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”.
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.
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”.
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”.
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.
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.