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!


Nathaniel said...

As a side note that will surely interest you, Cassandra Cain is in Wonder Woman #600, though in a "back in the day" tale where she is teamed up with Wonder Woman and Power Girl. Still, she's drawn by Amanda Conner, so it's pretty cool, even if she's really verbose and un-Cass-like.

Joel Bryan said...

I'd like to see Amanda Conner's version. Still don't understand why some writers believe "verbosity" and "Cass Cain" go together, unless it's intended as some kind of fan-tweaking joke.

Nathaniel said...

At this point, I'm just pleasantly surprised that she decided to use Cass at all, since it would have been easy to use another character or the Steph version of Batgirl instead.

Pete Mullins said...

I'll be looking forward in about 5 to 10 years for the 'what-the-f@@#$ were they thinking?' backlash to this DUMB costume design.
We've been through this countless times before.
They usually come to their senses and realize that it's good writing and good art that really helps sales. Not stupid panic-button changes.

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aderack said...

I think I taste a bit of sarcasm.