Friday, April 27, 2012
I Don't Read Wonder Woman Comics Anymore
Pretty much the worst thing that can happen to Wonder Woman comics is their getting popular. For instance, the original creators' run on the series sold like gangbusters, which attracted the attention of Frederick Wertham. The good doctor told the mothers of America about what a deviant sapphic bondage fest the book was, so DC had Robert Kanigher whitewash everything that made it a success for twenty years. Contrary to common misconception, the "mod" Diana Prince stories sold well, which attracted the attention of television producers. This led to the book returning to ersatz World War II stories to ride the wave of 40s/50s nostalgia in the 1970s. George Pérez sold a flat, boring, sexless distortion of feminism and Greek myth in the conservative '80s on the strength of his detailed artwork. William Messner-Loebs ended his unappreciated sweetly humanist run on the character with a barrage of profitable bad girl cliché thanks to the late arrival of artist Mike Deodato Jr. That wave was continued (for a time) as the bland last hurrah of former fan favorite John Byrne before his ability to move units was officially pronounced dead. Allan Heinberg and the Dodsons (eventually) eked out six whole comic books devoted to the Amazing Amazon's take on the execrable but money-earning Batman "Hush" storyline.
Currently, Wonder Woman volume New 52 is a top twenty seller thanks to Brian Aregano, who is noted for his disdain for super-heroes and only one legitimate (if modest) long term successful series, and Cliff Chiang, a swell artist who will draw as many bisected centaurs as needed to get a gig worthy of his talents. I haven't read a single issue of their run, so I can't objectively critique it, but I've decided to keep it that way because it's friggin' garbage. You might take umbrage for my condemning them sight unseen, but I have empirical evidence to support my view.
A) The book is written by Brian Azazel, who is a hateful overrated hack.
B) It is published by DC Comics.
C) It is a hit with fans. I shall now elaborate...
Brian Azzarello wrote 100 Bullets, a book that I got bored with after just the first trade. It lasted a long time, so maybe it got better. He later wrote Hellblazer in a "back to basics" run, by which I mean he rolled back the development of the John Constantine character under writers like Garth Ennis and Paul Jenkins so he could do reheated Warren Ellis after the real thing got drummed off the book for being too controversial. I made it one trade into Loveless before falling asleep, and then there was his mini-series Lex Luthor: Man of Steel, best remembered for being extremely well drawn by Lee Bermejo. He teamed up with Jim Lee for a yearlong Superman story "For Tomorrow," considered a disappointment after "Hush" (I say again, "HUSH,") and probably the dullest Man of Steel epic prior to J. Michael Straczynski's "Grounded" (and a fellow Moore-raper on Before Watchmen.) I don't read Brian Azzarello comics if I can help it.
I bought most every Wonder Woman comic produced from 1994 until about 2007. I have a complete run of the Post-Crisis volume, too many specials/mini-series/guest appearances, and scads of back issues from the late Silver and Bronze Ages. I own Archive Editions of 40s material and Showcase Presents covering the 50s. Out of all that material, I figure less than a quarter was worth bothering with. Even by the standards of the day, Wonder Woman was typically an underwhelming book. The earliest stuff by William Moulton Marston and Harry G. Peter is mindbogglingly awesome, and DC has run far from it ever since. Despite DC's firmest intention to make Wonder Woman as much of a safe, soulless commodity as possible, some interesting stuff has managed to get published over the years. The problem is that DC rushes to stamp out that kind of thing as swiftly as possible.
You see, Wonder Woman as a character is about female empowerment, kinky sex, and rampant weirdness. It's about a cowgirl who rides on a kangaroo, has an inherently passive arsenal, mommy issues, and battles goofy conceptual villains (often borrowed from radically Anglicized Greco-Roman mythology.) Dr. Psycho is an embodiment of short-dick misogyny. Cheetah is the champion of female cattiness and the destructive impulses of intrasexual competition. Mars is a physical manifestation of male aggression. The Amazons of Paradise Island are meant to be an example of women's inherent superiority over men. DC Comics hates the social politics Marston built into his franchise, and for decades have striven to obfuscate, corrupt, and bury them totally. In more recent years, DC has decided that the only thing Wonder Woman is "about" is being badass, so she's traded her lasso and invisible jet for a cleaving sword and the same exact power of flight as every generic heroine. Yay "progess." Yay Xena/Red Sonja in a gaudy costume.
I'm not going to say that everything popular in comics is bad and subject to future ridicule, but wait, yeah, totally. For instance, Daredevil was the height of deconstructionism a quarter-century ago thanks to "Born Again." Daredevil was the poor man's Spidey for years, so making him the noir punching bag of super-heroics actually gave the character integrity. However, that trajectory has a limited shelf life, and is not universally applicable. Matt Murdock can only go so low for so long before imploding, and his formula doesn't translate to aspirational characters like Wonder Woman. Daredevil is about surviving in Hell's Kitchen, subsisting on small Pyrrhic victories against the grinding machine of city life. Wonder Woman is about hope and the ultimate betterment of all humankind. It could be argued that stripping Wonder Woman's powers in the '60s was deconstruction, but in many ways it was a reconstruction, restoring her as an assured, capable heroine against all odds after too many years of chasing after Steve Trevor and being distracted by nonsense. Only a boob with no clue as to who Wonder Woman is at a basic conceptual level would strip mine her lore for a tired "everything you thought you knew was a lie" Cue Brian Tarzan Boy.
The truth is, Wonder Woman is a great character that DC undermines at every opportunity. Fans are equally culpable, because they'll read a book like Justice League of America and feel they "know" all the characters based on glorified monthly guest appearances. Many of these people then grow up to write Wonder Woman in comics based on a group dynamic bastardization which is in turn derived from a typically bowdlerized interpretation taken from bad Wonder Woman comics written by former JLA readers. Those writers read the book during a time DC was promoting it heavily because some hot creator had arrived to "fix" the perpetually "broken" character, usually operating from the faulty understanding acquired by previous "fixes" and guest appearances. It's a cycle of suck.
Personally, I dropped Wonder Woman early into her aughts volume, and though I sampled some trades thereafter, the lack of understanding of the character left me cold. At least since Kingdom Come, there's been a trend toward debasing the character and her society by making the Amazons cold, calculating, murderous warriors. Actually, the Amazons have been relatively amoral and unrealistic bitches since about the 1960s, with their being inspirational only in brief spurts here and there. While DC has taken that to extremes lately by making them literal rapist killers, by allowing them to fluctuate between victims and misandrists for decades, there's nothing particularly new in the take. The Amazons are just horrible in a different way, while Wonder Woman plums new depths of ineptitude by association.
I enjoy good Wonder Woman comics, the character herself, and her world. I don't think DC Comics or their creators feel the same way. It's so disappointing when even quality talents have fallen far short of the mark, as has happened as recently as the Gail Simone run. I think calling the character difficult is a cop-out though, and expect better from creators than that. However, the New 52 has ushered in a revised continuity in which the Amazons are deplorable and Wonder Woman is a sap. So long as that's the case, and the relative success of the relaunch insures it, I simply won't be counted among the numbers of people who even bother to sample the Amazing Amazon from time to time. So long as this is Wonder Woman, I simply won't read Wonder Woman comics anymore.