Thursday, May 16, 2013

Stop "Fixing" Wonder Woman

I’ve written a lot of criticism about the portrayal of Wonder Woman in this blog. I’ve taken issue with she being portrayed as a sword-wielding barbarian. I’ve ragged on the idea of her being Superman or Batman’s girlfriend. And I’ve harangued over the retconning of the Amazons into rapists and Zeus into being Wonder Woman’s father.

A common response I've encountered to such complaints—as other fans have as well, I’ve no doubt—is that Wonder Woman as I believe she should be, Wonder Woman as I want her to be, simply “doesn’t sell.” And therefore, the justification for all the things done to/with Wonder Woman that I hate are, not only necessary, but needed in order to make her relevant and popular.

Essentially, the Wonder Woman I know and love doesn’t work, won’t sell, and needs to be fixed.

This is where I call bullshit on that.

Before I go any further, there’s one thing I want to make clear.
For all I’ve criticized and complained about Wonder Woman, one thing I’ve tried not to do is name specific writers and creators. I feel doing that is an easy way to destroy any credibility my opinion might have. I know I’m just some jerk with a stupid little blog, and I have a tendency to pepper my posts with colorful, snarky language, but I’d prefer to maintain some semblance of “professionalism” with my ramblings. Making a statement along the lines of, “Wonder Woman is ruined because so-and-so is a talentless hack!” is a fast way to invalidate myself.

Even though people can most likely deduce some of the writers I refer to, I’ve avoided throwing any blame and venom on any specific creator—even though I can think of two or three in particular that really...really...deserve to be called out. I think it’s better to simply leave it with a sense of, “You know who they are.”

However, for this particular post, I might have to drop a few names. So, let me clarify: if a writer is called out, I’m going to try to keep my criticism relatively civil and, most important, I am not attacking him/her personally, nor am I going to attack the creator’s skills as a writer in general. Just their treatment of Wonder Woman.

Now, on to the matter at hand…

As we know, Wonder Woman—despite her iconic status—is not as revered as characters like Batman or Spider-Man. She’s criticized as un-relatable, she doesn’t have a great Rogues Gallery, few—if any—famous, definitive stories, and she’s never been a consistent top seller. Because of this, writers and editors feel a constant need to “fix” her.

Here’s the problem I have with that:
We’re told a Wonder Woman portrayed as she should be won’t sell, yet we so rarely see Wonder Woman actually portrayed like she should. More often, what we get are writers and editors trying to “fix” her. Seems to me, what’s not selling is the ongoing efforts bending and contorting Wonder Woman in order to “fix” her rather than just, you know, understanding and writing the character.

Simply put, DC keeps trying to reinvent the wheel without actually checking to see if the wheel, as is, works in itself because they don't know how to use said wheel.

Why is Wonder Woman so inconsistent? Why do her power-levels fluctuate? Why does she have little-to-no recurring supporting cast or strong Rogues Gallery?
You might recall, in the Goddamn Shield, I described how many writers base their interpretation of the character on distilled labels and terms without considering the context in which they should be presented. This is the other side of that problem, where every writer that comes along sets about “fixing” her according to his own vision without regarding anything that’s already been established.

This is where the secret identity nonsense I mentioned in Sinking Ships comes into play. Someone decided the “problem” with Wonder Woman is that she isn’t human. How? Why? One writer will say because she’s from a magical island. One guy will say it’s because she was brought to life out of clay. And, apparently, the “solution” to this problem they decided Wonder Woman has is to contrive a secret identity for her.

Entire storylines have been contorted, bent, and dropped to achieve this. Everything Greg Rucka was establishing and building in his run on Wonder Woman was thrown to the wayside because of Infinite Crisis.
Now, that might not have necessarily been a bad thing in itself—I, for one, was actually kind of excited following Wonder Woman during that time. Diana’s life was falling apart, and I was really interested in how she was going to deal with it. I wanted to see how Wonder Woman would persevere and endure through all she was going through.

And the pay-off to all that? What did the trashing of everything Greg Rucka was doing lead to? What was the big climax of all the crazy shit Wonder Woman was suffering throughout Infinite Crisis?

She got a secret identity. Fuck-a-doodle-doo.

And FYI—the secret identity was worthless. Nothing interesting came of it. Nothing worth-while was done with it. The only thing of any value was an amusing scene written by Gail Simone where either Nemesis or Black Canary reveal they know Diana Prince is really Wonder Woman, and when Diana is surprised, they explain she’s really lousy at keeping a secret identity.

One writer’s work was thrown aside, and genuinely compelling tension and drama fizzled into an anti-climax—all in the name of “fixing” Wonder Woman.

I think the dregs of wrong-headed Wonder Woman “fixing” can be best exemplified in The Odyssey.
For those who don’t know—and SPOILER WARNING for those who might care…
Odyssey was a story where the Wonder Woman we’ve known and loved faced an evil goddess, failed miserably, and was turned into the goddess’ avatar. So, because of a deus ex machina, she was then replaced with an alternate timeline doppelganger.

The story followed the new Wonder Woman and her meandering journey to set things right. The prevailing message of the story ultimately amounted to: the doppelganger was better than the real Wonder Woman because she was the last of her kind and because she wasn’t raised on Themyscira.

What you have there is basically a formula guide on “How do make your protagonist relatable.”
Inject needless tragedy into character’s past? Check. Make her the last of her kind, creating a false sense of loneliness, isolation, and the illusion your protagonist is an outsider? Check. Make her younger and hip? Check.

It goes on. I’ve written essays detailing everything that’s wrong with Odyssey. Believe me, for all the hype and noise about Wonder Woman getting pants, the change to her costume was the least of that story's problems. Someday, I should post my full thoughts on it…but let’s keep it on subject.

Odyssey was a twelve month story that got stretched to fourteen. All amounting to the author’s effort to “fix” Wonder Woman by mangling her backstory and changing her into a different character, but without messing up the rest of the DC universe’s continuity, and contriving a circumstance wherein the real Wonder Woman is revealed as damaged and inferior, while the author's personal Mary Sue, fan-fiction one is “better.”

The two big Nu52 retcons stink of trying to “fix” Wonder Woman. As explained in Daddy Issues, the reason Zeus was made Diana’s father was an effort to make her “relatable.”
Further, the Amazons were retconned into never liking Diana—mocking her with the nickname “Clay.” Reason..? So we can have scenes where poor, wittle Diana can whine and brood about how she never felt like she belonged on Themyscira, and how the mean ol’ Amazons always picked on her, and she's such an outsider who doesn't fit in.

So who cares if this makes Diana dull, mundane, and typical? Who cares if it makes a complete mess out of her backstory and reduces her to a vapid, static cypher? The easiest way to make your protagonist “relatable” is shoe-horn as must angst as possible.

As of this writing, initial artwork for the upcoming Wonder Woman: Earth One project has just been unveiled. Wonder Woman: Earth One is a pet project its author has had since he effectively screwed her over in Final Crisis. According to interviews on the project, this book is—for all intents and purposes—the writer's effort to “figure out” and ultimately “fix” Wonder Woman.

And if you're like me, immediately after reading those interviews, you promptly started banging your head against a wall.

Okay...let’s stop beating around the bush. Wonder Woman: Earth One is being written by Grant Morrison. Odyssey was the brainchild of J. Michael Straczynski. All that stuff about how Wonder Woman isn’t human, her currently dating Superman, and she being a violent zealot that tries to force her beliefs onto others…that’s Geoff Johns. It was apparently Allan Heinberg who really pushed for the whole secret identity pay-off, and he's also currently the brains behind the planned Wonder Woman television series in development—the one where she doesn't understand ice cream. And the two big Nu52 retcons...Brian Azzarello.

Look at those names. These guys are A-list talent in the comics industry. Big-name sellers. They’ve won awards. Many people would probably say Wonder Woman fans should be grateful, and consider ourselves lucky such big-name creators would lend themselves to our crap character.

And that’s really the sad, soul-crushing heart of the matter.
Just because someone may be a good writer, doesn’t mean they are or would be a good Wonder Woman writer. All these guys looked at Wonder Woman, deemed her beneath them, and then went about crafting awful storylines in a misguided effort to “fix” her.

When I ramble on about all that is wrong with Wonder Woman’s portrayal, people often ask who then do I think should write her. Who do I believe would do Wonder Woman justice?
And the frustrating truth is…I don’t know. Hell, I like J. Michael Straczynski’s work, and I was initially excited when he was announced to write Wonder Woman. Boy, was I wrong on that one.

People like to say DC should’ve never let Joss Whedon go when he was attached to make a Wonder Woman movie. On paper, this seems like a natural fit. Mr. Whedon is well known for his strong, female protagonists—most famously, Buffy the Vampire Slayer—and he’s gone on to bring us Avengers, which was a massive success. Should’ve been gold, right?

I’ve read what Joss Whedon had in mind for Wonder Woman. Wasn’t impressed. And a lot of it reeked of effort to “fix” Wonder Woman, as so many other writers have before him.
Like I said…just because someone may be a good writer, doesn’t guarantee they’ll be a good Wonder Woman writer.

In the interest of not having this blog be nothing but doom and misery, I offer two writers that might do Wonder Woman justice.

Kurt Busiek has dabbled with the character—mostly in JLA, Trinity, and other assorted appearances. He’s always written her with a fair amount of respect and, in his interviews regarding Wonder Woman, he seems to have a good sense of who she is and has offered some interesting insights into her character.

Another suggestion: Warren Ellis. An outside-the-box choice, and as far as I know, he’s never actually written Wonder Woman herself.
But in his series, Planetary, he did write a small scene featuring a character that was, essentially, a thinly veiled equivalent of Wonder Woman. It’s a small scene, only two or three pages long, but I’m not sure which issue it was. I’ve only been able to find this single scan online:

Nevertheless, in two-to-three pages, Warren Ellis showed a greater understanding of Wonder Woman’s character, motivation, pathos, and purpose than Geoff Johns EVER has.

I'm not saying Wonder Woman is a perfect character. There are things about her that need working out and adjusting. But I don’t think writing her should be so hard. I devoted a post to her backstory and motivation and another to her some of her conflicts and foibles. I've made two posts looking at her Rogues Gallery. The foundation is there. She's a subtle character, I'll agree on that. But nothing that appears insurmountable. Nothing that would suggest she's the problematic character so many writers, editors, creators, and Bob insist she is.

And I can’t believe writing Wonder Woman as she’s supposed to be won’t sell until I see writers actually embrace it and use it to its full potential instead of just relying on broad, undefined labels, or trying to fix her all the time. Basically, writers either overthink her or don't think nearly enough about her.

Stop trying to fix her, understand her for what she is, and just fucking write her.


  1. I have a question: Seen as this major change that Azzarello made seems to be so hated, would you rather the next writer try to "fix" that, in an essence fix Wondy again, or would you prefer the next writer go with what has now been done and find ways to better the situation?

    1. It's funny, but you're right. It had occurred to me that, in order for Wonder Woman to be portrayed the way I believe she should, she would have to be effectively "fixed."

      The objective part of me says they should just roll with and try to make the best of these changes, very much aware that immediately undoing everything a previous writer has done is terrible storytelling and one of the things that's hurt Wonder Woman over the years.

      Unfortunately, the retcons to Wonder Woman's origin and backstory are such fundamental changes to her core, she's almost an entirely new character now, and I have trouble imagining how this can be rectified without simply declaring Azzarello's run to be a bad dream.

      Ugh...I guess, me personally, I would prefer they undo the Zeus father/Amazons rapists thing. So yeah, I guess that means I would have to support another attempt to "fix" Wonder Woman. And I hate myself for saying that.

    2. The irony kills us all. :)

      I understand you, Azzarello's Wondy was my first Wonder Woman comic, but I had been exposed to her enough before to know how she really is, and reading your blog has truly helped me to understand what nagged me when reading. I want the bad plot points to go away, and one night I was actually trying to figure out ways to write a story that could do so. Like, it turns out that Zeus was really impregnating Hyppolyta when she was human, and she died before she could give birth (maybe her husband killed her for being unfaithful), so she DID create Diana from clay, since the whole deal with Hyppolita was that she was the only pregnant woman. The rapist amazons would turn out to be an illusion created by one of the gods in order to confuse Wonder Woman and make her be more vulnerable. Or that the Bana, as they abandoned the Greek Pantheon, lost their immortality and thus were the amazons that raped and killed baby-boys, but I don't know enough about Bana to say if that is something they might have done or not. I alwasy pictured that they were supposed to be the stereotypical amazons from the myths. :/

      There is also the line between respecting Azzarello as a good writer and the first writer of this rebooted Wonder Woman, and acknowledge the mistakes he made. Because even good writers, the best of them, do bad choices (look at JMS from "Babylon 5" to "One More Day"), and it is the next writer's job to better continue with the story, even if that involves to correct the mistakes the last one made, or find a way for them to be better than what was before.

      So I guess that the challenge will be to fix the MISTAKES, rather than Wonder Woman herself.

  2. By the way, what do you think of this person's version of Wonder Woman? I don't personally like it, but you know better than me.

    1. There are certain ideas I think are interesting in theory. I think the angle of completely separating the Amazons from Greece--gods, culture, mythology--and running with them as this independent, "magic" race is interesting. I can agree that Wonder Woman has, in some ways, become a little TOO tied to Greek mythology. And I can appreciate a desire to have Diana and the Amazons NOT fall into common "Ancient Greek" cliches like everyone wears togas, they only use swords and arrows, etc.

      But I think this might be a little extreme. I can dig trying to establish the Amazons as having their own unique culture, but I don't think we need a complete divorce from all things Greek.

      I don't care for the idea of all the Amazons being Superman-level strength and all being able to fly. I get trying to establish Diana is the best of the Amazons, not from any gifts handed down from the gods, but by simply being the most skilled and compassionate on an even playing field.

      But having an entire race of Superman-level characters seems a but much. In my opinion it does kind of dilute Diana's "specialness" among the Amazons, and having that many characters that are THAT powerful strikes me as overkill. There are only three or four living Kryptonians--we don't have hundreds of them running around on Earth. I think that runs the risk of Dragonball Z problems where having so many absurdly powerful characters becomes a little over the top.

      I don't care for Diana being the daughter of Hippolyta and some American dude. Again, I prefer the clay origin and I don't think it's necessary to "Americanize" Wonder Woman. At least any more than she already is. I think there are easier ways to justify her wearing a red, blue, and gold/silver costume. And again, I hesitate at the logic shoe-horning Diana into being raised in America will "solve" the relatable problem.

      I think this would make for an interesting Elseworlds story. But I don't think I'd want to see it as the definitive Wonder Woman.

    2. I would still like the Gods being a part of the amazons and Diana, but you're right that they need to get some distance from Wondy right now. It's not like "Superman" is all about Kryptonians, or "Batman" is all about Chill or Joker.
      And I would love to have Themyscira to be so advanced in technology, fashion, architecture and interior. Just because they have to believe in the Greek pantheon doesn't mean they, in three thousand years of peace, can't have evolved from the old-timey Greek culture. And if they want to keep them to swords and arrows, excuse it with that they, as peace-oriented people, never needed to upgrade their weapons for more than hunting.

      I agree, Wonder Woman should be allowed to be special. Clark Kent has a good job and is better than any human, but he hides it. Bruce Wayne is one of the richest men on earth, and he, to hide his identity, loves to show it off. Why can't Diana be special amongst her people, too? Amazons are already stronger and more advanced than humans, but Diana shouldn't be normal amongst them, either (even Kal-El, among a bunch of Kryptonians, would be special in that he was raised in Kansas and has more compassion and the like than them).
      Heck, if DC want Diana to angst, they could still have a couple of amazons "bullying" Diana for being so special and even Athena's new Champion. Just don't make her feel like an outsider because EVERYONE does it.

      And you're right, it would be an interesting Elseworlds. Wonder Woman should get more of those. I only counted two when I searched; one about Lois Lane becoming Wondy (so it is more tied to Superman), and another that was along with Superman.

  3. Just out of curiosity, do you notice when a third reply is made to your reply? Because I posted a reply to you, but it is listed as a reply to my own comment.