Last week, geekdom had a small meltdown over the new Wonder Woman costume, and J. Michael Straczynski's new reboot/retcon/alternate universe that will launch in Wonder Woman #600. The consensus was generally "nay" to both ideas, especially the outfit, though we all know how short-lived new ideas in comic books can be. Normally, I wouldn't write about comic book news, even if ABC News and Nikke Finke are both shrieking about it, but I think this revamp (good, bad, or ugly) is going to be important for Wonder Woman. It's not going to be a mere footnote on her Wikipedia page. I think her big screen chances might rest on it.
Wonder Woman is an odd character. She sells more merchandise than she sells books. I know a lot of women who love the idea of Wonder Woman, and they own the doll, the t-shirt, and the sports bra, but they don't own the comic books. Market analysis claims this is because the books aren't good, and the character is dull, but I don't think that's true. I think it simply comes down to comic books being so inaccessible to average readers -- not necessarily because of cryptic mythology or childish reputation (though that's part of it) but because they're difficult to buy on a whim. But that's another topic. The argument goes that she doesn't sell because she's boring, cold, or underdressed.
To be fair, I was never all that warm on her. I wasn't a fan of the Lynda Carter show and I've only picked up the books on a sporadic basis. I enjoyed them as one-offs, but never felt compelled to keep reading. In a really neat coincidence though, I'm in possession of a huge stack of Gail Simone's books, so I've gone on a Wonder Woman binge. (This has to be the only time in my life when news and my reading stack coincided.) And you know what? Wonder Woman is a great character. If penned by someone who knows and loves her, she'd be one hell of a movie franchise.
What I'm digging about Simone's books (for the record, I just finished Warkiller and Rise of the Olympians) is that Wonder Woman is a character who is simultaneously fury filled, ass kicking, and riddled with doubt. She's got a bit of Wolverine in her in these books, as she fears losing control, but often embraces her bloodlust to make a point. Like Batman, Wonder Woman doesn't kill, but she snapped and killed a man a few years back (Max Lord) and it's been eating at her ever since. She's also burdened by her godly responsibilities. She doesn't know who she really is, or what she really wants out of life. Lest you think this is girly romantic-comedy stuff, these are all thoughts that go through her head as she's bodyslamming a bad guy, or hunting down a sea monster. You have time to think in those moments, I guess.
Supposedly, Wonder Woman can't be a movie because of her cryptic mythology -- though that isn't stopping The Green Lantern -- and because superheroines are unsellable. There's also concern that you can't beat her up onscreen, though I think if a screenwriter and director stress her as a warrior, as her writers do, you can help audiences past that squeamishness. She's a soldier. Soldiers fight. They bleed. There's nothing misogynist about showing a woman's blood and guts if she's a warrior, not a victim, and I believe moviegoers are intelligent enough to discern that. If she's presented as resolute and determined as Batman -- and Simone's books, in my opinion, put her squarely in tough-but-troubled territory -- people would love it. Except for the costume. Because, oh, how everyone hates her costume. Feminist blogs rail against it. Mainstream critics who mock comic books point at her boobs and laugh. I did the same when I was younger. It doesn't bother me as much as it used to, though. Compared to Black Canary, her bustier looks Purtanical and practical, unless a jacket is what really makes the difference.
That brings us to the current revamp. With DC Comics becoming the all-encompassing DC Entertainment, their comic books and movie adaptations are becoming wrapped up in a way that Marvel's don't seem to be. I don't think it's coincidence that DC is teasing "the next slate of superhero movies" (a slate that includes a long-delayed Wonder Woman) at the same time Wonder Woman gets a much publicized makeover. The sharp-eyed have surely noticed her costume is in a similar vein as the "real world" costumes the X-Men debuted in 2000, and the theory goes that her new look could make it into the movie. Fan reaction has been so poisonous, though, that we could see her in her bustier get-up again. Frankly, if they're worried about coverage, I wish they'd put her in full armor all the time. It works for Iron Man and Batman! And the design is shiny.
I'm willing to bet her new origin story is being tested out, too. DC has made a decided effort not to stick to "classic" versions of characters. Christopher Nolan's Batman draws from all over the mythology, and I suspect his Superman will too. The Green Lantern that we're getting isn't the tried-and-true Hal Jordan, but the troubled alcoholic version of later retcons. The Flash will be Barry Allen by way of Geoff Johns' current run, though most fans longed to see Wally West. Comic readers like the Golden Age, movie studios like the Silver Age and the troubled souls that inhabit it. I suspect this is because these characters are slightly more adaptable to the "gritty, real world" setting that continues to be all the buzz. Conveniently, Diana is now a woman "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." Whether she's the warrior
As Wonder Woman's Amazonian background is derided by many, and has been cited as "impossible" to adapt, this new orphan Diana background feels like a really, really obvious attempt to create a cleanly cinematic Wonder Woman. It's the kind of movie adaptation I would have expected to see in the 1980s or 1990s, and what I thought we'd grown out of. To me, the appeal of Wonder Woman is her otherworldliness. She knows where she comes from and draws on that. It informs everything she does. It often torments her. To have her unaware of her true powers and origin weakens her. To put her on the run makes her a mutant or a Dark Knight, not the Princess of Themyscira. I think it's telling that the way to "save" Wonder Woman from poor sales is to take away some of her power and make her more vulnerable. If this makes it into a movie, I think it's a shame. We've already seen the uncertain and lost superheroine in the X-Men movies, and we've seen a dozen "I know who I am now!" origin stories. Wouldn't it be cool to see a Wonder Woman who steps out of Themyscira fully realized on the big screen? One who fights a Big Bad because of who she is, not to find out?
This is all speculation, of course. There's no certainty we'll ever get a Wonder Woman movie, let alone one based on Jim Lee and Straczynski's revamp. But it's no accident that this makeover is happening now, and eyes are on the sales figures and fan reactions to see how it plays out. If there's wild enthusiasm, breathless blog posts, and skyrocketing numbers because she now wears pants, a jacket, and is "human", this is the Wonder Woman you'll see in a movie. With the enthusiasm of a new convert, I can say it's not the version I want. I want the resolute warrior who willingly champions humanity out of love and faith, who wears armor instead of jeans, and remains troubled by the duties of war and personal sacrifice. I want her to be larger than life -- even if that includes her breasts and implausible bustier -- because that's what a superheroine is. I don't want her cut down in the belief that she'll find a larger audience.