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.