When it comes to Wonder Woman, the headlines suggest that we only seem to care about three things: what she’s wearing, what her latest TV attempt is wearing, and who she is banging. Basically, it’s all about her pants.
This week I sat down and caught up with Wonder Woman. She’s a character I’ve never quite got on with as well as I feel I should, her blankness never quite being filled despite tremendous efforts from Greg Rucka, Gail Simone, and more. Unlike Superman and Batman ,DC’s foremost female hero has no secret identity to ground her, no strong motivation to steer her path. And yet, just beyond tantalising reach is surely some of the greatest stories never told.
Issue #19, with it’s obligatory WTF cover, revealed Wonder Woman and Orion in a passionate clinch. The same Orion who has been a sexist jerk for the last few issues, smacked her on the ass, and calls her “Legs”. The same Wonder Woman who hit the comic headlines for getting passionate with Superman in another title, and who previously ventured into the mainstream news for daring to wear trousers. Briefly. Before it was changed.
Forgive me for being a tad frustrated with a Wonder Woman who is being reduced – in headlines at least – to ass slaps and snogs. The goddamn Batman doesn’t have to put up with this crap.
But what does Steve Trevor think?! Omg, omg, omg. I don’t care.
For comics that are mostly preoccupied with action and violence, fans are incredibly attached to certain romantic pairings – Lois and Clark, Peter and Mary Jane, Bruce and Dick… the New 52 separation of Lois and Clark in particular generated countless stories berating DC for their audacious move, and countless more when it transpired that Clark had moved his attentions to the otherworldly Wonder Woman. The cosmic kiss between Clark and Diana was shocking enough for many to choke on their cornflakes, and equally amusing for the readers of Wonder Woman’s own title, where no mention of Superman is to be found.
Brian Azzarello’s Wonder Woman has been delighting many critics and providing solid sales figures throughout the run, as the title takes a more mythological take on the character rather than a traditional superhero angle. Many longtime fans have been disappointed with several story elements, in particular the change in Diana’s origin from a clay figure sculpted by Hippolyta and brought to life – an Amazon literally beholden to no man – to the natural daughter of Hippolyta and Zeus. In some ways this has dented Diana’s uniqueness, and certainly her removal from the influence of men on her life, and fans were further distressed by the revelation that Themyscira is populated only by women and girls due to the Amazons attacking ships of men, seducing the sailors before killing them, and finally by getting rid of the subsequent male babies (rescued by Hephaestus to work in his forge). All in all a far cry from an island on which Diana was a miracle baby.
The encroachment of men has been a common theme throughout the run, from Diana finding out her father is that mystical bearded wonder (Zeus, not Moore) to even her training as the best of the Amazons being now respun as thanks to a kindly man showing her the error of her womanly fighting ways. Said man is of course War himself, but still, the princess of the Amazons learning her skills from a male warrior rather than her sisters does take something away from Diana’s more powerful feminist origins. Look as well at the fate of Zola’s baby, a fate that both Zola and Diana try to control, yet ultimately the power is entirely in the hands of Hermes and War. All small things maybe, but together they do start to add up.
But what perhaps irked some fans the most, was that Diana was oblivious to all this. Wonder Woman had no clue that male babies were being spirited away, nor that she was in fact not made of clay on an island where girl babies were not uncommon. And the Amazons, often held up as feminist heroes by the fans, were in fact just man-murdering harpies. The lack of intelligence is not entirely unexpected; this is the same character that is duped several times, takes her eyes off the woman she is sworn to protect, and puts her trust in Hades. Alls well that ends well perhaps, but Zola’s trip to Hell was entirely avoidable.
The lack of character intelligence and development on Diana’s part is perhaps slightly understandable – Wonder Woman is now an ensemble book, built loosely around Diana but encompassing a large and varied cast. It’s notable that this is not something Bruce or Clark have to put up with, but it’s also worth noting that historically Wonder Woman has never been able to pull in the same kind of sales when focusing on her own superheroic exploits. Die hard fans may love the vintage Diana of old, but as the numerous failed plots to bring her to contemporary television or film show, she seemingly doesn’t have the same magnetism as her male counterparts.
Batman is an avatar of fear and the dark, his grim and gritty emo approach has a timeless appeal in our hyper-capitalist society. Superman struggles a little to be taken seriously, the all American boy scout suited better to the television soap opera, but is in line now to perhaps finally recapture his big screen glory. Wonder Woman remains most famous for her costume, as embodied (wonderfully) by Lynda Carter. Her efforts to appear in television more recently were judged on her costume before all else.
Azzarello’s Wonder Woman has done little to actively try and grab sensationalist headlines… until now. The earlier controversy of the disappearing trousers long forgotten until next we attempt to put Diana in something other than a skirt – Orion cheerfully referring to her as “Legs” perhaps knowingly underscores this point. The hugely publicised kiss between Diana and Superman occurred over on the Justice League title, not Wonder Woman’s home ground where Clark is yet to step foot. (Her personality as written by Geoff Johns bears little relation to her Azzarello incarnation.) That kiss and the resulting hubbub did little to raise issue sales, but in keeping with DC’s now somewhat bizarre WTF exercise, Wonder Woman joins in the game by showing her in a lip lock with Orion, the same dude who has been referring to her by her lower appendages and slapping her ass in order to get her “DNA, Legs”. (Of course that may be another point in favour of Diana wearing trousers rather than panties…)
So that kiss, wtf amirite? Huh? So yeah, it doesn’t happen. At least not like it shows on the cover. What the fake-out indeed. Turns out Diana just kisses him to distract him while she grabs his balls and threatens to pop them off unless he shows her some respect. Quite why the kiss is needed I’m not sure; we all know straight men are equally distracted by the sight of boobs in a bustier, and the goddamn Wonder Woman doesn’t even need that. But hey, it got us that attention grabbing cover, and afterwards Diana punches his lights out. Women, eh.
(Oh wait, there was also that weird cover on #12 that showed Wonder Woman and Apollo smooching… )
Unfortunately, it’s had a bit of a negative effect on fans already swithering over the book. A Diana who grabs attention by who she may or may not be banging is getting a bit old, and we can only assume that Lois Lane sympathises with her on that one (give me a Lois Lane comic written by Mindy Newell for the love of GOD people). At least the Wonder Woman title didn’t have that… until it did. Nevermind that we have no clue at all what this Diana is thinking about her situation and all the revelations – seriously, is she upset about finding out her father is Zeus and she has half a million siblings and also hasn’t spoken to anyone outside of this situation for nearly two years? Angry? Hysterical? Bit miffed?
Yet for all that I’m annoyed that Wonder Woman is now being defined by who she’s kissing/snogging/boning, a relationship between Kal and Diana is actually something I’m really interested to read about. From Diana’s perspective and from Kal’s, in their own comics. How it works when they’re busy in their own lives, handling their own very different adventures. But instead, Justice League is just, “yep they’re at it, no Lois Lane here!” which is hardly satisfying and makes the whole thing seem more about generating headlines about Superman and Wonder Woman for a mainstream press that are not sure why they’re interested.
Wonder Woman is a great comic. It’s a great horror comic, a great mythological comic, a great ensemble comic. There are gods and monsters, blood and guts, and one heck of a giant pokémon. But for many, it’s just not a great Wonder Woman comic. It’d pretty much work with any character in the central role, because the tension between her love of humanity and loyalty to her people is missing, as is any emotional fallout of her newly revised circumstances and history. It bears no relation to anything else going on in the DCU which is a) brilliant! but also b) isolating for Wonder Woman as a superhero as even her personality is distinct from her other appearances (see Diana giving Green Lantern a complete decking in contrast with this weeks light tap).
There have long been rumours that a second Wonder Woman monthly title is in the works, one which focuses more on her superhero persona and life among the muggles. Perhaps this will suit the longtime fans better, and would certainly allow people to enjoy Azzarello’s run regardless, though the cynical critic in me wonders if the sales will be sufficient to keep it going. A Wonder Woman comic that perhaps took the Morrison Action Comics approach but spread out longer might work well; introducing a Diana who is struggling to find her place on Earth and balancing her desire to bring truth and justice to the world with a dawning realisation that those closest to her are in danger. Certainly it will be interesting to see what Grant brings to the table with his Earth One version.
The real holy grail is still to be found – a Wonder Woman comic that really hits the high spots of character development, plot, superheroism, mythology and dramatic tension, in the same way that old pros Batman and Spider-Octopus (until recently) manage. Wonder Woman doesn’t have the same baggage as Superman, as despite also being invulnerable she doesn’t have to always be super good and she allows herself to make mistakes. She does share Bruce’s wealth, and would perhaps be intrigued by his methodology. Trying to live in a world she hasn’t grown up in is storyline gold, and making her an actual (pan?)sexual woman rather than mooning over the first man she meets would be terrific. (Would she even want to be monogamous?!) Her relationship with Kal could be wonderfully complex; two invincible people no longer having to worry about their lover getting hit by a bus, yet trying to work out a power balance that suits both of them (in the bedroom! Hurr hurr. Sorry).
Personally, I am actually a fan of the very early Wonder Woman strips. Yes they were cheesy as hell, and yes the obsessive bondage was a bit much, but there was one thing she had that has never quite been recreated sufficiently: Etta Candy. For Diana to have Etta as her best friend was perfect. For Diana to be rescued by Etta and her Holliday girls was amazing. Etta Candy does not belong in Azzarello’s Wonder Woman, but she does belong with Diana. Diana is the impossible woman, breathtakingly beautiful and incredibly powerful. Etta is the real woman, her humanity and loyalty borne purely from love. Together they are complete, and neither are defined by what man (or woman) they may wish to boink.
In short then, give me an Etta Candy comic. Or, y’know, just a Wonder Woman comic where the focus is her actual character and personal progression, and she gets to wears all manner of pants, trousers and skirts, and bangs who she likes. Then I- I mean we, can read both!
But wait, I thought this was going to be about Wonder Woman’s pants or lack thereof? Possibly with jokes about silly UK people getting mixed up because pants mean panties and trousers mean pants. You can take Wonder Woman’s pants out of my cold dead hands! Wait… why do you have her pants? Because Wonder Woman’s pants = the most important thing about Wonder Woman? Sigh.