Wonder Woman: What makes her tick?

by  in Comic News Comment
Wonder Woman: What makes her tick?

About a month ago, I quoted Tom Spurgeon and agreed with him that a major problem with getting a Wonder Woman TV series or movie off the ground is the tendency of writers to over-think the character. There was some good discussion in the comments that followed that post. Not all of it on-point, of course, but that’s the cool thing about conversations. It’s okay if they lead you away from where you started.

I’m thinking specifically of some comments around the middle of the thread where folks started to do the very thing that – on the surface – I said writers shouldn’t do: fuss with the character. That’s fine though, because a certain amount of fussing is necessary. Spurgeon even implied it in his original quote and some of the comments he made later. “Stop fussing” implies that some fussing is already being done and Spurgeon doesn’t appear to judge that. Taken literally, he’s just saying that there’s a time to put that away and just write some damn adventure stories. When he says in the comments, “embrace what you like and streamline past what you don’t,” he assumes that some thinking has been given to what you like and don’t about the character.

It’s the same point I made when I wrote, “While it’s important to know the character you’re telling a story about, the story itself doesn’t have to be an overt demonstration of how you’ve figured that out.” Figuring out the character and writing fun stories about her are two different things and should be kept separate, but they’re both important to do. Since that last post focused on the need for writing fun stories, this one’s about offering a suggestion on figuring Wonder Woman out. Particularly, how it’s not as hard as it’s made out to be.

For a lot of people my age, our introduction to Wonder Woman was through the Lynda Carter TV show. As Peter David pointed out in the comments to that other post, “If that show hit the airwaves for the first time today, exactly as it was, fans would be decrying it for extreme campiness.” That’s probably true, but it’s not the bad German accents or Steve Trevor’s incompetence that make people remember it so fondly. It was how honest Lynda Carter’s portrayal of Wonder Woman was. She completely sold the character as a real person and she was every bit as heroic and strong (not just physically, but spiritually and emotionally) as Superman or Batman any other superhero. And I think the memory of that completely strong, comfortable, confident woman is what audiences are looking for in not only a Wonder Woman TV show or movie, but the comics as well.

Wonder Woman should be the Sean Connery of her gender: men should want to be with her and women should want to be her. When Connery played Bond, he walked around every setting he found himself in as if he owned the place. Didn’t matter if it was his office, a hotel, or the villain’s headquarters, he was completely comfortable with himself. That’s how Wonder Woman should be.

Not aggressively so. Not strident. Connery never had to convince anyone through aggression that he was competent. You knew it by just looking at him. Wonder Woman should be the same way. That’s what sets her apart from all the other female superheroes with great hair, big boobs, and long, long legs. When she’s written and drawn (especially drawn!) correctly, she’s able to walk around in a frickin’ bathing suit and be completely at ease. She’s like the Sub-Mariner that way, only not so much a jerk about it. Sub-Mariner is another character who oozes confidence and so gets away with swim gear as a costume. It’s not the skimpiness of the outfit that’s attractive; it’s the way they carry themselves in it.

Caleb Mozzocco made a similar point recently on his blog while discussing all the fussing – by creators and fans – over Wonder Woman’s costume.

By making Wonder Woman wear pants, are they (and, by “they” I mean Jim Lee, DC Comics, David E. Kelley, Warner Brothers and/or whoever is advocating she cover up those bare legs) failing the enlightened view of the female body litmus test that Wonder Woman’s costume functions as? Are they seeing the wrong things when they see Wonder Woman’s flesh, thinking her a brazen, exhibitionist hussy and condemning her for it, or worrying that she will incite lust in others?

Almost 70 years after that story in All-Star Comics #8, are we still not at the point where we’re okay with an Amazon princess strutting around with bare legs, shoulders and arms?

It was actually that post that inspired this one. I’m not a purist who thinks that Wonder Woman’s costume should remain skimpy just because it’s always been that way. Hell, I think she should have lots of different costumes. Vary her look from issue to issue or story to story, only keeping a few, iconic elements. That would be cool. But covering her skin in the name of modesty isn’t the way to go. Wonder Woman’s above all that.

This is why I don’t care for George Perez’ run on the series. It gets praised a lot for its attention to Greek mythology and its strong characterization, but Perez’s Wonder Woman isn’t the strong, confident heroine that I want to read about. His Wonder Woman is a fish-out-of-water. She’s the new kid on the superhero block. She’s wide-eyed and innocent.

When Perez draws her flying she has an expression of joyous rapture. “Whee! I’m flying!”

Which I guess a lot of people liked, but seems really… I don’t know, girlish? I much prefer this image of her flying.

She’s still smiling and enjoying what’s going on, but she isn’t so “yipee!” about it. She’s more mature. Comfortable.

I even enjoy this downbeat depiction of her.

She’s being led away in handcuffs and she’s not happy about it, but she is calm and in control. There’s nothing happening to her that she isn’t letting happen and it gives you the feeling that indeed nothing could happen to her that she doesn’t let happen. That’s not true, of course. Stuff happens to Wonder Woman outside of her control all the time. It has to in order to keep things interesting. But she creates the illusion that she can handle anything. Just like Bond.

I’m not a woman and don’t claim to speak for women, but I know a lot of women and all of them who’ve been willing to talk to me about it tell me that self-image and confidence are huge issues for them. If Wonder Woman has a deeper meaning than just being a generic female superhero (and she should), it ought to be about inspiring women and young girls to have confidence in themselves. That’s an easy thing to grasp about the character that sets her apart from other superheroes and gives her a mission in this world. But because it’s so integrally connected to who she is as a character, it doesn’t require every story to be about feminine confidence. To Spurgeon’s original point, she can have an infinite variety of adventures with the invisible plane or golden lasso or kangaroos or whatever else you dig and as long as it doesn’t change who she is as a person, she’s still inspirational and on-message.