DC Comics made national headlines a couple weeks ago when it unveiled a new costume for its most famous female superhero. The costume was designed, according to new writer for the Wonder Woman comic book series, J. Michael Straczynski, “to give her clothes that she can fight in, that add to her presence and her strength and her power.”
Media outlets including the New York Times, CNN, the Washington Post, the Associated Press and Ms. Magazine reported on the public’s reaction, which was as swift as it was severe. Many were offended by the aesthetic design of Wonder Woman’s revamped outfit, while no less a fashion icon than Project Runway mentor Tim Gunn loves the new look. Many disgruntled fans simply don’t handle change very well, and would no doubt have been outraged by any tampering with the traditional costume that Wonder Woman has worn for most of her 69 years in comics. Fox News even voiced concerns that replacing her star-spangled bikini bottom with a pair of dark blue leggings may be an affront to patriotism.
Personally, I’ve long been in favor of putting more clothes on Wonder Woman, whose old outfit left her practically naked compared to her male peers in the DC Comics Universe. I’m not sure how I feel about this particular redesign yet (although I don’t see how I can argue with the likes of Tim Gunn), but I certainly don’t have any issues with making the princess of a race of ancient Greek Amazons look “less American.”
What concerns me more are the other character alterations that have been made along with Wonder Woman’s change of costume. Her history has also been altered, resulting in her super powers being greatly diminished and her Amazonian heritage largely erased from her memory. This reminds me of writer Denny O’Neil’s 1968 attempt to recast Wonder Woman as a more meaningful role model by taking away all her super abilities and presenting her as the wholly human, self-possessed, liberated woman. As Diana Prince, she gave up her traditional costume for mini dresses and pants suits. Well-intentioned as this experiment was, it angered none other than second-wave feminist foremother Gloria Steinem, a life-long Wonder Woman fan who objected to the most famous and powerful female superhero in comics being stripped of her super powers. In 1972, Wonder Woman regained her powers and her costume.
Ms. Steinem is just as upset about this latest makeover, saying, among other things, “the original Wonder Woman was changing the world to fit women. This one seems changed to fit the world.”
But to me the most disappointing aspect of the way Wonder Woman is currently being presented is not the diminishment of her powers but of her iconic stature. The rebooted Wonder Woman made her debut in the last of several stories that appeared in issue #600 of her comic book. The first story in the issue, scripted by former Wonder Woman writer Gail Simone and drawn by fan favorite artist George Perez, had the traditionally attired Amazon princess leading a host of other super women into battle (they were facing an army of “cyber-sirens” able to control the minds of any man—even superhuman ones). What I loved about this story was the absolute awe in which most of these other heroes held Wonder Woman, the deference they showed to her, and how honored they felt to be fighting by her side. Wonder Woman is the matriarch of a 70 year-old tradition of superheroics—part of the trinity, along with Superman and Batman, around whom the DC Universe revolves.
At least she was until now. In the current story line, she is on the run, hunted, uncertain, and seemingly unknown to the world at large. A mere shadow of her former self.
Of course, my reaction, like everyone else’s, is based on just one nine-page story. I’m a fan of writer J. Michael Straczynski’s work. In addition to creating the television series Babylon 5, he has written superhero comic book series (Rising Stars, Supreme Power, Squadron Supreme) that tried to intelligently portray the effect the existence of superheroes would have on world politics, and the ways in which superheroes might use their powers to address real-world concerns. I’m willing to give him a chance and trust that when he’s done, hopefully soon, Wonder Woman will be restored to her iconic stature—both in her world and ours.