Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wonder Woman's Wonderful New Costume!

Bam! Here we go! J. Michael Straczynski and Jim Lee have redesigned DC's Amazonian superstar, Wonder Woman. Out is her star-spangled swimsuit; in is a bizarre mishmash of pseudo-classical Greek elements and a 90s-style leather jacket. Next up from the creative geniuses at Time-Warner: Superman's Jim Dangle-inspired mustache and short shorts outfit.

The party line at DC is Wonder Woman is one element of their all-important big three characters, their "trinity," but her various titles have never really sold up to that status. Perhaps it's her look that's to blame. Or perhaps it's the character concept. Superman is pretty simple and straightforward, as is Batman. But what about Wonder Woman? What really motivates her? Why would someone with an origin so grounded in Greek myth wear an all-American bathing costume to fight crime? And why would an Amazon-- of all people-- come to the modern world to spread peace?

Maybe Straczynski's run on Wonder Woman will address these issues.

It certainly addresses the demand for gritty realism in superhero comics when plausibility is more than enough:

It’s a look designed to be taken seriously as a warrior, in partial answer to the many female fans over the years who’ve asked, “how does she fight in that thing without all her parts falling out?”) She can close it up to pass unnoticed… open it for the freedom to fight…lose the jacket or keep it on… it has pockets (the other fan question, “where does she carry anything in that outfit?”, it can be accessorized… it’s a Wonder Woman look designed for the 21st century.

She fought crime in a swimsuit with nothing falling out for the same reason you don't see Superman's penis and testicles bulging out of his tights. Also for the same reason Superman can fly, deflect bullets and visit the center of the sun; Batman can have his back broken and come back to fight crime; and Cassandra Cain's dad can repeatedly shoot her with a gun as a training method without any physical disabilities cropping up. It's called "willing suspension of disbelief." Superhero comics have an innate silliness. It's part of their appeal.

I mean, the gods forbid someone created out of clay and whose soul was found in some kind of cavern full of them should have an unrealistic costume. Especially if she's going to be fighting crime with her magical powers of strength and agility.

Of course, nothing says, "I'm a serious warrior" like a leather jacket with a corset and fingerless gloves borrowed from 1980s Madonna, plus Danskin workout tights. On the other hand, her look is reminiscent of William Zabka's Johnny from The Karate Kid, so perhaps Stracynzki has a point.

Stracynzki is definitely on target when he says her title should be selling in the top twenty, especially if she is so damned important to the DC mythos. It's Wonder Woman, for the love of Zeus. She's been around for 69 years. Her comic is almost up to issue 600. Give her some respect. Here's hoping they've figured out what to do with her after all this time:

So the solution was to tweak time: at some point about 20 years ago or so, the time stream was changed. Paradise Island was destroyed, and Diana as an infant was smuggled out before her mother was killed along with most of the others. She was raised by guardians sent with her, and some surviving Amazons, so she has a foot in two worlds, the urban world and the world of her people, which still exists in the shadows, underground. So we keep what makes her an Amazon but mix it up with a more modern perspective.

Oh, it's so obvious I can't believe I didn't think of it first! Tweak time! The solution is always to tweak time. Just ask the producers of the last Star Trek movie. J.J. Abrams and crew "tweaked time" in almost exactly the same way-- hooray for originality!-- and made $385,670,613 worldwide. If it worked for them, there's no reason it can't work for a comic book. The only thing wrong with Wonder Woman, apparently, was that she was Wonder Woman. Now she's Batman with a different set of chromosomes.

Yes, there are few fictional (and for "fictional," read "sales") ills that can't be cured by adding a convoluted element like "tweaking time" to a character. All the most iconic characters have multiple time streams and continuities for readers to keep track of. It gives readers something to do when they're not actively buying your expensive little magazines or working 8 hours a day to get the money to do so. Especially when they usually have to buy a prelude miniseries, 12 different monthly issues and then multiple post-climax one-shots in order to get a complete narrative. Many of which also "tweak time."

Fine, whatever. You want to build up one of your main three characters by turning her into some sort of comic version of Angel ("Honor student by day. Hollywood hooker by night"), that's wonderful. You're the pros. I'm sure you know what you're doing. Again.

Also, updating Wonder Woman has worked so well in the past:

(With the exception of a mod look used briefly in the 1960s…about which the less said, the better.)

Oh. Uh... except for that one time. But this one is nothing like that time. Nothing! You'll see! Because market demands and aesthetics will remain exactly the same as now for the foreseeable future. No one will ever look back at this new style atrocity and decide it completely lacks any kind of iconic presence. No one will point out that the new costume looks like something Barb Wire would wear on a special stealth mission. Or that it would almost be as pretty as the one Ghost sported, but for the gold accessories that take it into Real Housewives of Themyscira territory; they look like electroplated crapola offered at 4am on QVC.

No one will point out it makes Wonder Woman look exactly as lame as she did in 1968 when... er... Mike Sekowsky did almost the same thing!

Yes, forty years from now no one will be making fun of this era when Wonder Woman's sales again flag enough DC essentially has to kill her off and start over again with whatever fad or "edgy" element middle-aged dudes think will appeal to the three teenagers and young adults still reading superhero comics at that time.

Who knows? Maybe in 2050, star-spangled strapless maillots and red go-go boots will be all the rage!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Jack Davis: Super Nice Guy

Today's newspaper brought a pleasant surprise: a Loran Smith tribute to a friend of his, caricaturist par excellence Jack Davis. In it, Smith paints his own portrait of a Davis beset by physical ills-- the man is 85 years old, after all-- but still enthusiastic about life's little pleasures, still as nice and unaffected as he must have been as a young veteran at the University of Georgia on the G.I. Bill, or a naive would-be comic book artist pounding the sidewalks of New York City looking for work.

This jibes with my own brief contact with Mr. Davis, long an art idol of mine because of his hilarious work for Mad, movie posters, Time, TV Guide, album covers, games and so much more. As a foolish young graphic design student at the University of Georgia and a major fan of EC Comics, I took the opportunity to interview Mr. Davis by telephone for a class project. One of my professors knew him personally and gave me the man's number out there on St. Simons Island. I'd never been so nervous calling a girl to ask her out as I was dialing the great Jack Davis's home phone.

What I got was a brief conversation with the most avuncular voice imaginable, one that put me right at ease. We set a time for the actual interview-- he had me tell him when it was most convenient... for me. A true gentleman. The next day, I called him again and he patiently and cheerfully answered all my personal questions, my professional questions, my fanboy geekish questions (a brief reminiscing about Wally Wood ensued) and through it all was so blamed positive and life-affirming, I was literally high for two days afterwards. Two days in the best mood.

That's Jack Davis all over, man.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Yazawa Ai Home from the Hospital

In all the hectic preparation for my trans-Pacific move back to the United States, I missed out on some important news-- Yazawa Ai, creator of the mega-popular Nana manga series, left the hospital in April after a 10-month fight against an unspecified illness. Whether or not she'll return to Nana's glamorous and tragic world for new stories remains uncertain. Obviously, her health is of prime concern and here's hoping this represents a major step towards Ms. Yazawa's full recovery.

For lack of a better word, it really sucks when illness silences a vibrant voice like Ms. Yazawa's. Dirk Deppey of Journalista! fame called her the "Japanese Gilbert Hernandez" in a thread on the Onion A/V Club, and I believe that to be an apt comparison. Both deal with large casts of compelling characters, both create fascinating worlds of both light and darkness and both really know how to torture their casts in a way that literally addicts a reader. When I first got into Nana, finishing a book led to marked withdrawal symptoms. It's rare enough for a comic to inspire me to daydream at work or actively consider the characters and worry about what will happen to them in the future, but for a comic book to make me feel antsy, nervous and trembly between issues?

This is an accomplishment shared by only two titles in the past decade: Love and Rockets and Nana.

But I will gladly give up Nana if doing so guarantees a fit and healthy Ai Yazawa!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Otaku in Government: Your Tax Dollars at Work!

Japan Times Online reports "[n]ational policy minister Satoshi Arai said Friday he regrets that his now-defunct political organization booked costs for comic book purchases as official expenses."

What he regrets is being called out on it, I'm sure. Because Arai-san enjoyed his time spent under his government desk, a pile of One Piece and Nana books by his side as he read them by flashlight, his eyes wide with wonder and excitement. It was only after his mom caught him and demanded he finish his nap so he could go back to formulating national policies to benefit Japan that he felt the first pang of regret.

I don't know about you, but I kind of like the idea of my tax money going for comic books rather than bombers and corporate welfare. But only if the comics go to me, not to some wiener-looking policy wonk inside the Beltway. I mean, thanks to our system of government largesse, I already pay Time Warner, parent company of DC Comics, to stay in business. This means I'm already paying a teeny-tiny fraction of DC's overhead. Why can't we have a government program where that money is returned to me in the form of actual comic books? Would this lead to some sort of sequential socialism and cause the overthrow of our (semi-)capitalist comic book economy?

Of course, if the feds did start some kind of comic book stimulus package, I'm not sure I'd support the public option. What if the government mandated I take back issues of Identity Crisis or Batgirl: Redemption Road? Why, that would be totalitarianism! Intolerable! No, as a free comic book market American patriot, one born and bred right here in the good ol' United States of America, I prefer to choose my own comics.


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Billy Tucci Writing a Cassandra Cain Book? Where Do I Subscribe?

Well, before we get too excited, it's all very iffy. According to someone Comics Vine characterizes as a "not so reliable source," Billy Tucci is working on a Cass Cain-starring series for DC. My first thought was, "This isn't going to happen in a million years." My second was, "If it does, I'll definitely check it out because Billy Tucci created Shi, right?"

I had to ask myself because I wasn't too sure. I've never read Shi, but as a comic fan I've been aware of its existence for many a year. My impression has always been Shi as some kind of bad ass martial arts woman. After all, her very name is Japanese for "death." Always-reliable-and-never-wrong-source Wikipedia describes the character this way:

Shi is a young woman of mixed Japanese and American ancestry drafted into a modern-day "shadow war" between descendents of the infamous sohei warrior monks of medieval Japan.

Thanks, Wikipedia! Out of all the people who have written Cass Cain over the years or could possibly write her in the future, this immediately makes Tucci the most qualified. While I very much doubt there's any truth behind this rumor-- although it's possible Tucci might be doing this on spec with a mind towards pitching it at DC-- I'd like to suggest right now someone in a position of comic book power over there make this happen.

At once.