Monday, August 9, 2010

Ten Reasons No One Cares About Wonder Woman

A Topless Robot columnist listed Ten Reasons No One Cares About Wonder Woman. I offered a rebuttal. Foul language was involved...

1) Writer Alicia Ashby believes that Wonder Woman's exposed legs, which once represented athleticism, are now just an excuse for Ed Benes' Wonder Thong ass cleavage. I couldn't agree more. Yeah, I've seen too many pictures from Olympic women's volleyball and gymnastics teams to dismiss the look as completely impractical and sexist-- but still kinda, right? My thought is that most women who want to dress like Wonder Woman for Halloween while the fellas are rockin' Spidey and Bat costumes add to the suit. Skirts, capes-- if our national dress-like-a-whore day celebration has little room for the heroine's comic book costume, something has gone terribly wrong here. Finally, Wonder Woman's look is just too busy for my taste. There are too many colors running through her general appearance, and all that exposed flesh just becomes another awkward addition to that overwhelming combination. The multi-colored knee pads and such sometimes added in the comics don't help.

2) Ashby feels there are no great Wonder Woman stories to introduce her to new readers comparable to "Dark Knight Returns" or "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" Well jeez, why not throw in "Maus" or "Watchmen" as well? Batman and Superman have appeared in some of the greatest super-hero comic stories ever told, because DC has treated them as their most important properties for three-quarters of a century. There are few comic book heroes who have a "Killing Joke" under their belt. Meanwhile, Wonder Woman has been treated like three day old fish for most of her publishing history, and is still a national treasure recognized the world over. Seriously, I wasted most of my weekend pouring over foreign reprint covers online for an unrelated project, and Wonder Woman was everywhere, like the Brian Bolland British piece running above. This is why DC has finally begun to push the character with the same fervor as licensors have for decades, and why she rates in a "Trinity." I'd recommend any of the following stories, most available in trade paperback:
  • "Diana Prince: Wonder Woman" Volumes 1-3 by Mike Sekowsky, Denny O'Neil & Dick Giordano
    A lot of people are critical of these stories, but compared to the Superman comics of the day, they're the bee's knees. After years as a lovestruck weakling fool, Wonder Woman starts earning the name, even without her powers or traditional costume.

  • "Wonder Woman: Gods and Mortals" by George Pérez, Greg Potter & Len Wein
    Do I like that Paradise Island was turned into a low-tech shelter for immortal rape victims? No, but it made for a heavy story worthy of consideration, especially when placed against the comparatively slight Byrne "Man of Steel." Are we now at the point where George Pérez's incredible art is to be taken for granted?

  • "Wonder Woman: Challenge of the Gods" by George Pérez & Len Wein
    The best Wonder Woman story of the 1980's. Includes the wonderful, text-driven "Time Passages," reflecting on people's initial reaction to a Princess of the Amazons in Man's World. Also, the suspenseful introduction of a dynamic new Cheetah and the titular epic.

  • Wonder Woman #66-71 by William Messner-Loebs and Paris Cullins
    Diana is cast in a "women in prison" movie, which proves an insightful character study of the heroine; while also mixing the mythological, science fantasy, and BDSM favored by Wonder Woman's creator with an exciting modern presentation.

  • Wonder Woman #72-75 by William Messner-Loebs and Lee Moder
    Humorous, humbling and humanistic, these stories serve as an excellent primer to the Wonder Woman mythos, as well as offering her most relatable representation ever.

  • "JLA: A League of One" by Christopher Moeller
    A "back door" fully painted Wonder Woman graphic novel, in which she's forced by fate to battle each of her fellow iconic heroes in turn. Gorgeous and well crafted.

3) I can't argue with the opinion that "Most Wonder Woman Comics Are Completely Terrible." It is true. I own her entire Post-Crisis run, and reading it has caused me emotional distress. Many of the Pérez illustrated issues suffer from Pérez scripts, which became a full-on blight once he quit art chores. The second half of Messner-Loebs' run read like self-parody, only "enhanced" by the bad girl art. The only thing worse than John Byrne was most of Eric Luke's run. Phil Jimenez made Pérez's writing seem like Alan Moore by comparison. Rucka was at best serviceable, and as always completely derivative, but in this company a highlight.

4) I think that "Charles Moulton" and Harry Peters are an acquired taste, preferably with lots of wine to go with the cheese and crackers.

5) Personally, I think the Lasso of Truth is a grand conception with a wealth of meaning. I think the main problem with it is the avoidance of bondage and submission references in present tales. Subversive femdom philosophy is at the heart of the character. It is as essential to Wonder Woman as the empowerment fantasy of Superman and the fascistic underpinnings of Batman. Used correctly, the lasso makes a Batarang look like child's play. Speaking of which, weaponized razor sharp tiaras and phallic swords in Wonder Woman's hands are truly, remarkably obtuse.

6) Hating the Invisible Plane/Jet is hating Wonder Woman, and I will not abide. Allowing Wonder Woman to fly under her own power makes her Superman with tits. Part of the point of the character is that she is meant to carry others with her on her missions. All Aquaman did in all the years Super Friends was on the air was sit in the Invisible Jet while Wonder Woman showed how a super-heroine kicked ass. Girls have hundreds of heroines to choose from who fly like Supergirl, but only one they can imagine themselves as while pretending to pilot an imaginary aircraft. One of the best scenes in New Frontier was Diana piloting a jet made partially visible by her own splattered blood! The lack of an Invisible Jet is part of what makes the Lasso of Truth seem stupid, because why rope something when you can just grab it-- exactly like Superman does?!?

7) Alicia Ashby has varying degrees of merit to her arguments, but virtually none when she proclaims all Wonder Woman foes terrible. On what grounds? She offers none! She just keeps calling them all "lame-asses" and "shit," with no explanation.
  • Cheetah: Ashby offers a scan from an early Cheetah story that plays out almost exactly the same as Sam Raimi/Willem Dafoe's take on Green Goblin from the first "Spider-Man" movie. That seemed to play to the tune of what, $400,000,000? Cheetah was great on the Super Friends and Justice League Unlimited animated series, which ran for years. The Pérez reworking of the villainess was all the better. The fuck?
  • Circe: "doesn’t count - she sucks?" Elaborate some, maybe? A Circe stand-in was used in one of the best JLU episodes! The notion of a sorceress who can turn men into animals and must kill Wonder Woman to insure her immortality is crap for what reason exactly?
  • Dr. Psycho: a misogynistic midget who casts illusions? Forget the Joker-- I want to see Peter Dinklage accept an Oscar for his stunning portrayal in the motion picture! Best. Villain. Ever!
  • Ares/Mars: The God of War! When has the Flash ever fought a God of War?
  • Dr. Cyber: an international queenpin of crime turned hideously disfigured super-scientist out to swap her brain into Wonder Woman's body? Sold!

8) Everyone does hate Steve Trevor, but for two totally different reasons. Golden Age fans hated him because he was such a little wuss, he just didn't measure up as a love interest or companion. When the Candy Girls pown you, get out. Silver Age fans hated him because Robert Kanigher reversed the dynamic by turning Wonder Woman into his bitch, disparaging the heroine. Modern Age fans don't really know the guy anymore, but he left a vacuum that recast Diana as a frigid ice queen rubbing herself off to Superman's picture every night. Wonder Woman needs a redefined Steve Trevor, or she needs to become a lesbian.

9) Wonder Woman needs a supporting cast like Legion of Super-Heroes needs a deboot. It isn't that she hasn't had good prospects in the past, but every incoming writer "shakes things up" by dumping everyone. On the plus side, that means there's been no Jimmy Olson to deal with, but on the minus side, no Alfred either. Memo to DC-- please reintroduce and remodel the following at your soonest convenience: Queen Hippolyta, Steve Trevor, Etta Candy (fat only,) I-Ching, Tim Trench, Nubia, Donna Troy, Julia & Vanessa Kapatelis, Phillipus, Ed Indelicato, Artemis, Joanna & Cassie Sandsmark...

10) Since "We Already Have Superman," let's focus on what has made Wonder Woman unique over the years, rather than tear her to pieces and homogenize her. This includes: the warrior/evangelist dichotomy/symmetry, rigid adherence to a message of innate (if "loving") superiority of women over men, the military/intelligence community background, Invisible Jet, lack of invulnerability, Lasso of Truth, the steampunk-style mysti-science, the routine presence of confederates on adventures, conflicting world myth/religions in contemporary or unusual settings, ideologically motivated foes, the overbearing and ever-present authority figures, the heroine as lusty adventurer or subversive element rather than crime buster, and on and on. See, given just a bit of thought, I think it's pretty clear Wonder Woman owes no more to Superman than any other super-hero. In fact it was Superman who adopted much of Wonder Woman's personality and tropes going into the Silver Age that eggs on these comparisons in the first place!


LissBirds said...

All valid points. I remember reading Ashby's article when I was somewhat new to comics and thought she spoke for the majority.

It actually took the awful new costume for me to appreciate (and start liking) the old one. Go figure. I like Darwyn Cooke's version the best: with the paneled Greecian-style star-spangled skirt. I could do without the headdress he gave her, though.

So what if most of her comics are "terrible?" That doesn't mean she's a bad character. You can love a character no matter how "bad" their stories are--I think every Martian Manhunter fan learns this early on. You just have to look a little harder to find those stories' redeeming qualities.

The Charles Moulton thing bugs me, I'll be honest. I'm not sure if he was really promoting feminism or just had fantasies about dominant women. If it's the latter, she's still objectified and therefore not really a feminist hero.

I'm not sure about the invisible plane. It WAS cool in New Frontier, though. For some reason, I feel that not having Wonder Woman fly makes her less equal to Superman, but I like your reasoning about it being a symbol for partnership.

Cheetah is so cool! How could anyone not think that? Justice proved that. I don't care what Ashby thinks, you can never go wrong when a woman dresses in a cat suit. I don't know enough about any of her other villains to really comment.

Well, I must be missing a gene or something, becuase I am the only human being on the planet, male or female, who likes Steve Trevor. After reading the Brave and the Bold #28, I specifically sought out old WW comics in which Steve Trevor appeared. He HAS to come back. And if he's going to be the civilian boyfriend to a superhero in a gender-reversed Superman/Lois Lane dynamic, then obviously he's going to look like a weakling next to WW becuase he's not a superhero. And so what if there's a mild-mannered, meek man running around the DCU? Is that really that offensive to people? How many fans complain about superhero's girlfriends for being too passive, or too weak, or in need of saving? He needs to come back. And it should definitely be more like his original incarnation and WW definately should NOT be his bitch, anymore than Superman should be Lois's bitch.

Hippolyta's gone?? Well, I guess if Paradise Island got destroyed...which I think is what happened recently, no? Paradise Island should come back, too.

You should post a link to this post in the comments of Ashby's article.

LissBirds said...

Okay, if you get like 5 comments from me, I apologize. Blogger went a tad crazy and I kept on trying to just ignore if you get duplicates.

Diabolu Frank said...

I think some comic book readers are prisoners of narrow aesthetics. The Golden Age Wonder Woman stories are insane, and that's a good thing. The logical, straightforward Batman comics of the Silver Age bore me to tears, because they're so predictable and plain. He's a costumed crime fighter who battles nutty robbers on giant typewriters. I'm also not that big of a Bronze or Modern Batman fan, because that basic formula has only been darkened and allowed fewer variations. Wonder Woman's premise is steeped in bizarre and not a little kinky fantasy, so you're allowed to go pretty much anywhere with her. The more conventional her stories, the less entertaining and true to her spirit they are. This explains why much of the Modern Age WW has been such a snore. She's bound by the mediocrity of a shared universe of suffocating rationality.

I don't really care about William Moulton Marston's motivations. We now live in a Western society with empowered if not fully equal women. Wonder Woman need not reflect the ideal super-heroine. Instead, the heart of the character as published should be found, improved as needed, but allowed to be who she is.

Batman cannot fly. Instead, he gets the Batmobile, the Batwing, etc. If anything, these vehicles have made Batman more popular than Superman, because it's a lot more fun to imagine yourself piloting one. You can put a Bat-symbol on your Corolla and make it a Batmobile, or see the "real" Adam West/Tim Burton etc. Batmobiles on display. All Superman has is a cape, and Wonder Woman doesn't even have that.

It's tough to go wrong with a cat villain. Everybody loves or hates cats, so it works either way. Villains based on flightless birds and plants are a tougher sell.

The only thing I liked about the Robin/Starfire romance was the power imbalance. Unfortunately, Kory was played as a dumb bunny to make up the difference. I always wanted a Dick/Donna hook-up instead, or at least Roy/Donna. In fact, pre-junkie backslider Arsenal is a pretty solid template for Steve Trevor as a likable and capable supporting player, rather than slipping into the morass of Trevor as Terry Long.

dannyagogo said...

I agree with many of your points. DC has worked to hard to make WW into a Superman-level powerhouse, with flight, instead of making her his equal by relying on her training and "weapons/accessories". This includes using the Robot Plane :-)

Diabolu Frank said...

Exactly, Danny. I've recently been reading Silver Age Wonder Girl stories, and the emphasis on her training is far greater than anything Batman got up to until the second half of his career. Diana earned her abilities, even the ridiculous ones. Gifting her the power to fly at Mach speeds makes her-- well, as entitled as a Kryptonian.

WWrocks said...

I wrote a slightly revised response for this killer article.
I think my email accounts been playing up so i never got your emails.

I really can't wait until WW does to Superman, what Captain Marvel
did once - replace him in sales. Hopefully, one day people might just realise
how much more badass she is!!
In terms of the Silver Age references,
It started with Barry Allen in Showcase #4 in about 1956.
Superman's Silver Age started in about 1957, when Mort Weisenger took over all the
Superman titles and changed him. WW's Silver Age started at Wonder Woman #98 in 1958 when her
origin/powers were kinda revamped - about an entire year after Superman. So i don't think Superman
really took anything from WW because from what i've seen his annoying "boy scout" personality was already in place.
Even putting that aside, Superman comics (for some reason i don't get) have always
historically sold more volumes than WW, i don't think Weisenger would follow the example
of a character who was selling less.
But to be honest i've NEVER EVER felt any kind of similarity between the "personalities" of that lame-ass and WW.
Shes a warrior from a all-female race - what's so Superman-like about that, right?!!!
I did (using dubious methods!) go back and read/compare old silver age Superman/WW comics
and it does unfortunately feel like maybe writers for WW did start to follow Superman stories a little - only a little,
but ONLY because he was selling so well. And that decision has been so detrimental for WW till this day.
Instead on focusing on all the things that made WW unique, beautiful and awesome, like the brilliant greek mythology
and the warrior mindset, they only focused on her "Superman traits" - which, like you said, are not any more
special than the Superman traits that other characters show.
Batman has a cape, wears his elblem on his chest and has a dual identity - all things Superman had first, but no one says
anything about that. And don't even get me started on goddamn Captain Marvel!!

Thanks for a awesome article, dude.
(You know what i meant by "dubious" methods, right!? :))

Diabolu Frank said...

WWrocks, I didn't wasn't trying to reference a specific timeline when I brought up the Silver Age, but more a general sense of the period. I appreciate the continuity specificity you dug up, though. As I mentioned before, I didn't mean Superman's creators actually emulated Wonder Woman, only that the character's trajectory landed him in a similar place as Wonder Woman. It's very likely some Superman readers grew up to write piss poor Wonder Woman stories, though. They're the same types who ruined Captain Marvel.