Friday, May 11, 2007

You're a wonder, Wonder Woman: part one

I've been promising this post for a while now, but have been putting it off, knowing that it was going to be big and complicated to write. It's bugged me for years that I really really want to like Wonder Woman, but don't. At least, not as much as I want to. Pretty much every time DC announces a new writer on the series, I pick it up hoping that maybe this will be the time that I connect with the character. But it hasn't happened yet. I think I've finally figured out why, but it's going to be a long discussion, so I'm going to break it up into sections.

I think that maybe the way for me to approach this is to first figure out why I want to like her so much. I obviously have some connection to her that I want to see strengthened. And even if that connection is just untapped potential at this point, identifying it will mean that I've figured out what I want to see future writers do with her.

Let me start by saying that it isn't that she's hot. Yeah, Wonder Woman is gorgeous, but if all I wanted was to read about a beautiful woman in a skimpy costume, well, there are thousands of other options for me. So, I'm going to start with the postulate that my interest in her is more than physical.

Since I grew up reading Marvel Comics, my introduction to Wonder Woman was through the Lynda Carter TV show. But... I don't think my real fondness for the character started there. I think I liked that show because I was nine and she was a beautiful superheroine in a bathing suit. That was physical. But maybe not only that.

It's hard to separate childhood memories from thoughts I've had in later years, but it's undeniable that the main reason people still think fondly about the show was due to how honest Lynda Carter's portrayal of Wonder Woman was. She completely sold Wonder Woman as a real person and she was every bit as heroic and strong (not just physically, but spiritually and emotionally too) as Superman or any other superhero. And I think the memory of that completely strong, comfortable, confident character is what I keep hoping to recapture in Wonder Woman comics.

Several years ago, before the Wonder Woman TV episodes were released on DVD, I joined one of Columbia House's VHS clubs where every month they'd send me a new tape with a couple of episodes on it. Whenever I'd get a new one, I'd get in touch with my brother-in-law and we'd sit and watch them and laugh at the bad German accents, or the fakey gorilla suits, or especially at how sad of a character Steve Trevor was. He was especially hilarious during the IADC years when his solution to everything as head of an international spy organization was to call the police. But I'm digressing. My point is that we never laughed at Wonder Woman. As silly as the rest of the show could be, she was always an impeccable hero.

I think this touches on what Ragnell was saying about Wonder Woman and confidence. Wonder Woman should be the Sean Connery of her gender: men should want to be with her and women should want to be her. When Connery played Bond, he walked around every setting he found himself in as if he owned the place. Didn't matter if it was his office, a hotel, or the villain's headquarters, he was completely comfortable with himself. That's how Wonder Woman should be.

Not aggressively so. Not, as my friend Alex would say, "strident." Connery never had to convince anyone through aggression that he was competent. You knew it by just looking at him. Wonder Woman should be the same way.

I don't know if this is a secret or not, but men find feminine confidence incredibly sexy. The best, most iconic depictions of Wonder Woman totally get that. Yeah, she's got great hair, big boobs, and long, long legs, but so does every other superheroine. What sets Wonder Woman apart -- when she's written and illustrated correctly -- is that she's able to walk around in a frickin' bathing suit and be completely at ease. She's like Marvel's Sub-Mariner that way, only she's not a jerk about it. Sub-Mariner is another character who oozes confidence and so gets away with swimming gear as a costume. It's not the skimpiness of the outfit that's attractive; it's the way she carries herself in it.

This is why I don't care for George Perez's run on the series. It gets praised a lot for its attention to Greek mythology and its strong characterization, but Perez's Wonder Woman isn't the strong, confident heroine that I want to read about. His Wonder Woman is a fish-out-of-water. She's the new kid on the superhero block. She's wide-eyed and innocent. When Perez draws her flying, for example, she has an expression of joyous rapture. "Whee! I'm flying!" Which I guess a lot of people liked, but seems really... I don't know, girlish? to me. I much prefer this image of her flying. She's still smiling and enjoying what's going on, but she isn't so "yipee!" about it. She's more mature. Comfortable.

I even enjoy this downbeat depiction of her. She's being led away in handcuffs and she's not happy about it, but she is calm and in control. There's nothing happening to her that she isn't letting happen and it gives you the feeling that indeed nothing could happen to her that she doesn't let happen. That's not true, of course. Stuff happens to Wonder Woman outside of her control all the time. It has to in order to keep things interesting. But she creates the illusion that she can handle anything. Just like Bond.

Enough about the art. Next time (whenever that is), I'm going to focus on the writing, starting with Perez and moving all the way up to Picoult. I may touch on pre-Perez, but I haven't read any of that stuff, so my discussing it will be limited to what I've heard other people say and that's going to be limited in its usefulness. In talking about the writing though, I'm reminding myself right now to talk about Wonder Woman's critical "mission" in Man's/Patriarch's World and how that's been (mis-)handled so far.

And as long as I'm reminding myself of stuff: this is a reminder to eventually talk about how all this relates to two of my other favorite superheroines: Rogue and Black Canary. 'Cause it does.

Read Part Two here.
Read Part Three here.

Update: As I've been informed in the comments: Al Rio drew the Header Image for this post, Thomas Mason colored it, and the Wonder Woman Archives owns it.


Siskoid said...

I'll be reading all of these intently, Michael, because I feel the same way. Every time the subject comes up, I feel obliged to point out that the best version of WW I've ever seen is Bruce Timm's Justice League one.

That show managed to make her a fish out of water without making her a rookie. I hope to see that version mentioned in your analysis.

Great Hera, I wish her own series made her anything like this. (Though JLA often did.)

Anonymous said...

Excellent post.

Peter Damien said...

The best-done Wonder Woman, to my mind, was the Wonder Woman portrayed in the comic "Kingdom Come" which actually assumed that 1) She was a woman 2) She was very capable 3) Number 1 and 2 together didn't mean she had to be terrifying.

Wonder Woman has the capacity to work on the same level as Aquaman and even Captain America, but she doesn't. I think that the "big" heroes of the DC Universe (Superman/Batman/WonderWoman) are actually extremely difficult to write and are mostly not done well at all.

VERY good post. Well written, and I agree with you.

West said...

*joins the chorus of agreement*

Siskoid said...

Yes, I was thinking about the KC WW too. Very noble and powerful.

by chance said...

Well I still like Xena much better =D

Jerri Dias said...

Hi Michael,

This is an excellent article on WW. Like many peopple, I always liked WW, although I knew her from JSA comics before the TV show, but I'm also always have problems to connect to her. I'm always eager to read her stories, but I can't help myself to feel disappointed every time. Maybe the one time I got satisfaction from a WW story was that one from Ross and Dini where she is looks finally up to her role in society.
But I think that WW's personality will ever depend on those who write her stories and not the character itself, since it seems one can lead it to a great number of roads, depending on the time period and the writers themselves. After all, we can't forget that happy fellow and his sidekick who had become quite grumpy and maniac over the 80"s and 90"s.
So, I'll take a look at your comics and let you know what I think.

Michael May said...

Thanks, Jerri!

You're absolutely right about the fluctuating nature of these characters' personalities. One of the drawbacks of corporate-owned characters with lots of creative voices guiding them, I guess.

One hopes that at least there's a consistent core to each character: Wonder Woman's confidence, Batman's sense of justice; Superman's duty. But, unfortunately, even that's usually too much to ask for.

Anonymous said...

Great article but no mention of the artist AL RIO who drew your Header Image? or Thomas Mason the colorist?
How about Wonder Woman Archives? The site that *owns* that image? Any shout out to them?
Lovin' it!

Michael May said...

Thanks for that info. I knew none of it. I'll update the post.


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