By Alicia Ashby
DC Comics is giving Wonder Woman a big push these days. She?s co-starring in their new weekly book, Trinity, where Kurt Busiek and Fabian Nicieza carefully explain how she?s one of the three superheroes who are more important than everyone else in the universe. She?s got a new direct-to-DVD animated series coming up, penned by fan-favorite comic book writer Gail Simone? who, hey, is finally salvaging something readable out of the 2006 relaunch of DC?s monthly Wonder Woman comic book.
You?d think people would in a frenzy of Wonder-mania, the same as we were during the great Superman media blitz that preceded the mediocre Superman Returns, or the Batman blitz that predated the total rad Dark Knight flick. And yet, and yet? look, let?s be honest: nobody cares about any of this. Nobody really cares about Wonder Woman. There have been times in the past when people sort of cared about her for awhile, but it?s wishful thinking to say she?s as important?or even as interesting?as Superman or Batman just because she?s nearly as old.
In fact, here are ten reasons why nobody really cares about Wonder Woman, even if they say they do. At best, people care about all the things that Wonder Woman could be, but isn?t, thanks to the character?s long history of editorial mismanagement, bizarrely bad writing, and a near-total lack of focus.
10) Madame, Please Put on Some Pants
Let?s start with a basic problem, the character?s look. Wonder Woman?s costume, much like Superman and Batman, hasn?t really changed that much since her Golden Age appearances. If you don?t believe me, then check out the cover of the first issue of her Golden Age series?
? and the cover of the first issue of her recent relaunch.
See? The shorts have become more a star-spangled leotard and the bustier designs are slightly different, but that?s it. This is something of a problem.
While the original, Golden Age Wonder Woman comics expressed little more than a wistful desire for something like a feminist movement (with spankings!) to happen, Feminism has become a real-world concept between then and now. Women dress differently now, for different reasons, and ideas about what a woman?s outfit expresses have changed.
In the ’40s, a woman in short-shorts was telling you she was no housewife! She was going to go out and do all kinds of unladylike things that involved exercise and possibly building muscle. In the 90?s, a woman who?s rolling into battle wearing a leotard resembles? um? nothing so much as an extremely angry underwear model.
9) There Are No Great Wonder Woman Stories
If a friend of yours is getting interested in superheroes and asks for some really great story recommendations, what kind of thing are you going to tell your buddy to read? You?ll probably recommend stand-alone, influential stories featuring minimal continuity and big-name creators at the top of their game. If you buddy likes Batman, you?ll send him to The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Year 100, or The Killing Joke. If it?s Superman, you can point your pal at Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow, Red Son, or Secret Identity. If it?s Wonder Woman? uh…
? shit. The best Wonder Woman ever manages is coming along for the ride in big universe-wide stories like Kingdom Come and New Frontier, or weirdo costume dramas like Wonder Woman: Amazonia. In terms of stories that would actually make you think Wonder Woman is a great character? Apparently DC?s got absolutely nothin?.
8) In Fact, Most Wonder Woman Comics Are Completely Terrible
Where Wonder Woman has seen the bulk of her superhero action has been in her solo comics, and as a member of assorted Justice clubs over the years. When she?s hanging around with a team, Wonder Woman tends to just be a bruiser who?s also good at restraining and extracting information from people. In an anthology, her solo stories could be a bizarre if welcome change of pace.
In her monthly comic, which DC doggedly struggles to keep in publication, Wonder Woman tends to be at her worst. There have been good runs, most modern and heavily revisionist, by the likes of George Perez, Greg Rucka, and the aforementioned Gail Simone? but the vast majority of classic Wonder Woman comic book stories are absolute dreck, and often to a far greater degree than your run-of-the-mill bad comics. I mean, just look at some of this shit. It?s like DC was hiring twelve-year-olds, and not talented ones like Jim Shooter, either.
7) Golden Age Wonder Woman Comics Were Really, Really Terrible
Now, Wonder Woman is bad throughout most of her ?classic? period, which gives modern writers precious little to draw upon when trying to make her modern comics interesting. It?s not a case of her Silver Age being degenerate from more promising Golden Age adventures, either. If you go back to the original Wonder Woman comics done by her original creators? Jesus Christ. A Golden Age Superman or Batman story may be crude, but there?s still something fundamentally recognizable about it. You can imagine how the characters got from that old Point A to their shiny, modern Point B.
Wonder Woman?s Golden Age books are hallucinogenic nightmares of bad plot, arbitrary story, and lots of loving depictions of fetishistic behavior that are just quaint and ridiculous now. From the lousy lettering to the bad writing to the poorly-composed artwork, I?d be tempted to say that Golden Age Wonder Woman comics are just unreadable to the modern fan. Check out the examples below, and bear in mind that almost every single Golden Age Wonder Woman story is exactly this crude and insane in almost every single panel of every page.
And there are hundreds of them.
6) Her Lasso of Bondage
Wonder Woman?s signature weapon is her magic lasso, which modern writers desperately struggle to make interesting. It?s unbreakable, and can compel you to tell the truth, and would be appropriate for roughly a 4th-level campaign in D&D. Sometimes it?s almost sad how eager modern creators are to get more martial, interesting-looking weapons like swords and spears into Wonder Woman?s hands.
I can?t blame them, though. We covered a lot of the god-awful goofy baggage Wonder Woman?s terrible Silver and Golden Age comics saddle her with, but the Golden Lasso is probably the worst. You see, in the Golden Age, the Lasso compelled you to obey Wonder Woman?s commands. In part, this is because Wonder Woman was an agent of Aphrodite tasked with ending violence, and in part because her creator William Moulton Marston had some incredibly unusual ideas about world peace.
You see, ?Charles Moulton?, as he signed his comic, had some very loving relationships that involved women he adored tying him up and probably spanking him. Somehow he moved from his own personal enjoyment to deciding that if the entire world could adopt a similar domination/submission fetish, the result would be world peace. Everyone would either have loving subbies to lovingly dominate, or be lovingly vice versa.
So, well? the comics are full to the brim with bizarre, uncomfortable shit like this.
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
Steve Trevor is a douchebag.
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.