Trade Perspectives: Wonder Woman's costume: Straczynski vs. Simone

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Pursuant to my review of Wonder Woman: Warkiller the other day, I thought this was an interesting exchange between Wonder Woman and Black Canary on behalf of writer Gail Simone:

Dinah makes a comment about Diana covering her "Rumpus McGoo" (so to speak) with the American flag; Diana retorts that it's typical nationalism to assume that just because it looks like the American flag, therefore it must be.

This is interesting especially in light of the Wonder Woman costume controversy that's not quite yet hit us collections readers yet. New writer J. Michael Straczynski notes to Comics Alliance that he wanted Wonder Woman in a costume less sexualized and more idealized, which is a fair enough goal except that he also said to DC's Source blog "What woman only wears one outfit for 70 years? ... How does she fight in that thing?"

The answer to Straczynski's question, as I inuit it from Simone's panel, is this: the costume is not for you. To say, "How does she fight in that thing?" is to translate Wonder Woman's costume like Batman's costume -- something the hero built themselves for the purpose of fighting crime. But, Wonder Woman isn't Batman, and her "outfit" isn't a costume at all, really, but actually an Amazonian cultural symbol of their representative to Man's World. To some extent it's like asking how the Pope has worn that outfit for all these years -- it's not an outfit, but rather the vestments of the office.

Except, of course, that it's not.

In as dear as I find the tapestry of the DC Universe, we must avoid the temptation to mistake mythology for fact. Simone's Diana scolds us for mistaking her costume's resemblance to the American flag -- but at the point of creation, Wonder Woman's costume was indeed meant to symbolize the American flag; Black Canary may be generalizing, but she's not wrong. While it may be empowering for Wonder Woman's costume to be retroactively designated as an Amazonian vestment and not a bathing suit, when it was designed a bathing suit was likely what was in mind.

There was considerable brouhaha when Straczynski put Diana in pants; I'll be curious, when Straczynski's run ends (as all things do), what kind of brouhaha we'll see should DC decide to take Wonder Woman back out of pants again.
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6 comments:

  1. The bathing suit will probably end up coming back to try and placate the long time fans. Whenever I've talked about this with different people, I've gotten a decidedly different reaction. The long time fans hate it; it's the "classic" outfit and how dare they change it so on and so forth. People not really versed in Wonder Woman greatly approve, saying things like how it's great that she's finally out of that ridiculously revealing outfit and into something a bit more practical.

    Basically, it makes the exchange in that panel spot-on. Wonder Woman is the stalwart Wonder Woman fan who hates change. Dinah represents everyone else, right down to the brush off of Diana's excuse with "yeah yeah, I'm ashamed, blah, blah".

    Anyways, I'd prefer the pants stick, but I don't think they will. Eventually I imagine DC is going to go back to the classic costume to try and please the long timers who find the change an outrage. A shame; it may not be the most perfect costume, but it got her out of the American flag bathing suit, so it was at least a start.

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  2. DC has some difficulty in being hamstrung by their own history; Wonder Woman's costume has been around long enough and is familiar to enough people (not to mention licensed) that it's hard to change it, even with the changing times; Superman is the same. It occurs to me Marvel doesn't have this problem as much; Wolverine's managed to go through a number of costumes and still be recognizable (though maybe Spider-Man not so much).

    I don't think this will stick, either; I don't think it was meant to stick, but as with the death of Superman, the general public may not understand this was always meant to be temporary, and I think DC will end up looking silly in the public eye for it.

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  3. I guess it depends with Spider-Man. While yeah, his red and blue's stuck and always comes back, I think some of his other suits are recognizable. Quite a few non-comic fans don't have any trouble recognizing him in the symbiote/black and white suit and greatly prefer it. There's also that black and red one with the webbing in the armpits. I think there was some armored white and black costume that was also recognizable; though that one's arguably pretty bad. Marvel just never really bothers to stick with a change all the way (though the black and white costume did stick for a good long time there).

    On Wonder Woman, I'd prefer it if DC bit the bullet and at least attempted to make this permanent. I think part of the reason it's more difficult to take her seriously for non-fans is just that; the star spangled bathing suit. I find it difficult to take her seriously as well, no matter how they spin it.

    Though I think the problem with the classic look is that it's just been around for so long that it seems impossible to get rid of it; if DC ever wants to really bite the bullet and make the change, they need to pull a Marvel with BND and just stick with it, regardless of some fans describing it.

    Though... honestly, this is kind of funny, because I'm not really invested either way. Sometimes I feel like Wonder Woman is kind of forced on us at times. Like, if we want a woman as a part of a "Trinity", why not Black Canary? I've always thought she was more deserving. But then we get back into "iconic" and how the longer something is around the more significance it's given in comics.

    I dunno, I think I'm rambling off into a tangent.

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  4. DC has a problem, to be sure, because on one hand this is a company that wants to grow and mature and change, or at least not do the same thing again and again -- and on the other hand, my best argument for you as to why Wonder Woman's more deserving than Black Canary of being in "the trinity" is that Wonder Woman was in Super Friends and Black Canary wasn't. Probably that's why I can't see the new costume catching on, either -- it's "not Super Friends."

    With a fanbase that fanatical (and I think I'm probably mild), making real change is likely a glacial process. Perhaps they can change just one thing when Wonder Woman goes back to her old costume; return the top, for instance, but keep some semblance of pants.

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  5. I think when it comes to Wonder Woman, DC has more problems than just that. For all they push her, the fact is hard to escape that Wonder Woman and her general trappings aren't something readers ever seem truly invested in. Whereas her Trinity compatriots can hold down three titles at the least, Wonder Woman typically struggles to stay afloat with one under the best of times. Even great writers have a hard time pulling her from her sales black hole. I'm almost positive this is the reason behind the current direction, as well; trying something, anything, to get her sales and interest up.

    For the prestige she has, I think there are definitely problems with the character. It might just be me, but I found it particularly interesting to note that many top creators in comics just cannot get a handle on her or even understand her. Geoff Johns has admitted as much - and has said she's his weakest writing - while Grant Morrison has voiced being troubled by the character, her concept, her roots and general origins. Those are just two names, too. That kinda screams "red flag", to me.

    There's also probably a certain amount of the character more or less being chained. Her fanbase tends to be fanatical - we're talking holy-crap-please-put-away-the-axe stuff - and they tend to reject anything and everything. So there's that. Then there's the problem of her being a female icon. If you do one thing wrong with her, there's the ever dreaded cry of "sexism" or making her slutty or whatever. I think this is probably why DC's reluctant to do something like acknowledge her having sex or whatever, all of which ends up making a bland character that serves as little more than a symbol instead of someone you want to follow.

    It's interesting, because Wonder Woman - to me - does not quite fit the fabric of the DC Universe. At least not quite like Thor does for Marvel. At times it's like there are two Wonder Women; the one that chills with the JLA, Bruce Wayne and all that and the one that's knee deep in myths, amazons and other stuff that doesn't seem to resonate with readers. It's like DC wants to use her in the DC Universe and push the Trinity concept, but they know her solo's approach to things isn't popular.

    Maybe that's the answer? Take Wonder Womans solo off the board. Have her be her traditional self, chillin' in the DC Universe. But then have a book - mostly divorced from continuity - where some risks are taken. It's an approach that has rejuvenated more than a few characters. Punisher greatly benefitted from being off the board for a while, with the MAX book being his primary source of appearances. The status of some DC heroes were boosted by great books over in Vertigo.

    I dunno. I have a lot of rambling thoughts on the Wonder Woman concept. May have to do a post at some point musing about her; this is getting long and rambly for a comment section.

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  6. Joe Kelly seemed to get her in his JLA,also the odd appearance in his Action comics
    Greg Rucka,according to me was the only one to get her in "her" title....

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