Mon
Jul 5 2010 11:02am

Why I Won’t Be Reading the New Wonder Woman (And Why It Doesn’t Matter)

As was recently announced in the New York Times, DC Comics is rebooting Wonder Woman, with a new costume, new back story, and new “urban” attitude. This is only the latest chapter in the company’s long history of trying to figure out exactly what to do with one of their flagship characters, and seems to me like a profoundly missed opportunity, since the potential for Wonder Woman could be better now than at any time since her creation.

When William Moulton Marston first sold Max Gains on the idea of Wonder Woman, it was as a character who would be for girls what Superman was for boys. Of course, the argument can be made that what she really was was the projection of Marston’s fantasies, as much as Superman was the projection of Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster’s. And Marston’s stories certainly were bizarre; with their themes of dominance and submission, combined with H. G. Peter’s quasi Art Nouveau illustrations, they never quite fit into the same world as Superman, Batman, and the rest of what was to become the DC universe.

Wonder Woman’s place in DC’s “trinity” of iconic superheroes largely comes from the fact that she, along with Superman and Batman, had an uninterrupted publication history across the Golden Age/Silver Age divide. But the postwar years were a tough time for superheroes and for feminism, and after Marston’s death in the 1947 the personal subtext he brought to the book essentially disappeared, and Wonder Woman became little more than DC’s token female superhero (there are rumors that the book was only saved from cancellation because the rights would have reverted to Marston’s estate).

In 1968 Mike Sekowsky introduced the first attempt to remake Wonder Woman for a contemporary audience, stripping her of her costume, her powers, and her supporting cast, and turning her into an Emma Peel-style secret agent. Although short lived, it did establish the pattern of successive reinvention followed by reversion that has continued up to this day. Steve Trevor has been killed off and revived (several times), Diana has been replaced as Wonder Woman (several times), her costume and powers have been modified (several times), etc. DC keeps trying to make Wonder Woman “work” in their shared universe, sometimes with a degree of success (notably George Perez’s late 80’s run), but there’s something in the DNA of the character that keeps her from being as popular among comics fans as she “should” be. The superhero fanbase is overwhelmingly male and increasingly aging, and seems more interested in Wonder Woman as a subject for pin-ups than for stories. Meanwhile, the girls that Marston originally wanted to reach are reading more comics than they have in  generations. But not Wonder Woman.

What those girls are reading is manga, and the manga they read has some remarkable similarities to Marston’s original Wonder Woman. It freely mixes genres, combining adventure, fantasy, science fiction, and romance, and often doesn’t shy away from psychosexual subtext. I’m certainly not suggesting that DC should make a giant-eyed, button-nosed, “manga-style” Wonder Woman (oog!), but they are missing the opportunity to expand into an audience that might have some appreciation of the underlying themes of the character. Instead, they seem to be doubling down on their core market, offering a return to 90’s grim-and-gritty, complete with Members Only jacket. They’ve certainly bought themselves a news cycle’s worth of free publicity (plus another one when the original suit and status quo are inevitably restored), but, I expect, to little long-term benefit. I won’t be reading the book, but that doesn’t really matter. I’m not the target audience. But I have a fourteen-year-old daughter who won’t be, either. And that’s a shame.


Tristan Elwell is an illustrator in New York’s Hudson Valley. He is old enough to remember the first Wonder Woman reboot.

12 comments
Rachel Hyland
1. RachelHyland
I am among the legions who bought Wonder Woman #600 out of curiosity, despite being a staunch Marvel girl, and I actually found myself thinking, hey, maybe this is actually a DC series (in addition to the short-lived Inferno books) that I can really get behind. J. Michael Straczynski! He created Babylon 5! I LOVE Babylon 5!

But then they went and spoiled it all by changing her entire history.

I don't care about the costume change (it's ugly, but no worse than what they make the girls of Gen13 wear). I don't care about the Batman-esque murdered family backstory, as tiresome as that is. But I do care that Wonder Woman was no longer raised an Amazonian (or Themysciran) out of Greek Mythology. That was always the coolest thing about her.

Reboots are problematical across the board (only look at what happened to Spidey), but this one may be the least original, least creative and least satisfactory reboot I've ever encountered.

But Wonder Woman Manga? Hey, Marvel had its Mangaverse, why couldn't DC do the same?

EDIT: And here's something I've been wondering about: if Wonder Woman as we knew her never actually existed, then what about the JLA?
slanagat
2. slanagat
The '80s called. They want that outfit back.

Moreover, I'm just disappointed with JMS. He has the ability to work on a legendary scale and tell a story with world(s)-spanning scope. Falling back to yet another Christopher Nolan gritty reboot is beneath his talents and beneath the epic potential of the character.
Caroline Kierstead
3. ctkierst
Maybe so, but JMS has always managed to take something and make it better, though it wasn't always obvious where he was going to go with the story. You should reserve judgement and see where he takes it.
Emmet O'Brien
4. EmmetAOBrien
While there is something desperately Rob Liefeld about the anatomy in that particular illustration, as costume for female crimefighter goes it is to me pleasing in that it does not make her look like a lingerie model.

Has Wonder Woman's continuity really been buggered about any more than the majority of DC's characters ?
Lis Riba
5. lisriba
Has Wonder Woman's continuity really been buggered about any more than the majority of DC's characters ?

I think Donna Troy (aka the original Wonder Girl) probably holds the record for most buggered-with personal history in the DC Universe. She tends to be an afterthought when the powers that be decide to retcon Wonder Woman, and then it takes months or years for them to figure out how she fits in.
Rachel Hyland
6. RachelHyland
lisriba @ 5

True, but at least with Donna Troy, whenever they reboot her, they make her cooler. Sure, she's been messed with (like, when they first made her the Diana clone), but they always manage to make sense out of her in the end. I recall her getting a pretty good deal post-Multiverse, and didn't One Year Later retcon things nicely?

There is no way this new Wonder Woman can be retconned. As I said: what about JLA?
slanagat
7. mirana
I've never read WW or any female superhero books other than a bit of Batgirl when it was Cass as the lead. I just can't get past the horridly sexist costumes, covers and storylines. However, I was looking into starting WW since a lot of gals seemed to like Gail Simone's run. THAT'S what will hook me DC--FEMALE CREATORS. Writers, artists, designers. They may not be amazing, but it will get me in the door to at least check out what's going on. You know why girls give manga that first chance? FEMALE CREATORS. They figure they've got more of a chance to read something that understands and speaks to them.
slanagat
8. Kushiel
I think the Legion of Superheroes beats Donna Troy in most buggered about continuity by just a nose. The shifts aren't as weird, but the population of the book exceeds that of the X-verse in marvel, and is about as complicated.
slanagat
9. MikeCugley
@RachelHyland - the whole "reboot" is a time-travel shenanigans story. She'll be back in her classical outfit by the end of the story. This will last no longer than the "Electric Blue" Superman did.
slanagat
10. zenspinner
I still love the Marston originals, b&d subtext and all. I love that Steve Trevor always looks like he's made out of wood, and the fact that WW always decks him if he makes an amorous move. I love the kinky Nazi Dommes and the original Etta Candy and the Holiday Girls, and I wish I owned a collection as opposed to just borrowing from the library. *sigh* So I suppose sometime I will read this, because much to my surprise I seem to have turned into a die-hard WW fangirl. Appropriate, I suppose, since my best imaginary friend growing up was Catwoman. If WW had been on TV in the late sixties, it probably would have been her instead.
Paul Arzooman
11. parzooman
@zenspinner A kinky BDSM flavored Wonder Woman I would read. Of course it would have to be sold with a bottle of smelling salts for all the comic book readers who have never even contemplated sexuality.
slanagat
12. Gorbag
Ah, but the lingerie-style costume always got the boys interested! omigawd!!! Legz!!! Twin Peaks!!!

I know why I always looked for the WonderWoman comics, even the (comparatively) ancient 1940s reprints ... I also wondered at the way her powers and focus changed so dramatically at various stages in her career, more so than Batman and his faithful sidekick Robin, or Superman and his band of merry supporters ...

I can credit WonderWoman for arousing - bad pun, I know - my interest in ancient history: I once dug through an entire set of encyclopedia volumes specifically to find out what they said about Amazons, and was startled to find they allegedly practiced scarification of a rather full-on type, removing their right breast so as to use the bow from a moving horse without any problems ... now MANGAfy that!!!

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