Thursday, July 01, 2010

You're [Slightly Less of a] Wonder, Wonder Woman!

Many people have asked me about DC Comics’ announcement that Wonder Woman will be significantly altered, at least for the short term. When you shamelessly appropriate a beloved character as your personal avatar, it is hard not to have an opinion about such things. The horrible truth is that, despite the image from the blog, I am on the fringe of the truly loyal comic fans. I did read Wonder Woman (and other) comics as a child in the late 1970s. More recently, I have kept up with Wonder Woman, especially after her relaunch four years ago.

For those of you who don’t know, DC Comics has published Wonder Woman #600 to commemorate the company’s 75th anniversary. This is a tricky numbering system for the Amazon Princess as DC has decided to mysteriously count multiple volumes of the superheroine to get this nice round number, but whatever.

What is making the most news is that the new series accompanies a major costume change for Wonder Woman. I have to say, the new Wonder Woman leaves me a bit sad.



The new costume presents Diana as if she has been shopping the clearance racks at Hot Topic. Not to mention they had the nerve to bring back the horrible WW symbol. Goddess, how I hate that WW. Is she a superhero or a spokesperson for Whataburger?

See, I do have strong opinions. The eagle WW from the relaunch made perfectly good sense to me. Indeed, this is what I wear to the gym these days:



Everybody knows exactly who that symbol represents. The simple WW? Not so much.

Now I know that I am in danger of sounding like every run of the mill whiny and entitled comic fan out there. Certainly there are a lot of knee jerk reactions on the internets. Let me note that the new costume has its supporters, including none other than Lynda Carter. “She’s got an attitude, and if this is the new thing she wants to wear, well by God she’s going to wear it,” Carter stated in a recent interview, “And I like that. And I hope somewhere in the story someone mentions, where’s the old one? And she says, 'Get over it.'”

Despite the endorsement, however, the costume change is getting mostly negative reviews. Taking a look at on-line polls and (*shudder*) comic discussion threads, a clear majority despise the new look. Fox News, never one to lose the chance of sounding shrill, has hinted that the costume change smacks of anti-American attitudes at DC.

I appreciate that DC is in kinda a tough spot with Wonder Woman’s costume. Let’s face it, her original outfit looked like a red-white-and-blue Playboy bunny costume. One isn’t sure if you are supposed to salute her or give her your drink order.



Even so, I just don’t like the new outfit. Still, I read with interest that the outfit emerged because the new writer, J. Michael Straczynski, “wanted to toughen her up, and give her a modern sensibility.” That sounded promising. Well, until they released the cover image for Wonder Woman #603, which then made those ideas ring a bit hallow:



Apparently “toughening her up” means that Wonder Woman’s breasts are the size of her head. I reject that tossing on some tight leggings is somehow making this character more sensibly dressed if every panel is centered around her cleavage.

Rumors abound that they are trying the costume change as a means to possibly sell a movie character. Let me tell you, it ain’t going to work. When people think Wonder Woman, they think star-spangled panties.

What I find more interesting, though, is that the costume change has overshadowed discussions of other major changes to the character. I’m less concerned about what is in Diana’s closet than the fact that she is now going to be weaker than her previous incarnations (thus no longer making her the peer of Superman).

What is astounding about this turn of events is that it has all happened before (and, as Peter Pan would say, it will all happen again). Unlike Superman or Batman, Wonder Woman has had her basic premise reworked more times than Joan River’s forehead. Granted, DC has been more than willing to pull similar stunts with those characters. Remember when Superman “died”? Or that weird cyborg Superman? Or when Batman broke his back? Or when Batman “died”?

Nonetheless, there seems to be some key differences in how Superman and Batman are treated when compared to Wonder Woman. Comic writers often speak of the other two (and Marvel’s Spiderman) as the holy grail of the industry. They all yearn to take a crack at the helm of those books. Meanwhile, writing for Wonder Woman is treated as a chore equivalent to comic jury duty.

Sales figures for Wonder Woman are also abysmal. Superman and Batman’s names can support multiple comic titles at the same time. Yet, Wonder Woman struggles to even keep her single book afloat. I can’t help but thinking it’s because she is a girl in a male dominated industry.



I am distressed by the details announced to “reboot” Wonder Woman. In this version of Wonder Woman, Paradise Island (aka Themyscira) is totally destroyed and all the Amazons are slaughtered – again. I will leave it up to the Freudians in my audience to determine why the male writers of Wonder Woman so often feel the need to demolish the matriarchal Themyscira and kill off the Amazons.

So now Wonder Woman is raised in the United States without knowing her ancestry or learning Amazon ways of peace and love. She also, for seemingly no reason, is much less powerful than the island reared Diana. Maybe those fresh Caribbean breezes give her a little extra oomph. Who can say?

Male writers of Wonder Woman always seem to imagine that they are doing women a favor by taking powers away from Diana. It is a nice piece of reverse logic, especially given that the Amazon character started out with the exact opposite in mind.

As anybody who is obsessed with Wonder Woman most people know, the psychologist William Moulton Marston created Wonder Woman in 1941 as a conscious alternative to the male superheros who had sprung up during the Depression. He expressed concern that young girls lacked any significant role model and were always sidelined as merely a plot twist or an object that needed saving. “Not even girls want to be girls,” he wrote a year after he introduced Wonder Woman, “so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power.” His big idea was to create a woman hero as strong as Superman, but with traits he believed to be “innate” to women (love, compassion, etc.). Even from her start, then, Wonder Woman existed as a gender contradiction. She was the fiercest warrior, but only in the name of peace. Oh, and since Marston loved the S&M in his personal life, Wonder Woman’s plots often involved bondage and ritual spanking.



Wonder Woman fit well for the war years. Women were stepping into new jobs for the war effort and they craved images of a strong woman who also contributed to the Allied cause.

But what about her costume? Well, it was sorta loosely modeled after a Greek warrior, but still recognized as skimpy even by comic standards. One of the first issues even addressed Diana’s thrifty use of cloth:



After World War II, Wonder Woman began to hit hard times. Marston, whose queer ideas about gender and sex had driven the book, died in 1947. Matters became worse when a psychiatrist named Fredric Wertham created a minor frenzy after publishing Seduction of the Innocent in 1954. Comics, he claimed, were at the heart of every social ill from drug addiction to rape. He charged Wonder Woman in particular with turning young girls into lesbians. “The homosexual connotation of the Wonder Woman type of story is psychologically unmistakable,” he wrote, “For boys, Wonder Woman is a frightening image. For girls she is a morbid ideal... The attractive Wonder Woman and her counterparts are definitely anti-masculine. Wonder Woman has her own female following. They are all continuously being threatened, capture, almost put to death. There is a great deal of mutual rescuing... In a typical story, Wonder Woman is involved in adventures with another girl, a princess, who talks about ‘those wicked men.’” Yeah, where did Wonder Woman get off thinking that she didn't need a man to rescue her? She ought to get back into the kitchen making chicken pot pies where she belongs.

Faced with public backlash, DC responded by subtly altering Wonder Woman. A 1950s or 1960s version of Wonder Woman usually contained as many panels of Diana crying her eyes out over Steve Trevor as doing any actual work. She also lost all of her women friends, just to make sure that nobody could accuse her of being anything other than 100 percent hetero. Finally, she basically stopped battling human (male) villains and instead fought more mythical creatures.



By the end of the 1960s, Wonder Woman was, well, dull. DC attempted an almost identical shift in Wonder Woman’s storyline as the one they announced on Tuesday. Starting in 1968, Diana renounced her Amazon superpowers, watched as Paradise Island transferred to another dimension (or sunk into the water, or something), and ditched her swim wear for a white jumpsuit and other “mod” clothing. Like DC’s reaction to their announcement Tuesday, DC writers in the 1960s expressed surprise that feminists (including Gloria Steinham) saw robbing Wonder Woman of her powers as a betrayal. Gee, why would making a character less powerful not be seen as a step forward for women? Oh, and did I mention that she gave up her position as a ranking officer in the military in order to open a dress boutique? Without her superpowers, Wonder Woman, or, er, Diana Prince had to learn martial arts from an absurdly stereotypical character a martial arts master improbably named “I Ching” (To say that Wonder Woman and other DC comics had some problems grappling with race is a bit like saying BP dribbled some oil on the gulf).

This jumpsuit-clad Wonder Woman proved so unpopular that the return of the star-spangled panties in issue #204 included a total bloodbath of anybody associated with the previous version of the character. Everybody had to die so that the old-glory hot pants could return.



The 1970s era is one of my favorite for Wonder Woman, and not just for obvious nostalgic reasons. There is a certain period when the book allowed itself to be a bit more campy. I liked, for instance, that Diana spent some quality time debating her laundry’s freshness.



Even after the jumpsuit fiasco, the 1960s would not be the last time that an alternate version of Wonder Woman appeared. A year before the beloved Lynda Carter series started, ABC aired a pilot for Wonder Woman starring the very blonde Cathy Lee Crosby. In this version, Diana Prince worked as a secretary for a CIA-type organization. She ultimately became involved in spy work herself, put on an outfit that had little resemblance to the comic version, and seemed to mostly follow the martial arts era comics (without superpowers). Most people found it hard to see this characterization as having much in common with the character they knew as the Amazon princess.



Today, DC is again cutting down Diana’s powers and changing her wardrobe in hopes of spurring interest in the character. It seems to me that the approach smacks of desperation.

From the outside, one does get the impression that DC really wants Wonder Woman to succeed. They consider her part of their “trinity” of the three most recognizable comic characters: Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. They have also brought in some well known talent over the past few years to write for the series, including Jodi Pocoult (whose stories never quite worked) and the much beloved comic writer Gail Simone. The latter had some hints of great ideas (The Return of Reform Island!), but it never quite came together. Who can then blame DC executives for making the current ploy to generate interest in Diana? Let’s face it, this is probably the most people have talked about Wonder Woman in years. Still, I really don’t think making Diana weaker is the answer (or killing off the Amazons – again).



I just can’t figure out why it is so hard for DC to find a decent story arc for Wonder Woman that would renew her appeal. As I wander through Target and other shops, I am struck by how much the aisles are adorned by the many Disney Princesses. It seems to me that DC is missing real opportunities to market Wonder Woman to a younger generation. If I were a parent, I’d have a real problem buying books and dvd’s from Disney that depicted women doing nothing but sitting around singing about their hopes to find a man who could rescue them. Wouldn’t it be much better to have a woman who is strong, independent, and super smart like Wonder Woman (who also happens to be a princess)? Even if she does dress like she should be spending her days at the beach rather than fighting crime, she still has a better overall message about women being the equal of any man. But, DC is never wise enough to ask GayProf to consult on Wonder Woman’s future.

24 comments:

Blake said...

You are a historian!

I am saddened by the idea of WW shopping at Hot Topic, but it seems an apt way to describe her current couture. Sigh...

Frank said...

I thought they were just doing a costume change, not all this other stuff. It sounds TERRIBLE! And, yeah, I can see next year a big reset button. Unless J. Michael Stracynski can pull it off. From what I understand, he's done good comics before, so maybe it'll all work out.

Java said...

I heard about this Wonder Woman revamp and immediately thought of you. Glad to see you posting your thoughts on the matter.

I have always been wary of how effective any super hero could be with so much skin exposed. They need protective costumes. Refer to The Incredibles for a good example of stylish and practical super hero costumes.

Changing her clothes is one thing (I haven't decided whether I like it or not), but changing her history, her past, her heritage is something else entirely. NOT a good idea. You're right, taking away that power is unwise.

We shall see how this pans out.

jeremy said...

You know whose book has been consistently good lately?
Batwoman. She's from the isle of Lesbos . . . no, wait, she's a lesbian, and its well written. I guess its actually Detective Comics, but whatever. You should check it out if you haven't.
As for WW's outfit change, I'm, meh about it.

GayProf said...

Blake: Don't you mean amazing Amazon historian?

Frank: I don't really know Stracynski's other work, but he seems to have his fans from Spiderman. He is also writing Superman, so I have speculated that DC forced him to take Wonder Woman in order to work on that title.

Java: Wonder Woman did show lots of skin, which might not have been battle wise. Then again, she could also deflect bullets with her bracelets, so maybe she felt a little cocky.

Jeremy: I do so love the idea of a lesbian Batwoman. Maybe they could do a very special cross over edition with Wonder Woman...

All Thinky said...

OMG the boobs. (I would ask what is up with that? but I know the answer.)

I wonder if it will turn out that her super powers are hiding in there?

You're a wonder, GayProf!

Michael said...

I do like some elements of the new costume, but sadly the overall look is very 90's kewl. I'm definitely not a fan of de-powering her and killing off the Amazons. What's the point in that?

JMS started off with some very new and original ideas in Spider-Man that I liked (S-M is my hero of choice, like WW is yours GP) until he devolved into some rather nasty business that did not fit the character or supporting cast. I have rather enjoyed much of his creator-owned work.

susurro said...

I was just abt to write a post entitled "In her satin tights ... Wait What?!" partially b/c I abhor the tweening of wonder WOMAN, complete with video game graphic ready hair and angles, but also the lack of knowledge abt her feminist herstory even amongst female journalists critiquing the image.

Then I thought, I wonder what Gay Prof is saying & well, as always, you said it all. Of course, I shudder to think of my underoos as long johns & how unempowering I would have felt, itchy, sweaty, & without any amazons to inspire to be ... grrr ...

susurro said...

"inspire me to be" and "aspire to be" got all conflated in my brain just then ...

PS. On Batwoman - it was great & I even have a pic of her reboot on one of my women in comics posts but it is my understanding that she has been canceled amidst criticism very similar to "seduction of the innocent"

Dorian said...

I'm more bothered by the origin tinkering than the costume change. Some modifications to the costume were inevitable, especially if they ever expect a woman to play the role in a film and not look ridiculous for ninety minutes. And in any case, the classic image is the one that is on all the merchandise, it's the image associated with the character in the public's mind. They will eventually put her in something more faithful to that look, if only to keep the people they've sold the rights to make Wonder Woman mugs and t-shirts to happy.

But Wonder Woman isn't that complicated a character, but almost every writer on her title for the last twenty years has felt the need to tinker with her. It's her status quo changing every five years that's holding the character back, not the core concept. I will continue to maintain that if they go back to making Wonder Woman a character aimed at young girls, not adult men, they'll find success.

GayProf said...

All Thinky: The enormous cleavage might connect to DC's new title for the series: Wonder Bimbo.

Michael: And he had a major role in Babylon 5, right? I'm not saying that's good. I'm not saying that's bad.

Susurro: I thought the ellipses for "inspire to be..." was a nod to the multiple possibilities created by Amazons and we were to fill in the blank.

Goth Wonder Woman feels so Twilight knock offish.

Dorian: I agree that DC is missing a core audience for Wonder Woman in the "young girl" market. Why does every comic need to be for adult men?

This translates not just to the comic book, but also to Wonder Woman merchandising (which, it seems to me, would lead to more sales of the comic book). During my other shopping trips to Target, it is clear that Superman and Batman have toys aimed at multiple age levels. There are Supes and Bats toys for toddlers, for elementary-school age, and for adolescents. Comic shops have very expensive toys for the adult collectors. DC has been savvy about building a multi-generation group of fans for those characters (ditto Marvel for Spider-Man). People can literal grow up with those figures.

Now, I own a lot of Wonder Woman figures. With the exception of the 1970s Mego doll or the action figures that tied into the Justice League cartoon, all of the Wonder Woman toys are clearly designed for the adult [gay male] collector. If they produced a Wonder Woman doll (with removable clothes like Barbie or the Bratz), it could be a good way to introduce the character to a younger generation. She could have science/crime fighting accessories (e.g. Wonder Woman's CSI lab!). It seems to me that there are parents out there who prefer that type of doll (even with the swimsuit) to Barbie.

In terms of the writing, I think that they keep changing her character because (for whatever reason) many of the writers just didn't like the character that much. Personally, I think that her original character has lots of depth that could be explored in a contemporary setting.

Frank said...

The always-trenchant Chris Sims and friends had an interesting discussion (http://www.comicsalliance.com/2010/06/30/review-wonder-woman-costume-change/) about the costume change I think you might find worth reading.

Sisyphus said...

Nice history of Wonder Woman! It made me wonder if there was a good academic/semiacademic book on her and then I thought ---- could this be the content of NERPoD?

I raise my eyebrow in your direction. Just let us know when the advance copies are ready for order!

susurro said...

your comment abt the toys is so fascinating b/c I would argue that Wonder Woman journals, day planners, & calendars are marketed to adult women [and gay men] & are often sold in "hipster" stores or on lists of things to get your hipster co-worker for her birthday. Most of these items, as I'm sure you know, have feminist quote bubbles or re-worked feminist sayings under the images. Makes me wonder where the disconnect is and why.

And is the new reboot closely tied to the issues related to the new film which have seen the character go from a fan driven project to a blockbuster dumb down. Will the Amazons be dead there too? Will her homosocial ethics and origin be replaced with big-eyed emo boy troubles? Will she spend the movie covertly playing eye-candy while overtly snarking at the male lead, whose toy will precede hers? Will Susurro have to get her Golden Lasso from childhood and rope up some film execs ... ahem ... who said that?

Roger Owen Green said...

well, FOX News HATES the new costume - she's losing the old red, white and esp those blue stars - reason enough to LIKE the new getup.

Mark My Words said...

A little updating is fine but I would not have recognized the new WW if I saw her on the street, they have not retained enough of the essence of the old outfit. My WW will always be Lynda Carter outsmarting Nazis and deflecting bullets off her gleaming bracelets.

Thanks for, and loved, the historical overview!

tornwordo said...

Then again maybe you're being an old fuddy duddy lamenting the degradation from some idealised past. I'm not sayin, I'm just sayin ; )

Historiann said...

GayProf: Well, I don't know exactly how much of your readership *has* boobs, let alone boobs the size of our heads, but they're the center of all of the action around my place.

I like Dorian's rhetorical question: "Why does every comic need to be for adult men?" That about sums it all up. Sad. OTOH, the dolls that are designed for girls (Bratz!) are far from wholesome. Those things are also really inappropriate for children, IMHO--but then, I suppose they're just prepping girls for conformity to the dominant culture (dressing up for male approval, highlighting sexuality, etc.)

GayProf said...

Frank2: Thanks for the link. It seems the costume has generated lots of opinions.

Sisyphus: Alas NERPoD isn't a history of Paradise Island. That will be a challenge for another day...


Susurro3: Right -- There are WW paraphernalia marketed to adult women [and gay men] with feminist or quasi-feminist texts. I was thinking more along the lines of toys specifically.

ROG: I know, right? If I have common ground with Fox News, something must not be right in my thinking.

Mark My Words: I think the jacket is the biggest thing in the way. If she had a red top (with the eagle (ahem)), the look would be more identifiable.

Torn: Then again maybe you're being an old fuddy duddy lamenting the degradation from some idealised past.

Well, that's true for everything else in my life, so I'm not sure why it wouldn't apply here.

Historiann: Just to be clear, I am not a fan of Bratz and their consumerist message. I thought instead Wonder Woman could be marketed as an alternative to those self-centered dolls. She could still have clothes, because children really like to play dress up. The overall doll, though, would be geared to fighting crime and using science (like the original comic). And I'd like to think that her bra size would be within human scale...

David said...

Oh dear. The horror...the horror...

Anonymous said...

I love the new clothes!

How the heck does she fitht crime in something that looks like it could be ripped off in a fist fight!?

Yes, she does look alot more trendy.

BUT CHANGING HER HISTORY!!

BULL CRAPOLA!!!

Rebekah said...

I don't like the boobies. Actually, they're too big to be called that. The balloons on her chest.

Those leggings look like they're made of rubber. Good for kink, not so much for crime fighting.

macsnafu said...

I must admit that, while I have been an occasional follower of her adventures, I've missed out on a lot of Wonder Woman history. She has potential, but DC usually manages to miss out on that potential. In the early 70's just after the Emma Peel/white jumper spy stories, Wonder Woman has her powers and costume back, and then seems to think that she needs to prove herself to the Justice League. While the trials concept itself was rather interesting, just the basic idea seemed so un-Wonder Woman like. After reading some of her earliest stories in the Wonder Woman Chronicles reprints, I'm convinced that Marston would have reversed the idea, and had Wonder Woman putting the Justice League on trial instead! You know, to see if the JLA was good enough for her.

hou said...

The new costume presents Diana as if she has been shopping the clearance racks at Hot Topic.
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