What’s Wrong With Wonder Woman, by Mike Gold
In this space on Friday and Saturday, my esteemed colleagues Mr. Davis and Ms. Thomases waxed on about the political situation of the day. Whereas there is no more important issue facing us as Americans in this moment in time (and it has considerable impact on non-Americans as well), I will not follow in their wake this week. I’m sure I will in the future.
Instead, I’m going to take a point central to their themes, and those expressed to a somewhat lesser extent by Ms. Riggs last week, and talk about comic books. Specifically, about Wonder Woman.
Since I’m in a name-dropping kind of mood, I should point out that my comments have been heavily influenced by recent conversations with Ms. Adriane Nash, a frequent commenter here at ComicMix, as well as our new editorial proofreader (for those items that come in early enough to be proofread…). And, oh yeah, she’s my savvy and opinionated daughter.
So what’s wrong with Wonder Woman? Positioning. Not unlike what many people think the McCain campaign did by selecting a fundamentalist book burner as their vice presidential candidate, under the theory that women are so stupid they’ll simply vote for one of their own no matter what her position is on the issues. You know, just like the conservatives.
Back in the 1940s, Wonder Woman was fabulously successful. She had as much exposure as any DC/AA hero (but not as much as, say, the real Captain Marvel). She had her own title, she starred in a monthly anthology book, she starred in a regularly published giant-sized star-studded superhero thing, and she briefly had her own newspaper strip. All she was lacking was a cheap movie serial.
By the time the 70s rolled around, DC had a hard time giving Wonder Woman away. As of this date, she’s undergone more revisions, reboots (one, quite literally, brought her original boots back), reinterpretations, and make-overs than Madonna. What happened?
It’s easy to say that the stories became crappy, and some of that is true. It’s also true that some were great and many remain underrated. Sadly, she became an icon and too many of her creators treat her as such. Gingerly.
Superman’s an icon, but he didn’t run into this type of trouble. No, since Wonder Woman is a symbol of womanhood while Superman is a symbol of America, too many of her creators interpreted her as a god.
The thing is, it’s hard to identify with a god. Their problems aren’t human. Their mission isn’t based upon our concerns, our fears and our hopes: they’re on a much higher level, a more ethereal level.
Whereas Greek mythology is central to her origin, it is no more significant than, say, Krypton is to the Man of Steel or the Vietnam War is to Iron Man. It’s the backstory, not the real story.
Here’s the problem. Her creator, Dr. William Moulton Marston, may have had his peccadilloes (and, hot damn, am I being polite here), but he came up with Wonder Woman because he liked the idea of a woman superhero. Screw his dominance issues; he promoted the idea of a woman superhero.
Superhero. Not god.
Play Wonder Woman as a genuine superhero and she’ll serve just fine as a model for girls and women… and for boys and men. She’s a superhero; she should do superhero stuff to supervillains and save the planet from intergalactic pan-dimensional threats and generally fight for truth and justice. The rest of the icon bit will take care of itself.
Oh, one thing more. The same thing’s true of our women politicians.
Mike Gold is editor-in-chief of ComicMix.