Wonder Woman’s Costume Change Makes for Good Reading

Batman celebrated his 700th issue by voyaging through time. Superman decided (dumbly) to walk across the country and get in touch with everyday people, complete with a contest to get people involved (link no longer available).

What does Wonder Woman get for her 600th anniversary issue? How do they promote the female member of the Big Three? They give her a change of clothes. Oh, there’s more to it than that, including implications that her origin has changed as well, and we all know it’s just a temporary thing to get people talking. (It worked!)

Leaving aside the creative bankruptcy of changing the character as soon as new writer J. Michael Straczynski arrives, which suggests a lack of willingness to approach her history honestly or do any research, one of the reasons so many people have reacted to this, I think, is that it’s an ugly costume, with too many bits stolen from other places. For instance, her bracelets have become fingerless gloves where ” if you get hit by one of them, it leaves a W mark.” Wow, just like the Phantom’s ring. Nothing like copying a hero who’s never been all that successful in the U.S. And what’s with the spurs-without-the-useful-bits boot design?

Wonder Woman #99

Wonder Woman #99
Art by Brian Bolland

It’s great that, after 70 years, she finally gets a pair of pants. But why are they black? Does someone have fond memories of the biker jacket/bike pants/bra top Mike Deodato era of the mid-90s? At least that outfit had some stars visible. This design is too far away from her classic look, with the wrong colors and generic bits’n’pieces shaken together by designer Jim Lee.

Then there’s the tone-deafness of some of Straczynski’s comments, as when he said, “What woman only wears only one outfit for 60-plus years?” Gee, anyone with a uniform? Nurses? Soldiers? They can be female too. And not every woman cares about clothes or fashion.

I also don’t understand why male writers get so competitive over her. Straczynski said, “Wonder Woman is a strong, dynamic, vibrant character who should be selling in the top 20, and I’m going to do all I can to get her there.” It’s all about the ranking, isn’t it? I’m reminded of when John Byrne had his run on the character, and for him it was all about proving Wonder Woman was second only to Superman in the DC universe.

But you’ve heard all this griping before, multiple times over the past two weeks. The reason I’m bothering to talk about it now is that this event spawned some really great blog posts, and I wanted to make sure you saw them.

  • Heidi MacDonald did a survey of WW’s cover looks over the years.
  • DC Women Kicking Ass points out how much it resembles times in the past when Diana has been a pirate!
  • J. Caleb Mozzocco found similarities with Lynx, a minor Batman supporting character.
  • Johnny Bacardi, in response to JMS slamming on the 60s era, takes a visual tour of Diana’s mod look.
  • In response, Alex de Campi shares art from her 2007 WW revamp pitch by Federica Manfredi featuring a teen Diana.
  • Chris Samnee makes a discarded costume Aquaman joke.
  • In 2006, Jamie McKelvie (Phonogram, Suburban Glamour) came up with a similar (but more elegant, imo) redesign.
  • Then there’s Project Rooftop, the superhero costume redesign blog, which has some amusing cartoons.
  • Lewis Lovhaug rips apart JMS’ statements about the new direction in a long rant that illustrates how much some people care about the character.
  • Ragnell does the same, only she likes the costume, mostly. Her main complaint is how often the company has taken a weed whacker (her metaphor) to the character’s history.
  • Tom Spurgeon has a great deal of insight about working with long-established characters. He likes the idea of a costume change, but not this particular one, and asks the key question: “why doesn’t that character have an all-ages title?”

Reading all these reactions, I was surprised at how much I learned about Wonder Woman’s comics history. Why didn’t I remember she’d been a space pirate?

23 Responses to “Wonder Woman’s Costume Change Makes for Good Reading”

  1. Dwight Williams Says:

    One of the more entertaining elements of the Messner-Loebs run, wasn’t that?

  2. Johanna Says:

    Oh, right. He did such creative things with the character. I always remember Wonder Woman’s dignity while working at not-Taco Bell, modeling how honest hard work is to be respected.

  3. Thad Says:

    The most baffling bit was JMS’s suggestion that there have been multiple major changes to Superman’s costume over the years. I couldn’t help wondering if he actually said that with a straight face or if it was a joke I wasn’t getting.

  4. Rob Barrett Says:

    Spurgeon’s question is the one that I routinely ask myself as the father of a five year old who says that Wonder Woman and Flash are her favorite heroes.

    I know that Ben Caldwell has apparently put together a proposal for a Wonder Woman “magic girl” manga, and there were those wonderful manga pages put together a few years back by that excellent woman artist with the name I cannot pronounce. :)

  5. DanielBT Says:

    It was Tintin Pantoja who pitched the Wonder Woman Manga. You can see some sample promos here:

    I wasn’t too crazy about the pages myself, since they seemed too by-the-numbers in terms of storytelling, and not taking advantage of the unique Shojo sensibilities.

    One possible retelling of her origin story that I thought would work really well would be how she disguised herself in order to compete in the arena. In the original version, it was so she could fight without having to kotow to Queen Hipolyta’s orders.

    My idea was that the Queen would notice that one of the competors looked remarkably similar, then realize it was actually her daughter, then feign ignorance for the remainder of the matches. (Because after all, what Mother wouldn’t recognize her daughter?) It would only be after Wonder Woman made it to the finals that she would acknowledge that she was experienced enough to travel abroad.

    Once Diana revealed her true identity after being the winner, the Queen would “express shock” at who the mystery fighter really was.

    Sadly, I haven’t developed my idea further than this.

  6. Thad Says:

    @Rob: Hm. I think I’d like to see more Caldwell WW. I didn’t particularly enjoy most of his Wednesday Comics effort, but I thought it was at least INTERESTING — it was unlike anything else in there, and even though it fell short, I’d rather see a fascinating idea fall short than a bland one executed according to plan.

  7. Johanna Says:

    Thad, the only major Superman change that occurs to me was the Electric Blue days — and I certainly hope no one’s trying to emulate that.

  8. Rob Barrett Says:

    The thing about the 1990s Superman Blue suit was that it was at least a great looking costume–not for Kal-el, but for a new hero. The new WW costume is neither good for Diana or good for anyone.

  9. James Schee Says:

    I guess for me the costume isn’t bad, it just… doesn’t look like a costume. Does that make sense? A superhero costume should be distinctive, honestly if the artist doesn’t do a good job she could sort of fade into the background.

    Plus is there no one more modern to pattern the hair style, then 90s Jennifer Ansitan?

    I have a little concern about the W imprints too. I sure hope she doesn’t accidently hit someone with them.

    Its just so weird what JMS is doing here and on Superman (do we really need Supes to play Forrest Gump?) He can write some amazing stuff, but the basic ideas of these is just so weird.

  10. Alex de Campi Says:

    Federica and my pitch was for an all-ages Wonder Woman whose story was told in 150-page digest books… you know, small books that will fit in backpacks. I’m sure someone will do it someday, it’s not exactly an original idea – but we greatly enjoyed pitching it.

  11. Johanna Says:

    I would have loved to have seen that. You’re right, others have suggested the same thing, but I think that shows that it’s a good idea!

  12. William George Says:

    I swear! What sort of person hates the Mike Sekowsky era? That’s like wanting the terrorists to win.

  13. Chad Says:

    Add my voice to the chorus of dads who’d love to be able to buy an all-ages Wonder Woman book.

    For those wanting more of Ben Caldwell’s take on the character, I’m not sure how old your daughters are, but my 3-year-old daughter has loved the books he did with Nina Jaffe. The ones she owns are for young readers, and there seem to be others with more text.

    Unfortunately, the reasonably priced used copies I snagged a while back seem to have mostly disappeared (perhaps a sign of an untapped market?). As far as revamps of the character’s look go, I love Caldwell’s take here — same costume we all know and love, made a bit more modest and age appropriate.

  14. Johanna Says:

    I had no idea those were available! What a shame they all seem to be out of print. And you’re right, the costume with straps (to make a tank top) and a skirt instead of high-cut briefs is very cute.

  15. John Jakala Says:

    Talk about coincidence – I just stumbled upon a couple of those early reader books Chad linked to at the local library yesterday and read them to my 5-year-old daughter last night for bedtime. She loved them!

    It kills me that DC doesn’t do more with Wonder Woman for young girls. C’mon, DC, she’s a superhero who’s also a PRINCESS who has built-in recognition from all the media and licensing she’s appeared in over the years. If you can’t make top-selling books based on this concept you should fork over the license to those who want to try.

    I’m bummed that the books by Nina Jaffe and Ben Caldwell are out of print as I was planning on buying them for my daughter. Guess I’ll have to scrounge around for some reasonably priced used copies. It does look like there’s a new version of the WW easy reader book coming out next month (also titled “I Am Wonder Woman”) but I’d prefer the ones with art by Caldwell — the illustrations are really well-done & remind me of Jill Thompson’s watercolor work.

  16. James Schee Says:

    I used to have some of those WW early reader books. We have a store called Dollar Tree that tends to get that kind of stuff and I think I picked those up once. I’ll have to see if I still have those.

    There were also a Flash one, and I want to say a GL one with Kyle Rayner..

  17. Torsten Adair Says:

    While you wait…
    I, a 40-year-old male, collecting comics for 25+ years, was completely blindsided by the Johnny DC version of Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the Eighth Grade.

    The collection’s been out since December.

    And DC? Howzabout an omnibus of Leave It To Chance? Or more Family Dynamic?

    And here’s my pitch: Lois Lane, Girl Reporter. Army brat, runs a blog, solves mysteries, just like Encyclopedia Brown and Nancy Drew. Balance drama with typical middle school issues. Spin off live action TV show. MAYBE have her meet heroes before they grow up, like Barry Allen or Bruce Wayne. Basic education taught via crime solving.

    Here’s another: Sunday Comics. DC creates a four-page insert for newspapers. Half- and third-page Sunday comics, including an activity comic. Stories are all-ages. One or two comics are non-serial. One or two are single panel. Front page is 1/6 title, 1/3 comic, 1/3 comic, 1/6 house ad. Other pages are all comics. Sold at cost to newspapers.

    Why no JLU comic strip?

    DC Kids website offers archive, membership, fun extras.

    Oh, and whatever happened to the chibi heroes and villains from Superman/Batman? They were SOOOOO cuh-YUTE!

  18. Johanna Says:

    Wasn’t Leave It to Chance with Image? I always found the mood of that one a bit grim, since Chance feuds with dad, but without the underlying feeling of love that keeps those stories reassuring in the end. I did enjoy Family Dynamic, but I fear everyone but you and I have forgotten it. Still, you have some good, creative ideas — would that DC was thinking in similar directions.

  19. John Jakala Says:

    Torsten –

    I read the Supergirl trade with my daughter but she didn’t seem that interested in it. Maybe it would appeal to her if she were a little older.

    I love the Lois Lane idea! Like Nancy Drew but with the possibility of more zany Silver Age escapades!

    My son loves the Batman: The Brave & The Bold TPB I got him for his birthday, and he loves the Marvel Super Hero Squad books we found at the library, and I’m sure he’ll enjoy the Super Friends comic I have on reserve. I’m just bummed there aren’t more superhero comics aimed at young girls. I know my daughter would enjoy them, and they’d be a welcome change from the passive Disney Princess model aimed at girls.

  20. Dan Navarro Says:

    I find it insulting to most red-blooded male fans of Wonder Woman, to suddenly find that our superheroine is wearing LONG PANTS! WW has always been known for two things: One, her superpowers that she unleashes against enemies of truth and justice; two, that she always wears a sexy costume.

    The short shorts are a plus. So is the red-white-and-blue bustier. Both are gone in the rendering of WW’s new costume. I refuse to purchase any comic book that features WW in that hideous outfit.

    Oh, one more thing: Wonder Woman’s costume was always red, white, and blue; and her shorts were always star-spangled. That means, she is an American hero. WHY take that away from us? WHY tamper with perfection?

  21. Johanna Says:

    You think that coloring Wonder Woman’s legs in to suggest skintight pants is an insult? Wow, we are reading this comic for very different reasons. If you need wank material, there are plenty of comics JUST for you. Why not let the premier female superheroine be something more? (Also, if you equate sexy purely to amount of skin revealed, you are woefully ignorant of just how sexy the right clothes can be, because imagination can be a more powerful turn-on than vision.) I do agree with you that the color scheme is wrong, and they should have kept the colors and stars. Not out of patriotism — Wonder Woman isn’t American — but for consistency.

  22. Kiki Says:

    Just got back from K-Mart. At the front of the store new folders and notebooks for the back to school season were on display and right on top were the ones featuring the 60-70s era WW. At least I think that’s the era – her eagle has the straight bars. If people want that version, it’s there. It hasn’t gone anywhere. I liked seeing it just because I’m a stody old traditionalist and like bright, flashy costumes. And I liked Wonder Woman being on the cover all by her lonesome and not part of the boys’ club. Now, if only there had been Supergirl and Batgirl folders/notebooks I would have been in Heaven. :)

  23. Alex Says:

    Wonder Woman is the best superhero ever, and changing her is the worst thing anyone could ever do. You have not only changed her look, but the entire story. Wonder Woman is a very large historic figure and has now been changed into something horrible. She’s not Wonder Woman anymore. She someone else. Why not just create a new hero instead of ruining a great one?




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