Thursday, October 23, 2014

Meanwhile, at Robot 6...

I've only got one piece at a website that is not this website this week, a review of Tim Hanley's Wonder Woman Unbound at Robot 6.

You can go read it now, if you like, and then come back and we can talk a little bit more about it.


Are you back?

Cool. So, as I noted over there, Hanley doesn't spend a whole lot of time on the post-Perez, "modern age" of Wonder Woman comics. In fact, here's pretty much everything he has to say about the Wonder Woman comic proper during the time in which I was aware of Wonder Woman comics (I didn't read the John Byrne run as it was ongoing—I think Phil Jimenez's was when I first picked up the title—but I do recall flipping through the Byrne run in my hometown mall's Waldenbooks, back when my hometown still had a mall, and there were still Waldenbooks):
John Byrne took over as writer and artist after Messner-Loebs left and largely ignored everything that had happened before. He moved Wonder Woman to the fictional Gateway City, gave her a new supporting cast, and even killed her for a few issues. The book wasn't terrible, but nor was it particularly good. By the mid-1990s, the series had settled into a middling quality with middling sales, and it never came back in any lasting way.

There were some good moments: Phil Jimenez's run on the book as writer and artist is very well respected; writer Greg Rucka was twice nominated for an Eisner, the comics industry's biggest award, while writing Wonder Woman; and Gail Simone became the series' first regular female writer. There were occasional sales jumps, but they quickly petered out. Another relaunch in 2006 lit up the sales charts briefly, but delays and a tie-in to Amazons Attack, a poorly executed miniseries in which the Amazons invaded America, soon dragged the book down. When Wonder Woman was renumbered to mark its 600th issue overall, J. Michael Straczynski came onboard as writer and sales rose initially until Straczynski abruptly left the book. Then sales plummeted again.
Hanley probably did DC a favor by not bringing up Jodi Picoult, which is still maybe the most mind-bogglingly self-defeating screw-up I've seen from the publisher. They scored one of the most popular and successful prose writers of the day, and then forced her to write some dumb-ass Amazons Attack tie-in instead of doing, say, anything at all she wanted to do (All-Star Wonder Woman, for example). He also probably does Brad Meltzer a favor by not mentioning the writer by name, despite spending a few paragraphs tearing apart Identity Crisis.

Still, I found it pretty astounding how much he skims over there, essentially reducing about 20 years worth of Wonder Woman comics into just two paragraphs.

After I finished writing my review of the book, I saw it still had a bunch of strips of press releases and the corners of empty sugar packets sticking out of it here and there where I marked something I thought I might want to mention in the review or follow up on here later.

Let's talk about those too, shall we?

First, I was really intrigued by this passage from Hanley's section of the book dealing with her 1968-1972 mod era, during which she lost her powers and costume:
For over twenty-five years, Wonder Woman had been kind-hearted and peaceful, using force only when her diplomatic solutions were rejected. This all changed with the mod Diana Prince; her anger perpetually boiled just below the surface and erupted with anysort of provocation. Violence was her response to nearly every situation.


In an issue ominous titled "Red for Death!" Diana traveled to China and ended up strafing Chinese fighter jets with a massive machine gun. Another story arc had Diana trapped in the interdimenstional kingdom of Chalandro, where she killed at least twenty men with blazing sword work before she was captured. Diana later escaped, joined a local rebel group, and taught them to make gunpowder. She and her fellow rebels then shot down the enemy's air ships with cannons,blowingup the gas-filled and heavily manned flying machines. Diana's solution for any problem was to hit it or blow it up or, more often than not, kill it.
I found it intriguing because I associate the hot-headed, violence-first, killing's-not-so-bad, ultimate warrior version of Wonder Woman with the modern age. I've long assumed it was a sort of unfortunate result of the popularity of Kingdom Come, in which she played a sort of Lady Macbeth role in Superman's decision-making process, pushing him to become a bad guy, who we could root for Batman to beat (And she does so in much more extreme fashion in the Injustice: Gods Among Us comics, which are heavily influenced by Kingdom Come).

There are other factors that may have contributed to Wonder Woman becoming  a violence-monger always willing to resort to deadly force, of course: The portrayal differentiated her from her fellow Trinitarians Superman and Batman, it played off of the concept of the Amazons as a Classical Age warrior race (instead of the utopians Marston re-created them to be), it seemed to fit in better with the mythological milieu that got increasing play in Wonder Woman comics and, finally, it helped serve as an over-correction for fears on the part of the writers, artists and editors working on her that a female character wouldn't be seen as a bad-ass enough character.

Hanley, however, traces this violent streak in Wonder Woman all the way back to the Bronze Age of comics. I guess Wondy's willingness to kill comes and goes...?

In a rather long section (for this particular book) discussing Wonder Woman and feminism, I found this passage quite striking:
It's quite impressive that [Gloria] Steinem and company were able to translate Marston's particular feminisim into something that resonated with a modern audience. It was a fascinating evolution of the character, and one that made Wonder Woman relevant for the first time in decades. While it may have been an inaccurate depiction of Marston's Wonder Woman, what's more significant is that Wonder Woman meant so much to these women and that they were able to remake her into a massively popular feminist icon. Authorial intent is important, but writing isn't a one-way street. What resonates with readers and what they see in a character is just as relevant, and Steinem and her friends saw a fantastic role model in Wonder Woman.
That bit about writing not being a one-way street is probably particularly important when it comes to Wonder Woman, as the feminists of the 1970s were hardly the first readers to see what they wanted in Marston's Wonder Woman comics, nor were they the last. A lot of people have their own personal Wonder Woman, and I often think that the "wrong" Wonder Womans are the ones that are embraced by the most people. Certainly the Wonder Woman of the TV show, of Superfriends and the Justice League cartoons, of Greg Rucka or Gail Simone's runs are more pervasive then Marston's version, despite the fact that he had what seems to me an unusual amount of control over his least compared to some of Wonder Woman's peers from around that time.

Marston was the only writer on any Wonder Woman comics for the first six years of her fictional life (at which point Marson passed away, and Robert Kanigher took over as writer/editor for a few decades).

Superman, Batman and Captain Marvel had several different men writing and drawing them during their developmental years, and in some cases they were rather forcefully and famously pried away from the control of their creators (Superman) or were a case of creation-by-committee from the outset (Batman). Additionally, those three supermen all spawned movie serials and radio shows that cross-pollinated their comics iterations, whereas Wonder Woman didn't have the same multi-media success during her formative years (and never would catch up to Batman and Superman in that regard; I think she's surpassed Captain Marvel by this point, her 1970s live-action TV show proving more popular than his, and her cartoon appearances dwarfing his, thanks to her Justice League membership).

It was likely circumstance as much as anything else—Marston being older and having more power relative to his publishers than Joel Siegel and Joe Shuster did, for example, or Superman proving more popular than Wonder Woman—but the original Golden Age Wonder Woman ended up being much more the product of her creator and her creator's collaborator, artist H.G. Peter, than many other heroes of the era.

Marston's vision of the character has been eclipsed over the decades, and, I'd argue, to the character's detriment. But, as Hanley wrote, writing's not a one-way street and, right or wrong, good or bad, Wonder Woman endures, having taken on a life of her own, one given to her by decade after decade of fans, who see what they want to in the character, rather than what she was conceived as.

1 comment:

JB said...

Thanks for this review (and the one on Robot 6). This is a book I need to get!