Guest Blogger: Mike Discusses 10 Fundamental Flaws of Wonder Woman

Re-post in preparation for a (mostly) positive review of the latest Wonder Woman movie (2017).

Not too long ago, Kate asked me to recommend some good Wonder Woman stories. As an avid comics fan, I can usually recommend dozens of different comics/graphic novels for either the hard core fan or the interested newcomer. Despite this, Kate caught me at a loss. Perhaps the most surprising thing about my inability to fulfill her request was that I was unaware of it! I believe my answer was "Oh, sure! Umm--" Right about then I realized I was in trouble.

I received a similar response from many comics fan friends. Not only were we unable to think of a defining WW run, none of us even realized it until we were asked. As we looked into the matter further, we found there is no defining WW story. For the most part, she just is, much like background noise in a phone call.

I believe, as Kate has suggested, that WW’s success really stems from the Lynda Carter television show. With a toned-down origin and clever acting, the character resonated with women of the time, enduring to this day. The resemblance of this character to the comics portrayal, however, is minimal. As she exists in the comics, WW has continually failed to be a character that fans can relate to and care about, despite having some very strong writers through the years.

Following are 10 reasons Wonder Woman in the comics has often proved inaccessible to a larger audience. Understand that these are the views of a thirty-something married man who has read comics most of his life and not a sexist teenager flipping through comics for skin and tight costumes.

Speaking of costumes . . .
Lynda Carter and Gal Gadot can pull
off the original costume. Many modern
graphic novels cover her up more.

1. Wonder Woman's costume is impractical.

I know many women protest it because they feel it’s sexist. Many men support it because it’s sexy. I, however, find it completely impractical. First, it’s a glorified swimsuit. While WW is super-powered, her costume should still be designed to provide some sort of protection and cover. If she’s going to bother with boots, surely she feels SOME leg covering is needed? The breastplate itself is metal. If a hero is going to bother with armor, surely she would wear it in more than one place?

Also, the color scheme makes no sense. While this has been explained a thousand different ways, the costume was originally designed to sell comics to patriotic comics fans. But story-wise, no matter HOW you explain it, there is no reason an Amazon warrior from Greek mythology would be wearing the stars and stripes. In addition, WW’s look is not even consistent with what the other Amazons wear in the comics. All of WW’s friends wear armor and Greek-inspired dress. Surely she would too?

2. Wonder Woman lacks an understandable motive.

Wonder Women is a Greek warrior molded from clay, given life by the gods of Greek myth, and raised on an island inhabited by nothing but women. While she has been known to have a private life in "the world of man," she divides most of her time between Themyscira and whatever Justice League headquarters are being used at the time. In other words, WW is completely cut off from mortal men and women and has no relationship or understanding of them. Why would she defend them or risk exposure of her people and the existence of the Greek gods when they have gone to such lengths to be hidden for so long? Especially for a race of beings that WW has every reason to believe is beneath her?

[Original Note from Kate: I think a series devoted to just this problem would be very interesting! Wonder Woman has to decide between isolationism/secrecy and humanity/exposure, between demi-god aristocracy and of-the-people mediocrity/meritocracy. However, it could end with her turning her back on her origins...

New Note from Kate: See upcoming preview.]

3. Wonder Woman lacks connection with humanity.

Likewise, with WW so cut off from humanity and all the cares and concerns of a mortal life, how are everyday fans expected to relate and connect to her? To be fair, some efforts have been made to give WW a secret identity and to involve her in the mortal world, but all these efforts reek of the "new girl in town" mentality and fail to really establish a connection between WW and humanity.

Lyle Waggoner: The most boring superhero's special-someone
in the history of superheroes' special-someones.
Wonder Women has a perfect physique, no need to work or pay the bills, and hangs out with arguably the most perfect and noble men on the planet. The closest thing to children she has is a sidekick (Wonder Girl) who operates almost completely independent of WW. As a reader, there is no "hook," nothing to make me care about the character or relate to her.

[Note from Kate: I argue that one reason Lois & Clark works is that the protagonist's human persona, Clark, is more real and important to him than his superhero persona. Diana Prince as Steve Trevor's lackey is simply a superhero in disguise.]

4. Wonder Woman lacks a good rival.

Wonder Women’s rogues gallery consists of Greek Gods and monsters, magic-powered villains, and totemic-powered individuals (like the Cheetah) who usually have no real reason to be robbing banks, meddling in politics, or really even trying to destroy the world. In fact, many of them share the same distance from humanity that WW herself has. Not only are none of them truly compelling, none of them provide a convincing or emotionally-fueled rivalry with WW.

5. Wonder Woman's combination of powers makes no sense.

Wonder Woman has super-strength, the enhanced senses of animals, nearly invulnerable skin, the ability to fly, and the Aphrodite-given gift of beauty (really). She also has a tiara that can be used as a boomerang-like throwing weapon, indestructible bracelets, and the lasso of truth.

I don’t even know where to start! WW being close to invulnerable would explain the skimpy costume…but if she doesn’t need armor, why does she need the bracelets? The lasso would seem to indicate that WW needs some trick to capture villains, yet she can’t leave them tied up with the lasso (it is gold, after all), and since she’s already beat them with her super strength before tying them up, why would she need a truth spell on men who already know she can kick their ass? I’m at a loss.

Not to mention, the tiara hardly seems like an accessory of someone trying to embody female empowerment.

[Note from Kate: There is a brand of feminism which touts girl-power: pinkness, Barbie, and make-up. However, WW doesn't really belong to this school of thought. Her rather odd creator was somewhat more fascinated with WW's dominatrix skills rather than her Barbie-like attributes. Still, making her a proponent of this brand of feminism would be a possible solution! If it was allowed, that is . . . see Mike's notes under 7 & 8 below.]

6. Wonder Woman’s role in the superhero community is redundant.

Black Widow: Successful Superheroine
She’s not as strong as Superman, Super Girl, or Power Girl, and while she can be a brilliant tactician, Batman still has her beat. Although she does have a connection to magic through the Greek Gods, this is easily rivaled by Captain Marvel (SHAZAM!) or Zatana. Even as the holder of the lasso of truth, questioning prisoners for information is far easier if you just have Martian Manhunter read the villain’s mind. Essentially WW is on the team because she’s been around for a LONG time. Even as the token female on the team, there are dozens of female characters better developed, more powerful, and easier to relate to for fans than WW.

7. Wonder Women is kept from the possibility of a romance.

Most graphic novels that don't pair Wonder Woman with
Steve Trevor pair her with the only man who can actually
literally handle a goddess: Superman.
Writing romantic relationships for Wonder Woman is so fraught with complications, the relationships often end up either jokes or controversy. I get annoyed by the idea that a strong female must either be gay or single. Yet, I also don’t believe that a woman MUST be in a relationship to define herself. However, Wonder Woman's untouchability (as both a hero and an icon) has so politically charged her love life, there is no possible relationship that would not end with fans marching on DC Comics’ headquarters. Consequently, WW is often without a romantic interest, robbing her of yet another thing that would provide depth and humanity to the character.

8. Wonder Woman isn't allowed to change.
While DC Comics and most writers understand that Wonder Woman is flawed, the fans fight any suggestion of change. Changes need to be made, but die-hard fans become defensive at the slightest alteration and often lash out so strongly that any long term changes to the character are usually reversed within a year or less. In the last five years, Wonder Woman has been blind, worn a cape and a sword, become a secret agent in her free time, murdered a super-villain on live television, and lost her powers and role of Wonder Woman. Yet all of these plot points were soon reversed, bringing WW back to her traditional status quo.

9. Wonder Woman can never escape being Wonder Woman.

The idea of Wonder Woman proving herself to be just as good as men continually affects the quality of her books. The extent to which this issue is explored varies with the writer. However, if a writer chooses to tone down the issue, he or she draws attention to the fact, often with a line like "Oh, I don’t have to prove I’m as good as you guys. I’m worried about doing my job!" which is still a very verbal political statement about the argument! There’s no way to escape it; it’s tied to the character.

10. Ultimately, Wonder Woman's is a mass of contradictions.

She is a well-endowed, beautiful princess who runs around in a swimsuit (that barely fits her), yet the character [or some of her fans] resents the derogatory idea of being viewed as a sex symbol. She is an Amazonian Warrior that actively fights crime, sometimes with a sword, even going so far as to kill, yet she is on a mission of peace to humanity (a humanity that she has little to nothing to do with). She is a model of female empowerment in an industry where the majority of the customer base is men. She was sent to protect and care for man, yet she does not trust mankind and has little to no interaction with the everyday person. She is presented as an American Icon, wearing the red, white, and blue, yet she was raised in a religious and political culture bearing no resemblance to the American system or its religious roots as "one nation under God." Ultimately, Wonder Woman has no consistent or relevant reason for existing, no mission statement that guides the character.

While any of these reasons alone would signal trouble for a character, combined they form a picture of an outdated and poorly constructed character that is so far removed from its readers that no real bond of affection can be formed. There is, however, some good news.

Hope for Wonder Woman

In recent months, the Wonder Woman franchise has been handed to J. Michael Straczynski, the writer of Babylon 5 and the mind behind the recent comeback of Thor as well as a hugely successful Spiderman run that ran for several years. Whenever Starczynski is handed a project, his trademark is moving the character into the present, using classic and new elements to create something accessible to everyone. His Thor run is a perfect example of how well he can pull this off.

With Wonder Woman, he had A LOT of work to do. And while the public is still reeling from many of the changes, which are drastic, I can tell you the changes have addressed nearly every concern listed above. In the New Wonder Women series, time has been altered and Paradise Island has been destroyed. Diana (Wonder Woman) has been raised by refugees of the Amazon culture in the underbelly of New York. WW has become a street-wise warrior, searching to fulfill her destiny to save her people and defeat the evil that has changed her world.

My hope is that these changes will be long lasting, avoiding the normal cycle of changing things up and returning back to status quo. Wonder Woman needed some serious retooling, and it seems that it has finally happened. Here’s hoping it lasts.


Mike said...

Thanks for posting this Kate!

An interesting update is that DC just rebooted their entire line from issue #1, starting their characters with new looks and continuities.

Wonder woman's new look was consistent with her straczinski look, but fan outrage has again resulted in the return of the swimsuit! Oh well.

Mike Cherniske said...

Since I first wrote this, a lot has changed for Wonder-Woman. She's back to her classic look, albeit with a darker color scheme; She's currently dating Superman and costarring with him in an ongoing team-up comic, and her origin was largely rewritten, with her now being the illegitimate daughter of Zeus; She also recently became the new Goddess of War, though this looks to be just a temporary change. The New 52 has shaken up many things, and for now the changes seem to have helped WW... for now.

Blakeney said...

What a great post! I have loved Wonder Woman since I was a kid, but the older I get the more I realize how flawed she is, and as you say, what a mass of contradictions.Many girls and women are rawn to her - but I think in some ways its because as far as major female superheros go, she's all we have.