Tuesday, November 3, 2009

What is wrong with Wonder Woman?

I have often wondered what has kept Wonder Woman from being as popular as the other two big heroes at DC comics, Superman and Batman.

Wonder Woman is part of the holy trinity at DC, she's as powerful as Superman, as smart as Batman and wears almost no clothes, why isn't she more popular?

I think DC does a fair job of promoting the character. She is part of nearly every major story, she is looked upon with reverance, just like Supes and Bats, by other DC heroes, but the guys have multiple titles (regular monthly series as well as one-shots and mini-series) coming out each month as well as decades worth of staring roles in movies, tv shows and cartoons.

What does Wonder Woman have? One book coming out each month in which she is the star and that is it. Though she does usually appear in the JLA team book as well as several special appearances in other titles, she can barely support the one title in which she stars. Personally I think there are two reasons Wonder Woman has such as difficult time breaking the "glass ceiling" of the comic book world.

First, no one understands the character because there is no definitive version of WW. Is she kind and loving? Is she a hard as nails warrior woman? Is she butch or feminine? No one really knowns and if you read her book over the years you will see various versions of the character. Under one creative team she is very butch looking and feminist. Yet under another group of creators she is a dangerous thing of beauty, a warrior and a goddess. No one actually gets her, which leads me to my second point. Fans can't relate to her like they can to Supes and Bats or even Spiderman and the Hulk, but let's stick with DC comics for this.

Superman is the last of his race(not really but that is a discussion for another time), an alien with godlike powers, but in some ways he is the epitome of what it means to be human. We can all identify with feeling alone, or like an outcast even amont friends and family. Superman lost his family and his whole world just as everyone experiences loss at some point in their lives, we can relate. Superman was raised by ideal parents, the kind of understanding and loving folks that everyone wants to have. Superman has the powers we all want to have, every child and most adults daydream about flying and he fulfills that wish. Superman has all of this incredible power and could easily subjugate the world to his will, yet he spends his days saving us all from external and internal menaces. Superman represents both a messianic protector, and the model of what all people believe they can be. There are tons of other things that allow people to connect with the Superman, but to put it simply, he represents everything that is good about humanity. Superman is who we all want to be, at least in some way.

Now for Batman, who is a little more obvious. He is a normal human, who saw both of his parents gunned down before his eyes. Rather than whine and cry he pushed himself to become the ultimate representation of vengeance and justice. Batman is the things that villains fear more than the law. Sure Bruce Wayne is a billionaire, but that is just the facade for Batman. Everyone has multiple faces that we wear in life. For some it is the work face, the home face, etc... We can all relate to having to be "someone else" depending on our situation.

Where as Superman represents the purity of spirit, the alturistic nature buried in every person, Batman represents the rage and desire to punish those that scare us. To exorcise and beat down our inner demons. Whether people like to admit it or not we are all scared of the world around us and would love to overcome that fear of the dark and make it afraid of us. Like Superman there are so many ways that people can relate to Batman I could write a thesis paper on either character regarding this subject. I think I've made my point well enough to move on to the reason for this post.

Despite being of our Earth, Wonder Woman is more of an alien than Superman in every way. First she isn't even human. Her mother formed her from clay and the gods breathed life into her. She is a princess, trained to be a warrior that grew up in paradise surrounded by nothing but women. Then she was sent to man's world to show us how to live peacefully, or something like that. Now I for one don't see how a non-human, warrior princess, raised on a tropic isle, and who is much more aloof and removed from humanity than an alien from Krypton who was raised in middle America, could possibly understand, much less relate to the rest of humanity. Who the hell is she to tell us how to live?

Don't get me wrong, I like Wonder Woman. For the most part when she appears in other books, besides her own, she is an interesting character. Even in the occassional issues of her own books she is pretty interesting, but it never lasts. There is just too much about the character that is too "alien" for most of us. Other than the feminist angle, which to be honest a lot of people just don't associate with, WW just doesn't have the ability to connect with readers in the way so many other characters do. I think she is a great character and deserves to be in DC's big 3, but they need to work a little harder to make her more accessible and popular with readers.

Another thing that I think hurts Wonder Woman's popularity is her lack of cool villains. Superman has his arch nemisis Lex Luthor, not to mention Mxyplyzyk, Parasite, Doomsday, The evil Kryptonians (especially Zod), Toyman, and let's not forget Bizarro. Batman has his arch nemisis the Joker, plus probably one of the all time best and most well known rogues galleries in comics history. C'mon everyone at least knows the Joker, Penguin, Catwoman and Riddler.

Besides cool villians Superman and Batman have well known supporting characters. Alfred, Robin, Commisioner Gordon, Batgirl, Supergirl, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Superboy, and Perry White are pretty well known even by non-comic book fans. It is sad that Wonder Woman's supporting characters, though not as well known in the mainstream as Batman's and Superman's, are probably more popular with fans than WW. Donna Troy and Wondergirl (Cassie) are pretty strong heroes in their own right that are much easier to associate with, more likeable and most would say more popular.

When you say Wonder Woman what villains or supporting characters come to most people's minds?

Sure if you are a comic book fan you can think of a few villians like Cheetah, Circe or Silver Swan. You may even thinkof her love interest Steve Trevor, but what if you asked non-comic book fans? I think it would be safe to say not one average person who only knows the character from the 70's TV show or from the Superfriends cartoon could not come up with a single Wonder Woman character. Yet those same people could probably associate three or more names with Superman and Batman.

The few female comic fans, or at least women who can appreciate comics , that I know don't like Wonder Woman very much, and few of the guys do. As much as it may upset those that like the feminist image of WW, the angry feminist angle is not appealing and gets old kind of quick for guys.( I know that his a sexist thing to say, but let's face it the majority of comic book readers are male.) Few guys and apparently few women want to read about a love sick, warrior princess or a bitchy, super powered feminist. There needs to be a more accessible version of the character presented, a version to which both male and female fans can relate. Wonder Woman has the potential and deserves to be one of the greatest comic books superheroes in more than just title alone.

1 comment:

Russ said...

I know what you mean, I recently rediscovered Wonder Woman myself. I found her to be uninteresting in the Comics and Bruce Timm's JLA series. Then the straight to DVD movie came out, by all rights if I had known it was done the way it was I wouldn't have bought it because the feminist angle was more involved than most Wonder Woman stuff. but as it turns out for some reason, I loved it. The character totally felt right, I think it was because the feminism was presented more prominently and that's an important part of the character to make her work. Normally feminism comes across to me like fingernails on a blackboard but I really liked the way this worked.

I flipped through the comics not long after watching the movie. The current story arcs just didn't resonate with me at all, it just didn't feel right to me.