Friday, July 9, 2010

Wonder Woman's New Costume

Well, as we all pretty much know by now, Wonder Woman got redesigned, both costume-wise, and origin-wise.  I don't know if this is some alternate timeline thing, but I'm suspecting it is.

Here's a nice article about the subject courtesy of the Wall Street Journal, in case you're not too familiar with the whole thing.

Well, my first though was "groan."  Then I came up with a whole bunch of other more articulate thoughts which I then forgot and am trying to recreate.

I have mixed feelings about Wonder Woman.  I never actually have read an actual Wonder Woman comic--the only exposure I've had to her stories have been in the 90's JLA run and the original 1960's JLA, plus the Justice League Unlimited cartoon.  There's several reasons I never really sought out the character, first and foremost being that she doesn't really interest me all that much.  I didn't know much about her, honestly, and I didn't find her intriguing enough to research.  Secondly, it's because I find her costume rather absurd, but not for the reason most people find her costume absurd.  I remember somewhere online I read that Wonder Woman was an "Amazon," which I thought meant she was just tall.  You know--when someone sees a tall woman, they often refer to her as an Amazon.  Later I learned she was Greek, but still didn't quite understand how the whole "Amazon" thing fit in.  (Shame on me for not knowing Greek history, I guess.)  Later still I found out, as one internet poster said, she was "blessed by the gods," and then learned a bit about the classical Greek influences on her character.

And that's where it all kind of unhinged for me.  Hang on: why is this Greek woman running around in the Stars and Stripes?  Greek women wear white togas.  Or battle armor or something.  So right off the bat, there's a disconnect with Wonder Woman's premise and her appearance: superpowered Greek princess wearing something obviously crafted in America, by a man.  That's where I gave up on ever being a fan of hers.

Don't get me wrong--I don't dislike her.  It's just that that is too big a chasm of logic for my brain to jump, and I don't want to go through a lengthy rationalization process just to enjoy a character.

The other thing that bugged me about Wonder Woman was that I really don't know what she's about, except that on first glance I think something patriotic.  I think she's somewhat anachronistic, and very much a product of a 1940's flag-rallying, Nazi-fighting, women-can-punch-people-too sentiment.  It's what our country needed during WWII, and after the war ended, I have this feeling that comics creators didn't know what to do with her because her purpose had been fulfilled.

I guess you could say Wonder Woman is a representation--albeit a generic one--of the ideal of a strong woman capable of not only going toe-to-toe with men but besting them, just as Superman is the ideal for a superhero.  But in a post-feminist world, again, is that necessary?  Do women need a liberator?  Do they need on in the comics universe, as represented by Wonder Woman?

I honestly question why anyone is a Wonder Woman fan.  I don't mean that in a harsh way.  I just wish to understand why people like her.  There are other strong women out there in the DCU.  For example, why would one like Wonder Woman more than, say, Black Canary?  What is it in particular that makes her fascinating?  My best guess is that it's the Greek angle, because that seems like a wealth of interesting back story.  But from what I can gather, not much was done with Greek mythology in her stories, and making her an Amazon was just a plot convenience to have her come from a world populated only by women.  (Feel free to prove me wrong, since I know very little about her.)

Bearing all this in mind, let's look at the new costume and the new origin.  Saranga said it best by saying that the costume is no longer iconic.  It would be like Superman losing the "S" symbol.  But that begs the question--what was Wonder Woman's original costume representative of?  The new costume on the whole is very anticlimactic because it's so mundane.   I admit: I think the bodice is really cool and "regal"-looking.  But why minimize the tiara so much?  She is a princess after all.  The jacket is downright ridiculous, I think, and very 90's.  The wrist gauntlets are clumsy--her originals were leagues better.  Her costume isn't hideous, just rather average.  I will say this in defense of the new costume, however: the old was was getting impractically revealing, especially since Wonder Woman's cleavage kept on growing over the years proportions ridiculous enough to render her into a parody of herself.  At least she's a bit more realistic here, though a bit too thin...she's not really projecting any sense of strength or power.

But the real mistake of the revamp is not the costume, but the origin story.  The biggest mistake they could've made was getting rid of the "born of the clay" birth of Wonder Woman.  Why?  Well, not only is a character literally born of the clay via Greek gods a literal child of Mother Earth--overtones of feminity which could be a treasure trove of story elements--the fact that she was born of parthenogenesis--reproduction without the need for a male--was (or could have been) an important part of her character's identity and metaphor.  Wonder Woman, as I see it, comes from a world where men are not needed--not even to have children--and you'll hear her refer to our world as "Man's World" in the cartoon, and probably the comics.  How is Man's World different than Paradise Island?  What can Wonder Woman teach us about these differences?  Is a matriarchial society "ideal" when compared to our current society?  What kind of hope, if any, could Wonder Woman's world view offer us?  This isn't to say that neither is better than the other, but wouldn't that make for a great philosophical discussion?  What's with that lasso of truth, and how does that play into all that Greek mythology and Amazonian culture?

From what I can tell, Wonder Woman's current representation just seems to be a man's personality in a woman's body, who stands for nothing other than killing bad guys, in a comics world where a "strong woman" is tantamount to a woman who can crack someone's head open and enjoys doing so.  There are many kinds of strength, and many kinds of "strong women," and DC really needs to get that last bit through their head: a woman doesn't have to kick ass to be strong or to be accepted.  She does, however, need to stand for something to be a well-written superhero, and she needs to show strength of mind along with strength in her fists.  If ass-kicking is the only requirement for a well-written female heroine, well, then I think something's wrong.

The story-behind-the-story, though, is that both the origin story and the costume were created by men.  That is a real tragedy, I think, because when the female hero of the DCU, who stands for the power of the feminine, is both created and revamped by men, then something's a little off, and I can only think of Wonder Woman as just another commodity created to sell comics to (primarily) men, with a few touches thrown in to keep me interested (Ooooo!  Cute new outfit, Wondy!), and in the end is now nothing more than a shadow of an ideal from decades past.


Sea-of-Green said...

I still say the biggest problem with the costume is it's too contemporary. Wonder Woman should be timeless.

Tom Hartley said...

This explains the magic lasso:

Diabolu Frank said...

Amazons: Everyone today thinks the DC Amazons are Greeks, but their distance from Greek culture is four times as removed as the U.S.' from the U.K. In the Golden Age, Paradise Island developed their own singular culture of peace by viewing the developments of the rest of the world from isolation, incorporating mankind's advancements, and marrying them to their own. The Amazons are bound by no flags or nations other than their own.

Stars and Stripes: In the original story, Wonder Woman's job was to leave Paradise Island forever and defend America, as the U.S. was the last citadel of democracy and equality in the world’s war against the forces of hatred and oppression. In effect, Diana became a U.S. citizen, and even joined our military until the late '60s. She's a patriotic character, in the way immigrants once embraced the new life the U.S. represented, anglicizing their names and discarding portions of their former identity. In modern times, the costume honored a U.S. pilot that gave her life defending Themyscira, and the recent Wonder Woman DVD said their emissary would adopt the colors of the country she was being sent to serve in.

What She's About: Like Superman, the basic concept was of a crusader for the oppressed against their oppressors. However, Superman came to bow to authority almost immediately, and is now a defender of the status quo. Diana is much more likely to cross international lines to confront dictators on a grand scale, as well as to help a mother collect her child support from a deadbeat dad on a smaller scale. Wonder Woman is a guardian of human rights, a defender against tyranny, and a teacher to educate people about their own worth and abilities. She's also a peacemaker, always looking to reform the fallen, and to find the most amicable solution to the problem. Failing that, she kicks up and down the street. She is for the empowerment of all peoples, not just women, and she's an advocate for a very socialistic take on the U.S. American ideal.

Diabolu Frank said...

Other Strong Women in the DCU: Wonder Woman is the only heroine in comic book history who can honestly compete with the big boys. She's been around almost as long as there's been super-heroes, been continuously published the entire time, appeared in thousands of comics, influences thousands of other heroines, has her own expansive supporting cast(s)-- a Super-Family-- gadgets and vehicles-- merchandising machine-- TV show-- movies...

Black Canary, after all these years, is still at the end of the day Green Arrow's girlfriend with a side job. Barbara Gordon is just the Batgirl who got crippled and plays operator for other heroes. Power Girl is a second generation Superman with breasts. Big Barda is Mr. Miracle's (dead) wife. Catwoman is Batman's girlfriend. Every major DC heroine is the lesser half of a male counterpart, or too low on the totem pole to see Wolverine from their standing. Zatanna is probably the next closest to Wonder Woman, since she at least eclipsed her long dead father in fame, and has her own unique and formidable power set. I can still count the number of books with "Zatanna" in the title on my fingers (maybe a few toes.)

Finally, unlike most DC heroines, Wonder Woman means something. Most of the rest do good for goodness sake, or are just following the example set by male heroes. Wonder Woman has a mission all her own, independent of all other DC properties. She has clear motivations (societal humanitarianism, longing to engage the outside world, religious dictates, thrill of competition, righteous indignation, etc.,) the tools to reach her ends, and the real world recognition that no other super-heroine can compare to.

Diabolu Frank said...

Mythology: Throughout her history, Wonder Woman has drawn loosely from mythology for her patrons and villains. During George Perez's five year run, the reliance on Greek myth was suffocating by my reckoning. Most every creator since has drawn on the myths to some degree, whether to use Diana's origins as a counterpoint to other pantheons (Luke,) or to update the gods for modern times (Rucka.)

Costumes: The thong was a travesty, and the cleavage a joke. Wonder Woman needed to cover up, but she still has to be iconic. The new suit looks strictly C-list, better suited for Fire or a new Crimson Fix. You can't stand next to Superman and Batman looking like that.

Men: I think men have to write and draw Wonder Woman. The book isn't about how a strong woman should solve the world's problems. It's about men figuring out what their ideal heroine is, and being taught by the world's reaction to their work how right or wrong they are.

The One True GL said...

Boy, is my comment late.

Origin: They should have kept the old one. WW is the world's foremost superhero (male or female) with a mythological origin. Suck on that, Thor fans.

Costume: I have mixed feelings. I've always liked the armoured WW costume. On the other hand, the star spangled look has always led to confusion of new fans. On the 3rd hand, I've alwats liked elements of that look (the bracelets, the boots, and the tiara and other gold bits). I guess the pants are good.

Liss: I get what you're referring to about the character: WW is polarizing to fans - some don't know or can't quite "get" what WW stands for in the same way they know what Bats or Supes stand for while other have a very specific view of WW.

LissBirds said...

My comment's even later, 1TrueGL. I don't know where the time is going!

Frank, thanks for providing a thorough capsule overview of what Wonder Woman is all about. I do remember hearing somewhere that she adopted the stars and stripes to honor America. It just seems weird seeing the stars and stripes on a thong...I much prefer the original costume to that. I just don't feel a connection with Wonder Woman like I do with the Martian Manhunter. It's just not there. I find it interesting that you view her as a lens through which male perspectives on women are seen and also as a litmus test. I find that interesting, but it still seems sad to me that DC's premier woman was created, revised, and redesigned by men. I feel like a female perspective should be in there somewhere. Or maybe a male character created by a woman would make things okay?

Tom--go figure that that's the one thing about Wonder Woman that I knew about! Probably from looking at Superdickery too much.

Diabolu Frank said...

The thong crept up slowly over time, and it's tacky as hell. I doubt even MommaLiss would complain about some nice star spangled leggings, instead.

It's tricky to have a woman create a super-hero that can be broadly accepted, because standard super-heroes are pretty inherently fascistic and solve problems with violence. Women usually try to offer alternatives, where readers just want faces smashed. Gail Simone is an exception, but it's through her willingness to produce exploitation fare. I much prefer the sadomasochism stay in vehicles like Birds of Prey or Secret Six than appear in Wonder Woman.

Just the other day Shag commented that he was glad I was now doing Atom/Captain Atom blogging, because he wasn't much into Martian Manhunter. I did a post over at DC Bloodlines saying I like Shag's Firestorm Fan blog, but the character just frustrates me. Takes all kinds.

LissBirds said...

Well, she thought the black leggings were pretty "dumb" so I don't know about star-spangled ones. :) Who knows...she was full of surprises that night!

Overall, I'd like a Greek-inspired costume, but as you said (and I didn't know this at all), Paradise Island is not really Greek. Who knew? I had pretty much assumed that because Hippolyta is from Greek mythology. (And she is Hyppolyta's "daughter," correct?)

Your assertion that women, by nature, would seek alternatives to violence is a bold one, and is in agreement with my pet peeve that a all a comic book heroine needs to do to be considered "strong" is bust heads and kick ass, when there are other kinds of strength. But I guess a comic where the main characters sit down and diplomatically solve their differences rather that hit each other would be kinda boring. You also hit upon the reason why I don't really feel a connection to Gail Simone or the Birds of Prey.

Then again, following that logic, shouldn't children's comics (where non-violence would be encouraged) be written mostly by women?

Oh, don't get me wrong, I do like Wonder Woman and like seeing her around and really liked her on the cartoon, I just don't feel a pressing need to read any of her solo stories like I do with other characters. (Maybe I will, someday, because I am curious.) I just haven't figured out exactly what I want her to be about, but you've helped clear that up quite a bit.