Friday, July 2, 2010

Fan Ramblings – Wonder Woman’s new look and new direction

So, it seems that DC has decided to change Wonder Woman’s costume to go with her “bold new direction” under JM Straczynski’s pen. Announced on DC’s the Source blog, her new costume is supposed to make her feel more modern and reflect some big changes for the character.

I’m not all too thrilled about the contents of the announcement. Let me just establish that this is not a knee jerk reaction against change. Change can be good (Dick Grayson Batman, Whoop!). But their announcement was designed to generate buzz and to get people excited about the new concept. For me, it has rather failed in that regard. I don’t want to completely write off the book before it even comes out, and I certainly won’t advise anyone against getting it, but it certainly doesn’t make me want to spend my money on it (what is this strange sense of déjà vu?). I wasn’t following Wonder Woman to begin with, but I have some interest in the character, and this simply doesn’t appeal to me. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look.

Let’s start with the costume. Random side story: When I was making a bulletin board about American superheroes for my Japanese students it was difficult to find a picture of Wonder Woman that seemed appropriate. Now, Wonder Woman has some curves (not Power Girl level, but still) and I understand that the artists want to show them off. And I suppose it lets her keep a feminine aspect to her warrior like character. But her costume looked more or less like a swimsuit, and while I wasn’t really worried about “scandalizing” the kids, I was worried that the school principal might think that it was inappropriate for school. I did find some great images, but she was by far the most difficult superhero to do so for. While her look is iconic, I personally can’t argue with the idea of a bit of updating.

Overall, this new look isn’t too bad. I’m glad to see she isn’t in ridiculous heels. The pants are a nice touch (although if Supergirl got complaints for wearing shorts under her skirt, then I can only imagine what that particular group of fans will think about this…). There are still enough elements of her old costume that give her a distinctly Wonder Woman feel, although I will admit it seems more like something I could picture Donna Troy or Wondergirl wearing that Diana. It is still strongly feminine. But that jacket…it looks like something out of a 90s comic where everyone had HUGE shoulder pads. It gives her a really biker-ish look. For me it really throws the whole look off. While I have some criticisms of the outfit it isn’t a disgrace or an abomination in my eyes. It could work but it doesn’t have me clamoring for a poster or action figure or anything.

According to Mr. Straczynski the look “reflects her origins in both the outside world and the world of Amazons” (more on that later) and that “it’s a look designed to be taken seriously as a warrior.” As I just mentioned, I see a lot more biker in this costume than I do warrior. She looks like a fighter I guess, but to me that isn’t exactly the same thing as a warrior. Maybe that’s my issue. I can see her beating up thugs on the street, but it’s hard for me to picture her with, say, a sword and shield fighting a mythological beast or a god. And for me, that’s a big part of who Wondy is.

Moving on, JMS says the costume helps to answer some fan questions from over the years such as “how does she fight in that thing without all her parts falling out?” and “where does she carry anything in that outfit?” I’ll give them credit for trying the more practical route, but the whole pockets issue wasn’t keeping me up at night. If I’m willing to suspend my disbelief about Amazons existing and Greek gods and superheroes in general, I think I can live without knowing if she has pockets. She has an invisible jet; maybe her pockets are invisible too?

And then we get to the part that sent me into a fit of giggles. It was honestly hard for me to take this next part seriously. About Wondy’s trademark bracelets JMS said, “The bracelets are still there, but made more colorful, tied on the inside and over the hand, with a script W on each of them that form WW when she holds them side by side…and if you get hit by one of them, it leaves a W mark. This is a Wonder Woman who signs her work…letting her enemies know that she’s getting closer.” Oh, where to begin. The whole WW thing when held side to side made me think of something like Power Rangers or Sailor Moon with her smacking her arms together unnaturally crying out, “Wonder Woman powers activate!” It’s not like she doesn’t have a W elsewhere on her costume and really needed that to be incorporated. When I read that they leave marks my mind went back to the Phantom movie, where he punched people and left skull shaped scars. It just seems a bit campy to me to see bad guys sprawled out with a W on their forehead. And if you look at the drawing those Ws are on her wrists. So unless she is smacking people around with her forearm…ouch…then she can’t be leaving marks on them. I have no problem with how they look; it’s what he seems intent to use them for that is hard for me to take seriously.

Okay, now that we’ve taken a good look at her, let’s take a look at the reasons for this redesign. Apparently our new Wonder Woman arc begins with an alternate timeline courtesy of the Greek Gods. For reasons one assumes will be revealed down the line, the Gods have changed the timeline so that Paradise Island was no longer under their protection. It was attacked and most of the Amazons, including Hippolyta, Wondy’s mom, were killed. Three year old Diana was spirited away before the battle and raised in an urban setting. Now 20 years later she is beginning to discover her Amazon powers. She’s still on the run as the surviving Amazons are being hunted. And she has little to no memory of the pervious timeline. So Diana must fight for her survival, protect her fallen people, and probably restore the timeline by the time this is all through.

Now, when I first read this I thought that this would be a really great story…for an Earth One graphic novel version of Wonder Woman. The Earth One graphic novels are supposed to retell superhero origins in a more modern setting and are to be more accessible to new readers as they are self contained and out of continuity. So far Superman and Batman are getting this treatment. Wonder Woman would seem like an obvious character to consider for this. And honestly, this story sounds like a failed Earth One pitch to me (more modern look, discovering her powers, all new enemies, etc.). And if it was an Earth One story, I would probably have read it and actually been looking forward to it. It’s not a bad story idea; I’m just not sure how it’s going to work in the shared DC universe.

This timeline change could affect more than just Wonder Woman’s character. What about Donna Troy and Cassie Sandsmark (Wonder Girl)? Donna is in the Justice League and Cassie is central in Teen Titans. Will they suddenly not exist and never be mentioned? And let’s not forget that Wonder Woman broke the recently resurrected Maxwell Lord’s neck when he was controlling Superman. It was the only way to stop him. So does that mean that in this new timeline Maxey is still controlling Superman? Because then he should never have died which is going to wreck havoc with the Brightest Day stories. And what does this do to the JLA? Clearly Wonder Woman wasn’t a founding member since she is just now getting her powers. In fact, it sounds like no superhero should even recognize her at all. Except maybe Booster Gold.

I would imagine that this story will be rather self contained so as not to cause all of those problems listed above. It still raises a whole lot of questions as to how this could possibly work in the shared DCU. The short answer is, it really can’t without some DRASTIC changes to stories already in progress. That’s why I think it sounds better as a standalone, outside of continuity story. Which is what I seem to remember JMS saying he likes to write. That’s why he’s good at “The Brave and the Bold.” It isn’t in continuity, it can be forward in time, backward in time, it’s completely free reign. Wonder Woman can’t be without slipping into some sort of pocket dimension that separates her book from everything else going on and then catches up again once it’s finished. I think the fans could deal with that. If that is the case I’m hoping it is spelled out very clearly in the issues or else it could be very confusing.

But good or bad, I’m sure this will all only be temporary. After a year or so things will be restored to how they were because Status Quo is God. Even if people really like this change and sales go up it probably won’t last. After all, the sales of “Batman and Robin” have been top 10 since the book started, but that’s not stopping them from bringing Bruce back after just a year. I understand that Wonder Woman’s book hasn’t been selling very well and that DC felt that some sort of drastic change was needed to make her relevant and get people interested. But if you have to completely change who the character is in order to get people interested I think you are kind of missing the point. I’m not saying that’s what JMS will do. The book’s not out yet, so I can’t judge, but he is changing most of where she came from which has a great effect on the person she turned out to be. As someone on a message board pointed out, now her new origin is really reminiscent of Superman. If I was a longtime Wonder Woman reader, only to see everything that I had been following basically ignored, I would probably be pretty upset. So while they may pick up a number of new readers with this, some who have been loyal to Wondy in the past may jump ship. It’s a risky ploy.

And I am one potential new reader who won’t be jumping on board. If the reviews for the series are amazing I will consider the trade, but at the moment I’m content to let this one pass me by. And like I feared the Superman story could be, this entire premise seems to be INCREDIBLY polarizing of the fans. There are those who are outraged by it and those who are very excited about it. There are also those who want to support it just to spite those who are outraged by it (those kinds of people always confuse me). And there is the quiet middle ground of those who are unsure but perhaps cautiously optimistic. One thing is certain, the announcement of the new costume on the Source has gotten more comments than any article I’ve ever seen on the site (the Superman “Grounded" stuff got about 40 comments, as did DC entering digital comics. This Wonder Woman entry already has over 160). So if one of the goals was to get people talking (in the no publicity is bad publicity vein) then so far it’s already been a big success.

1 comment:

  1. I really liked what you wrote and your perspective on this even though I actually ended up won over by the costume once I read issue #600. Hehe. I agree with your points and I actually do hope the time line doesn't get messed up and things get righted. Though I loved the gritty feel of the new issue and I feel kind of excited to see what happens. :)