SFX blogger Alasdair Stuart reckons that comics fans complaining about Wonder Woman’s new costume are stuck in the sexist past
Wonder Woman 's 600 th issue was published last week and it featured both a greatest hits of the characters' writers and artists and the start of a major new direction for the character. Babylon 5 creator J Michael Stracyzinski's run on the character opened in surprising and obscure style, with Diana turning a corner and... finding herself dressed differently with radically different memories of the past. Instead of being an ambassador from Paradise Island – a rich, vibrant nation – she's now a renegade, one of the last survivors of the Amazon race after they were wiped out. Smuggled out by a group of survivors, Diana now remembers growing up in New York, learning about the tattered remnants of her society from some of the only other Amazons to escape. She has no idea about some of her abilities, no idea who did this or indeed that it's been done at all. Oh, and she now wears a pair of trousers and a leather jacket over her usual costume of, well, a shoulderless leotard.
There has, of course, been fan outcry. After all, a lot of comic fans are very change averse and this is a Star Trek -reboot level change, repositioning the character as something closer to Spider-Man than Black Panther – a street level warrior unaware, for now, of the crime committed against her and with none of the regal stature or discipline the character normally has. It’s a big change, and it’s certainly a big change to accept all at once, even if no one on Earth believes it’ll last longer than three years at the absolute most.
The thing is, though, most of the outcry has been about the outfit and that confuses me. Because there isn’t a female character in comics who hasn’t been handed a lousy deal with their costume and there are very few who’ve been handed a worse deal than Wonder Woman has, over and over again, down through the years. There was the “mod Wonder Woman” of the 1960s, the all-white bodysuit of the “Diana Prince, Secret Agent” years and even the standard outfit was just glaringly impractical not to mention being borderline degrading.
Wonder Woman is supposed to be a queen – a woman who holds the fate of nations in her hands and has absolute strength of will, absolute compassion and, when called upon, absolute ruthlessness. But, somehow, she’s expected to achieve all this whilst dressed like a swimsuit model. It’s not a practical look, or a credible one and whilst there are female characters who’ve had worse outfits (Any of the X-Women throughout the 1990s for example), it’s a perfect example of the different standards female comic characters are held to. Don't believe me?
Imagine Batman in cape, boots, mask, thong and nothing else.
Now imagine taking him seriously.
Now imagine Christian Bale saying, “Because I'm not wearing hockey pads,” dressed like that.
It’s ridiculous isn’t it? Welcome to the female comic character club, they have jackets. That are tiny , impractical and cover nothing.
So why is a pair of trousers and a jacket a problem? And make no mistake, it is, with industry journalists, fans and previous creators alike joining in the chorus of disapproval. For some it’s the fact it’s a step back to the 1990s, when Batman was angry and fired shurikens at people, Superman looked like the Red Hot Chilli Pepper’s dad and had a mullet and Green Lantern wasn’t Hal Jordan, a crime that some people have still not forgiven the character for. It’s an indicator, some feel, of a backwards step, an attempt to reboot the character by taking the essential femininity away from her. After all, it’s just as easy to argue that the old costume emphasised the fact she was a woman with goddess-like proportions for positive as well as negative reasons or that the character is held to different standards not because she’s a woman, but because she’s an Amazon. It’s certainly something the comic has played with before, in both Greg Rucka’s and Gail Simone’s excellent runs on the series.
For me, though, the outfit doesn’t just work, it solves a problem: for all the excellent writers on the book, Wonder Woman has always been the least regarded of DC’s flagship characters. She’s always looked a little outdated, always been a little too close to the early appearances where she took the minutes at Justice Society meetings ( seriously ), always been there for show, not for character. The new outfit not only takes that away, it’s practical, doesn’t look ridiculous and along with the new plotline, suggests a willingness to finally try and build the character up to where she always should have been: a figure of wonder, not exploitiation.