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My thoughts on Wonder Woman

First post, long time reader, so be gentle. I posted this on my own journal as the result of a discussion with friends. Since I am interested to get some thoughts from people more into regular comics (I usually just review books) I thought I'd post it here as well. Please note that I do not intend to upset anyone. I have never read Wonder Woman before (apart from scattered issues), so I am guessing there might be large parts of background that I have just missed. I just wanted to make that disclaimer beforehand.

So, I have now finished Gail Simone's run on Wonder Woman, and I have to say that it grew a bit on me. I never felt the urge to keep up at the start, but towards the end of it I feel that she hits her stride a bit. And yet, it is not a book I would add to my pull list. It's not that it is written badly, it is just that it fails to hit the mark for me. I'm not sure what version of Wonder Woman could...

It's not the writer, I love Gail Simone, and the arrival of Secret Six each month is a source of joy. It's not the art, which have done a good and consistent job through the series.

So what is so problematic about this character for me?

1: She tackles the problems of feminism, and like problems of race, that can never be handled so that the majority of the people are happy.

I have to say that while, in the older versions this is what have caused me the most annoyance, Gail Simone actually sidesteps this issue rather well. She wisely draws on the fact that WW was raised on an island with no men, she is not based in an oppressed society. As such many of the ways that things are done around her seems alien to her, and a few of the things downright silly. She is not a champion of downtrodden women, she is a warrior from a female culture. This is a very fine line to walk, most of the time it is not touched upon in the current series, but when it is I can't find much fault. I mean how does one tackle the subject that she's dressed up like a tart? Who makes that call? Who makes it wrong? It's bloody annoying, but I find myself agreeing with the girlpower movement there. If someone wants to dress sexy and show a lot of skin, it's their call. They shouldn't be judged for it.

Of course that leads to the problem of deciding when it's okay in comics. What is the difference between WW and for example Witchblade? Or any of the other series that's basically just women dressed up in nothing? For me it is how they are depicted. What stances they are drawn in. How they are written. If a character is treated with dignity in the book, it doesn't matter what they wear. Case in point being Laurel Gand and her tiny thong from Legion of Superheroes V4. Not much clothes, but damn she wasn't a woman that was there to be a sex symbol. This they have managed to carry across in the new series, I love the fact that WW is drawn as a hero, not a damsel in distress. When she gets beaten up, it's like any hero would be beaten up. Which I approve of.

And then there's the interaction with the real world. So far the current WW storyline have tried to keep away from that. Apart from the odd filler issue, most of the stories have taken place elsewhere, or have included characters that are mostly mythological. The series have been dealt with as standard superhero fare, not as a feminist mouthpiece. This is probably the safest way to play it not to alienate people, but still... it makes me wish for more.

2: She is a princess and ambassador of a faraway land of mythology.

I know that yes, her origin is that she an amazon princess sent out to be the ambassador to the world, but that also sets her apart from everything. Like Storm when she first joined the X-men, she is placed at a different level, as someone that walks amongst the people but are truly not one of them. This is another thing that I like with the Gail Simone run, she actually points out this problem and the fact that she is a creation, a clay golem that has no idea what it is like to be human. In fact, there are a great deal of similarity between WW and early Claremont Storm in my opinion, with the one exception that WW has not fallen to earth yet. For me, Storm turned really interesting for the first time during the Morlock storyline, when she finally let go, turned punk, and let herself be something she had never been before. Perhaps WW will have a moment like that in the future as well, when she will finally come together as a character for me. For the moment she stands apart, something to be idolized but never truly empathized with.

3: Her personality in the past have been set as a regal warrior, dignified and wise.

Yes, WW is all that, but has it to be just that and nothing else? Take Batman or Superman for example. Superman is depicted pretty much the same way, but he has his Clack Kent as a pressure valve to make us relate to him. The bumbling Clark makes the Superman human. Batman is of course aloof, but there is also torment in the past, and when written well there is the batfamily that will bring his intensity in contrast with the rest of the world. WW has no such outlet. The Diana Prince identity is a play at giving her a secret identity, but it fits badly. It seems more a vehicle to bring in more stories and a reason to associate with Nemesis on a regular basis than as something to bring depth to the character. True, there are some amusing scenes, but they are always centered around her, not on her.

It's the same with the supporting cast. Much like Cyclops used to be in X-men, she is the competent and aloof one. We are told that she has relationships and friendships with people like Etta and Tom, but while we are shown it, at least I do not really feel it. Again I lack that moment of connection when she makes herself truly vulnerable. I mean it is possible to salvage a character such as this, I even grew to love Cyclops after he had his breakdown and started an affair with Emma. He was no longer infallible. I get the feeling that Gail Simone might be building towards something similar with WW. Her mother commented that she had grown up being the focus of everybody's love and attention and had known nothing else, taking love for granted. I am hoping that something will happen, something that can make me connect with her. But only time will tell.

4: She lacks a dynamic supporting cast.

This is something she need. Desperately. A lot of the other problems, with her past and personality could be corrected by bouncing her off the right people. Take Hercules for example, a very tiresome character until he suddenly was paired with Amadeus Cho and the title turned golden. Here, everybody else is kept at arms length. Etta Candy is supposed to be her best friend, and I suppose that might be so from earlier books, but for me as a newish reader, I just don't see it. She's just there to be there, comrades in arms, someone to be rescued. In the last issue she was severely injured, but I found myself unable to care overmuch. Why? I just didn't feel like I had got to know her in the current run. WW doesn't really let anybody in.

Except Nemesis. And here we open an entirely new can of worms. I can't decide what to think of him. I remembered liking him in Suicide Squad, but I haven't reread that in years and years. So I will treat him as an entirely new character. I can see what he is supposed to be here. He is the competent love interest, that is not helpless (he's an agent) but is not on her level physically. He's smart, sneaky and funny, a contrast to her seriousness. He's being written as a bit of a goofball, and I guess that can be a bit offturning for some, but that is probably just what WW needs. The whole courting thing between him and WW is downright hilarious, and it's at those moments when the character comes the most alive for me. This almost hits the mark.

But not quite. There is still no closeness there, no connection. I can see why Nemesis falls for her, but I can't see it the other way around. Or rather, I can see WHY she would want him, I just can't see that she does. Everything is so very clinical. We never get to know why she picked him of all people, it feels a lot like he was just available and convenient. Also, despite the fact that Gail Simone touches upon the fact that the amazon courting rituals were designed for women, I really want to know more about what goes on in WW's head when she settles for a man.

EDIT: Of course this thing was written before I had read WW32. But, things are a bit slower here in sweden. So, having read that now (without spoilers) I have to say that yes, now the reason why she picked Nemesis makes a lot more sense. Do I think she was lying? No. Because that answer and the reason behind it makes a lot of sense for her as a character. It also explains all the things we didn't get to see. Does it make me sad? It depends on how it is handled from here on in. Will it be used for character growth? I really hope so.

I mean you can go two ways with this. The classical one is of course that all every amazon needs is a good man. Let them out in the world and they will fall head over heels with the men. That's usually the way it's treated, and any relationships between women are usually hidden. I can't remember seeing any proper couples on the island, let alone any kisses or even handholding. This is the comic way, because lesbians in flagship comics? Can't happen. Unless it's in space.

The other way of course, if you don't want her to conform to her society and fall in love with a woman, is to actually treat it as the perversion that it is. To court a man is not the right thing to do. It's not something that should come naturally to her. To have the Queen accept it and make Nemesis an honorary amazon with no issues and squee babies, babies, babies at her daughter is... it just feels too easy. Surely WW must at least wonder why she is picking a man and not a woman? She is still a child of that society.

5: She still wears the american flag on her butt.

Yes, I understand that changing suits never sticks. But at least give her some good explanation for it. That it's her colors and that it somehow, magically matches all the american symbols? Oh yes, that makes so much sense. It feels forced. Like the 'sleeping with a man' bit, I would much rather that they acknowledged the problem than trying to ignore it. Come on, give the woman a sense of humour. The US is her adopted country, have her having worn the flag as a tribute to them when she first arrived, thinking it was their heraldry. Just like it was the press that dubbed her WW, maybe it was all the first attempt to be accepted. Have her joke about it.


So with this all being said, I really wish that the title would transform. Gail Simone is a talented writer, I love her Secret Six, and she usually writes good dialog and characters. But WW still flounders. It is a perfectly acceptable title that doesn't steer overly wrong in any direction, but it still doesn't come alive for me.

And the main problem is WW herself. Maturity is never fun to read about.


( 44 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 16th, 2009 12:02 pm (UTC)
Re: the costume.

I'm not sure if this is still canon, but the explaination George Perez gave was that her armor was based on the insignia of a american pilot named Diana Trevor who crashed on paradise island and died saving the Amazons from a demon attack. They salvaged what they could of her shredded gear and designed a Amazon style suit for her, which was passed to her namesake, Princess Diana.
Jun. 16th, 2009 12:07 pm (UTC)
If that is canon, it is the best explanation I have heard so far. That actually makes sense.
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Jun. 16th, 2009 03:28 pm (UTC)
This was interesting. I can't really click with WW as a character either, and now I wonder whether it isn;t a lot to do with the fact that she's always on. Or so it seems. Your point about Bruce/The Bat and Clark/Supes is really one I hadn't considered; Diana is Wonder Woman. It's not a secret identity, or even another identity.. there's no separation.

I don't know why it works for me in the X-Men and not with her, though.
Jun. 16th, 2009 03:32 pm (UTC)
Probably because X-men is a team book. There, every character has more leeway, since they are a part of a team. Everybody can have their own favorite, and the characters bounce against each other to enhance their points. Imagine a solo series with the old Cyclops for example, would anybody even have that idea even though he was at the time one of the more iconic characters in X-men? No, of course Wolverine was the one that got his own title instead.
(no subject) - greenmask - Jun. 17th, 2009 12:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 16th, 2009 07:46 pm (UTC)
"And the main problem is WW herself. Maturity is never fun to read about."

Thus we have the crux of the problem, and indeed probably all of DC's myth stuff which Diana adsorbs like dry sponge.

DC always plays myth like myth, something deep and powerful. This isopposed to Marvel's constant humanizing (almost lampooning) of it. Just look at the two Ares to see the biggest difference. Thor comes close to being too much sometimes, but it's always tempered with either humour or moments of sheer spine tingling badassery (He stood alone at Gjallerbru).

DC myth always ends up getting bogged down in ritual and its own importance. It's not Gail's fault, or any writer's, it's the setting, you can't avoid it. Well you can by completely avoiding it altogether but considering the mess Gail was left with when she started on WW she didn't have a choice outside of a universe-wide memory lapse and reality punch.

Though I'll disagree on the supporting cast, she has friends that are talking albino gorillas, that's completely awesome.

At any rate, WW is a well written book (and indeed Secret Six is the best thing currently coming out of DC), just turns out Diana isn't all that likeable to some of us.
Jun. 16th, 2009 09:06 pm (UTC)
The gorillas are indeed made of awesome and win. I can't believe I forgot to mention them.
(no subject) - jlbarnett - Jun. 19th, 2009 02:26 am (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 16th, 2009 08:49 pm (UTC)
While I still like the character, I have some problems with her: her fanbase.
Now I'm sorry if that sounds a little rude, but unlike Superman or Batman who can make mistakes or act like a dick sometimes, every time I see Diana slip up or show even the tiniest bit of fault the fans just scream no! I guess since obviously women are still objectified way too much in comics that when you have Diana, one of DC's Trinity, there's going to be a lot of support for her being equal.

Thing is, I want Diana to fail sometimes, to give in to her anger or greed or whatnot occasionally. I don't mean struggle, because a lot of what I've seen is that the fanbase will only let her struggle to beat a character. No, I mean flat out make a bad choice or something just to show she makes mistakes. I think of Kingdom Come, and think what you will of where the arc finished (I personally liked it)a lot of Wondy fans were in heavy disagreement with me that she would be in such a depressive state in the future. It just seems to me more than any other fanbase, Diana's is one that gives the least leverage on the character.
Jun. 16th, 2009 09:49 pm (UTC)
The Kingdom Come example is an interesting one as I kind of agree with it. Now according to Simone Waid has admitted that his take on Wondy is somewhat off in that story, so there is that. However to me it is a story of how all the major icons have failed, with the big three having lost their way the most. Clark has become completely detached from humanity, even giving up his name with them, and has withdrawn to a sealed off world to live by himself. When he returns, he lets his arrogance lose sight of the people he is protecting and their needs while his determination is not there anymore, faltering at the most critical moments leading to the finale. Bruce has given up completely on his civilian identity, just becoming the Batman and cutting himself off from pretty everyone, and focusing on being the Dark Avenger and turning Gotham in to a police state while losing that aspect of hope he always embodied.

These are both pretty big falls from grace for both of the characters, yet the constant claim that Diana should be exempt from the same fallability that faced both of those characters is just kind of weird in my opinion or claiming that Diana had it worst than Supes, who shrinks away from leadership at the critical moment, or Batman, who lets his arrogance lead to Billy's final transformation.
Jun. 16th, 2009 10:07 pm (UTC)
This vaguely reminds me of a post I saw at CBR. The topic was 'What are Wonder Woman's negative characteristics?' Here's the link, but I'll post the text because...that's how I roll;

Wonder Woman was sculpted by a defacto demi-goddess and given life and powers by the Gods.

She doesn't have any real flaws. Mary Poppins meets Xena. Practically perfect in every way and loved by those who meet her (unless they are stupid villains!).

This is an old-school SUPER HERO. One of the first.

I find it odd that anyone would be looking for flaws in her character when the entire point of her and characters like Superman is that they have far fewer flaws than the rest of us and overcome even those few in order to serve the greater good.

She's better than us. So is he. That's the point.

We're not reading the adventures of Just-Like-Us-Man and Basically-Average-Woman.


It's right there in their names.

The Woman of Wonder! The Wonder Woman! Ladies cheer! Gentlemen swoon! Children adore! Hurry, hurry! Step right up!

You want flaws? Go read Ms. Marvel. She's a recovering alcoholic with loyalty and love issues galore! Enjoy!

(all said with love and a smile)

The entire thread is worth a read, but a lot of Wondy fans really seemed to enjoy that particular comment.

I think there is room in the DCU for an ideal character like that, but it'll never be the type of character I feel any sort of attachment to.

Edited at 2009-06-16 10:08 pm (UTC)
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Jun. 17th, 2009 12:15 am (UTC)
What mistakes/dickery does Superman commit?
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Jun. 16th, 2009 09:59 pm (UTC)
My problem with Diana is actually that I don't really see any substantial flaws or weaknesses in the character. Even the weaknesses her fans list are a bit too shallow for a character of her power and ultimately that makes it hard for me to really care for her or her struggles, as it is simply reading the perfect being trying to handle situations that are never because of her faults or actions and hard to really connect with such a character. Yeah, a crude simplification, but just trying to get the general idea across. Batman, well Bruce Wayne, was a character that had so many negative flaws that it is almost unique for such a big comic book character, and I think that is one of the main reasons for his iconic nature, and Superman has several positive flaws in addition to his momentary lapses in arrogance in addition to his physical weaknesses to certain substances, radiation, magic and mind control. Diana has pretty much nothing, she has no physical weaknesses, no character flaws or really anything. And that is why I don't really care for her.

Ironically, I did love Rucka's Wonder Woman as I did feel that he was writing these flaws and weaknesses in the character and was looking forward to Simone's run, until I read how she planned to push Diana by making her even more stronger, powerful and skilled.

On another note, I did find it somehow amusing that I was once reading a comic book forum where I saw a heading of why Wonder Woman isn't more popular. Once I read it, majority of them felt it was just because comic book nerds living in their parents basements are afraid of strong female characters and were doing the best to ignore the analysis made by a female poster who listed similar reasons than I did and the OP did for people having difficulties connecting with the character.
Jun. 17th, 2009 12:29 am (UTC)
good analysis, thanks. George Perez' reboot of WW made me appreciate and enjoy the character, so I'd certainly recommend that you check it out (there have been a few trades -- your LCS could point you). Wondy has the same problem that Superman used to have, but the PTB haven't figured out how to resolve: she's too powerful/perfect. I agree that we need to see her stumble (and fall) in order to make her more human and identifiable. Killing Max Lord should have been explored much more: as a warrior, she didn't see a problem with her actions (threat neutralized, next?), and that certainly showed her as a stranger in a strange land.
Jun. 19th, 2009 08:17 pm (UTC)
That's interesting...I feel like as a man Superman has a lot more room for people to find some everyday flaws in him too. Partly because of things people have said about Diana having to represent Woman in a way Superman doesn't represent Man. (Or where he does he can represent man in a way that's kind of affectionate.) I can imagine writing Superman in a way that shows how he could drive his friends crazy without being too bad. It's harder with Diana because of her background.
Jun. 17th, 2009 01:33 am (UTC)
BTW, can anyone remind me of how many times DC has attempted to overhaul the character? (Seems to me like in the grand scheme of things, they've overhauled Supergirl about every three weeks, but I don't know if it's the same for WW.) So comparing the number of overhauled females to males might be relevant here, if anyone knows...
Jun. 17th, 2009 10:16 am (UTC)
Alright, thanks for the good input and comments! Very interesting!

And it seems that I need to find both Perez and Rucka's WW now... since I like both authors.
( 44 comments — Leave a comment )