Ever since working on an essay for a subsequently-cancelled SmartPop collection, I’ve been fascinated with attitudes toward Wonder Woman. My friend Elizabeth Keathley, a much more well-read and long-term fan, was kind enough to write about the character’s recent history.
Adele Kirby as WW. Photo (c) 2012 by Sean O'Malley. Body paint by Natasha Bloom (links below)
I have two daughters, ages three and five. When I was around their ages, I wore through more than one set of Wonder Woman underoos, and I don’t just mean that I outgrew them. I was forbidden to play with string after cutting off one of my mom’s gold-tone window shade pulls for lasso action. I once got in a kindergarten shoving match on the bus because my neighbor Michael Garber tried to tell me The Dukes of Hazzard could beat Wonder Woman. When I was 26, I emailed another childhood friend, Virgil Pool, with a scan of a page from Wonder Woman 175, where she won a fight against Superman. The text of my email? “You owe me a billion dollars from a bet in 3rd grade”.
Virgil is now an executive with the South’s largest banking firm. I work in Digital Asset Management for a large multinational concern. We keep in touch, because once a love of comics really takes root with a child, it never fully disappears. When we do see each other, we catch up on comics gossip, and of course last year that meant talking about the digital re-launch of DC comics.
Periodically DC and Marvel – the two big superhero houses of American comics – “relaunch” their titles, starting the cover numbering over at 1, and changing things up. Teams get shuffled, costumes and hairstyles updated, personalities shift. These relaunches are ostensibly done to give new readers an entry point to the long and convoluted storylines of the comic book world. It is also true that any book with the number one on it tends to sell a little bit better than average, and that really counts today, when the number of regular comic book readers is estimated to be somewhere around just 250,000 individuals.
When there are more choices than DC and Marvel, the writing and art must be top-notch to keep up readership. Given this tough market, in the past decade Marvel decided to invest in great writers, and for the first time did things that made me want to read Daredevil and even take a peek back at the X-men. DC went a different route. They gave their head editor position to Dan Didio, and he decided that the problem with DC comics was that they weren’t catering enough to young men. He wanted to make DC edgier and sexier. He did, and women fans (including myself) fell away in droves, some going so far as to start up protest sites like Girl-Wonder.org. Why protest a shift in comic book editorial policy? You can read more about that over on Girl Wonder, but basically Didio decided that appealing to younger men meant a rape storyline, some art many consider to be torture porn, and the death or demotion of most of the main female heroines of the DC universe.
So another DC comics relaunch, this time with a digital component focused on the iPad market, excited me. At last, I thought, Time/Warner is going to lay down the profit law on DC comics. The animated TV series have audiences in the millions, and remain so popular that Cartoon Network plans to soon launch a new programming block around DC comics characters. I had hoped – as had many others with children, I like to think – that the digital relaunch would align the comic book Wonder Woman and Supergirl with the cartoon Wonder Woman and Supergirl.
Alas, under Dan Didio’s editorial vision, the new Supergirl comes with crotch snaps.
I would like for my daughters to learn to love reading comics. I have given them copies of Little Lit and reprints of Uncle Scrooge and copies of Asterix that my husband picked up in Europe as a child. My oldest picked up Mouse Guard from our shelf and read it on her own, along with a little of Bone. Until recently I had settled on the fact that while my daughters will learn to love comics, it won’t be the superhero comics that I read as a child. I was a little sad that Supergirl and Wonder Woman were destined to be second-string cartoon characters to them.
I was surprised when my friend Elle excitedly emailed a recommendation that I read the first four issues of the new run of Wonder Woman. The new run written by Brian Azzarello calls back to the work of Greg Rucka in 2003 by re-instituting a Greek Gods storyline. While Rucka’s quest-for-father storyline centered on Cassie – Wonder Girl – Azzarello puts Diana square in the middle of the Joseph Campbell cliché. The art by Cliff Chang gives us lots of close-ups, but thankfully gone is the cheesecake soft-core porn that sometimes made me embarrassed to buy the title in the past. There’s still plenty of comic-book violence, and even a make-out scene in issue three, but I wouldn’t have a problem handing these comics to a ten-year-old girl to read.
I will continue to borrow Wonder Woman issues from my friends for now, swapping them for volumes from the library of graphic novels I’ve built up since the fall of 2004. If Wonder Woman continues to be a readable, fun book, I might just go back to buying monthly issues again – this time on the iPad. If the story stays well written – and doesn’t echo much of the Jill Presto arc of Lucifer – maybe one day I’ll even share the files with my daughters. I still think that the cartoon versions of the DCU characters are better written and produced right now, but when you’re a Wonder Woman fan, you take what you can get – and just pray the artist remembers to cover Wonder Woman’s crotch.
Elizabeth Ferguson Keathley has been reading comics since she could read, and engaging publicly about them since a fight in third grade. She has appeared as the feminist guest speaker on a couple of podcasts
over at Fortress of Baileytude, but mostly specializes in showing up at DragonCon panels and asking questions. In her professional life, Elizabeth works with Digital Asset Management (DAM) systems, and is chair of the DAM Foundation HR & Talent committee. Elizabeth swore off single-issue comics six years ago and instead has too many shelves of graphic novels.
Adele Kirby: http://www.adelekirby.com/
Natasha Bloom: http://www.natashamakeup.com/