Hey, That's My Cape!: Ever wonder about Wonder Woman?

Posted at 10:00 AM May 05, 2010

By Jill Pantozzi

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Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman-the Trinity of DC Comics. Or at least that's what everyone says. In reality, it's more like The Couple, and not the boy-on-girl kind. Superman and Batman have always been more popular than their female counterpart. Why is that exactly?

Take a minute and think about Wonder Woman. What comes to mind? Most likely a strong, beautiful woman with a colorful costume. Comic book fans know her as the daughter of Amazons, born from clay of Themyscira itself and sent into the world of men. She prays to Greek gods and goddesses (and sometimes fights them) and is a member of the Justice League of America. But tons, and I mean TONS, of non-comic readers love Wonder Woman because of what she's come to represent.

Created in 1941 by William Moulton Marston, an early champion for feminism himself, Wonder Woman has become more of a symbol than a superhero. It's easy to see why - she's brave, powerful, self-reliant, honorable and has a huge respect for human life. Those are all qualities to look up to and many that women have thought of in tough times. (See Wonder Woman Day). Not to mention the iconography of the costume itself.

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Marston's original concept for the character: "Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. Not wanting to be girls, they don't want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women's strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman." After Marston's death, Wonder Woman went through evolutions in both the comics and for television that put the focus more on her female attributes than anything else.

Sadly, Wonder Woman's comic continually sells less than Superman or Batman. At the very least, the male members of the Trinity have two ongoing titles at all times and that's not counting their protégés, Supergirl or Robin. So why does Wonder Woman only have one? My opinion is, very few creators truly understand her (hell, I don't even truly understand her!), thus making her extremely difficult to write.

The same can be said for why a live-action Wonder Woman film has yet to be made. I'm not audacious enough to think I have the answer. Wonder Woman is practically impossible to cast or write. She's almost completely selfless, rarely having an agenda to suit her personal wants or needs. And maybe that's the problem. Is Wonder Woman too good for the world she loves so much, or do creators lack the freedom to let the Amazon loose and see what she can really do?

Comments

Homer_J said:

I don't have the answer as to why she isn't more popular in the comics(maybe because most comic fans are boys?), but she definitely has legendary status. Who in the world doesn't know who Wonder Woman is?

PS- do yourself a favor and check out the Wonder Woman Animated movie that came out last March. It's pretty good, and she kicks lots of ass.

Marionette said:

One of the main reason for her lack of popularity is that she has no supporting cast. Unlike Batman and Superman who have lots of continuity from the silver age to build on, Wonder Woman had no recurring villains from those years, and her only supporting cast were a nagging, accident-prone boyfriend, her mother, and two iterations of herself at different ages that she sometimes teamed up with (don't ask).

Consequently now every writer sets up a new situation for her with new supporting cast and villains, which are forgotten when the next writer takes over, or, noticeably in the case of the Greek gods, entirely reimagined.

Steph said:

The original publisher, Max Gaines made a deal with Dr. Marston that if the character ever stopped being published, the rights would revert to Wertham and his heirs. Wonder Woman was originally published by All American Comics, which featured Wonder Woman, Flash and Green Lantern before they were bought out in the late 40's by AA's distributor, DC Comics (whose main character were Superman and Batman). So, DC had to keep her adventures in print, whether the comics sold or not.


LeeboZeebo said:

Wonder Woman will always have a special place in my heart. My brother was obsessed with WW - he collected her comics, he used pictures of her as his desktop background, and even kept his spare change in a Wonder Woman bust piggy bank. I was always more of a Marvel guy to his DC, so I not only didn't understand his love of Wonder Woman, I thought it was the result of a fictional character crush.

It wasn't until my brother was diagnosed with terminal cancer that I started taking an active interest in his side of our hobby debate, buying him anything Wonder Woman related that the hospital would let me sneak into his room, and keeping him in constant supply while he was in hospice. It was in that time that I started to actually GET IT.

As a feminist myself, it was hard for me to get past the WW costume (I largely considered the character exploitative up until then) to actually read the stories, watching the character not only help women in peril, but to demand that all women stand up for themselves and stop relying on men to do things they can already do quite handily. Even now, after my brother has passed, I can't help but see anything Wonder Woman related and think of him.

pblfsda said:

All good points, but there's also a less obvious element: when originally created, only Wonder Woman was designed and scripted from a sort of blueprint. Kane notoriously signed his name to the art of dozens of other artists, diluting the Finger/Kane brand, and we've all heard how Siegel/Shuster were shafted. So much of what Wonder Woman was had been tied up in the Marston(/Peter?) approach that when Marston died it took decades before a creative team took the time and effort to initiate long term plans. WW was both fun and a consistent creative vision in the early 40's and late 80's. But Superman and Batman lost that quality by the end of the forties and it didn't hurt their popularity at all. By that point every new issue just felt like a fill-in issue. If anything, the art improved.
In the intervening time, between Marston and Perez, Batman and Superman appeared in serials, radio programs, television shows, both prime-time and cartoon, and both had Neal Adams in their corner occasionally. Batman got a reboot in the early 60's and Superman got one c.1970. In between, Sekowsky tried to do the same for WW, but while imaginative her reboots obviously weren't thought through very far. And in the early 80's Roy Thomas did what he always does: stick his fingers in his ears and try to relive World War II. ("La-la-la, I can't hear you, la-la-la, I'm fighting Nazis...") But most of the time her title was handled like treading water, just a task with a deadline. By the time she was finally given the treatment she deserved, the whole publisher was experiencing an overhaul. Not only were Batman and Superman getting some of their best treatment ever, so were Flash, Justice League, Swamp Thing, etc. etc. Wonder Woman's rebirth felt less remarkable in that context than it would have five years earlier.
(Has anyone else seen the mid-1960's TV pilot? When Batman had a campy hit show, followed by "Mr. Terrific" and "Captain Nice" and the more sly humor of secret agent shows like "The Avengers", "Man From U.N.C.L.E." and "I Spy", somebody got the bright idea the there was comedy gold in super-heroes. The pilot isn't a full episode; it looks like an audition film. Wonder Woman lives with her stereotypically Jewish mother who nags her about when she's going to stop fighting crime and marry a doctor. Yeesh. Dodged-- or deflected-- a bullet there.)

Christopher said:

My wife and I still read Wonder Woman and love when someone gets it right. Which isn't very often. We had hope for the movie but now it looks like it is doomed. Could be worse. Could be Spider-Man The Broadway Musical which is sucking the money right out of the producers pockets.

Amber said:

After seeing the Animated Movie, by far, the best to come out of DC animation in terms of movies (no I haven't seen them all), I see no reason why they can't possibly make a better comic, epic movie franchise and pull her up out of this quagmire by her shiny golden lasso. What Steph up there about the rights is true; DC is required to publish her book and it's not because they have faith in her as Dan Didio would have fans believe.

Thank you for the WWD plug up there, btw. We're continuing efforts this year. And your article hits the nail on the head -- WWD was started to campaign funds for domestic violence organizations across the country. We, the organizers, feel that we've tapped out the market on Wonder Woman original art so while I suspect this year, things will be different. In NJ, we always allowed a few non-WW pieces in our auction and they usually brought in substantially more. Some of WW pieces would go unpurchased even at starting bids of $10.

comicshopgrl said:

I deeply enjoyed the Geroge Perez Wonder Woman and the Greg Rucka stuff. I agree that WW is a hard character to understand which is too bad.

manobon said:

For me, I can keep reading (and wanting to read) Batman and Superman comics because I understand their goals, their origins, their supporting cast, and I feel the same regarding their villains. Wonder Woman seems to ("seems to"! Because I don't know) reboot every so often, I don't know what her goals are (her role as ambassador from Themyscria- is that still relevant? Didn't they go to war with "man's world" in the past few years?), I have no idea as to who any of her supporting cast are (Wonder Girl? that Steve guy? I only half-remember that from the JL cartoons), and I know None of her villains (there was that not-Marvel's-Tigra lady...I don't even know her powers).

I only know her as a welcome addition/perspective in the JL books, and that Matt Wagner graphic novel, Trinity. (And she was pretty awesome in The New Frontier).

eeyoreo said:

I've loved WW since I was a little girl. Really, she and Batgirl were the only mainstream comic (well, DC anyway) superheroines out there. I'm talkin' Superfriends era here. But I agree the way they've handled her has been dicey, probably because of their target audience. If she behaves too harshly, she's too masculine, and that kills her appeal to hetero males; not harshly enough, she's too soft and feminine, therefore less of a "hero". I wish they would make her less selfless and address her personal life and needs more. Hey, Superman has had a steady love interest for decades and even Batman gets lucky from time to time. (And, no, I don't think she should be a lesbian, not because I'm homophobic; I just think a lesbian WW would reinforce the stereotype that strong, independent women must hate men or prefer women.) They've pretty much just pushed aside any natural female urges she might have in the name of putting "honor and duty" first. (Careful, don't let her give in to those crazy hormones, right? No telling who would get hurt!) But there's the problem again, right? I think the typical male would rather die than be saved by a woman, any woman, and a comic book standard is for the hero to rescue the love interest. Her equal in that regard would be Supes, and, as mentioned, he's already taken. I suppose that this is debatable at all just goes to show that the typical comic book reader is still uncomfortable with dominant females, and girls (or their parents) are still uncomfortable with presenting a non-stereotypical female role model. As it is, WW too often comes off as a castrated Superman in drag.

Jeremy said:

Okay, first off, yes I do think the weird selflessness and the need to occasionally reign her in to hold a target demographic do play in, but I think the problem starts elsewhere.

The problem with Wonder Woman is framework. She has one. She is the (more or less) daughter of a Greek Goddess. She comes with the baggage of the entire Greek pantheon. It makes her impossible to redefine without erasing the essentials of the character. The only way to make Wonder Woman what she should be without taking her out of that framework is to make her make sense in that framework. As a character she needs to be 1)more Greek, 2)less American, and 3) At home in Greek Mythology. Greek mythology is not the place for a helpful selfless do-gooder. It's the sort of place where people get raped by Zeus pretending to be a swan. Let that be the start of a Wonder Woman story...then you'll sell some books!

Lisa said:

I think it comes to the fact that as much as I hate to say this it's that batman and superman have much more complex personas. There are reincarnations of both characters in which they do and say very problematic things and that forces the reader to question them as a hero. I also think some of the batman villains are ones that have some kind of logic (however twisted) behind what they do as opposed to simply criminal for criminal's sake. As much as I want to like Wonder Woman (I've spent the past year tying to find not crappy comics of her)I think she is still too one dimensional and safe: there is no complexity in her motivations or in how she interacts with the world. I think the two best versions I've seen of her were in the Justice League animated series and in(even if it was for a very short period) The newest batman and robin comic: in this we see a wonder woman who has just recently entered into "the world of men" and contrary to being sacrificial and kind hearted is actually very judgmental and combative.While this is not the ideal, I think it is interesting to see a version of the character that is ludicrously (and unrealistically) heroic and altruistic

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