When DC Comics announced Wonder Woman was getting re-imagined for the 21st century, I immediately went on the defensive. The character is an icon now in the same way that Superman is. Her costume, regardless of how unpractical it may be, is also iconic, which is something you don’t dare change no matter how badly it defies conventional design theory (just ask Google about their own logo). But the thing I felt like invoking the most was “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Despite the inevitable fan backlash, DC editorial is going forward with their plans to “update” Wonder Woman. They’ve hired the talented J. Michael Straczynski as regular scribe who’ll kick off the new storyline that gives our heroine a new origin due to the gods changing history. Diana has now grown up in a modern society and barely remembers the former life. She has all the same powers and abilities as well as a new “modernized” costume designed by co-publisher (not to mention legendary artist) Jim Lee.
While combining the talents of top industry creators for a revamp is usually a formula for success, the “new” Wonder Woman fails before I even gaze upon the first page.
Jim Lee is the greatest artist in the known universe and I couldn’t be happier with his new role at DC Comics. That being said, his Wonder Woman costume redesign misses the mark. I can’t help but feel like replacing the star-spangled bloomers for tight fitting-pants was done with the intention that female heroes don’t all need to be scantily-clad and feature ample asses, skinny waists, and enhanced bust sizes. But the classic costume is iconic and as such, it’s characteristic of a strong, sexy female. By “modernizing” her look, it removes some of the empowering nature that comes with being Wonder Woman.
The majority of reactions from my female friends and acquaintances upon viewing the new costume were negative. A few agreed that dressing Wonder Woman up in a less revealing costume took away from why Wonder Woman has been the iconic female badass for several decades. Most of them commented on the bracelets looking “strange” and the jacket as being dated fashion.
And then it hit me.
Were any women involved in this redesign at all? It seems like they should be considering the subject matter of what the character is at the core (i.e., strong, independent female). I’m not saying it’s crucial, or that the gender matters, but it just seems logical to at least get feedback from women when redesigning DC’s main lady.
If It Ain’t Broke…
Wonder Woman is arguably the most recognizable female super-hero ever created within our society’s popular culture. There is no “male version” within the continuity of her tales (e.g., no “Wonder Man”). She is amazonian Princess Diana of Themyscira, a strong female personality on par with Superman and Batman. This is fitting considering the character’s original concept by creator William Moulton Marston, who was a psychologist and feminist theorist in addition to his comic book writing abilities.
Marston’s rationale for creating Wonder Woman is described beautifully in an interview published in the 1940’s [It’s lifted from Wikipedia, so take that for what it’s worth. It’s a good quote regardless]:
Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. Not wanting to be girls, they don’t want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.
I have no doubt that Straczynski will nail these traits in his version of Wonder Woman. However, the modernized portrayal of the character means losing much of her identity. In the classic portrayal, Diana is unique to our society because she was not a product of it. Her view of the world was done through the mirror of an Amazonian warrior princess in a society of only women. All of her relationships — friends, lovers, rivals — are derived from this world. She is as alien to the world as Clark Kent, an alien from another planet.
The backstories of both Superman and Wonder Woman contain elements that cause them to be outsiders from society. It adds depth and a richness to their personalities. When you remove those elements, you remove that depth.
I’d be more upset about the whole character misinterpretation if I thought it would have any real staying power. But the truth is, it’s far too gimmicky and marketed for me to believe this is sticking around longer than five years maximum (or until they do a major motion picture). Seriously though, they’re counting all the past issues of Wonder Woman to reach the milestone number of 600, which will become the new issue number going forward.
Plus, check out how many major media outlets covered the Wonder Woman costume change story based solely on it being “new.” DC has smart marketing people and they know how to drum up plenty of free attention for this new round of stories.
DC has done this before, complete with costume changes that were so drastic even the old school news organizations ran at least a small blurb. Remember Energy Superman? He wore an entirely blue costume and had… well, energy-based powers that he could turn off and on. A red “Energy Superman” showed up soon there after to prolong the story out for another few months. Everyone billed this as “The New Superman.” Oh and remember armored-up Azrael Batman in Batman issue #500? He was the new grittier Batman for a new generation. He even had his own “collectors edition” polybag.
The point being, no matter how good Straczynski’s run may be, classic Wonder Woman is coming back eventually.
Having laid out all the reasons for this faulty Wonder Woman revamp, I can now say with confidence that the Straczynski era of Wonder Woman stories will likely be very enjoyable [meaning yes, I’ll probably enjoy the hell out of them]. His arc will be radically different, yet still within the scope of Wonder Woman. But, it’ll never actually be Wonder Woman stories, no matter what kind of logic the editorial team sells the other comic book news publications.
And honestly, that’s OK. The beauty of Wonder Woman being an icon means her classic imagining isn’t going to disappear overnight.
[Main photo credit: Charlie Roode via Twitpic]