Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Illusory Wonder Woman

(i.e., Spangles Don’t Make the Wonder)

In recent years DC’s sales continued to fall and according to many articles I read, the Time-Warner people gave them an ultimatum: improve sales or else. So Dan DiDio and his buddies came up with yet another new, company-wide PR event: the New 52. (Referring to how many titles they were coming out with, and trying to play off the company-wide “52” event of a few years back.) This began in September of 2011.

“Not a reboot!” they kept telling us. “This is a relaunch!” Well, it is indeed a reboot of many titles, but some titles aren’t being affected. Someone called it the “Nottaboot,” which is as good a name as any.

What I’m concerned with, of course, is the fate of Wonder Woman. Volume 3 of Wonder Woman was an unheralded new era for WW, like post-Crisis was different from the Bronze Age, etc. After an exciting and promising re-start, the Gail Simone run within it had plunged downhill badly.

I managed to coordinate a “bring back the original numbering” campaign that actually succeeded—but didn’t succeed in getting Dan DiDio to give our favorite Amazon any respect. Instead, as the book reverted to original numbering with #600’s monumental issue, the end of the book also sent Diana off into the much-anticipated “Odyssey” storyline, to be written by none other than J. Michael Straczynski.

Ever since, I’ve been trying to find Wonder Woman, but she’s completely disappeared.

JMS also took over Superman and sent him on his Stroll Around the US storyline, something that was derided by a majority of reviewers, at least that I saw. However, the sales figures for JMS’ Superman: Earth One were coming in, and it was decided that he needed to create a $equel.

Thus JMS abruptly dropped both Superman and Wonder Woman—which actually turned out for the best in Wondie’s case, as the brightness of the dialogue noticeably improved under the pen of Phil Hester.

The “Odyssey” story was some kind of parallel universe/imaginary story/setup for a new mythos kind of thing in which Something Had Changed Diana’s Timeline and now Diana was shown to be a spoiled, reckless princess of the Amazons, only now brought up (albeit in isolation) in the modern world. Of course this made her completely relatable to modern audience, something she had never been before.

Oh dear, is my sarcasm showing?

The story was “only” supposed to last 12 issues, but as the New 52 approached (as they must have known from the start that it would), it was stretched to 14. An interminable story became sheer agony. Once again Diana acted without thinking. Once again, the Amazons around her were slaughtered because of her actions. Once again we saw how self-centered she was, even as her friends died around her. But even the gods bowed before her, announcing that she was their messiah who would set things right. We were told that the “other,” previous version of Wonder Woman was completely inferior to this one, all hail the new.

And that was the reason they had created her: to be relatable, to be better. She was neither. Whenever TPTB say that WW needs to be relatable, I get the distinct impression that they mean she needs to grow a penis. It can be a blue penis, a mutant penis, a fishy penis, a metal penis—just so it’s there.

Well, at least they got a lot of publicity because this version had the audacity to wear pants.

But as Wonder Woman fans all know, even the worst of stories has to end sometime. New 52 came upon us and without internal explanation, many of the characters of the DCU were rebooted or at least significantly changed.

DC promised that this time she’d REALLY be relatable. No, really and truly. With sugar on it. And they were going to go back to her roots, the essence of what made Wonder Woman, Wonder Woman.

Admitting that he didn’t do much research on Wondie, the new writer, Brian Azzarello, declared that the essence of Wonder Woman was mythology because of its richness of source. Now, granted that mythology IS a rich source of creative material, it is not the essence of Wonder Woman.

She is Empowerment. More exactly: Positive Empowerment. Because of her, the world and its people are made better.

Azz also declared that WW would now be a horror book. The DCnU carries a substantial amount of horror in its line. DC as a company has been getting darker and darker since... well, noticeably since DiDio came on board. Now it seems DC wants to be the new EC Comics (and has forgotten the fallout from that).

Besides, Wonder Woman is not a horror character.

She may flirt with horror stories on occasion, but she does not stall out in that genre, preferring to surface in more hopeful and enlightening climes for the majority of her adventures.

Wonder Woman is a star because her readers love her and are inspired by her, not because she’s more badass than the badasses around her.

So far we’ve seen four issues of this new “Wonder Woman,” and have yet to catch any kind of clear (positive) glimpse as to who she might be. She doesn’t seem to be that important to the ambiance or story. She is a skilled fighter who works with ancient weapons (like Hawkman or Xena), and we’ve had one scene in which she’s demonstrated super-breath (like Superman).

But mostly we’ve seen her like Xena, Warrior Princess, with an unsmiling version of Marvel’s Hercules thrown in. That’s why I have to call this character

She is certainly not Wonder Woman.

I have nothing against Xena, but I never cared for her. Her stories never required much thought to watch. In fact the less you thought, the better they probably were. And the costume design of the show was strictly from hunger. (Even though Xena stole her outfit from Diana via a leather tailor.)

The new book is also oddly angled. First, the gods all walk around like normal folks (like they did on Xena and the TV version of Hercules). The DCU already has plenty of gods, but they wear spandex and capes. To not differentiate between gods and capes to me is a serious misstep. In a world where capes are the everyday, gods should be special.

The men gods are all clothed. The women gods are not so much. There has been an effort made to modernize and badass-erize the gods, except for Hera, who is kept in the misogynistic Second Millennium BCE. She longs for love and whines when, again and again, she is betrayed by her husband. Childlike, she lashes at those whom she perceives as sinning against her—except the true villain.

This from the goddess of marriage. Heck, she’s the goddess of women, and women are an important part of the Wondie mythos. If we care to research a bit, Hera was one of the original Earth Goddesses, usurped when non-Goddess-worshippers invaded the area and took over by having their head god honcho wed the local head honchess god, and keep her “in her place.”

Is this kind of depiction really what an edgy, 21st Century DC Comics wants to utilize? Why modernize all the gods EXCEPT Hera?

Apollo (clothed), the god of the sun itself, is a being of darkness. (???) He creates oracles out of three innocent women and then murders them when they’ve done the temporary job he wanted, even though they never sinned against him. Wha?

Hermes (clothed) is in his old position as Jokester Friend to the Amazons/Mankind.

Strife (slightly dressed in teasing strips of cloth; given a rather androgynous look) is an evil, conniving bitch. Good for her.

Hera we’ve already discussed, but she’s naked under a loose cloak of feathers, which hangs open on her. She’s already had one extended “I’m changing my clothing” scene that teases us with nudity and has her winding up in some kind of harem outfit. (Some of the Amazons also like the harem look.)

Zeus is presented naked, but he’s in the act of seduction.

Ares is an old geezer, being set up for further use. He wears clothes.

That’s an awful lot of gods for the book. Was it intended be be called The Olympians (with “Wonder Woman”)? The Percy Jackson fans might be interested in that.

We have the “innocent civilian” introduced who is Zola. For a long time she runs around in just a tank top, open shirt, and seamless panties. Apparently she is a “modern woman,” you know, “sexually liberated,” out for quick sexual thrills, who can’t even recall that she slept with Zeus.

Zeus, king of the gods. Whose stories of conquest were always memorable. Whom Hippolyta describes dazzlingly as “more than a man... a god... THE god.” But Zola can’t pick him out of a crowd of lovers.

When told by Hermes that she is pregnant, Zola says, “Oh, sh--“ That seems to be her only reaction. She, a “free spirit,” is not seen wondering how this will affect her life, if she will keep the baby, if she will raise it, how she will raise it, or even if she can get a home pregnancy kit to find out if any of this is actually true. Wouldn’t one think she was on some kind of birth control to lead the life she loved, or is she just stupid? Or is she just a cardboard character, not thinking in any way like a woman would?

Also, this is another instance of the lack of positive emotion in the book. Sex is sex, with no real relationship or commitment desired except by the old-fashioned ball-and-chain, Hera. It seems a very macho mindset.

Can we get to Diana? We are introduced to her as she sleeps. Naked, of course. Not only naked, but with the sheets drawn up to her hips so we not only have a good look at her her shoulders and back but her legs as well. She also gets an extensive “getting dressed” scene.

Y’know, I didn’t notice any preponderance of “getting dressed” scenes in any of the comics concerning male heroes that I read.

Once we get through the gore of Hera butchering a horse to create two centaurs (not one of the classical techniques to make centaurs. Guess those weren’t bloody enough), Diana arrives on scene to head-butt the one and slice the other’s arm off with her sword. Though she has the lasso at her side, she doesn’t use it—even though lassos and horses go so naturally together.

When we arrive on Paradise Island, we discover that Diana has led a loser’s life there, where no one liked her except her mother and perhaps Dessa (a renamed Philippus?). She’d been mocked as “Clay” as a child because of her clay origin.

Of course the Amazons as a group are quite detestable. They complain about the “putrid musk” of males and necessity of castration, as well as voice their disapproval of all things Diana.

We get a nice action sequence as Diana takes on the loudest of her detractors. The scene doesn’t require any emotion from Diana, which is a good thing since she seems incapable of feeling anything besides despair over being such a loser.

Empowerment. Remember that.

After a (yawn) massacre of Amazons by Strife, Diana and her group return to the outer world, where they visit a club. Zola has now found some short-shorts to add to her outfit, and tells Hermes that Diana’s having a great time, sharing in her community.

Look at that expression of bliss! Diana says, “It did feel liberating to get lost for a while.” Such deep emotion!

To cover such a feminine admission, Diana grinds a broken wine glass into Strife’s hand. (And it hurts the goddess. No, really.)

So Diana is delegated the “I don’t belong” loser role. Joy.

Let’s see. We also get a completely new origin story for Diana, something the creators gloated about. Clueless. Anyway, we see that Hippolyta met up with Zeus, knowing that he was husband to her goddess and to be with him would be the ultimate betrayal (who cares? Immediate gratification is the only goal in the modern world), and is swept off her feet by him as they fight each other. (How macho.) We get 12 panels of Diana’s conception just for shock value. (Perhaps it’s to offset the cliché of the situation. Bad enough when they linked Zeus to Cassie.)

Of course, “real” heroes like Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, and Flash don’t need such extensive conception scenes. (Probably because their creators would like us to forget that they had mothers.) But Wonder Woman does.

It is interesting that when the nu DC couldn’t make Wonder Woman a man, they then inserted a giant, lightning-spewing mythic penis into her origin. “Oh, but everyone has a father,” I’ve heard the argument given. Yet I can think of several male comics characters who don’t have mothers. And none of them has ever been called an icon.

Wonder Woman was an Amazon because that was one of the extremely few venues from which an emancipated female could have emerged in the 1940s and been respected immediately for herself. The addition of the Galatea-like birth elevated Diana’s standing. She was one of very few female characters in comics, made to be a dominant hero. Now she cast off all male chains, both genetic and cultural, to stand up as a symbol of the Possibilities of Womankind. She didn’t have to fight through male prejudice and conditioning to get where she was; she arrived on scene as Uncompromised Woman.

From there she had to deal with a male-centric world, and that was intriguing in itself.

DC says, “Oh, but she should have a father. Everyone has a father.” DC, a reminder: you are creating MYTHS here. Modern-day legends on interstellar scales. A woman without a father falls right into that definition. Don’t make your leading lady ordinary by giving her a father.

Isn’t it already demeaning that you’ve taken away her princess-ly glamour and her pride and accomplishment of being Amazon Champion? Isn’t it bad enough that you’ve stripped the ingrained love from her life, the love that used to shine from her attitude as she helped the world?

Once again, we come back to how false love is, how women look for it to find it’s really a lie. When Hera confronts Hippolyta, for some ungoddessly reason Hera’s convinced that Zeus loves Hippy, which is why she cannot forgive, no matter how abjectly Hippolyta apologizes. (As if. I mean. And Hippy should know that EVERY TIME a god lay with a female, a child resulted. EVERY TIME. My college myth teacher knew that, so Hippy should as well. And Hippy shouldn’t be stupid.)

But I get the impression that women are just a tad dumber than the men in this book, except for Strife, who’s very mannish anyway.

Speaking of familial love, we discover that adopted kids aren’t as loved as blood-related kids. That’s what Diana has believed her entire life. What kind of relationship must she have had with her mother to make her think this?

Gore. Depression. Anti-love. Ain’t those just the best Wonder themes?

Wait, Diana’s over in Justice League, in a story that happens 5 years before the stories the rest of the DCU are experiencing. In this we learn from comments about Diana:

“Just don’t provoke her.” She slit an armed kidnapper’s throat in front of the kids he was holding. She was raised to fight. “She’s skewering people!” “She swings that sword with a smile.” “Diana’s always looking for a fight!”

Diana says that fighting the darkness of the Outer World is what she’s here for. She also relates that all her life she was treated like a child. She’s done with people telling her what to do.

Within the pages of WW in her new outfit—which was supposed to have pants until fans got that plan revoked, at least for a while—Diana comes across as barrel-chested, thunder-thighed, and tiny-headed. Like the others in her book, her limbs are stretched to uncomfortable lengths. Her costume no longer contains the vibrant gold elements, and she wears (in JLA) a silly headband instead of tiara, plus a goofy neckband like you’d see on someone dressed up as a prostitute at Halloween. She carries a sword, but in none of the books I’ve seen so far (and I’m waiting until they go down in price to buy the latest ones), does she carry a scabbard. In one story she didn’t have a way to sheath the sword and so had to use it as an extended hand in dealing with a child.


Again and again I get the impression in this book that in order to be strong, a woman has to surrender her femininity. In order to be strong, a woman has to go all the way over: past masculinity to machismo.

I remember a Wonder Woman whose feminine aspects made her memorable. Who gloried in being a woman, and who was able to balance her yin and yang aspects while respecting both sides of herself.

Here’s a piece of wisdom I picked up from a number of writing workshops about what to remember when creating characters and situations. I keep it posted front and center on my office wall:

All in all, there are no characters in this book to care about or like, unless one looks at the uber-sarcastic version of Hermes. Gore and self-loathing drip from each page. Why should I care about any of 'em?

Just because a woman wears some spangles doesn't mean she's Wonder Woman.

DC has done the unimaginable: they have stripped Wonder Woman completely of her self-respect.

It will take a LOT to save this mess. Probably the easiest fix is to reboot—which DC will likely be doing within five years.

In the meantime, I’ll still be searching for Wonder Woman.

Before I go, let me point out that I’ve just reissued my first book, a superhero romance, Touch of Danger. It’s available for free from Smashwords in all e-formats, and is 99¢ from Amazon until they figure out that Smashwords is giving it away, in which case it’ll probably be free. As soon as I get to check my sample copy, you’ll be able to buy the print version from Amazon (and other places) for a little over $10.00. Check my website for a contest concerning reviews!


Carol A. Strickland said...

I posted this as an addendum on Facebook:

I will say this for [artist] Chiang: his work is consistent. I can live with an art style I don't find all that great, as long as it's consistent. One can learn to read an artist's shorthand and get the story. Also: Chiang is a great choice for the horror genre. He makes spooky choices in how he depicts his world.

Rob Buckley said...

'If we care to research a bit, Hera was one of the original Earth Goddesses, usurped when non-Goddess-worshippers invaded the area and took over by having their head god honcho wed the local head honchess god, and keep her “in her place.”'

Unfortunately, this should really be 'if we care to research a bit in the 1980s or having read Robert Graves'. The idea that there was some utopian matriarchy of goddess worshippers (presumably on Crete, since there's no evidence of a Bronze Age cultural takeover and invasion on the Greek mainland) and an invading army of patriarchal god worshippers is something that's largely fallen out of favour in academia, since it has almost no archaeological support.

While we can see from Linear B tablets that the name 'Hera' was in use, if she was a divinity and how she was worshipped isn't something that can be ascertained at all. Even on Crete, all we have are art and sculpture that involves women, which doesn't necessarily indicate a healthy respect for women or even their divinity (there are women with snakes, but are they a Minoan snake goddess? No one knows, since we can't translate either Linear A or Cretan hieroglyphs).

Equally, Mycenaeans worshipped a warrior goddess, the so-called 'shield goddess', so they clearly weren't non-goddess worshippers.

Otherwise, nice work. I disagree on a lot of it, but nice work all the same.

Carol A. Strickland said...

Ha! I was searching for this quote all last night and finally found it:

"You want a caricature of a woman. To prove some point like power makes a woman masculine or masculine women are ugly. Well, shame on any woman that lets you do that."
—Michael Dorsey in "Tootsie"

Anthony Arfuso said...

Urgh, as much as I truly ABHOR "Xenules" (heh again, a great name for the impostor calling herself Wonder Woman, Carol) it seems that a majority of comic fans and non-comic fans (the later apparently being the ones that "the new 52" is actually intended for) have made Xenules the highest selling WW title to date, even to where her "new 52" continuity first issue is now reportedly heading into its 5th reprint.

Sadly Carol it seems WB/DC have officially deemed this incarnation of WW as a "fixed success" and should her sales keep sky rocketing the WW that you and I knew and loved will have no chance of coming back at all. =(

jeffbnyc said...
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Martin Gray said...

Excellently argued piece, Carol. I'm finding some pleasure in this run, but if I weren't convinced it'll be over within a year - two, tops - that wouldn't be possible. I hold on to the hope that the pendulum has to swing to a recognisable, true Diana soon. It has to.

(oh, and as for Zola and birth control, I imagine Zeus' swimmers are stronger than latex.)

Carol A. Strickland said...

Very likely so, Mart, but that still doesn't excuse Zola for not wondering how it could have happened... and being worried about what happens next.

Maybe Zeus was using condoms made in 2000 BC. Those have a high breakage rate. Pay attention to those expiration dates, Big Guy!

Anthony said...

ha-haa, good one, I agree. Yeah, this is the worst and most disgusting reboot i have ever seen and is the total opposite of what the DCU is and it is a disgrace into white-washing and alienating the heroes by replacing them with failed imitations that tried to be the DC heroes, in which you just cannot just do that. It's like trying to replace tasty shredded cheese with imitate shredded cheese, that tastes like crap. The point is, you can't replace something that was great and has survived all these years. Sure there were different reboots. But they'll never be as great as the originals and DC comic just isn't the DC universe without the real heroes.

Mr. Whiskas said...

This is a great article. I came across it via Martin Grays fantastic Too Dangerous for a Girl website and I want to thanks for such a passionate and insightful essay.

I don't get the need to make the Amazons into cruel, super-kick-butt types rather than just confident, competent but decent people. I also did not like how the killings of the Amazons by Stryfe was kind of glossed over.

I have to disagree with you about elevating the gods above super-heroes to differentiate them from capes. I like Marvel's approach of the mythological gods essentially "just" being capes that lived long ago. I tire of cosmic types with ill defined and hard to match powers. As it is I didn't like Hera simply turning the Amazons to snakes. If she has that kind of power how can WW match her in any meaningful way (of course Martin had a great insight into this: Hera might have more extensive powers on Paradise Island than on Man's World). For the same reasons I was fine with scenes such as WW harming Stryfe with the glass.

I think you're too hard on the depiction of Hera. Yes, it's not very liberating, but I think they are simply taking what we all thought of from reading Greek myth (man that Zeus was a D-O-G, why did Hera let him walk over her honor like that and why did she just attack the objects of her affection) and working that mythos into the story. I like that, it gives WW something the other books don't have.

I'd say give the book more time. I suspect Hera and WW will resolve this matter in a way that might likely find them reaching more empowerment than they currently are demonstrating.

Again, thanks for a great article.

Shawn James said...

The only thing I can say about this abomination calling itself a comic is what a mess.

In the literary and screenwriting arenas this would get rejected for being too long, not grabbing the reader and not giving them a reason to care. It's just a horrible comic with no story or plot structure. I have to wonder if Azzarello read any Wonder Woman to get some background on the character before writing a word of this dreck.

alex ramirez said...

i haven't read this new wonder woman but the fact it was listed as a horror book proved to me that i wasn't interested.

i didn't like how dc was getting very violent and dark in the 90s. this change removes everything that made diana likable.

the last series of wonder woman that i felt got it right was when george perez was writing the book w/ her 1st reboot.

he got wonder woman right but later writers screwed it up and lost the point of what made her special. greg rukka did a good run too but something was missing and i'm not sure what.

if she's means and has issues to me it doesn't seem heroic. i didn't like that premise in infinite crisis that she wasn't human enough.

she's special and she may have flaws but she was a loving hero who would defend those that needed defending.

now she seems to be a killing bitch which is something i don't like. i'm glad i didn't go near this title it sounds like a mess.

Carol A. Strickland said...

Tell you what, Alex; we'll give you a heads-up when things turn around for Wondie. They've got to some day, right?

For an extensive review of the first 4 books which I largely agree with, try Jim Shooter's take on it. It begins at http://www.jimshooter.com/2012/01/wonder-woman-4-review.html and goes for 2 more columns. Jim approaches it from a plotting/logic point of view.

Anonymous said...

"DC has done the unimaginable: they have stripped Wonder Woman completely of her self-respect."

I'm sorry but given the path DC was going down, I'm a bit surprised that you could call this "unimaginable". I felt it was inevitable, really. DC has cut short every recent run that tried to make Diana popular while sticking to her core character (Phil Jimenez, Greg Rucka, Gail Simone specifically). It seems the last creator with a full run was John Byrne. Now THAT'S something to think about.

Fosteus said...

I had no probs with Jimenz, but Greg Rucka, Gail Simone on the comics side while Lauren Montegomery & that hack of a producer on the animation side are the worst things that happened to Wonder Woman since Brian Michael Bendis & Joe Quesada took over Marvel Comics.

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Carol A. Strickland said...

Neil A. Hansen was having probs posting here, so he sent me a comment via email. Here he is, and thanks for commenting!

Wonder Woman 1 was unreadable, and Jim Lee's super=busy Image inspired design -- at least she doesn't wear armor like Superman nor has a mask as heavy as a ton like Hawkman -- is so awful I still wonder why this guy is hot in this business considering his panel layouts are stiff and boring unless he does the growling, yelling Wolverine pose. Lack of body language abound.

People have praised this book without any intro over who the character is. "Hey as long as she slays a monster, she's cool."

My favorite Wonder Woman design besides Harry G.Peter's original material has always been Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez's style guide work. Portrayed in a feminine way with a sparkling inviting smile that isn't so much sexy as it is just beautiful and graceful. Forgive it seeming stereotyped, it isn't meant to be. I wish Garcia-Lopez was in charge of the redesigns because he definitely has a better costume sense as seen by his old Atari Force material.

Anyways, forgive my ranting. I quit reading DC except for black and white foreign reprints where you can appreciate natural looking women instead of overly sexed up ones. Storywise, it is just unfortunate that these people don't bother researching the Golden Age stuff and try to make that work in an updated fashion, but I presume it take a lot of deftness to accomplish such a task, one that modern day fan favorites are unable to accomplish.

Encyclopedia Bruin said...

With Wonder Woman #7 out now... it's worse. Oh my God it's become infinitely worse. It's like... it's like these are the Amazons and Greek gods from the old "evil mirror universe" of Earth-3.

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