Friday, June 18, 2010

I'm going to begin to reprint the "Star-Spangled Panties" column here on my blog. This first one originally appeared September 25th, 2009 at

Hola, campers! I’m Carol A. Strickland, and I’m moderately obsessed with Wonder Woman.

“Wonder Womaaan?” I can hear someone in the back whining. “She’s so confusing. Equals boring.”

Okay, I can understand that. She’s only undergone about a million “Bold New Directions” in her career. She’s been a US Army nurse, a wannabe stay-at-home-wife, an ambassador, a boutique owner, an Air Force lieutenant, a jet-setting adventurer, an astronaut, a fast-food taco maker, a pacifist, a murderer, a warrior, a pampered princess, a penniless civilian, an Amazon, a modern Western woman, a vegetarian, a carnivore, a contemporary younger version of herself (times two!), an elitist, an egalitarian, a good friend, the worst friend you could ever hope for, a lover, and a perpetual virgin.

Gee, what’s the prob?

The trick with Wondie is this: she is not the sum of her varied adventures, not even if you keep to just one volume. Instead she is the combination of the best of all her aspects, grounded on a firm thematic base.

This means that in order to market a reader-friendly Wonder Woman, you cannot attempt to retain all elements of her past. You must cast her with positive attributes and experiences that can withstand the test of time. Then each new creative team can build upon that without destroying it.

Just a few years ago, Phil Jimenez tried to incorporate everything post-Crisis (and a little more, such as TV Wondie) into his vision of Diana. It made for intriguing if sometimes uncomfortable reading as the mythos twisted back upon itself while trying to move forward. Some of it worked—often very well—and some of it bombed spectacularly.

Greg Rucka followed soon after and threw out nearly everything PJ had done, as well as a massive amount of material from runs previous to that. Unfortunately, he didn’t then institute a pared-down “best of” version of Wondie. Instead she became a dark thing we readers had never seen before: WW as a puppet of Athena who could never win with honor. Ouch.

Even when Diana was rebooted to acclaim after Crisis (the first one. The only one of any importance), her creative team forgot one thing: Diana’s basic theme is that of empowerment. Diana empowers others, often the disenfranchised, and she also sets an example by empowering herself. Thus the need for Amazon Training, which at one time she had to practice to stay in full form. Crisis tossed out that concept and Diana now received her powers on a silver platter, not having to work to attain them.

Empowerment is a theme that WW needs to remember at all times. It’s what make her especially unique in the superhero world. It also attracts disenfranchised readers to her, ka-ching!

All positive aspects and continuity were completely absent in the all-too-recent (ack! Don’t make me type the words!) A… Ama… Amazons Attack! In this mini and the scads of unholy crossovers it spawned, the entire Wonder Woman mythos was not only trashed but shredded and defecated upon. AA can only be viewed as a deliberate attempt to mutilate nearly 70 years of the Wonder story. (Granny Goodness?) (GRANNY GOODNESS??!!)

Even now, DC insists that AA remain incorporated and expanded in their universe. It’s a part of the recent Supergirl Annual, Secret Six, and, of course, Wonder Woman’s own title.

Why are we holding so tightly to a steaming pile of excrement?

Any kind of fiction needs some level of internal consistency to keep readers in the story, instead of constantly coming out of it to ask, “Huh?” This requires that DC create a Wonder Woman bible and have it not only available, but policed across the line. (The modern DCU should have continuity? What a concept!)

Within this bible should be the BEST of Wonder Woman in simplified form. Yes, she’s an Amazon, but let no DC writer presume that DC’s Amazons are the Amazons of myth. It’s true they bear a resemblance and they have the same name, but DC’s Amazons have always been rooted in the idea that the Amazons are peaceable at heart. Not warriors who learned peace; that’s just goofball. It was the other way around.

The Amazon civilization forms the heart of Wonder Woman. Diana is pro-peace. She seeks the win-win solution for everyone. For her, “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent” are words to live by.

Wonder Woman is not a puppet. She does not hate her mother and never has. She is one of the top five most competent people on Earth. She ultimately wins ALL her battles. People cheer for her. She’s a faithful friend to all who honestly need her, and to a lot of others besides. She believes in the good in people.

She’s not perfect. After all, she’s human to the core. To be interesting, she has to have faults that can trip her up, faults she can learn from. But these faults should not involve her carrying around bloody axes 90% of the time, or breaking people’s necks when there are 43,879 ways she can stop them without killing them. After all, she has the wisdom not only of Athena, but of the Amazons. I know this is scary for superhero comics—brace yourself, whiny guy in the back—but Diana can THINK her way to a solution!

There there, Mr. Whiny, I didn’t mean to shock you. Hey, look at the current ish of Secret Six, where she enlists aid when she’s unable to function. How many other heroes do that? And that didn’t shock you then, did it? It was kind of thrilling. Good.

The way to make Wonder Woman accessible both to new readers hopping on for their first Wonder Ride, and to old readers who’ve suffered through far too much, is by simplifying Diana’s history and surroundings. Trash the bad. Trash the confusing. Trash the stuff that doesn’t make sense.

Trash Amazons Attack. Utterly. Completely. Nevah happened!

I’ve heard many people say, “But AA happened. You can’t retcon it.” Yet many events in the DCU have been retconned or forgotten and for lesser reason. Can you think of one single positive thing that AA contributed to the DCU? Okay, maybe one or two of the Amazon armor designs were neat, but besides that? Nothing, zip, nada. So out it goes so it can putrefy and stink up wherever it lands—far from the WW mythos.

Make the Amazons good guys again and always. They are Diana’s inspiration. Keep some oldies but goodies: Steve Trevor and Etta Candy for example. Steve reimagined by the Perez team as a brother/father figure for Diana was a stroke of genius, as Diana shouldn’t be fettered by just one romantic interest and Stevie is a romantic figure from the far past who more than served his time. Etta reimagined by Gail Simone has been a delight. The series would be poorer without her around. Julia and Vanessa Kapetelis were in the book long enough that ignoring them now seems quite strange.

Bring back PJ’s Amazon university, a nifty idea that could beget dozens of great stories, and yet provide a modernized echo of the Golden Age’s freaky fantasy motifs. This sets up the Amazons as a nation to be respected, not one full of child killers nor of Bronze Age Luddites. It also provides a healthy source of males to the mix, which reminds me...

Don’t make WW such a girls club. It then seems as if the DCU has a separate playing field for females, that they’re not good enough to play with the big boys. (Unless they’re portrayed as sex kittens, in which case they’re welcome to stop by any time.)

Give us a timeline! Please! I’m begging you, DC! Some people write Diana like she just got off the (invisible) boat yesterday, when she’s been around as long as Batman and Superman in the modern DCU. Knowing where we are with WW clarifies her.

Have Diana set down her swords and axes and do away with her blood lust. She is a woman of peace, confronted with a world at war with itself on hundreds of levels. She is not the DCU’s answer to Kanye West.

No S&M, no matter if it is a Sacred Golden Age Element. There are no Sacred Golden Age Elements unless they contribute positively to the character. That same goes for the “submission to a superior female” business. I mean yeah, females are naturally superior, but males don’t have to submit to them. Usually. (Kneel before Hippolyta!)

Powerful as she is, Diana needs a guardian. Unlike other superheroes, Wonder Woman has become an icon of feminism, women, and/or humanism. No other hero has to shoulder this kind of responsibility. Therefore, strong editing is essential. Story approaches should be double, even triple-checked for how they fit into these venues—but no in-your-face stuff, please. No one likes to be preached to.

You have to throw out the bad, no matter how recently it’s been added. Keep the good, make sense of what you’ve got, and respect the character. That’s right, even the executive editor who’s been dissing her a lot lately has to learn to hold in his own opinions like a pro and give Wondie good press.

Positive simplification. That’s the way to empower Wonder Woman and welcome readers.


Wolf_Claws said...

You know, I agree with this. The garbage John Byrne did to her was utterly disgusting.

(Don't tell him, but I personally do not like the way John Byrne tells his stories; i.e I read the 1989-1994 She-Hulk series and it bothered me how she was not like her 1980-1984 attitude).

In short, Wonder Woman needs to be a symbol of peace. I agree with you 100% Carol. I wish you written comics these days.

Glenn said...

Hi Carol... We've chatted before, several years ago. A huge fan of WW since the late '60s and early '70s (after which point, changes to the character led me to leave her behind) I don't follow the WW comic today, per se, but rather 'keep an eye on it.' Read this, an older post of yours, but, to a great extent, agree with you wholeheartedly. Marston's original vision, excepting a few extreme viewpoints (the 'submission thing'), incorporated so much 'good' into the character that it is stunning, utterly stunning, that DC has rebooted, altered, rebooted again, this extraordinary pop literature character to such an extent that a longtime fan might not recognize her. Frankly, I'm utterly disgusted with DC's treatment of WW, and I have been for years. The first blow came with the early '80s addition of the 'WW' insignia -- convenient to trademark -- but a deathblow to the concept of the soaring eagle, the courageous, all-seeing heart or spirit within. While WW's original costume was originally patterned on the American flag and other patriotic motifs, it also stands alone as a statement of spirit, balance and vision (eagle and stars)... And I've never had a problem with the bustier, nor have I ever wondered why it never fell down. Lynda Carter never once fell out of her costume, and other than clear nudity, a swimsuit-like outfit does allow for a great deal of movement. Like you, versions of the costume would be great, to exist at Diana's disposal as the adventure dictates, but overall, you just can't divorce the character from the basic motifs of tiara, bracelets, eagle and stars. But I digress. I just can't 'get into' the comics of today. The conflicted, soul-searching nature of many of the characters is just too much -- too overdone. As a child, I looked to WW and other heroes, not for angst, but for power and empowerment. And while a bit of inner conflict never hurts, it seems WW has been battling inner demons for decades now. When WW returned to costume in the early '70s, after the interesting I-Ching years (I loved that series, flaws and all), one could still sense a solidity and reliability -- familiarity if you will -- in the character, in spite of her 'trials' with the JLA, and in spite of her angst and concerns over Steve Trevor (dead/alive)... I believe the early-to-mid '70s was something of a golden age of comics in its own right, considering the heavy merchandising, and popular TV shows and films of the time. We loved our heroes. We could rely upon them because their purpose was clear. Today, the darkness, angst, inner conflict and ever-changing realities brought upon heroes like WW (especially WW, eh?) has sucked the life and FUN out of reading comics. For me, Wonder Woman is gone. Just gone. And sadly, to a large extent, I pretend she doesn't exist anymore.
Thanks for your earnest and ongoing support of the character. I don't always agree with your takes on the character, but I always respect the mind at work. -- Glenn Brown, Brooklyn, NY