On the Scene: Denver Comic Con 2013, Jimenez, Perez, Fradon, Kelly Find Wonder Woman ‘Problematic’

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Sunday morning a crowd of die-hard fans gathered to hear some Wonder Woman artists discuss their favorite character, her appeal, and why her translation into other media has been so “problematic” over time. Phil Jimenez, George Perez, Ramona Fradon, and Joe Kelly weighed in on the subject, with Kelly moderating. Each explained how they initially encountered and found themselves working on Wonder Woman as a character. Fradon joked that she had forgotten working on Wonder Woman, initially on Superfriends, but had plenty of thoughts to share on the Amazon’s history and role. Perez had a long history of reading Wonder Woman and her place in the Justice League, but felt particularly grateful to have a chance to “start with Wonder Woman from year one” with a reboot, and develop her role from the “ground up”, both writing and drawing. Jimenez traced some of his biggest influences back to Perez’s work, though he initially watched the Wonder Woman TV show with Lynda Carter as a kid and later Superfriends. His mother bought him his first Wonder Woman comic because of the show, he said, and since the issue was an “Earth 1, Earth 2 crossover”, he found himself competent in understanding the multiverse from age 5 onward. Jimenez described Perez’s work as “life-changing”, and from a fairly young age, Jimenez said, “all I wanted to do was write and draw that book”.

IMG 5731 300x225 On the Scene: Denver Comic Con 2013, Jimenez, Perez, Fradon, Kelly Find Wonder Woman ‘Problematic’After initial anecdotes about their first encounters with Wonder Woman, the panel discussed what they feel makes Wonder Woman an enduring character. Jimenez was frank about his view of the character, stating that he sees her as actually several versions of herself rather than a single character, explaining that “multiple versions of Wonder Woman are distinct enough that I don’t think of them as the same”. He seemed to find a favorite in the Golden Age, however, largely due to the “sense of fun” that characterized her role during that period, something he finds “missing” from modern comics. Golden Age Wonder Woman, he said, felt that a “challenge was more important than beating up the bad guys”. Both Jimenez and Perez spent some time gushing about the riveting performances of Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman, too, her “regal, magnetic” bearing and the affect she seemed to have on fans as “just making them want to be a better person”.

Perez’s answers delved into Wonder Woman’s origins in mythology, something that attracted him to working on the comics. He saw Wonder Woman as “one of only a few” comic characters truly rooted in mythology and in Greek mythology particularly. Another surprising draw for Perez was Wonder Woman’s more “religious” qualities. As a lapsed Catholic, he often felt judgmental toward deeply religious people, but working on Wonder Woman changed his mind. He “learned to be tolerant by getting into her mind” and felt that it was “something distinctive” about her personality. Perez has also always admired the way that she “holds onto her principles” and feels that it makes her a hero.

IMG 5733 300x225 On the Scene: Denver Comic Con 2013, Jimenez, Perez, Fradon, Kelly Find Wonder Woman ‘Problematic’Fradon asked what she termed a “lazy cartoonist” question, addressing Perez and wondering, “Were you the one who started all the curls?”. The panellists all laughed, aware of the extra work introducing voluminous curls into Wonder Woman’s appearance would create for artists. Fradon added that having to draw the curly-haired Amazon gave her “the same sinking feeling as when I drew The Thing”. Later artists were lucky, she said, when Wonder Woman’s more flowing hairdo was based off of the TV show.

Much of the panel discussion turned on a more heated topic, however, posed as a question from the floor: “Why does she fail when it comes to other formats?”. Perez and Jimenez both had stories of being approached to work on TV or film versions of Wonder Woman’s story, encountering different obstacles along the way.  Perez said that executives in Hollywood found her “silly” in the days before the popularity of Xena on the small screen, perhaps a reaction of “machismo fear” and kept insisting that she be tied to a love interest in adaptations that never got off the ground. Jimenez was “involved in a couple of meetings” where failure ended up being a “self-fulfilling prophecy”.

IMG 5728 300x225 On the Scene: Denver Comic Con 2013, Jimenez, Perez, Fradon, Kelly Find Wonder Woman ‘Problematic’He had several clear “theories” he wanted to share about why Wonder Woman hasn’t returned to film or TV. Firstly, he said, there’s the “gender disparity” wherein project developers assume that “women have to be as tough and warlike as possible” without maintaining the sense of “fun” exhibited in the Golden Age of comics. Nowadays, he said, “we don’t like fun in genre fiction”. There’s a “seriousness” in characters like Batman and also a seriousness, he said, in “moneymaking”. Secondly, “mythology became an issue for expense”, leading investors to wander away from projects that would require Paradise Island settings and the like. His last reason was fairly intricate. In Jimenez’s reading of Wonder Woman stories, he sees a figure from whom humanity can learn a great deal, but in proposed adaptations, she has always been reconfigured as a character who needs to learn from humanity. It’s a fundamental problem, he felt, that dilutes the character’s strengths. He added that Wonder Woman’s long and “messy” variety of histories are a “hard sell”. His personal take on the “love” element of Wonder Woman’s story is that the relationship between a mother and a daughter ought to be the central motif, not romantic entanglement, a “true love story that is not romantic but familial”. When he pitched this to a female executive in Hollywood, he said, she replied “I’d never be able to sell that in this town”. Jimenez wittily added, to applause, “Cut to Pixar’s Brave!”.

Jimenez brought up a subject probably on many people’s minds, the circulating pilot for the TV show, and the fact that he feels it’s “shockingly bad”. It’s bad, he said, because she’s “mean, bullies people, kills people, has no friends, is all alone”, all things he feels clash with the comics history of Wonder Woman. Perez commented that the pilot was reacting to an assumption that Wonder Woman has to be “so much more of a bitch to be equal to a guy” and “that a hero is defined because you’re the last person standing” rather than focusing on heroic ethics or ideals. And if Wonder Woman is transformed into a “Queen Bitch”, he said, there will be “no real reason for us to like her”. Fradon brought up a modern example she felt was relevant: Hillary Clinton. She has the “same conflicts”, Radon said, “Either she’s a bitch or she’s cunning”. She has “every kind of stereotype made of her” rather than the press and public simply “redefining a strong woman”.

IMG 5732 300x225 On the Scene: Denver Comic Con 2013, Jimenez, Perez, Fradon, Kelly Find Wonder Woman ‘Problematic’The conversation then moved onto the subject that Wonder Woman is a character who is very hard to define because of historical variation, and that even fans argue a great deal about her most consistent qualities, a variation that will make her a hard sell in visual entertainment. They considered whether this is because she never succeeds in changing the world on a large scale. “She’s constantly fighting a war that she never wins”, Fradon commented. Jimenez jumped in to point out that all superheroes are essentially “failures” in the sense that Batman has never managed to “clean up” Gotham. Is her evasiveness due to the fact that she has been primarily written and drawn by men? Fradon interjected that “Women are constantly waiting for men to define them. Infuriating!”. Jimenez gushed about his appreciation of Gail Simone’s work on Wonder Woman, particularly her handling of motherhood from personal experience, as “only a woman could have told it”. Jimenez admitted, however, that he felt there was widespread disagreement among fans, and even female fans, about “what the character should be”, having rarely witnessed “harmony” on the subject of Wonder Woman.

An audience member asked why, if Jimenez is so admant that Wonder Woman is not a violent character, he worked on Infinite Crisis, a situation that derived from Wonder Woman “snapping a neck”. Jimenez said bluntly, “It was my job”, but added that in 20 years of comics, she had never had to do that before and her philosophy revealed in dialogue has always been “there’s always another way” when it comes to killing. Jimenez said that he feels it’s “cheating” for someone as powerful as Wonder Woman to simply kill a human character. He also expressed an opinion that the “path” Infinite Crisis “led her down”, is not one from which she’s fully returned.

IMG 5729 300x225 On the Scene: Denver Comic Con 2013, Jimenez, Perez, Fradon, Kelly Find Wonder Woman ‘Problematic’As a final question, Kelly asked the panellists what they want to see in the future from Wonder Woman. Perez said that “as a fanboy, I would like to see a Wonder Woman movie true to the positive aspects of her character and enough people supporting it to warrant more”. Jimenez wants, he said, for creators to believe in the character, keep a sense of fun, keep her as a character with a message, and for her to remain a role model. Remembering how he was personally inspired by her, he wants the same elements to inspire kids in the future. Fradon was more circumspect. She feels that our culture isn’t ready to portray Wonder Woman as she deserves to be portrayed, and expects that things need to “progress” until Wonder Woman can simply be “who she is, and accepted” in pop culture and new works.

Kelly described the panel at times as “heavy” in terms of their wrestling with the subject matter, but the reactions from the audience were equally serious and invested. Between the panellists and the audience, the belief in the character alone seemed like enough to assure her survival, but the question remains whether TV and film format will ever catch up to the kind of character she is in the comics and recognize her full potential as a draw for fans.

Hannah Means-Shannon writes and blogs about comics for TRIP CITY and Sequart.org and is currently working on books about Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore for Sequart. She is @hannahmenzies on Twitter and hannahmenziesblog on WordPress. Find her bio here.

 

 

Comments

  1. Chris Hero says:

    I dunno…I think there’s a lot of over-thinking going on with Wonder Woman. Perez’s take was really, really good, though.

    In my opinion…she needs to have a clear definition of who she is. I’m not a regular superhero reader, but I feel like every few years, there’s a new take on her where her powers and history are changed. Here’s something I don’t understand…and maybe this confusion is just mine, but….are her powers equal to Superman? Can she fly? What about the invisible jet? Is she invulnerable?

    The character isn’t relatable because the character isn’t consistent. At some point, someone needs to pick a direction and stay the course. The Wonder Woman TV show worked because the character was pretty consistent and made sense.

    Maybe I’m being overly optimistic, but I don’t necessarily believe the character isn’t popular due to sexism. I think she’s less than successful because she’s always drastically changing.

  2. Sounds reasonable. But why is she always drastically changing?

  3. Phil Jimenez says:

    Chris Hero — yes, but the character constantly changes BECAUSE of sexist and sometimes misogynist views about her, not simply from creators but readers themselves. It’s now and chicken-and-egg argument. The constant changes to her character come from constant attempts to appeal to a largely male readership that isn’t particularly interested in what she was built to represent and creators who struggle with feminism as a concept (look at Wonder Woman historically and it’s ALL about this). So there are these constant shifts editorially to try to make her comic SELL; constant reiterations of the character; constant inconsistencies that make her even harder sell. And round and round we go.

  4. Phil Jimenez says:

    And yes, the confusion is, probably, yours — since about 1985 or so, she’s been able to fly; since about 1995 or so, she’s had some sort of invisible jet (although creators do muck with where it came from, exactly); and since about 1993 or so, she’s been almost as powerful as Superman (in terms of physical strength). So, in comics, there are certainly consistencies that don’t seem to translate to real life discussion, which is often based on perception more than reality (for example, many fans of the nu52 Wonder Woman praise the use of Greek mythology, not realizing — have never read anything else — that Wonder Woman has ALWAYS been intimately linked to Greek mythology, in the comics and on the cartoons). So part of that, at least, has to do with perception more than reality.

  5. Phil Jimenez says:

    James — as mentioned above, she’s constantly changing (historically, since the 50’s) to better appeal to the male market, and because of adjustments by the creators in their views on feminism and feminine power.

  6. Chris Hero says:

    Hey Phil,

    Yeah, I’m sure the confusion is mine, since I don’t read superhero comics. I know it’s the number 1 question I get from everyone who knows I love comics though…asking to explain Wonder Woman’s powers to them. So, it’s not just my confusion, although this is all anecdotal.

    Your explanation doesn’t really make it sound unreasonable for me to be confused. Just going by your comment, there were changes in 1985, 1993, 1995, and when the new 52 thing started. So, there has been a history of inconsistency.

    The Wednesday crowd is never going to buy a female driven book in large numbers. That demographic is largely old, white, male, and *very* set in their ways. I’d argue that’s less sexism than teaching an old dog new tricks. I don’t envy anyone who’s trying to sell to that market. I know whenever my favorite creators try, their efforts are largely rejected (except apparently Jeff Lemire who I understand is having some success!), so I also know I don’t exactly have my finger on the pulse of superhero readers.

  7. Phil Jimenez says:

    Chris Hero — oh, the character’s changed more often than that. It’s one of her great strengths and weaknesses; she’s survived despite all the hurdles and changes thrown at her, despite all her iterations. I would never say she’s consistent, or that her book hasn’t changed tonally at least a dozen times in the past 30 years. But the character’s origin is remarkably consistent and has been for almost 70 years — An Amazon princess from Paradise Island who came to our world to fight the forces of evil. The other things you talk about — the invisible plane, her strength level — are ancillary, and change the way things do in other titles too (maybe not as often, but certainly no super-hero title, even Batman, is historically consistent — heck, remember Joe Chill? Alive, dead, then alive again?). The focus on things like strength level is understandable but slightly confusing to me, only in that it makes me wonder why it matters so…?

  8. Phil Jimenez says:

    Chris Hero —

    “the Wednesday crowd is never going to buy a female driven book in large numbers.”

    Ahem.

    Of COURSE this is sexism. This isn’t just about teaching “old dogs” new tricks. Those “dogs” are men. To think that their rejection of female-driven books is anything OTHER than sexism, and to some extent, misogyny, is unfair and intellectually disingenuous. Guys don’t like to cop to it, but that kind of subtle sexism exists in droves, esp. in super-hero comics. And it’s certainly an issue with Wonder Woman.

    (having read 70+ years of WW to write the encyclopedia, I realize the big “problem’ with Wonder Woman is that she’s a woman with a capital “W” — Lois Lane suffers the same — and that the book was constantly being retooled to appeal to a male readership that just don’t really care all that much about women, or only want to read about them a particularly way. Thus, the character has suffered insconsistencies her entire publishing career; partially, argue, because publishers, needing to make $, try to appeal to an audience that will never really give a shit about her, instead of appealing to one that will (women, gay folk, minorities, etc).

  9. Phil Jimenez says:

    (and I was citing those dates simply to say that, until the nu52, the character had a pretty consistent powerset/toolbox for about 20 years….)

  10. Phil– I know, I largely agree with you. It seemed Chris was side-stepping the larger point, and I thought addressing that question would bring it back round again.

    But then, Chris, you deny sexism while literally defining sexist behavior, so I’m not sure where to go from there. To be fair, I think you might be lumping “people who don’t care about this character” in with “people who don’t want to read a comic with a female lead.” And I don’t know how you separate out the two, or if anyone would openly admit to being the latter.

    It’s also worth noting this isn’t a problem with only Wonder Woman. In fact, I’d say the character’s been remarkably consistent, when compared to Supergirl. Or Hawkgirl. Or Power Girl.

    One thing I’d take issue with, though, is your characterization of the comments regarding the recent take on WW’s mythological origins. I can’t really put it into words, but there is something fundamentally different about the way Azzarello and Chang are handling the Greek pantheon. Or at least it *feels* different somehow, but I know that’s unhelpfully vague.

  11. That last paragraph, by the way, was meant to be directed at Phil.

  12. Rich Harvey says:

    Ah, those evil old, misogynistic white males …

    Maybe Wonder Woman just doesn’t hold that much interest for the majority of comic readers, and her comics haven’t been that interesting?

    “I’d argue that’s less sexism than teaching an old dog new tricks. ” Maybe that’s the problem with Wonder Woman’s title … it’s too trick-laden, with endless reboots and retcons, and less about interesting stories.

  13. Synsidar says:

    The constant changes to her character come from constant attempts to appeal to a largely male readership that isn’t particularly interested in what she was built to represent and creators who struggle with feminism as a concept (look at Wonder Woman historically and it’s ALL about this).

    That Wonder Woman was “built to represent” something is an excellent reason not to write stories about her, actually. Some of the major reasons to write a story are to present dramatic conflict and change, and to surprise readers in the process. Writing Wonder Woman as a symbol of feminism doesn’t do any of that. Who is having her teach people about the evils of sexism supposed to surprise, impress, or even interest?

    Her fellow Amazons on Paradise Island might be nice to think about, if one fantasizes about being an Amazon, but they’re of little use to a storyteller when Diana is off the island. Her relationships with them won’t interest male readers, naturally, and as unpowered associates, they’re as vulnerable to super villains as a superhero’s unpowered wife and kids living at home would be. Writing them out, as Azzarello did, is a sensible way of getting rid of a storytelling hindrance.

    Perhaps the most succinct way of describing the problems in writing Wonder Woman is that her origin and early history date her in a way that other heroes haven’t been dated, and that there’s no effective way of modernizing her without revamping her extensively.

    SRS

  14. I have always wanted the best from Wonder Woman, and it is bothersome that creators feel that they have to change what is fundamental about the character because it will give them some new footing. For example the erasure of Diana’s “birth” that of being of two women. A girl who grew up, and a had a wide eyed look to the wonders that could be out there, beyond Paradise Island, it just wasn’t enough for her. Not in a bad way. Like she was greedy, but because she was squandering her existence.

    That lack of fun is just keeping me away from comics in general. Writing Wonder Woman doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive to one gender or the other. Brave was a great film, it had a story that was relatable, and a character that was too. For Wonder Woman she could have all that, and more. It only takes people with imaginations to make it possible. Those people still exist.

  15. The trinity DC plays up with Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman is a good starting point. Wonder Woman stands for Truth, Batman is Justice, Superman the American Way. Wonder Woman stands for truth and fights creatures from myth that seem all revealing them for what they really are, usually petty power hungry and scared. She outs the myths modern society is based on like women being worth less than men and money being important. In the modern version she doesn’t have a secret identity because that would require lying to those she cares about.
    She grew up in a very different world and there’s lots of fun fish out of water beats to play but she’s never stupid just someone who grew up on an island based on ancient Greece. Superman goes after science based villains and world conquering aliens, Batman after madmen and organized crime. Wonder Woman is DC’s monster fighter. That was the big Max Lord problem, not her murdering him (though that felt wrong) but that he wasn’t in her genre. One of the biggest things to happen to her wasn’t a Wonder Woman style story. It’d be like Spider-Man going after Galactus for killing Aunt May, interesting and it’d sell a lot of issues but the tone is wrong.
    There’s nothing stopping Wonder Woman from being a fun, exciting character. Give her a strong supporting cast and cut her loose.

  16. If the Brian Wood “X-Men” book that just launched can maintain some good sales, we’ll finally be able to discern if the market won’t support female books or if it’s just that Wonder Woman sucks.

  17. Thanks for the recap, Hannah! I’d love for this panel to be repeated in other venues with Rucka and Simone on the dais as well. I don’t know if there’s another superhero character who’s been around for this long yet still has so much untapped potential.

  18. MattComix says:

    The first thing DC always does is blame the character rather than their own idiotic decision making.

  19. Synsidar says:

    There’s nothing stopping Wonder Woman from being a fun, exciting character. Give her a strong supporting cast and cut her loose.

    Wonder Woman is a fun, exciting character right now in Azzarello’s WONDER WOMAN series, but some people dislike it, without describing any specific mistakes Azzarello makes in the stories, because she’s not written as a symbol of feminism.

    One thing a writer has to do before he ever begins writing a Wonder Woman story is decide what the point of the story is going to be. If it’s to extol feminism, then Wonder Woman could be the wrong character for the story, if he’s writing for adults. A story that’s about feminism doesn’t need an avowed feminist as the heroine, and if feminism is the theme, then having someone recognize the virtues of feminism and endorse the philosophy will probably make for a better story than having a symbol lecture someone on the subject.

    If he’s writing an adventure story, then he has a lot of options, obviously, but then Diana’s problematic elements come into play. Azzarello’s series has done well without romance and without the Amazons. Both are dispensable elements, for the purposes of single stories, and her origin can be changed as well.

    Wonder Woman can be a terrific symbol of feminism for years to come without ever appearing in another story. Symbols aren’t necessarily characters, but characters can become excellent symbols in stories.

    SRS

  20. BrianMc says:

    I don’t find Azzarello’s Wonder Woman remotely fun or exciting. She has no actual character–in her first issue, she was alone in bed in London. Nearly two years later, we don’t know if that was her home, a temporary situation, or what. Outside the childhood flashback zero issue, she has not encountered ONE character who was not directly tied to the tedious story that has been running since that first issue.

    Does she have a personal life? Friends? A mission other than this thing with a baby? Is the Diana Prince identity back? The Ambassador thing? Is she the nature-loving, sweet do-gooder of Perez, the superhero icon of Byrne, the world-changing warrior of Rucka? I don’t know. I just know that she now has this growing family of flat, largely non-human characters, and hangs out with a shameful bastardization of Kirby’s Orion.

    At the same time, her origins and Amazon past have been changed in a way that does not enhance her or her stories in any way I can detect (though mileage may vary). Her book is full of Azzarello’s lame, trademark puns and has suffered inconsistent art due to the lovely but now-you-see-him-now-you-don’t Cliff Chiang. It has in no way tied into the Nu52 (which I’d argue is a plus, but if you tend to find continuity and world-building interesting, well …)

    To suggest that she’s not interesting when she’s a feminist icon is ludicrous. Apart from the potential idea that “feminist” is some kinda way-out-there philosophy (which could be construed by others from Synsidar’s comments, though I rush to note that he doesn’t make such a bizarre, blinkered assertion himself), Wonder Woman is interesting as a feminist, as a political change agent, as a crime-fighter and/or monster puncher, even as a roommate to a fistful of inexplicable white apes, when a good writer and artist bring a passionate interest in the character to the page. I don’t see that in the Azzarello run, and while I’ll respect opinions to the contrary, I can’t see much sense in blaming the presence of a feminist POV for making/breaking the book.

  21. Synsidar says:

    To suggest that she’s not interesting when she’s a feminist icon is ludicrous.

    If Wonder Woman stories are written for the purpose of presenting her as a feminist icon, then readers are seeing the same story over, over, and over again. How are people going to react to that?

    Feminism is a real-life concern for millions of people in the U.S., acted on in thousands of different ways, and can be written about in many, many different ways. What difference is a Wonder Woman story about sexism going to make to any of them?

    Writing about a symbol, whether it’s Superman, Wonder Woman, or someone else, upholding ideals in story after story treats all readers as though they were children who need constant reminders and inspiration about how to behave, or they’ll go down bad paths. Adults who need such reminders are already doomed, and even children will eventually be bored by lectures on how to behave.

    Wonder Woman isn’t a children-only character, but requiring her to be a symbol in stories makes her one.

    SRS

  22. “Maybe Wonder Woman just doesn’t hold that much interest for the majority of comic readers, and her comics haven’t been that interesting?”

    70 years later people realized this. Like a character only survive 70 years if it is interesting.

  23. Superboy Prime says:

    She is a boring character.

    DC are too busy focusing on the ‘WOMAN’ and not the ‘WONDER’ but hey if that is what the hardcore fans want then you might as well give it to them and live with the low sales on your own consciences instead of blaming others.

    And in before the ”You big evil misogynist” comments, really now is that why I am one of the few who has been buying and reading Supergirl since she reappeared in 2004, one of the few currently keeping her title propped up? I take any accusations of misogyny and laugh at them.

  24. Wonder Woman, as a woman I wonder about her, I’m wondering why the importance of truth is what fuels her soul. I am in wonder about how she felt when she found out her own truth of her own soul Saved from the amazon lifestyle and reckoning of Hell that has been raised up to the heavens. She needs to be cunning after all no one surrenders to a lasso, as for men she is a soul of an Amazon, obviously obnoxious men are her natural impulses , yet; she is blessed with unearthly powers to Bring truth. In so much I find I am still in wonder about this woman, feminine to the core with her unearthly skills to reveal truth in love to obnoxious unbalanced earth. Wow, I am still wondering about this woman!

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