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Arts and Entertainment

DC Comics Bravely Reinvents Wonder Woman As A Fantasy Pin up For Middle Aged Men

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I get it. Wonder Woman's original costume kind of sucks. "But", you might argue, "she's an immortal goddess. Can't she wear whatever she wants?" Sure, but come on, Superman is invulnerable to everything but kryptonite and he wears Long-Johns and a cape. For the last 70 years Wonder Woman has been saddled with a skimpy nightie that only provides zero non-magical protection (and was painfully old fashioned almost the second the ink dried), and an origin story with vast potential that doesn't really make sense. She deserves an update, and like yesterday.

Which is why I was excited by last week's announcement that DC had rolled out a new look and origin for their venerable Super Heroine. That is, until I actually saw it, and nearly unloaded my lunch onto my keyboard.

Now it's true that Wonder Woman comes with a lot of problematic baggage. She was created as a sort of Superman for girls by a domination fetishist with a rather a quirky idea of feminism that apparently existed to exorcise his erotic predilections. Her original costume reflects the ideas of someone who worships a weird new-agey kind of "feminine" power, but has no goddamned idea what melee combat is actually like. It had wrist gauntlets - sorry, the Bracelets of Victory - but no forearm guards. She wore a teensy tiny breastplate that emphasized her breasts but didn't really make with the plate part so well. And of course, strangely enough for a Greek warrior from the Hoplite era, she carried no shield, and no helmet. So yeah, changes, needed, stat.

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But seriously, look at this crap DC expects us to believe is their bold updated Wonder Woman. Let the mega-super-awfulness of it really sink in. Are those... leggings? Yes, yes they are. And what's with that stupid rumply jacket and bustier? Seriously, WTF with this stupid costume, DC Comics? Oh, you let Jim Lee design it. That one-note hack hasn't had an original idea since his work on X-Men back in the 80s - Yeah I said it - but you put him in charge of the company. Great job!

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Am I being mean to Jim? You tell me. Look at this picture of Shadow Cat from the early 80s. Does it look familiar like Jim lee totally ripped this ugly crap off for his stupid Wonder Woman costume? But of course. But it gets worse. Way worse. Wonder Woman is also getting a modernized, gritty origin story to go along with her retail therapy uniform. Take it away, J. Michael Straczynski:

Thanks to some time-shifting by the Olympian gods who created Wonder Woman, the super heroine's history has been changed so she grew up in a modern, urban environment, with little memory or connection to her mythical origins. "The Gods, for reasons of their own but which may have something to with their survival and perhaps the survival of Earth itself, have changed the timeline. In the new timeline, years ago the Gods removed their protection from Paradise Island, and left it vulnerable to attack," Straczynski shared in the press release. "And attacked it was. Led by a dark figure, a veritable army descended upon the Island, equipped with weapons that could kill even the Amazons. Outgunned, doomed, Hippolyta gave over her three-year-old daughter to a handful of guardians who spirited her away as Hippolyta led one last desperate battle against the forces that had come to destroy all she had created. In that final battle, she and most of the Amazons were killed, though some managed to escape."

Oh cool! I love shit that sounds exactly like other shit that I hated the other 600 times I saw it. Hooray!
"It’s now nearly twenty years later. Diana has been raised in an urban setting, but with a foot in both worlds. She has little or no memory of the other timeline. She knows only what she’s been told by those who raised her. On the run, hunted, she must try to survive, help the other refugee Amazons escape the army that is still after them, discover who destroyed Paradise Island and why ... and if the timeline can be corrected or not," Straczynski wrote in DC's official materials. "She also does not yet have access to her full powers, but will be gaining them as she goes. Along the way, she will face a range of enemies — human and otherwise — who we have not seen before."

Grody. Seriously. Forget whether or not it will be any good because it won't. This new origin story would have been seen as a stupid cliche at the height of the 90s Grittier-edgier-dumber era of comics, but it's 2010. HIPNESS FAIL, DC. Surely you could have found people to helm this who have pop culture references more recent than The Macarena. And that's not even getting into the more problematic aspect of this tripe. Wonder Woman was never a true feminist creation, but she became a feminist icon, especially for third wavers who grew up after the Linda Carter tv series. The character has a rich history with a lot to build on. So who does DC hire to handle the reboot? A couple of middle aged dudes who came up with a costume that looks like a 1993 ContempHo Casuals exclusive.

It's also a versatile outfit, according to Straczynski. "She can close it up to pass unnoticed ... open it for the freedom to fight ... lose the jacket or keep it on ... it has pockets (the other fan question, “where does she carry anything in that outfit?”), it can be accessorized," Straczynski wrote in DC's official release. "it’s a Wonder Woman look designed for the 21st century."

Maybe I'm drunker than is normal for a weekday, and as a Babylon 5 fan this hurts me to say, but fuck you Straczynski. Just... fuck you. But before you saunter off to the bedroom to give yourself a well deserved fisting, why not stop to consider something: Would you ever refer to Batman's utility belt as "it can be accessorized... it's a Bruce Wayne look for the 21st century."? Yeah, I thought not. But great job shrinking it and pinking it, idiot. Meanwhile, and I know this is going to sound crazy, but I'm pretty sure there's a ton of women creating comics right now1 who might, and I'm just speculating here, have a hell of a lot more to add to a Greco-Roman myth-inspired Female Character with serious Feminist overtones than a couple of middle aged dudes. Right2?

But setting aside the politics and the hilarious lack of relevance, let's focus on what matters. This costume fucking sucks even worse than the original.

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Look, I know the ineffable god-awfulness of Wonder Woman's original costume is hardly a unique problem. The golden age of comics gave the world a roster ofheroes with ridiculous, impractical costumes whose aesthetics only make sense when you realize they were conceived during an era when Fascism wasn't an aberration, but the logical offshoot of a general worldwide trend that elevated adolescent hero worship into an intellectualized nationalist circle-jerk. The entire world spent the 20s and 30s experimenting with what Ayn Rand and Robert Heinlein would probably admit to be their idea of a perfect society, and that stuff really got into everything like bathroom mold, but with excellent clothes.

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Comics' relative simplicity is an easy fit for transmission of those themes3, and they pop up all over that era. Batman, for example, a wealthy vigilante who spends his time disregarding the rule of law. Sure, he's a Good Person with a Moral Mission in a Corrupt Society, but the unfortunate implication - people can't be trusted to govern themselves, so it's up to the Right Kind Of People to protect them from themselves, the laws and constitution be damned - is disturbingly objectivist4, which explains why Batman remains such a beloved figure among wingnuts5. But of course, it doesn't get any creepier than the fact that the period's most famous pop cultural product was named after the English Translation of a Nietzscheian concept with some rather unfortunate implications, to say the least.

Which is to say that the ridiculous uniforms we associate with Super Heroes were meant to evoke the same kind of martial patriotism and the fulfillment of "I'm special! And Powerful!" longings that dominated the interwar years. Fascist movements, futurism, the Victorian era masculinity cult (which continued into the early 20th century), even the propaganda of Soviet communism, all deliberately stoked these longings to varying degrees until it all blew up with the biggest and deadliest war of all time. Once that war ended, its associated horrors kind of discredited most of the reactionary pre-war aesthetic, and the emerging liberal consensus took hold from roughly the latter half of WWII until the Baby Boomers colluded with their parents' generation to fuck America up in 19806. Liberal values became our default values7, which is why even today our reactionaries pretend not to be bigots, and pretend to be compassionate egalitarians, while advocating policies that would most definitely enshrine oppressive social hierarchies, and a return to feudalism.

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Anyway, the basic Super Hero template remained a kind of weird mashup of 1930s futurism and Victorian fashions well into the 80s, by which time publishers became very interested in drastic stylistic changes and retconned reasoning to explain them. Except, for some reason, Wonder Woman, whose costume continued not only to have an inexplicable origin but also remained the same, a "sexy" and impractical mess. DC has opted to correct that oversight by replacing it with a "sexier", even less practical mess. Anyone with eyes can see for themselves how staggeringly awful it is. Except for the douches who created it:

It’s a look designed to be taken seriously as a warrior, in partial answer to the many female fans over the years who’ve asked, 'how does she fight in that thing without all her parts falling out?'... It reflects her origins in both the outside world and the world of Amazons: tough, elegant...a street-fighter’s look which also incorporates elements of her classic design," Straczynski said. "It reflects the two sides warring for ultimate victory, and underscores the path she must take."

Um... no, actually it doesn't. And it definitely isn't a street fighter's look. It not only looks like something only TV thought was fashionable in 1994, it's also quite obvious that anyone without Greek Myth powers who tries fighting in that stupid outfit will be face up, 6 feet down faster than you can say "hey, pull that stupid jacket over his face!" No, this costume is actually worse that the fascism-lite peddled by the aesthetic requirements of the golden age. At least that Wonder Woman looked like she was ready for a fight, albeit an exceptionally silly fight. The new Wonder Woman like totally gets her shop on at the Beverly Center and then heads over to Pink Berry or the Kogi truck for a quick pick me up before dashing off to fight the bad guy before pilates. Pathetic. And here I always thought of her as an ageless Amazonian warrior. Apparently, she's just Forever 218.

It's too late to stop this train wreck but, presumably, terrible sales will ex-post-facto accomplish what couldn't be done preemptively, and 3 years from now DC will be pretending this never happened. Hopefully the almost-certain failure of this dreck won't cause them to think the problem is women and not the two terrible hacks they hired to puke all over Wonder Woman. And, when they decide to try again with the Wonder Woman update, they'll hire actual women to oversee it. In the meantime, here's a far superior source of inspiration for a new Wonder Woman Costume. You're welcome, dumbasses.

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Footnotes

1.) My vote? Jessica Abel. Seriously, read La Perdida and Life Sucks and ask yourself why Jim Lee is more famous than she is. And maybe with art by Eric Shanower, since he's got HELL of experience with classical imagery. H/T Xina.


2.) It's worth adding that if DC absolutely, just absolutely MUST have a dude relaunch their flagship female character, maybe they ought to pay attention to how one of their former employees approached similar territory. Then again, DC made a habit of alienating the second most talented comics writer ever to work for them, so we shouldn't expect them to be that smart.

3.) Just ask Jack Chick about this.

4.) I realize Batman was created before Objectivism had a name but is there any doubt the tropes associated with Batman provide endless wank-related food for thought for Ayn Rand's disturbed, developmentally arrested acolytes?

5.) Don't get me wrong. Batman is an incredible character with a lot of room for interpretation, which is why so many awesome stories have been written about him. That doesn't mean it isn't also very often used as Right Wing Porn - especially in The Dark Knight Returns, one of the most insidiously fascistic works of fiction ever to come out of American Culture.

6.) As they remain, amazingly, which explains why every single Batman work inspired by The Dark Knight Returns jettisons Millers disgusting, reactionary misanthropy in favor of the idea that Batman isn't defending an unworthy world of ungrateful wretches who don't know what's good for them, but the oppressed against the oppressors, essentially transforming Batman from a Paramilitary vigilante into a kind of Robin hood figure. Also, H/T Amanda.

7.) Thanks for the Reagan Revolution, guys. We're really loving that whole the-country-is-falling-apart thing you've given us.

8.) Zing!