5) The Invisible Plane
Okay, I lied. The Golden Age saddled Wonder Woman with something even more irritating than the damn Lasso. There’s also her idiotic Invisible Plane, which is also a robot plane that pilots itself and only responds to Wonder Woman’s voice and breaks all the laws of aerodynamics.
The Invisible Plane is just a bad idea, but since it’s an old bad idea, generations of comics creators have tried to force it into stories and desperately struggled not to make it look idiotic. I don’t know why, because I’ve never read an Invisible Plane scene that wasn’t awkward as hell, and it’s not like there’s any great potential inherent in the idea. I mean, check out the way Wonder Woman acquires her Jet in her origin story from Golden Age Wonder Woman #1.
… yeah, seriously, it’s just a thing she had lying around. Later stories attempted to retcon in different origins for the Invisible Plane, but they were only differently stupid.
One of the best changes George Perez instituted with his Wonder Woman revamp was ditching the Invisible Plane and just making Wonder Woman fly, since effectively that’s all it made her do anyway. But no, this is superhero comics, so bad ideas are never really allowed to quietly sulk off to die. Even guys who should really know better are going to try to bring it back, as if to remind us of what a bad idea it was in the first place.
Fuck the Invisible Jet. Wonder Woman ripped off plenty of Superman’s other schticks, just make life easier on the artists and let her fly around by herself. Maybe someday in the future someone will think of a super-badass thing to do with the Invisible Jet, and if so it’ll be the first good idea the concept’s generated in the over sixty years it’s been hanging around.
4) Terrible Villains
Early Wonder Woman stories, like most Golden Age stuff, didn’t really have a grasp on the “super-villain” concept yet. Their spectacular heroes usually wasted their time fighting Nazi saboteurs, random mobsters, and other generic crooks. On the rare occasions where Wonder Woman did get to fight super-villains… man, what she got saddled with made lame-asses like the Prankster and Toyman seem like sheer genius.
Just about every superhero still in print at DC is still mostly fighting the villains they were fighting in the Golden or Silver Age, or at least villains patterned after their “original” style of baddie. This leaves Wonder Woman in a bad way, since she never fought anyone worth giving a damn about to begin with. Occasionally one of her better modern authors will salvage something usable out of the original shit villains I’m about to show you, but nothing that’s given her an equivalent to the Joker or Lex Luthor (and no, Circe in the current run doesn’t count - she sucks).
3) Everybody Hates Steve Trevor
He’s Wonder Woman’s love interest from the very beginning, but not for any clear reason other than he’s the first man she ever saw. He has no particular virtues other than a sort of buffoonish, thick-headed sort of courage. He’s often dim-witted and helpless, even moreso than Superman’s similar counterpart Lois Lane, going on adventures purely so Wonder Woman can rescue him.
It’s hard to even fathom what his role in the story was supposed to be—were boys supposed to identify with him? Were girls supposed to find him romantic? Mostly, he was just irritating when he wasn’t being played outright for comic relief. In the modern books, Steve Trevor hung around for awhile, but he had become the Invisible Planet of the relaunch. Nobody wanted to see him tepidly romance Wonder Woman again. Good riddance to that.
2) No Supporting Cast (Besides Steve Trevor)
A major problem with Wonder Woman comics through the ages is that she doesn’t really have much of a supporting cast. The only real constants have been the Amazons at Paradise Island and Queen Hippolyta, who unfortunately tend to mire Wonder Woman down in stories obsessed with mythological politics. Otherwise, it seems like every creator who comes on the book insists on reshuffling her supporting cast entirely.
Part of what makes Superman memorable is that he has something of a steady status quo, and most fans can probably rattle off around a dozen characters who have pretty consistently populated his stories over the years, giving them sometimes much-needed human dimensions. Even Batman always has steady figures like Alfred, Commissioner Gordon, and Robin.
Wonder Woman? She’s got nothing. Even her supposed sidekick, Wonder Girl (both of them), have quickly become features of Teen Titans moreso than her own book. Generally she spends her modern solo books having transient relationships with people who’ll be written out soon, and even her classic books never managed to find a proper status quo for the character. There are attempts to reinstate classic characters from time to time (especially Etta Candy, above), but they tend to end up going nowhere. It’s like she’s trapped in a James Joyce novel. A really stupid James Joyce novel.
1) We Already Have Superman
Part of what makes Golden Age Wonder Woman stories so lousy is that she’s as close as they could probably legally get to making her a complete Superman ripoff. Only she’s an incompetent Superman knockoff, for her Guy Friday is a hopelessly stupid character and she routinely returns to Paradise Island to hang out despite having “forsaken” it for Man’s World. Honestly, the only real differences in the early books are that she has the Invisible Plane instead of proper flight and she’s inexplicably not bulletproof.
The long-term problem this creates for modern storytellers is that, unless they want to flog the Greek myths invoked in her origin really hard, there aren’t a lot of stories you can tell with Wonder Woman that aren’t pretty much distaff, bondage-flavored Superman stories. Change her origins all you like, but the basic concepts involved are still ridiculously Superman-like. She almost comes off as the Sensational She-Hulk to his Incredible Hulk, doomed to be light and comedic for lack of any ability to be taken seriously.
Every other DC character who’s just a flagrant clone of Superman gets to sit on the B, C, or D-list, where that sort of thing belongs. DC seems desperate to convince us this isn’t the case with Wonder Woman… even though her modern overhauls have just made her powers and personality more like Superman’s. Until DC is willing to figure out exactly how Wonder Woman isn’t just Superman with boobs, magic, and a bondage fetish, she’s not good storytelling material. She also won’t ever really be an A-list character, no matter how hard she gets pushed.