Sunday, June 05, 2011

Two thoughts on new Wonder Woman costumes (Only one of which is mine)

1.) Is it just me, or does most conversation about the character Wonder Woman revolve around her clothes these days? About this time last year, DC unveiled a new, Jim Lee-designed costume consisting of black pants and a short jacket to go along with then-writer J. Michael Straczynski's quickly aborted run on the Wonder Woman comic. It garnered the character more mainstream media coverage than any time since...well, now that I think of it, I can't remember a time she received more mainstream media coverage than that.

The David E. Kelley produced pilot for a new Wonder Woman TV show, which NBC ultimately passed on, was much-discussed by fans on the Internet, with the lion's share of that discussion revolving around the updated version of the Wonder Woman costume that star Adrianne Palicki would be wearing in the show (Of course, since the show wasn't released yet, and now never will be, the promotional image of Palicki in-costume was about all that fans and interested parties could discuss at that point).

And, or course, last week, DC announced their plans to revamp their entire line of superhero comics, which would include new costumes for all of the characters, designed by Lee. Wonder Woman would therefore get another new Lee-designed costume, which looks like it will hew closer to his costume design than the original Wonder Woman costume.

All three efforts at giving the Amazon princess new costumes were meant to depart dramatically from her traditional look, perhaps to gain attention, and most certainly to make her more palatable to new audience members. Both the JMS-plotted storyline and the upcoming line revamp are meant to modernize the character and attract new readers in greater numbers. As for the TV show, any TV show would have a much, much wider audience than any comic book.

But can you really sell Wonder Woman in a new wrapper? When does Wonder Woman stop being Wonder Woman? Is it, as far as the vast majority of people are concerned, as soon as she changes clothes? Like all superheroes, Wonder Woman is visually defined by her costume. Sure, you can tinker with it a bit here and there—all superhero costume are more or less fluid, if only with in a pretty well-established spectrum—but certain things are always going to be expected.

Wonder Woman has to look like the one in the 1970s TV show, like the one in Super Friends and in Justice League and Justice League Unlimited. She has to look like the lady from the seventy-some years worth of comic books. She has to have a red corset thing. She has to have blue, star-spangled shorts. She has to have bracelets, a lasso and tiara.

This is Wonder Woman.

Or, I suppose, this is Wonder Woman.

Or this.

But this?




Those aren't Wonder Woman, and I have a hard time imagining DC's latest attempt to visually transform the character connecting with anyone who only knows the character from her various television incarnations, since the latest new Wonder Woman costume doesn't look anything like the Wonder Woman that exists in their imagination. Just as I imagine a Superman without a cape or S-shield or a Batman without a cape and pointy ears wouldn't interest anyone interested in a Superman or Batman experience.


2.) The most obvious trend among the three most modern Wonder Woman designs is the fact that rather than a star-spangled skirt or pair of shorts, she wears full pants, with Lee's first re-design adding a jacket as well, for the most modest Wonder Woman costume of them all (Phil Winslade's Victorian Wonder Woman from 1997's Amazonia was more scantily clad).

The impulse is understandable, if perhaps somewhat wrongheaded. If DC Comics (and those with an eye toward adapting DC's character into live action media) wants to make Wonder Woman a more realistic character, then the fact that she fights evil and crime while wearing a patriotic bathing suit and high-heeled boots seems like a good place to start tinkering.

Given the fantastical nature of the character, however, and the role that the figures of Greek mythology play in her story, I think she's a superhero character particularly ill-suited to more realistic takes (That is, what might work fine for Batman or Iron Man, Green Arrow or The Punisher doesn't work quite as well with the likes of the magical Amazon princess created by the Greek goddesses to teach the world to love by beating up and then befriending its bad guys).

Other than a reflexive concern about trying to make the character realistic at the expense of some of her charms, I never really considered her costuming as originally conceived as inherent to the character herself, until I read this quote from a very good book I plan to discuss at greater length in the near future.

Diana's fashion sense is symbolically linked to her politics. Her half-nakedness is part and parcel to her political agenda, so those who are uneasy about her clothesare often uneasy about her broader message of female empowerment. When Diana confronts the world with her exposed her flesh, she expects a well-adjusted reaction. The first time she encounters American clothing in All Star Comics #8, she is puzzled by how conservative the women's fashions are. "There's so much material in these dresses ... but they are cute!" she says, talking as if she had the sensibilities of Eve before the Fall. Leaving the store after choosing to stay dressed in her Wonder Woman costume, Diana encounters throngs of people on the streets who "are amazed to see the scantily clad girl walking around so unconcerned." When old women react with jealousy ("The hussy! She has no clothes on!" "The brazen thing!") and young men with lechery ("Ha! Sour grapes, sister! Don't you wish you looked like that!"), Diana is mildly put out that her body causes such a stir in either direction.

—Marc DiPaolo, War, Politics and Superheroes: Ethics and Propaganda in Comics and Film (McFarland & Company; 2011)

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?


George S. said...

Absolutely great post. I never understood why people think Wondy with exposed arms/legs=unrelatable and backwards. It's all about how DC handles Wonder Woman, and not her clothes. A crappy character is a crappy character, no matter what choice of wardrobe they have. If a character is good, who cares about clothes? Wonder Woman could be that good character, certainly?

DC's inevitable reboot is certainly making people take a hard look at the nature of superheroes in general, and I'm loving the discussion that comes out of it.

Nick Ahlhelm said...

It's idiocy.

More importantly, it's a lot of men that have decided how to make Wonder Woman a female icon.

It says something to me that this isn't the first time that a man tried to depower and clothe Wonder Woman in an attempt to make her more relatable, like that is really the problem with the character.

Akilles said...

has it already been a year...anyway.
I actually thought, that if I get the chance to draw her to a comic, I`d draw her in a dress of somekind. Now, I think that I will draw her the way that she was drawn in that cover you posted. After all, the only part of her costume that felt wrong to me, is that in many comics she`s wearing a thong.

Janra said...

I've heard this argument before, and i do understand some parts of it... her costume is iconic, the whole girdle thing is (some of the time) a source of her powers, etc.

But what i really hate is that if shes supposed to be a Grecian Warrior, then she should dress in SOME WAY like that. the best example i can think of off the top of my head would be her costuming in King Come

obviously without the wings, but you get the idea. yes, keep the stars and stripes, keep the bracers (seriously, i don't understand why people call a forearm length armor a bracelet) but give her some protective clothing. its obvious that the current WW costume isn't all that ceremonial because shes been seen multiple times wearing robes for special functions such as funerals and weddings.

anyways... it sounds all evolved and whatever saying that her costuming should be in keeping with what she has always worn, but you didn't see people complaining when batman revealed his all black costume, or when GA lost his little hat thing in favor of his hood for a while. super heroes are going into battle...their mode of dress should reflect what they are getting into.

really i understand wanting WW to look like an amazonian goddess. its fun to look at, and men can point to her and say "look its an example of woman hood! she doesn't care what others think of her!" but thats crap. at the risk of completely misunderstanding woman's liberation (something i'm probably guilty of all the time) empowerment comes from wearing what you want, not something that shows a lot of skin. you can make the argument that diana wants to wear stuff like that, but after hearing her talking about being a warrior all the time, and seeing how her sisters dress for battle in literally every incarnation i can think of (helmet, breast plate (hur hur) armored skirt, possible shield) it makes no sense for her to be leading them in a skimpy one piece.

but hey. thats just me.