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.


karl said...

I understand your frustrations - completely.
I have extremely mixed feelings about this 'Wonder Woman' madness now out on sale. Its so markedly different it bears no relation whatsoever t the lady we all know and love. I have been reading WW since 1971 non-stop but the past three years...I dont know, I dont know. DC seem intent on destroying her, they almost certainly have no further idea what ot do with her.
Its all SO mad...
I will be sticking with the book, regardless. WW is in my dna, I cannot lose her, but I understand why many feel this is a character they no longer recognise. I have seen several WW blogs been stopped altogether or have suspended any features on this new look until the original WW has been reinstated. Its an HORRENDOUS situation all round.
My congratulations on your round-up on how the comic has been written over the years.

Luke said...

Now now Frank, tell us what you really think. /StandardIssueJoke

The main argument I will present to you is that, despite the capitalistic motivations of the New 52, at the end of the day the reboot is legitimate; this is not the same Diana whom readers such as yourself have read about for decades. This is not the same Wonder Woman who Moulton Marston and Peter created in the old days. This is not the santized but still batshit crazy Wonder Woman from Kanigher and company. And so on and so forth.

Taking this new start as that, I am reading the book and enjoying it. I don't know the old continuity, nor do I know the old stories. I have read less than a dozen Wonder Woman comics published before 2008; I've seen more episodes of the TV show than read WW comics. So I don't have the same background nor experience with the character that you do, and don't bring that to the table when I read the new series.

Now then, that means nothing to you, nor should it. Your experience and reactions to what is being done to one of "your" characters is 100% legitimate and gripe-worthy. If you don't like what DC is doing with the Amazin' Amazon (aside: I'd love to see a commission of Wonder Woman wearing a Mets hat), then please exercise your capitalist duty and don't buy it.

I can (and do) sympathize with your position. My favorite comic book hero is Iron Man. Has been for a loooong time. So you can imagine my utter frustration when 30+ years of history is jettisoned to shoehorn movie continuity into the comic, and then said shoehorned comic sells orders of magnitude better than the aforementioned 30+ years of continuity. Matt Fraction's Tony Stark is unrecognizable as the Tony Stark of Marvel Comics fame, but more readily recognizable as the Tony Stark of Marvel Films fame. And the fans love it, and buy it in numbers not seen on Iron Man in some time. It sticks in my craw to no end. And it bugs me every month when I read an issue of Invincible Iron Man and comment on the out of character elements, or the continuity mistakes, or whatnot. What's even more irritating is that Fraction still writes (generally) good Iron Man stories, so even though they really don't line up with my two long boxes of Iron Man comics they are still for the most part enjoyable. So I have learned to Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb, as it were.

I imagine that my frustration and irritation are similar to how you feel about Wonder Woman being taken so far from her initial concept. Readers (seemingly) want to read about a badass warrior woman in a star spangled one-piece who gets mixed up in the machinations of the gods on a regular basis. I can only speak for myself, and I enjoy the book, personally. (con't)

Luke said...


It also helps that I tend to enjoy Azzarello's work because I always liked 100 Bullets. But I recognize where you are coming from: I got very irritated while reading his Cage miniseries because that MAX book essentially ruined Luke Cage for all writers who followed (read: Bendis) up with the character. But it seems that fans would much rather read about a glorified thug than the "real" Hero For Hire. But to them, the "old" Hero For Hire is not the "real" one, the one in a skull cap and wife beater shirt is the "real" Hero For Hire. Which incarnation is more valid? That's a debate for another time.

Which Wonder Woman is most valid? I don't know the answer to that. I know that even though I enjoy this title currently that I would love to see some more global elements introduced. I'd love to see Wonder Woman as a symbol of empowerment and dignity once again, because I think that is a fantastic aspect of her character. I don't want knee-jerk liberal politicizing, or ball crushing militant feminism. But would it be too much to ask for Diana to have her eyes opened to what she represents for the women of the world? That's a story I would like to read.

Anyways. Thanks for your thoughts and opinions. I appreciate the insight from a long time fan.

Diabolu Frank said...

I couldn't add anything to what Karl said, buy I can always arm wrestle with rogue trooper Jaconetti!

I don't dispute the artistic legitimacy of the New 52. There is clearly a driving vision of a streamlined DC Universe that goes beyond monetary concerns. For instance, I grew up as a Marvel fan, but the truth is that I was a taken by Jim Shooter's guidance of the Marvel Universe far more than I was its base under Stan Lee or its future with Joe Quesada. The DCU is being massaged into a new form by men like Dan Didio, Geoff Johns and Jim Lee. My problem is with this jacked-up lot projecting their myopia onto the entirety of the entity. It's not just a ground zero reboot, but a poisoning of the well that feeds the land.

There's nothing about Mozzarella's Wonder Woman that is particularly friendly to translation into mass media. It's clear that his masters have a vague concept of the character as standing in a field, chopping down stalks of cock to her left and right on her way to plunging her sword into the inviting orifice of modernized mythology (circa 1986 or so.) Asshorello is just the medium for conveying this concept, and as all other Wonder Woman stories will use this interpretation as their baseline, the character that mattered to me has ceased to exist entirely in the DCFU. When I ran my shops in the late '90s, I remember those guys who were still bitching about how Frank Miller ruined Batman and Daredevil, often while still buying the books. I refuse to be that guy, or at least halfway so.

That having been said, I'm also not going to be rabble rousing. By most accounts, the book is pretty good and selling well, which is a huge improvement over half a century of mediocrity with occasional jolts of intrigue. I don't recall unreservedly enjoying an issue of the second volume after Messner-Loebs left with #100, but kept buying it for another decade. I took the decent with the bad, until DC gave up on it, and I did too. I'm thankful that I didn't subject myself to the entirety of Volume 3, and I'm relieved that I can stop being concerned with volume 4. I can just say no to it and retreat to my nostalgia. I have such affection for the core of the character, and see so much potential, but this is just the latest blow in a long line of disappointments.

Speaking of my shops, there was a customer I had who was a teenaged Iron Man fan who was endlessly frustrated by Marvel's treatment of his hero. He continued to support the book until I closed down my shop, but pretty much immediately gave up on comics altogether afterward. His longboxes languish in the garage, but we still get together to catch the latest Marvel movies, including his favorite.

I miss the real Luke Cage, too...

Luke said...

All I want to reply is that I admire your maturity in "retreating to your nostalgia" rather than grousing endlessly on the Internet about how awful things are. Much in the same way that when I get fed up with something which Matt Fraction is doing, I can beat a path to my Essential Iron Man volumes, or Bob & Dave run #1 or #2. One of the great things about comics is that the characters have been around for as long as they have, after all!

Frankly, Wonder Woman is a character with such legs (...not like that!) (... okay, like that too!) that there will always be different interpretations of her which appeal to different readers. While that can be frustrating, it has a certain quality to it, too, methinks.

Diabolu Frank said...

Not only that, but slavish devotion to purity of concept would have insured my favorite runs never happened. I get such a kick from the Mike Sekowsky stuff, but fans as well placed as Gloria Steinem were vocally opposed to the de-powering of their heroine. I see their point, but I'll take my Diana Prince trades over anything Kanigher did over his decades in command. I loved Diana working at Taco Whiz, helping a co-worker collect her back child support. Fans of The Princess found it demeaning, whereas I found that some of the most endearing material in the canon. I'm all for different strokes, but I draw the line at deathstrokes...

Anonymous said...

This just says to me you're getting old and appear a little out of touch and unwilling to see the characters need to evolve. Younger people are never going to fall in love with the version you laud. It does not speak to them at all. You should be proud the concept of WW can still be strong and endure.

Diabolu Frank said...

Anonymous, with books like Chew and Ax Cop getting TV series options, I think old school Wonder Woman gonzo is a lot more hip than Highlander on estrogen. I'm old enough to know the difference between true daring and dead end sensationalism. New 52 Wonder Woman is like '90s Image, instead of the current trailblazing brand.