first lady. When he refuses her, she unites with some other female villains and takes over Air Force One. Though not as symbolic or meaningful as the hero hunt, this shows Circe’s role in the Wonder Woman comics as yet another symbol of feminism, which is a predominant theme in all of the Wonder Woman series.
We see that Circe’s origins flow directly from the Circe of mythology smoothly into the world of DC comics. She is a powerful and dangerous foe to Wonder Woman and the other heroes, but for the most part, she stays true to her mythological roots. Her appearance changes constantly, but her character is consistent and meaningful within the comic universe as well as to the reader as a symbol of feminine power and unity.