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On The Hot Seat: The Great Wonder Woman Debate!

Porcelain38, Punchy, and Starlord discuss the past, present and future of DC's Wonder Woman.


 

Wonder Woman is an American Icon. There's no doubt it. When a character can have their own segment on CNN when they get a  costume change, yeah their kind of a big deal. However...she's not. Despite a classic TV show and a cult following Wonder Woman has never really caught on with the majority of the comic reading population. Sure she might be a part of DC's Trinity but her book is one of the lowest selling books. Seeing the contradiction now?


Today we'll have three people (a first for this column) debate on the Amazon Princess. We'll have the notorious  hater Punchy , the DC go-to-guy on these boards Starlord, and me (porcelain38) the occasional passing WW reader on the hot seat today.


Join us as we discuss the enigma that is Wonder Woman.


What things work for the character ?

Punchy: I'm not sure anything works! Obviously she plays a big part in the DCU, but I never get the sense that she's integral. I think it's telling that every story apart from JMS' in #600 was a team-up with other characters, Simone and Perez had almost every female hero in the DCU, Amanda Conner had Power Girl and Batgirl, and Louise Simonson's story was a Superman team-up. So she obviously has a lot of relationships with other heroes, and serves as an inspiration to many of DC's female characters.

But I don't think we ever get a sense of why. Why is she so respected? What does she actually do? I feel this his her real-world stature being reflected in the stories, she never seems to do anything really deserving of such praise, like Superman does. It seems she's important simply because we feel she should be.

Perhaps Wonder Woman's greatest contribution to the DCU is actually something which came about by accident, her sidekicks. I'd definitely say that both Donna Troy and Cassie Sandsmark play a more integral role in the DCU and have more meaningful connections with other characters, because they are allowed a degree of humanity Diana is not. Can you see Diana making out with her dead boyfriend's best friend? Could you see Diana marrying Terry Long? Nope! (although that may be a good thing)

As to a broader general audience, what works for her is her gender. The simple fact that she's a woman means she's among the few major female superheroes. She pretty much stands alone here, who else is there? Every other popular female character is a version of a male character (Supergirl, the various Spider-Women, She-Hulk) or part of a team full of men (Storm, Invisible Woman). So she has boobs and a vagina, hooray for her. Doesn't really make up for the lack of... everything else.

Wonder Woman is coasting by on her age and respect which she hasn't deserved for 40 years.



Starlord:
Sadly I think the best way Wonder Woman has always fit in is when she's part of a team, or when she is interacting with the other two of the Trinity. There was a time back in the late sixties or early seventies that if you take a look at Wonder Woman's book, she always had a guest star or even just the covers would have comments by Superman or Aquaman.

She's the balance between Bats and Supes, the scales so to speak. It's her major strength and why the DC Trinity works so much better than the so called Marvel Trinity.



Porcelain38:
 She's the perfect balance for DC's trinity. You have the detective (Batman), the guardian (Superman) and she fills the rest out by being the warrior. Also she as the unique mythological background that has more potential then say neo-noir detective stories and space adventures. There's a lot more background to pull from and do interesting things with. I mean look at Marvel, up until a few years ago out of Marvel's trinity Thor had the strongest stories.


She's also a great den mother for the entire DCU. I mean you don't see a new hero like the new Blue Beetle going up to Batman for guidance (the Brave & Bold cartoon does not count), and Superman is to high and strung to take seriously. Wonder Woman has that loving care and affection for every living thing, which makes her the best person to go to for advise. She's the one character that everyone looks up to within the DCU, which is something that's hardly used to full effect.


What things don't work for the character?



Punchy
: I don't think Wonder Woman's powers are distinctive enough, she has bog-standard super-strength and flight, blah blah, dull. Add to that lame shit like the Invisible Plane... it's not exactly exciting. You can't really do anything innovative with it, With characters like Green Lantern or the Flash, you can always do something new, and reveal new stuff behind it (Speed Force, the Care Bear critters behind the rings). But Wonder Woman's powers are just... dull.

You've also got the aforementioned lack of a defined personality, the lack of a permanent status-quo, and also the fact that there's a lot of continuity confusion around her. I normally don't really care about continuity, but Wonder Woman's is a bit of a mess. Is Steve Trevor even around anymore? Was he ever? Was Diana's mother Hippolyta in the JSA or not? The whole Donna Troy clusterfuck... It needs to be streamlined. The fact that Geoff Johns hasn't attempted this yet just shows how daunting it is. And he had a go at fixing Hawkman for god's sake! JMS is onto a good thing sweeping this all under the rug.

I also think Wonder Woman's status as a ‘Pop Culture Icon' is holding her back, she can't really be treated as a proper character because of her iconic status, she isn't allowed to deviate from her perceived position. I don't know why this has affected Wondy more than other icons like Superman, Batman and Spider-Man, who have been able to change (Batman is allowed to die!) but it's true. Wonder Woman #600 had an introduction from Lynda Carter, showing that popular perceptions of the character are still stuck in the 70s! Can you imagine Batman #700 having an intro by Adam West? The character has moved on from then! (Although now I think about it, an Adam West intro would have been pretty sweet). The character has had to remain static and undefined in many ways in order to sell more lunchboxes and t-shirts to people who don't even read comics and probably never will.

But now JMS's run could hopefully change all that. Here's hoping.

Starlord: The only thing that I could think of that would turn people off of Diana would probably be her Rogue's Gallery. It is rather weak. Also if you're not into the Greek Mythology that much, it could be a turn off as well. I think a lot of fans tend to dismiss her for the same reasons they do Aquaman; these characters have rarely been given the chance to really shine.

Or it could be that it's the fault of all the British fanboys out there. Yeah, I'm talking to you Punchy.


Porcelain38: She's superman-lite. She is strong and almost indestructible. There's no weakness; She doesn't have a kryptonite as it were. There needs to be a hook that allows readers to latch on and connect to the character on a personal level. Some of the most beloved DC characters are the most human. You have Batman who lives with nothing but guilt, Wally West who is a family man, Hal Jordan who is the essence of cool distilled and has learned to overcome fear. Wonder Woman doesn't have that...She's just Wonder Woman and that's it.

Also...the invisible jet is stupid. It just is.


Despite being a majot pop culture icon and a part of DC's Trinity, Wonder Woman's sales have been less than perfect. Why is this? What can change it?



Punchy:
I'd put it down to the fact that the character lacks that easy to nail down motivation and characterization of the other major comic book icons. Batman has a clearly defined origin and characterization. So does Superman, so does Spider-Man, so does the Hulk. Wonder Woman... is more nebulous. Can anyone tell me exactly what Wonder Woman's personality is? She's caring and motherly, but also a mighty warrior? Is she naïve about the ways of the world of men? Or is she wise? Does she have any flaws? I honestly don't feel I know anything about her as a character. She's really a mess of contradictions. She's an ambassador of peace... but comes from an Island of warriors and spends half her time fighting. It's hard to boil down Wonder Woman to her essential components, can you imagine the superlative first page of All-Star Superman #1 (Doomed planet, desperate scientists, last hope, kindly couple ... SUPERMAN) done for Wonder Woman? You can't, she's too messed-up. You could do it for Batman, for Spider-Man, for Hulk, for Iron Man, for Daredevil, but not for Wonder Woman.

Another factor is that Wonder Woman has not for a long time had a secure status-quo. Batman is (almost always) Billionaire Playboy Bruce Wayne by day, who by night puts on a cowl and fights crime. Superman is mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent. Spider-Man always has money troubles and works for the Bugle. What is Wonder Woman? Does she have a secret identity as Secret Agent Diana Prince? Is she a peace envoy from Paradise Island? Who knows? And who cares?

I think the only time I ever felt Wonder Woman had an identifiable personality was in Darwyn Cooke's New Frontier, where she wasn't just Superman with boobs, but had a warrior's motives, and was a feminist above all. Cooke seems to be able nail characters down like that, New Frontier is also the only story where Hal Jordan isn't the worst human being who ever lived, so maybe that's just Cooke being awesome. But it's a sad state of affairs when the only time Wonder Woman is interesting is an Elseworlds.

I think most people are highly apathetic about Wonder Woman. They know and appreciate her role as the first major and most important female superhero, but they don't really care or have any interest in reading her comics. There are so many more vibrant and interesting books to read. I think that for the last 30 or so years, Wonder Woman has been coasting by on reputation alone, if it was any other character, she'd have been cancelled. Arguably too, Green Lantern or Flash has replaced her position in the Trinity, certainly with events like Blackest Night, they've become the real centre of the DCU. The most anyone could say about Wonder Woman during Blackest Night was that her Star Sapphire costume was even more slutty and embarrassing than her normal one.

I'm not sure what can change this, because even good comics can't seem to do that, George Perez, Phil Jiminez and Greg Rucka have all had acclaimed runs on the character, but still nobody really gave a fuck. The JMS-boot or something equally drastic may be Diana's only chance.


Starlord:
It's unfortunate that Wonder Woman doesn't have the same following as the other two. I guess if there's blame to be layed, I'd put it squarely at the doors of the Powers That Be. I don't think anyone has really given her a long enough chance to shine since the days of Perez.

The last time Wonder Woman seemed to have a solid run with a good following was during Greg Rucka's turn at bat. The question you'd have to ask yourself is: Was his run that good or did his name bring the readers in?

Take the analogy of television and look at some horribly low rated sitcoms that the network exectuves allowed to stay on the air and give them a chance. Cheers, All in the Family, Seinfeld and Friends (to name a few) eventually blossomed and became huge hits. That's not to say they were everyone's favorites, but someone in an office was smart enough to let them gain their momentum. If JMS can stick it out and be allowed a full run the way he wants to do it... I think you may see a Wonder Woman series that is going to rock everyone


Porcelain38: The problem with the book is that it's hard to access. There hasn't been a clear and cut retcon in the book forever. I say that as someone who usually hates retcons, but Wonder Woman desperately needs a retcon for the sake of her book and the entire DCU. The only thing that's happened to the character in my time of reading comics was her murdering Maxwell Lord (which is now being retconned and for that BOOO, DC! BOO!!!), and that's it. Allen Heingberg's relaunch could've been great but was craptastic. Mix that in with Amazon Attack and it was just terrible.


To make a Wonder Woman book work you need someone like Geoff Johns to make since of her past and do interesting things with her. It's a shame that more people haven't been reading Gail Simone's run because I was a big fan of Rise of the Amazon, one of the best WW stories I've read. Hopefully JMS can do this.


What is your opinion on JMS's reboot? Is it good for the character or just lazy writing?



Punchy:
Well, considering the state the character is in right now, it can only be good can't it? Wonder Woman's sales are not strong, Gail Simone's run seems to have disappointed a lot of people, and she's even been replaced on the JLA by Donna Troy. Something is obviously not clicking with the character, and I welcome any attempts to change it.

A lot of the focus of this reboot has been the new Jim Lee-designed costume, but I think that's only surface detail, and is hardly as big a departure from the classic look as some other changes the character has gone through (The Denny O'Neil Emma Peel look for example). The most interesting thing here is what JMS has done with changing the past. It's kind of taken away Diana's safety net, and thrust her into a bold new area. As someone who has never really had any desire to read any Wonder Woman solo stories, JMS' changes certainly have me intrigued. We've had 60 years of the same old thing, so new ideas are certainly needed. JMS has proven himself pretty adept at the revamping classic characters at Marvel too, so he's a good man for the job. The Spider-Totem story in Amazing Spider-Man may have been controversial, but it was very well written, and did reinvigorate the character after the failed Byrne-reboot, and JMS' Thor has been very well received. So hopefully these changes to Wonder Woman will be as successful. Plus he's already written Power Princess in Supreme Power, and she was more interesting after 1 issue that after 500 of Wonder Woman! (Or maybe she was just more naked).

I also wouldn't characterize this reboot as being ‘lazy writing', JMS hasn't just stepped in and retconned the character to suit his own whims, it's clear that there is an in-story reason for this change, that the Gods have changed the past. Even in #600's prologue, it's clear that some characters such as The Oracle are aware that the world is not as it should be. So he hasn't just thrown his weight around, this has been thought out. Presumably JMS has a plan. But will we get to see it to fruition?

Overall, my feelings on the JMS-reboot are very positive, I've gone from someone who wouldn't touch Diana with a ten-foot pole, to being intrigued as to exactly what JMS has planned. I will be picking up Wonder Woman #601, and we'll go from there. It's clear that Wonder Woman's established fan-base isn't enough to support the character, and that if the character wants to succeed, they need to reach out to a different audience. This update could do that. Or it could suck-ass and be a joke in 10 years time. Who knows.


Starlord
: I don't think it's lazy writing at all. It's not like other major characters haven't had the same thing happen to them. These older characters get a little long in the tooth and eventually a writer is going to want to come along and sharpen the lead in the pencil again. (Yes, I just horribly mixed metaphors, sue me)

Both Batman and Superman have been rebooted, revamped, and slightly reorigined more times than I care to count. Joe Chill killed Bruce's parents, then Joker did it, then we weren't sure, now we're back to Joe Chill again. Jonathan Kent has risen from the grave more often than Carter Hall - it seems like at least. So now it's Diana's turn. Who knows, this may actually be the best thing for her. I'm very excited and hopeful about this.


Porcelain38
: Well, honestly I do think that is lazy writing because it's JMS. When you look at JMS and what he did on Thor his WW run should be epic. Now with his Thor run, JMS didn't reboot anything he just redefined how things work with the Asgardian gods and mythology. I was hoping that JMS would do that for Wonder Woman. Redefining Wonder Woman and rebooting Wonder Woman isn't the same thing. Hopefully JMS can make this work and won't be undone within a few years.


Can Wonder Woman work on film? If so how? If not, why not?



Punchy:
I don't see why not. Often I feel that a filmmaker coming in from outside the world of comics is able to nail down something about a character that the comics may have forgotten or neglected. Christopher Nolan's take on Batman in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight are a purer take on the character than we've seen since the 1980s, they made Batman seem fresh. Jon Favreau reinvigorated Iron Man, and hit on the free-wheeling playboy nature of Tony Stark, who had been put in some more serious political situations in the recent comics. Favreau and Downey Jnr. pretty much created an iconic Tony Stark that those of us in comics had forgotten, and it's obvious why Matt Fraction has worked with that same take in his run. So maybe someone coming in from the outside will be able to apply some Rosetta stone and make Wonder Woman not suck. I don't think anyone felt that Iron Man would be as good as it was, and the film really elevated a B-list hero up to the A-List.

I'm not sure who could be the right person to do the same thing for Wondy, but I'm glad that Joss Whedon's version didn't work out. He's too much of a fanboy to really affect a change in the character. I'd be anticipating a movie that was to the Lynda Carter TV-series as Superman Returns was to the Christopher Reeve movies. We need someone who isn't too attached to the old idea of Wonder Woman, because clearly not enough people care about that to make a successful movie. Maybe base a movie on JMS' idea, if it is successful.

But we do need a successful female superhero movie, what have we had so far? Elektra and Cat-Woman? Both steaming turds. So far the only good superheroine role model for little girls is Hit-Girl, and she's a psycho!

And let's make sure the movie does away with that stupid invisible plane, that's the most retarded idea of all time.


Starlord
: Wonder Woman can absolutley work on film! I think what you'd need to do is a fine balancing act between modern day and the mythology that it is tied to; but that would be no harder to do with Diana than it is Thor. And if Thor becomes a major blockbuster with its Norse Mythos, than I see no reason that they can't bring in the Greek Pantheon. For one thing they are much more familiar to people than most Norse Gods.


Porcelain38
: You'll need someone who has a love of the subject. Look at Jon Faverau and Iron Man or Del Toro and Hellboy. If you get just a one off director then, it's just going to be a one off movie that people will forget. And with a tricky property like this you need someone who knows their way around the mythos. Also you need an actress who can pull it off well and not some flash in the pan actress of the week.

Other than that, sure why not, however those are two really big things you need to get in order first.

                          



Thanks to Starlord for his wonderful insight.

Punchy hates Green Lantern and that makes him a very bad, bad person.

Thank you for reading, and as always invite you, the reader, to share your opinions!


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