So by now everyone has heard about a makeover for Wonder Woman by J. Michael Straczynski which includes a revamped timeline and a new Jim Lee-designed Costume. The story broke in the NY Times and on The Source and with an interview with JMS at Comic Book Resources. While the new ’90’s themed costume has drawn the most ink, it’s worth checking out the new origin story:
We learn that Paradise Island fell when Diana was just a child, when the gods withdrew their protection. Hippolyta and many of the other Amazons died in a last-ditch defense against an army with weapons that could kill even them, while some of her guards and handmaids smuggled a young Diana off the island. She was thus raised in an urban setting, but with a foot in both worlds, courtesy of her guardians and teachers from Paradise Island. They expect her to retake Paradise Island, defeat the army that’s still hunting for the escaped Amazons (and Diana in particular), and restore all her people to their previous glory. This is a lot to ask of someone who has no recollection of that world, and obviously has no idea about the timeline shift. (Some of the other Amazons do know about the shift, as we see in #600, and there are others in the DCU who also can sense what happened.)
In other words, she’s now Superman, with the burden of a destroyed homeland to deal with, except it’s now a timeline shift with some people in on Hypertime and others not. JMS released a statement on the new storyline:
Suppose you woke up one morning, or turned a corner, and suddenly the life you had been leading up to that moment…was not the life you were leading.
Suppose someone went back in time and changed one thing, and it changed your life to the point that you had little or no memory of what life had been like before the change happened. What would you do to get it back? Should you get it back? Who did it? And maybe more important…why did they do it?
That is the question faced by Diana starting in issue 600.
The Gods, for reasons of their own but which may have something to with their survival and perhaps the survival of Earth itself, have changed the timeline. In the new timeline, years ago the Gods removed their protection from Paradise Island, and left it vulnerable to attack. And attacked it was. Led by a dark figure, a veritable army descended upon the Island, equipped with weapons that could kill even the Amazons. Outgunned, doomed, Hippolyta gave over her three-year-old daughter to a handful of guardians who spirited her away as Hippolyta led one last desperate battle against the forces that had come to destroy all she had created. In that final battle, she and most of the Amazons were killed, though some managed to escape.
It’s now nearly twenty years later. Diana has been raised in an urban setting, but with a foot in both worlds. She has little or no memory of the other timeline. She knows only what she’s been told by those who raised her On the run, hunted, she must try to survive, help the other refugee Amazons escape the army that is still after them, discover who destroyed Paradise Island and why…and if the timeline can be corrected or not. She also does not yet have access to her full powers, but will be gaining them as she goes. Along the way, she will face a range of enemies — human and otherwise — who we have not seen before.
What we also haven’t seen before is her new look, the first significant change in her appearance since the character debuted in 1941 (not counting the mod look used briefly in the sixties, about which the less said the better). It reflects her origins in both the outside world and the world of Amazons: tough, elegant…a street-fighter’s look which also incorporates elements of her classic design. It reflects the two sides warring for ultimate victory, and underscores the path she must take.
It’s a look designed to be taken seriously as a warrior, in partial answer to the many female fans over the years who’ve asked, “how does she fight in that thing without all her parts falling out?”) She can close it up to pass unnoticed…open it for the freedom to fight…lose the jacket or keep it on…it has pockets (the other fan question, “where does she carry anything in that outfit?”, it can be accessorized…it’s a Wonder Woman look designed for the 21st century. The bracelets are still there, but made more colorful, tied on the inside and over the hand, with a script W on each of them that form WW when she holds them side by side…and if you get hit by one of them, it leaves a W mark. This is a Wonder Woman who signs her work…letting her enemies know that she’s getting closer.
This is Wonder Woman reborn, literally and metaphorically: fast, elegant, tough, smart…the savior of her people, their guardian and protector…avenging the fall of Paradise Island, searching to discover why Paradise Island was abandoned by the gods. In the end, what she discovers will change her life and the world forever…and she will come face to face with a decision that will mean life or death for the entire human race.
A lot of this seems to be a reboot aimed at getting a Wonder Woman movie closer to being made — actresses didn’t seem so thrilled about running around in a glorified swimsuit, although Lynda Carter made it look elegant and heroic (probably because her ass wasn’t hanging out in those relatively modest trunks).
The new origin abandons William Moulton Marston’s semi-creepy bondage-infused ode to the empowerment of the female principle of love and cooperation. Marston didn’t just talk the talk — he lived in a polyamourous relationship with two women — and the weird underpinnings of his Wonder Woman have often been disparaged or set aside, probably helping lead to the problem modern writers have with dealing with the character. He also saw her as a literal role model for girls:
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.
Marston’s Wonder Woman was the ambassador and embodiment of a better way of life, a conflict-free icon that just doesn’t fly with modern readers’ need for suffering. So in the new version Diana is given much more of a “hero’s journey” type origin, one given to countless boys over the ages — last survivor, taught by mentors, bring kingdom back to glory….it’s the Aragorn/Percy Jackson story. Giving it to Diana gives her lots of heroic opportunities, even as it humanizes her a bit.
Wonder Woman has long been a licensing powerhosue outside of the comics world, as women do look to her as an unsullied image of female strength and power. Just like Superman, Wonder Woman is a cypher-like icon of goodness and heroism, not a fleshed out character. Thus both, as they were created, are boring. The problem with Wonder Woman as she exists now is that DC keeps shying away from going with the “female icon” idea and sticking with the “guys will read about her because she has big boobs” model. This current approach, from what we’ve seen, seems to keep to the middle ground between those two.
One of JMS’s statements does seem to be more puzzling, stating that Wonder Woman has had only two costume changes over the years. See above. (We esp. like the Patricia Mulvihill version on the far right.) Even the slide show entitled The Evolution of Wonder Woman that runs with the NY Times story belies this!
Reaction to this story has been extraordinary with every news outlet and blog from Time magazine to Dlisted weighing in. Fan reaction has, predictably, been scathing. Rich Johnston has a nice roundup. The official DC blog commenters are predictably stricken.
she didn’t need to be redesigned for the modern era. Wonder Woman is a global icon. you can’t change her look anymore than you can change Batman’s or Superman’s. i don’t know who that’s supposed to be in that costume, but it sure isn’t Wonder Woman.
Meanwhile, over at feminist blog Jezebel, folks were more open-minded:
I really think her look works as fashion! I’ve seen Riri, Posh and Gaga in different forms of those boot-pant things.
By far the best pundit coverage is at Comics Alliance, where the roundtable catches a range of CONTEMPORARY reactions, from the historical record of bad costumes
I just like that they remove pretty much all of her body armor, but cover her nose.
to Laura Hudson actually dressing like Wonder Woman as a kid. The new costume itself has led to many an opportunity for humor, as from NPR’s Glen Weldon:
I mean, look at the jacket: It’s “midnight blue,” it’s got some stars on it, and she scrunches it up her arms like a 90s standup comic who’s got a few observations about those packets of peanuts they give you on airplanes. What is the DEAL with those?
Kevin Melrose has all the other quotes you need.
Perhaps the finest quote is from this Daily News comenter:
When will Marvel learn never to tamper with perfection WonderWomen is perfect . the new costume makes her look like a stree *****. come on Marvel IF IT AIN’T BROKE DONT TRY TO FIX IT
While the superficial outrage has been over the costume (because what women are wearing is always what defines them) there’s one aspect of this which we predict will gain momentum as the Outrage Touchpoint. A Source commenter sums it up:
Do I understand it right??? Every other Amazon has beenmurdered????????? WHY DO COMICS HATE WOMEN!!!???????
Killing off an island of peace loving women warriors sure leans towards a women in refrigerators move. But let’s see how it plays out.
Btw, we emphatically DO NOT LIKE the new cover by the otherwise excellent Don Kramer. TOO MUCH BOOBS. Compare it to this much linked to image by Nicola Scott, (who also once dressed as Wonder Woman, so strong was her identification with the character): strong, beautiful and iconic. In a bustier.
Keep her strong, JMS. Keep her safe.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.