NY Times Tackles Superheroine Costuming, Forgets About Creator Rights

Wonder Woman United Nations campaign art by Nicola Scott

There’s an article titled “Is It Time for Wonder Woman to Hang Up Her Bathing Suit?” at the NY Times. This debate — whether superheroine costumes are unnecessarily sexualized, the impracticality of the outfits (made more visible with the rise of cosplay), and the disparity in treatment for both female characters and fans — is nothing new to clued-in superhero comic industry viewers.

The piece is a tie-in by a fashion columnist to the recent news that Wonder Woman has been named “an honorary ambassador for the empowerment of women and girls and for gender equality” by the United Nations. (All the honorary ambassadors are fictional characters, while celebrities are “good-will ambassadors” or “messengers of peace”.) This choice suggests to me that even august political bodies these days are getting savvy about tying into popular culture events to reach new audiences, with the movie coming next summer. What struck me, though, was the error in the second sentence, which reads in part

special guests will include Diane Nelson, president of DC Entertainment (the company that owns DC Comics, which invented Wonder Woman)

No. The company — which at the time of Wonder Woman’s first appearance in 1941 in All Star Comics #8 operated under another name — did not invent the character. Companies don’t create characters. They quite frequently own characters, but people invent characters.

In this case, the creator is famous in his own right, to the point of Sony planning to release a movie about him and his heroine called Professor Marston & The Wonder Women. In addition to creating Wonder Woman (under the pseudonym “Charles Moulton”), William Moulton Marston also invented the lie detector. And after the release a couple of years ago of The Secret History of Wonder Woman, many people also know he had a non-traditional lifestyle, living with two women.

If nothing else, geez, open a Wikipedia page. Or use a verb like “publishes” instead of “invented”. If writers won’t stand up for creative rights, including the right of accurate attribution, who will? The columnist, Vanessa Friedman, goes on to say

This [dressing like a clichéd male wet dream] matters because, like most superheroes, she is inseparable from her clothing: It is her immediate signifier, the representation of all about her that is special and unique (and kick-butt). And that clothing unavoidably indicates to everyone that part of the source of her power is her babeliciousness, as defined in a particularly retrograde way.

The problem is that comic companies continually return to the “classic” appearance of their characters, no matter what new directions are tried. Wonder Woman’s worn more athletic wear, in the bike shorts era of the 90s, or been more covered up, when the new 52 tried to give her pants around the time of the TV pilot. But no one reads those characters as the true version of the hero. The “bathing suit” is just so well-known, thanks to that TV exposure in the 70s.

This article doesn’t help, using at the top of the piece an image of Lynda Carter instead of the UN campaign art, as shown here by Nicola Scott.

Wonder Woman United Nations campaign art by Nicola Scott

The approach she’s taken, playing up accessories like cape and shield to distract from the nakedness, is a well-chosen one. From the article, Scott is quoted:

“The goal was to create a noble and strong look, while still maintaining Wonder Woman’s approachability and global appeal,” Ms. Scott said. “I put considerable effort into ensuring her eyes were powerful and conveyed her characteristics of peace, justice and equality.”

You can watch the UN ceremony tomorrow, October 21, at noon Eastern time.



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