Thursday, 1 July 2010

Wonder Woman - wardrobe malfunction

Wonder Woman's redesigned costumeIt's an odd thing about Wonder Woman. It seems no one wants to buy her comics (sales continue to fall, despite several changes of writer), but tamper with who or what she is in order to make her more "modern", "relevant" or "relatable" and it stirs up a level of fan outrage wholly disproportionate to her sales figures.

The image on the left is DC's recent redesign for the Amazon princess. As I'm sure DC hoped it would, it's caused a storm in the Worldwide Wonderweb's teacup. The vast majority, it seems, are against the new costume with bloggers, twitterers and forumites queueing up to heap derision upon Jim Lee (who designed the new look), JM Straczynski (writer of the story arc in which it's being debuted) and Dan Didio (for letting it happen at all).

Straczynski has been singled out for particular scorn. This is partly because he is held largely responsible for many of the least popular changes visited upon Marvel's character roster and partly because his attempt to explain why the changes were made is so laughably flawed.

Whether you like the costume or loathe it, it's difficult to call it 21st Century (as Straczynski did), and fans have been quick to make comparisons with Black Canary, Rogue and even Madonna. Overall, the general feeling seems to be that it's just sooo 1990s! He also described it as being more "armoured" as befits a warrior. Really? A cropped leather jacket and a pair of spray-on leggings constitute armour? Maybe we should send some out to our tragically under-equipped troops in the Gulf.

The worst of Straczynski's arguments in defence of the redesign, however, are not simply flawed, they demonstrate that DC is still suffering from a fundamental failure to understand either the appeal of its own properties or its fanbase. The costume needed a redesign apparently because "what woman only wears one outfit for 70 years?" Wow - that wasn't patronising at all, was it? For all the talk about the costume's suitability for a warrior, it seems it was really about ensuring the princess had an outfit to match her new Jimmy Choo's.

Hawkgirl with new and improved (well, bare) midriff!No doubt the next redesigns will be for Superman and Batman. Baggy jeans and a hoody should ensure they look contemporary, and with all those pockets ... well, you wouldn't even need a utility belt.

DC has also tried to play the feminist card. By covering up her legs and wrapping a jacket around her (gasp!) bare shoulders, it believes Wonder Woman's new look should at least appeal to her female fans who, we're told, have been wondering how she could possibly fight without her "bits falling out". And maybe it will. At least to the more Puritanically prudish of them anyway. But will they actually be more likely to buy Wonder Woman comics as a result? I have my doubts and, if the internet reaction is anything to go by, the small numbers that do will be more than offset by the number of existing readers who are now prepared to drop the title.

The real problem with trying to pander to a specific lobby group in this way, however, is that not all women and not even all ardent feminists believe that women should be covered up like a Victorian table-leg. Sure, there are very vocal prudes in the various feminist and fangirl groups, just as there are loud-mouthed reactionaries in any men's organisation. But prudishness and women's rights are not synonymous. The swim-suited Wonder Woman has been a flag-waver for the cause of women's rights ever since her creation in the 1940s, and it's a little ironic that - as ordinary women have become more comfortable wearing increasingly little in real life - so DC should have come to the conclusion that its flagship super heroine might somehow appeal to those women by wearing more.

In fact, it's not ironic, it's hypocritical. Does anyone really believe that DC genuinely thinks its female characters should be more modestly dressed? Really? The same DC which continues to exploit the cleavage-baring peep-hole in Powergirl's costume? The same DC which has, in recent years, removed the midriff section from the perfectly adequate costumes of Supergirl, Hawkgirl and Huntress? Whatever reason DC may have had for wanting to redesign Wonder Woman, it certainly had nothing to do with a belief in modesty.

Wonder Woman as she was (and no doubt soon will be again!)And that, surely, is part of what's fuelling the distaste that so many fans feel towards this costume - the dishonesty with which it's been presented. It's been trumpeted as a fundamental redesign, an approach that simply begs for a knee-jerk fan reaction, when in fact you only need to read the small print in the interviews with Dan Didio and Straczynski to realise that this is only a temporary costume.

Yes, it's uninspired; yes, it looks dated; and - worst of all - no, it's not Wonder Woman. But that hardly matters. By the time Straczynski's current story arc comes to a close, everyone's favourite Amazon will be back pummelling bad guys in her iconic swim-suit, the arguments for a redesign conveniently brushed aside and her "bits" as securely contained as they ever were.

The dramatic announcement of the new costume is just a cynical marketing ploy, up there with the deaths of Batman and Superman and Batwoman's sexual orientation.

Whether sales of Wonder Woman comics will be up or down at the end of that story arc remains to be seen. One thing's for sure, though. The backlash against the redesign has been almost universal and, to overcome it, Straczynski's story is going to have to be pretty damn good. Well, more convincing than the flimsy explanations he's given for changing her appearance, anyway!

9 comments:

  1. I kinda like the new costume :P But I've never been big into Wonder Woman either and tend to be drawn to more 90's style of dress in my own comic characters.

    I think if they kept her hair the same it might work well. Cause I don't think WonderWoman much with this look atm for sure.

    Though if they really want to be more accurate to females she should wear a different outfit each day/time! ;-)

    The main advantage her old suit has is it's iconic nature. Aside from the jacket though you actually see more of her figure in the new costume. At least compared to the picture below which has bulky pieces. The new costume is tried and true paint on clothing. Not that there is anything wrong with that :3

    I don't see how she looks more armored with the new design either though. I see much more armor on her old suit!

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  2. Yup - I agree with you on pretty much everything there. There's nothing especially wrong with the costume per se, and quite a few people around the web have commented that it would have been fine for Cassie Sandsmark (Wonder Girl) or even Donna Troy.

    I think the furore has been driven more by the fact that (a) WW is an iconic character and so, trying to give the impression that it was intended to ditch the iconic costume on anything other than a temporary basis was always going to create controversy and (b) the reasons given for the change were just so obviously false!

    Plus the fact that there a lot of fans out there who just seem to enjoy getting worked up about these things!

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  3. The really funny/ironic thing about all this that I can actually see them reusing the costume at a later point in time for either Wonder Girl or Donna. Comic companies can never leave any costumes alone and usually do reuse them for other characters once the original wearers are done with them.

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  4. I think you could well be right! I hope it's not Donna, though. Although I'm not a huge fan of either Wonder Girl or Donna, I do like to see some originality in the costume designs and Donna's starry black leotard is at least a little bit different from what all the other well-dressed heroines are wearing these days!

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  5. I'm so glad you brought up the fact that a woman's identity is defined by what she wears. We all know that fighting in a revealing bathing suit is what real girl power is about right? What could a female superhero possibly want with full coverage so that there's at least a little resistance when someone tries to sink a knife into her? Besides, it's not like they've ever modernized superhero costumes before. The Dark Knight was 100% authentic, I swear it was like Adam West was back.

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  6. Let's try sending the classic leotard to our troops while we're comparing.

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  7. @Anonymous - hey, no need to be anonymous around here! I'm more than happy for people to disagree with me (as long as they're polite about it, of course!)

    But, in this particular case, I think you've misunderstood my post. I've never argued that a woman is defined by what she wears. In fact, I'd suggest that those who take exception to WW's traditional costume are the ones who seem to be subscribing to that idea!

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  8. I must admit the new costume is more conservative, but that one commenter is right, it don't have any amount of protective armour that the original costume has. Also I did enjoy seeing her beautiful legs! Of course, I was concerned about her breasts falling out in a battle! But anyway, the costume is too conservative. And doesn't compliment her figure. Even though amazons didn't worry about covering all of their body, anyway. 10-4; over & out.

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  9. Well, in their latest reboot, DC have gone back to the original costume (or something very like it). No surprise there! Foist a new outfit upon the market just long enough to get the fans all worked up and garner a few media headlines, then revert to the old one - classic comic book ploy!

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