Pop Culture
Jul 06, 2010, 07:10AM

The Unchangeable Wonder Woman

Or, unwarranted nerd outrage.

Wonder woman 006.jpg?ixlib=rails 2.1

Then and now.

Even if you’re not an avid reader of comic books, you’ve probably heard the uproar about the proposed changes to Wonder Woman’s costume by DC Comics and veteran comic-guy Jim Lee. While I’m all about tradition, the whole upheaval is just a little bit ridiculous. Sometimes, I fear that our attachment to fictional characters can be even more tenacious than our attachment to our own families and loved ones.

I’m not speaking as an outsider, either. I take comics seriously, and my embarrassingly overwhelming collection of graphic novels can attest to that. I draw comics in my spare time, and I go to conventions. Please ignore my Batman steering wheel cover and floor mats. But guys, we’re talking comics.

These anti-change proclamations seem to capitalize on the idea that classic, iconic things should not be ignored, and I agree with this idea—especially when it comes to comic books. Let’s be honest: we’re all still a little itchy from what the 1990s did to comic books. Every hero became gritty, forgot to shave that morning, got some back story that involved a demon touching them inappropriately, bulked up to absurd proportions (or developed zeppelin-like breasts and scoliosis), and had a notebook full of bad catchphrases which they threw around. The 90s ruined the credibility of comic books as a valid creative medium in the public eye, even though the books of that era are a perfect sociological study of how the arrested teenage id manifested itself in grown men. That’s another issue entirely.

So, I can understand where a reluctance to change comes from. However, you’d have a very difficult time finding a single comic book hero or villain who has been around for 60 years and has not seen a series of costume changes. We seem to have forgotten that Batman used to wear purple mittens, and that Iron Man was essentially a garbage can. Spider-Man has had armpit webs, a black costume, and a half-robotic costume—not counting the times he’s been transformed into other creatures for a few issues. I cut off a 15-year-old ponytail a few weeks ago and stopped wearing combat boots all the time. If we have such a dedication to treating these characters as people, don’t you think that they should be allowed to evolve the same way as us?

Comic books are a malleable medium, and a very unique example of a fiction that has been constantly written and added to over a period of over 70 years. Few fictional characters have been treated to this kind of prolonged, active life, but Superman and Aquaman have been pretty lucky. Aquaman, by the way, went from a clean-cut do-gooder to an angry environmentalist with a beard, who then got a hook for a hand, and then became a clean-cut guy with a hand made of water. When it comes to a costume change for Wonder Woman, we act like comics aren’t in a constant state of flux. You can’t be the same person for 70 years, even if this fictional universe treats time as a flexible dimension. Seventy human years of reading stories are still 70 human years. Wonder Woman cannot always be Lynda Carter, no matter what your genitals say.

It’s not about Wonder Woman wearing pants as a feminist statement, or losing her identity as a symbol of powerful womanhood. I’m not even saying that the new costume is a feat of amazing design and artistry, but these are comic books. People die, people change their clothes, people change teams, and we eventually get used to it. Before too long, the time-bullet that shot Captain America will bring him back to the present, Batman’s back will heal, Superman will resurrect himself from the dead all Jesus-style, and everything will come back around. When you do not permit evolution, you promote stagnation.

So, guys, it’s comics. They’re not all great, but the medium is structured in such a way that they can always become great again. In terms of comic book crimes, a small costume change is far less serious than Superboy fixing the DC Universe by crying and punching time crystals in space. Which really happened.

Still want to act so serious?

  • Man, you keep writing about all the axes I have to grind. Wonder Woman has been retconned way, way more than any of those other heroes you mentioned. If you want to know why, you could read this: http://www.tcj.com/hoodedutilitarian/2010/01/wonder-woman-must-change/ Also — mainstream comic books suck. I mean, they're really, really bad. The point isn't that people shouldn't care because WW will be good again. The point is that WW has sucked for decades, she will continue to suck after this transition, and when she goes back to her original costume, she'll still suck. Because sucking is what mainstream comics do these days, and will continue to do until the direct market crashes and the pamphlets disappear and we all have to get our super-hero fix from movies. Maybe that'll take another ten years?

    Responses to this comment
  • Mainstream comics have a lot of really bright moments, but too often they're overshadowed by these epic tales that the publishers are trying to tell, which invariably end up tangled beyond recognition. // Are you familiar with how violently they've rewritten Spider-Man recently? // If we're comparing indie comics against 'mainstream' comics, it's another thing altogether. Indies are populated with a kind of narcissistic suck which is FAR more embarrassing - again, with a few really great moments. There's suck in every medium. You just kinda hope for the best.

    Responses to this comment
  • I hate the kind of indie comics you're talking about too...but mainstream comics currently are just shockingly bad. Genres have their good times and their bad times, and the last twenty years or so have been an increasingly apocalyptic time for superhero fare.

    Responses to this comment
  • I'm curious, and this isn't meant as a jab at all (despite the fact that you accused me of 'whining' in another post without reading what I'd written beyond the title) - what do you consider to be some good comics? // I ask because some people would call '52' amazing, others would call the new Thor amazing, and others might call back to vintage Arthur Drake Doom Patrol stuff. I'm curious where you standards lie.

    Responses to this comment
  • I read your article. And yes, you were whining. (And you're welcome to jab at me. I won't mind.) Here are a handful of my positive reviews of various comics: http://www.comixology.com/articles/347/Grief-Without-End; http://www.comixology.com/articles/366/Circle-of-Blood; http://hoodedutilitarian.blogspot.com/2009/09/bound-to-blog-wonder-woman-16.html; http://hoodedutilitarian.blogspot.com/2008/11/cowardly-and-castrated-part-sixth-in.html I hate most things, though.

    Responses to this comment
  • Collin, I'd avoid a jabfest with anyone who writes approvingly of Kylie Minogue. There's no way you can win.

  • Zing!

    Responses to this comment
  • Ah, manga and Punisher comics. It's all so very clear to me now. Selective literacy is a dangerous trap to fall into.

    Responses to this comment
  • It's not manga; it's mahwa. And the Punisher by Steven Grant is one of the more recognized series of its era — though, of course, you don't seem to have heard of it. Selective literacy, as you say. Also, knee jerk hatred of pop is so twenty years ago, guys. Y'all need to search out and find a clue.

    Responses to this comment
  • Kneejerk? Why I'll have you know I got through a full 16secs of this before I turned it off -- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7ExvtfoD8s

    Responses to this comment
  • Noah and I like different things, which obviously means I'm inherently wrong and ignorant. I can accept a worldview like that, as it really only concerns itself. My biggest worry is how we're going to keep the baby with all of this bickering. You knew that I disapproved of your lust for mediocrity coming into this, Noah! NOW WHAT AM I GOING TO TELL MY PARENTS?

    Responses to this comment
  • You are inherently wrong and ignorant....but you recognize my superiority, which is the most important thing. So we can be friends!

    Responses to this comment

Register or Login to leave a comment