With Transformers starlet Megan Fox calling her "lame" and the most successful writer in the American comic industry joking that she's "a walking STD farm," it's time to ask: Why doesn't Wonder Woman get the respect she deserves?
Fox made her lazy diss in an interview with the London Times last week, addressing rumors that she could take the lead in a potential WW movie:
Wonder Woman is a lame superhero... She flies around in her invisible jet and her weaponry is a lasso that makes you tell the truth. I just don't get it. Somebody has a big challenge on their hands whoever takes that role but I don't want to do it.
Commenting on the upset about her comment, Marvel Comics' Brian Michael Bendis - writer of New Avengers, Dark Avengers and the upcoming Spider-Woman, amongst many others - twittered a couple of additional jabs:
Spider-Woman is cooler than Wonder Woman in every way possible. Wonder Woman's got a pipply ass! she's the pipply ass of comics!! Spider-Woman has better hair, better costume, frank cho implants and a fucked up origin. Wonder Woman is a walking std farm!!
So, you know, let's put aside the whole "implants make a character better" thing, and even the "walking STD farm" thing, for a second (No, really; I know that's asking for a lot) and wonder out loud, just what is it that's so wrong with Wonder Woman? As Robot 6's Tom Bondurant, who's been writing about DC Comics characters for years, explains, the character's longevity alone should afford her some respect:
Brief breaks notwithstanding, Wonder Woman is one of the few Golden Age characters whose adventures have been published continuously ever since her introduction. Superman and Batman are the only others, so this alone puts them all in the same class.
However, if such minds as Bendis and Fox agree that she's lame and don't get what makes her an appealing character, then what is she doing wrong?
Maybe Bendis is right, in part; maybe it's the costume. That's something that even her writers have had trouble with in the past; here's what novelist Jodi Picoult - who wrote the character for a brief time in 2007 - told USA Today:
[R]ight off the bat, I tried to get her out of her bustier, 'cause let's face it, no woman would ever fight crime in one. But that was a no-no. (Laughs)
Greg Rucka, who wrote the Wonder Woman title for three years, fought a similar battle with no success:
I tried to get the costume changed from the start. Even had a story built around it. Despite repeated attempts, the response was a resounding no, and the arguments made were always commercial and economic ones, rather than those of story or content... the fact is, she's been hyper-sexualized from the moment of inception, and there's no likelihood that portrayal will ever change, no matter who's writing the book, nor who's drawing it. It's not unique to that character, though she is, I think, by far, the most visible example of it.
Is the problem, perhaps, that DC Comics are unsure about her audience? Picoult again:
It was very hard to gauge her readership. She obviously is drawn for the adolescent male. She has a lot of adult male fans reading her because of that and who are very tied to her and want to make sure she's not ruined by anybody. She has a huge gay following for both men and women. I think that DC has always hoped she would be a superhero for young women as well, but many of them at this point are reading Japanese comics.
Rucka has been less optimistic at times:
I honestly think DC/WB has no idea who her target audience is. I suspect, more often than not, they think she has none.
But why is that the case? Weirdly enough, I think that what makes Wonder Woman such an interesting character to those who love her is also her biggest weakness when it comes to explaining why she's not lame to everyone else: She's too complex a character to really match up with contemporaries Superman and Batman. Both Clark and Bruce can be summed up in one high concept sentence ("Last member of an alien race rocketed to Earth who personifies the best parts of humanity as he defends his adopted home planet" and "A man who's dedicated his life to fighting crime so that no-one ever has to suffer the same kind of tragedy that he has", respectively), and it's something that most successful DC superheroes have (Green Lantern: "Space cop with a magic wishing ring"; Flash: "The fastest man alive"; Aquaman: "King of the seas"). Wonder Woman, though...? Not so much. Here's Greg Rucka again, talking about what makes him love the character in a 2004 interview:
She's an Amazon. Amazons are a warriors, they're a martial culture. They can promote belief in peace in part because they've been living in absolute seclusion and isolation for so long, and also because if you mess with them, they'll kill you. It's easy to dictate peace when you're the baddest motherfucker on the block. Diana comes from this culture where she's bred for war, but is able to reap the rewards of 3000 years of peace - the art, the science, the philosophy. Add to that these divine elements, like the wisdom of Athena and so on, and you've got this person who has all these ingredients and they are in many ways pulling her in different directions, but she somehow manages to unify them all for a single direction. She's not going crazy, she's not neurotic - you look at every other superhero ever and they are all malfunctioning in some way [laughs]. In some way, they are internally malfunctioning - Diana really isn't, even with all the paradoxes and conflicts, she may be the most well-adjusted superhero out there. At least when I look at her, that's what I see. She's somebody who knows what she's about and has absolute conviction in what she believes and is willing to fight for those things she believes, be it with words or swords. I love the character and the more I work with her, the more I love her.
That mix of warrior and peacemaker is just one of things that makes her attractive to current Wonder Woman writer Gail Simone:
I have a scene in one of my early issues where Wonder Woman lets an opponent kick the crap out of her, without fighting back, just her extending an open hand to him, no matter what his rage makes him do. I think that's a big part of it - she COULD tear someone's head off, she COULD destroy a country if she chose. But she would consider that a failure as a warrior for peace. The death of an enemy is not victory to her. I love that stuff. I think it's a far better blueprint for the future than most of the action hero stuff out there right now.
The problem with Wonder Woman may be that the conflicts within her character - even if, as Rucka points out, the character herself has come to terms with them - make it harder for people to come up with an idea of who Wonder Woman is (Not for nothing was her series relaunched in 2007 with a storyline called "Who Is Wonder Woman," after all), and they end up looking at all the... well, the unimportant things, instead. It's understandable, in one sense, for people to focus on the way the character looks; comics are a visual medium, and she's not alone in that sense of objectification (Captain America, Batman and Superman are three male characters who have become similarly misunderstood because of their iconic, somewhat dated, looks), and just as easy for people to base misconceptions of the character on the little bits of her pop culture identity that they can remember: the invisible plane, the lasso of truth, and so on. But none of those things are who Wonder Woman is. It's as if Batman was reduced to half-remembered snippets from the Adam West television show from the 1960s.
It's a catch-22, of course; most people think Wonder Woman is lame because they don't know who Wonder Woman is, but they're unlikely to get to know Wonder Woman because they think Wonder Woman is lame. What she lacks is a Dark Knight Returns (or, for that matter, a The Dark Knight); a high-profile project that pushes people to re-evaluate the preconceptions and redefines the character in the mainstream consciousness, and not in the "Out of my way, sperm bank" direction... Something made by people with enough name recognition that could overcome concerns or apathy about the character enough to convince the masses to at least give it a try, and enough understanding of what makes the character interesting, unlike her peers and... well, wonderful.
Anyone want to see if we can convince Joss Whedon to come back to the idea of a Wonder Woman movie after all?