Saturday, October 2, 2010

Will Wonder Woman ever really be as iconic as Superman & Batman?



While I am a WW fan, most people can't relate to the characters. She's just too foreign and few creators "get" her.
Superman may be an alien, but he is a messianic figure, who embodies hope. He had an American, midwestern upbringing and even to non-christians his values are familiar. He is a man out of place, who lost a family/people that he never got to know, and who seeks to connect to his heritage. He is also alone even though he has people who care for him. These are all things that most people can relate to on some level.
Batman is the very embodiment of loss, tragedy, alienation, the battle with inner demons and the desire for vengeance.
Both characters are fantastical representations of the "masks" that most people have to wear. Everyone must be different in different situations. They are also both representations of mankind's desire to make their environment safe and to have the power to fight those that are more powerful.
Wonder Woman has very little of that.
First she is a woman and unfortunately many people, including women, are prone to see strong women as a threat, not role-models. Most societies on this planet are patriarchal and while views are still evolving and maturing, the image of a powerful woman is still not as desirable as a powerful male savior. Secondly, she has little that the audience, mostly men, can relate to on a personal level. She's clay, given life by greek gods. Even among the non-religious this concept is someone "foreign" in many cultures where the Abrahamic religions are prominent.
Lastly, with the exception of the current storyline, WW is a princess, who regularly chats it up with gods, she has a "family" that loves her and she isn't out for vengeance. She is trying to assume a messianic role as a peace ambassador, but even that is not something most males(the majority of readers) can relate to. She does have the battle between her warrior nature and her desire for peace, but that's about as close as she gets to seeming human and sometimes that seems forced. She's just a little too perfect.
Batman, Superman, Spider-man, Capt. America, Iron Man, Hulk, and countless other characters all have very human inner and outer battles. Money, love, loss, rejection, desire and isolation are all traits shared by the more popular (Iconic) characters. That's why people can relate to them.
If you ask the average non-comic book reader to tell you about Superman, Batman, Spider-man and Hulk (Thanks to the movies and cartoons you could possibly add Wolverine, Iron Man, Fantastic Four, Ghost Rider, Blade and Green Lantern) they will hit on many of the very human traits that have helped these characters survive for so long. The traits and fears they will hit upon are are almost universally shared by all people.
Now if you ask them to do the same thing with Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Thor or the Flash you will get completely different answers. Wonder Woman will likely be associated with being sexy/wearing a sexy outfit, magic lassos, and invisible planes. With Aquaman you'll get swims, talks to fish and maybe the color of his costume. With Thor you might be lucky to get someone to mention his hammer and with Flash you'll get "he runs fast" and maybe the color red.
There is a reason characters like Wonder Woman are not as successful outside of the realm of comics. Even in comics Wonder Woman is the only one of DC's trinity that doesn't have more than one title. I could be wrong, but I think that she barely sells enough to support even that one.
I'm not bashing her. Hell, she's one of my favorites, but honestly most little girls would rather grow up to be Supergirl than Wonder Woman.
If her current storyline had been her origin or were to become the definitive WW, then this might change. As much as people may dislike the costume change, the current direction of her book has made her much more human than before. I for one hope it continues. It could be exactly what she needs to truly be the icon she is supposed to be.

19 comments:

Rhetorical Gamer said...

I could not find a way to disagree more...

I'm a 35 year old white male and I read WW in preference to Superman... and I only read Batbooks for the supporting cast. Well, and now that Dick Grayson is Batman I actually enjoy the character more.

WW under Gail Simone, was a vibrant, interesting character struggling with many of the issues you describe as faults. She struggled with her disconnect from humanity, struggled with her 'family' and... well, you get where I'm going.

Her 'new direction' has lost the book a reader until they move the character back from "well, we took Superman's origin & Batman's origin and, uh, slopped parts of those together - added in a little Dan Brown and..." got a terrible book that doesn't even bother to explain its place in the DCU.

That said, I do feel WW is at her best when in the company of Batman and Superman. Only then do I think she can all out be 'herself.'

Xarathos said...

You make a lot of excellent points, and I have to agree; Wonder Woman has never really gotten the treatment she deserves. Heck, I think DC would have dropped her title awhile back as unprofitable if it weren't for the fact that they're legally obligated to keep at least one book staring Wonder Woman to avoid losing the character to the creator's family.

Don't get me wrong; I love Wonder Woman. I think she's a great character, and her stories are generally epics. But I've always preferred her in the context of Superman and Batman. Her own rogue's gallery isn't all that great most of the time (though it's improving), and most authors (with the exception of Gail Simone) just don't get her. Which never made all that much sense to me - it's like they aren't even trying.

I, for one, have really enjoyed what I've seen of the new run. The new costume isn't perfect, but it's not bad, either. At least she gets to wear pants. My sister has always avoided comics basically because of the way the female characters dress, and she said she liked the new look.

Incidentally, the current direction doesn't HAVE to explain its place in the DCU, because there isn't one. It's a divergent timeline; it is, for the moment, separate from the main continuity. Whether it stays that way remains to be seen.

I hope the results are good. I hope that when it's all finished they can put her back on the level she belongs, next. Hopefully this time with better sales... and pants.

For reference, I'm a 21 year old white male, I love reading WW, Batman, and Superman... and actually most of DC right now, since Marvel drove me off with One More Day.

Rhetorical Gamer said...

Well, I agree that some writers don't really seem to get her- they're mailing it in- but I feel that way about Superman most of the time, it's why I don't read him.

As for the new storyline... I think that we (the readers) are too accepting of 'oh, it's kust an alternate timeline...' WW has disappeared from the mainstream universe, her legacy characters are going on as if nothing's wrong, and Superman/Batman haven't even asked, 'hey, has anyone seen WW? I want a little, at least a nod, at internal consistency.

Finally - I agree completely about One More Day.

Xarathos said...

You know, actually now that I think of it, my favorite Superman stories are all the ones where he features next to Batman...

And in the defense of the rest of the DCU, it's entirely possible that they just assumed she's busy. I mean, she IS a super hero, and so are they... going on long missions with little contact isn't all that uncommon. And they DO kind of all have their own stuff going on.

A nod would be nice, I'll admit, but it's not as inconsistent as it might be. Especially since there are so many of them.

Geek Gazette said...

@ Rhetorical
I agree that Simone's run was one of the best in a long time. I'm also not saying that there are not any storylines or periods where the character was not enjoyable. On the contrary there have been many runs that I've enjoyed a great deal.
My point was that there is no definitive WW. There is no quality to the character that endears her to the masses of non-comic book readers other than her appearance. Most people could not tell you 5 things about what the character stands for. Outside of the generic superhero stuff.
Even though there have been some absolutely horrendous runs in Superman and Batman comics, the characters themselves mean something to people outside of comics.
Superman is the "epitome" of a superhero. When you say the word superhero most people will think of Superman, Batman or maybe Spider-man. Truth & Justice, Mom & Apple Pie, those are things that Supes represents.
Batman is the darker side of humanity. The scared child inside of all of us that wants to strike back at the darkness.
What images or feelings does Wonder Woman invoke in non-comic fans? She's sexy, she's an Amazon (though few know what that means) she wears next to nothing, she has a lasso and she has an invisible plane. Some people who have read comics or are familiar with the JL/JLU cartoon might also add that she is a warrior, but that's about it. Most probably don't even know about the mythology of the character. I think it is safe to say that more people can associate with characters based off of WW (Xena and possibly Buffy) than they can to WW.
The traits associated with Superman and Batman are the core of the characters and while some minor details may be tweaked, that core remains constant. For the most part anyway.
My argument is that WW does not have that consistency. She doesn't have those traits that most people can relate to no matter the creative team and no matter the medium in which she is presented.
While differences in details or continuity may be changed in the Superman movies, Smallville or the comics the core aspects of Superman remain constant. Ignoring the Adam West show, the same is true for Batman and Spider-man. Wonder Woman's potential is not realized because no one has said "this is the core of Wonder Woman. This is why she is and who she is." You can change almost anything about her(except for the costume) and other than fans who regularly read the comics, no one would notice. The current WW "event" is a prime example. They completely rewrote her backstory and the only thing anyone noticed in the media was that her costume changed.
If you suddenly made Superman or Batman into killers, even non-comic readers would be in an uproar. Why? Because they know what those characters represent and they know that they don't kill. What if WW killed someone in the comics? She did and other than comic fans, no one noticed. Most comic fans didn't even notice or care because she does not have those consistent traits that are universal for people to relate to. She changes, almost completely, every time a new creative team takes over the book.

Geek Gazette said...

I could be wrong but my understanding of the current storyline was that it is in continuity, but the WW in the stories is the one that everyone knows. Their memories of her changed with the time-line. Other than when when she was in the JLA she got little mention in the DCU anyway so not seeing her outside of her own book is something I honestly didn't notice.

The only reason her title has survive this long is just as Xarathos said. They have to keep her in print or lose the copyright.
Also I forgot to mention her rogues gallery so thanks for bringing that up. She has one of the worst rogues galleries around. Batman has the Joker, Scarecrow, Penguin, Poinson Ivy. Superman has Lex Luthor, Bizarro, Metallo, Zod. Who does Wonder Woman have? Cheetah? Circe? There is no anti-Wonder Woman that is instantly recognizable outside of her immediate fan base of readers.
No matter how much her fans appreciate the character and can appreciate the nuances of the character, the general population has no clue. She needs to represent something. There has to be some aspect of the character that can, on some level, speak to people.
Personally I am a Superman fan and not a Batman fan. I think that Batman has become a caricature. He gets way too much respect from godlike beings. Seriously, why in the hell wouldn't one of his enemies just have Zoom or Bizarro run up at superspeed and snap his very human neck? He wouldn't last 1 minute against those types of people. On the street level against the Joker he's a cool character. When I see him in the JLA against Darkseid or other cosmic beings it completely destroys my suspension of disbelief. He's so brilliant that he can take down every hero and villain in the DCU, but he can't stop the Joker or Penguin? Ok, I can buy that... not really.

RG, my point was that while you and I may enjoy and appreciate how great WW is, she won't have that appeal to the masses. Her show won't last for 10 seasons like Smallville, unless something about the character is changed. She needs to represent some kind of archetype and currently she doesn't.

Geek Gazette said...
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Xarathos said...

With respect to Batman, I dunno. I always just accept it as a convention of the genre. Otherwise, Captain America would've been put down long ago, "indestructible shield" or no - and yes, I know he's not the same as Batman, but they have similar roles with regards to being "Peak Human."

And Batman outsmarting Darkseid was one of the coolest things I'd ever seen. Of course, without the right tool, actually BEATING the godlike entities that he's dealing with would be impossible.

But I agree, as a general rule, Batman works best as a street level "protector of Gotham" - and it sounds like the new Batman Inc. lineup is going to give us the best of both worlds. Dick Grayson gets to keep being Batman for Gotham most of the time, while Bruce runs with the JLA? I could go for that.

WW... I actually like Circe (she at least ties in well with the mythological elements of WW's world), but Cheetah is basically just terrible. She is in severe need of some villains who play to her strengths the way that Lex Luthor and Joker play to their arch foes.

Geek Gazette said...

In truth most of the non-superman level character would be dead. My issue with unbeatable batman is that everyone is actually scared of him. When he walks on the scene everyone gets worried because he is so "unstoppable".
Dick as Bats has been the first time I've enjoyed a batman book in a long time. Of course even after I quit reading batman, I kept reading nightwing.
As for Cap, you are right, but everyone isn't as intimidated by him as they are of batman. they respect him, but they aren't afraid of him. He also doesn't have the rep of being able to take down anyone. He gets his ass handed to him quite often. His overcoming more powerful forces seem more impressive because he has to struggle so hard to do it. Batman is just expected to beat everyone, unless it is in his own book.
Batman is nigh unstoppable, unless they need to do a storyline like Knightfall or something similar. Outside of his own books Batman is pretty much the most powerful character in the DCU. That's where I have an issue.
Ok another issue I have with Bats is that when he and Booster Gold had it out, Booster should have cleaned his clock for abandoning Beetle. But because "no one can beat batman" he wasn't given that chance. I thought that was a pretty lame thing for DC to do. At least that one time they should have let Batman get his face beat in, he deserved it.
As for Circe, I'm not saying she's not a good character, but she doesn't have the same impact as Luthor or Joker. She's just not a memorable villain, yet. Wonder Woman needs that type of villain. Someone that is as appealing(scary or sympathetic) as the other iconic villains.

Xarathos said...

Booster Gold doesn't have the years of experience in combat that Batman does, even if he DOES have a wealth of futuristic technology at his disposal. Don't get me wrong, I love Booster Gold, but ...

The trouble with Batman, in the context of the DCU, is that he's built himself up into this near-mythological figure which - like the ninja of old - is a mix of raw skill and some very effective misdirection. People are scared of him because he's scary; it's pretty much his defining attribute. You want to get information out of someone? Don't ask Superman; send Batman. Batman is scary. Superman is oddly comforting.

It's not that no one can beat Batman, exactly - I still remember when Bane got lucky and "broke the Bat," not to mention any number of conflicts between Batman and Superman which he only survived through blind luck and krytonite. But the man IS possessed of will, foresight, and a fair amount of paranoia, combined with raw skill.

Cap isn't feared because he doesn't want to be feared. He's a symbol of national pride; if he were "feared," it would say a lot of bad things about America and send messages he doesn't want to send. But no one denies that Cap is an extremely capable fighter, which is the comparison I was trying to draw. He also shares the distinction with Batman of being the "ordinary" man surrounded by - and deeply respected by - godlike figures. The comparison doesn't go much further than that, of course, unless you're someone like Red Skull.

Much as I like the character of Bruce Wayne, I thought Dick Grayson as Batman was one of the best things DC has done in a long time, and I'm tremendously glad they aren't letting go of it completely.

And I agree, Circe does lack memorability ... and sympathy ... and pretty much everything that makes a good villain. Some work could correct that, but it'd take some real effort.

Considering that my only real memories of the character are from the DCAU and Linkara's line on Atop the Fourth Wall about "Circe the Sorceress Sells Circular Sea Shells by the Sea Shore for Sixty Cents," it'd be hard to argue that the character is "iconic." :)

Philo Pharynx said...

Some of the odd bits about WW come from her origin. Read some of the early WW from William Moulton Marston. There is a big amount of dominance/submission in her origins and to a small degree it continues on the character to this day. I think there are still a number of people who have a hard time relating to women excelling in traditional masculine ways. It's less than we once had, but it's still there.

Geek Gazette said...

@ Xarathos

I don't deny that Bats has that whole scary bit going for him, but how in the hell does it work on people of Superman's powerlevel? Especially since pretty much everyone in the DCU knows who he is, except the police and general public, and they know he is just a highly trained human.
As for the Bane deal, that was one of those instances I mentioned (Knightfall) where they needed him to be more human. To me that is much more realistic, because Bats would get his ass whooped every once in a while. Now take a story like the JLA's "Tower of Babel" where it comes out that Bats has methods to take down every single superperson around, including his allies. That is where Batman goes over the top/jumps the shark, in my mind.
Batman is a bad ass of the highest magnitude when it comes to street level criminals. But I still say it just becomes silly, when he is able to intimidate and battle with people of Superman's power level. Seriously, when I'm reading a story where the most powerful heroes in the world are on the ropes and some arrogant jerk dressed like a bat, with no super powers is needed to save them, that's just a bit too much for me.
Now Dick as Batman in the JLA fills the role that he should. He is there as a tactician and leader. He doesn't, as far as I've seen, jump in to battles with these ridiculously powerful beings. I still don't think he should be in the JLA, but at least Dick as Batman is more realistic.

As for Booster and Batman, BG's suit gives him super-strength, a force field that he can project around others, plus Bat's would not have been able to land a punch if BG didn't want him to. BG is considered to be in the physical condition of an Olympic level athlete since he was an accomplished athlete. Bat's may have experience, but BG could have pinned him to the wall with the force-field before he even knew what happened and made him eat a few teeth. BG actually wouldn't not have even needed to touch him.
I just think that when his best friend died because of a mess that Batman helped to create, then Bat's dismissed him after BB asked for help, BG was due a bit of payback. DC killed my all time favorite character, the least they could have done was let my second favorite get a chance for payback.

@ Philo
As for the themes of WW, Dr. Marston was a bit of a perv from what I've read. I'm surprised that they got away with the bondage and other imagery they put in old WW stories.
WW could have been a character that was inspiring to young girls, and they have tried to make her that, but it is hit an miss. It all depends on the creative team and any positive response to WW is usually short lived.
Die-hard fans don't want her to change, but she really needs some major tweaks to be the truly iconic character that she deserves to be.

Xarathos said...

@Geek Gazette

Okay, common sense says that you have a fair point, but we're talking about a comic book. The rules of who's more powerful than who are quite a bit different than in real life; if they weren't, anyone with a gun would have been able to end Batman years ago, skill or no skill. He wouldn't even be useful on street level without bulletproof armor.

Which, admittedly, he HAS been known to use on occasion, but it's kind of hard to tell since most of his suits look like the same spandex he always wears.

Batman is on a different level than Booster Gold, and his combat skill would still give him a significant edge, even with all the future tech. Even if that does violate common sense a little bit.

Incidentally, Batman is actually supposed to be beyond olympic level in most physical respects, which is probably for the best, since he'd be long dead by now otherwise.

This kind of mental disconnect is also why characters with "super speed", like Superman and any number of other kryptonians, are still known to miss opponents on occasion. Or why Batman can beat gun wielding crazies ... with what amounts to his fists, boots, and some boomerangs.

Booster Gold, on the other hand, is the guy who was told by Superman that he "couldn't handle a cape." (Which isn't to say that I don't think he's absolutely awesome, especially lately).

The death of Blue Beetle was a travesty, though, I agree. I didn't get a chance to read that particular issue, so I can't speak to the matter of who's fault it was. But Blue Beetle was a great character, and killing him off was just lame. SOMEONE should have lost a few teeth over it, but personally I'd have been happier if it were whoever dictated the course of the story arc; from what I've heard about it it sort of reeks of editorial mandate (PLEASE, editors, stop trying to dictate stories! That's why we have writers!)

I do generally like my Batman a little less "Batgod," but the thing with all the contingency plans for dealing with heroes actually makes a lot of sense when you remember that Batman is pretty near Lex Luthor level intellect (in terms of inventiveness and general ability to put together a master plan), and he's seen Superman go rogue more than once. The man is a paranoid genius with a history of dealing with foes who have severe psychological issues. It struck me as being very in character for him.

That said, I LOVE Dick Grayson as Batman. I thought it was an excellent arc (definitely better than Marvel's competing "Bucky as Cap" angle), and really did justice to the legacy of the Bat. Which is probably why they're sharing the Cowl now.

Geek Gazette said...

I agree it is comics and a real of fantasy and impossible characters. But there should be some kind of consistency with a character.
Flash is always fast, he may have off days or instances where things "happen" that are unlikely. The same goes for Superman.
Even before Dick's tenure under the cowl, Batman was essentially two different characters. In his own books he was a street level vigilante that ended up with broken ribs and gun shot wounds. In the rest of the DCU he is nigh unstoppable, and smarter than everyone else. That is where my issue is with the Bat. Even in a fantasy realm there should be some kind of consistency or you destroy the suspension of disbelief. Either Batman is this immensely brilliant and unstoppable character who should be fighting Despro instead of the Joker, or else he should be fighting the Joker and leave Despro to the big guns. It just goes beyond silly to have him taking down big guns, yet never being able to stop his own, very human villains.
As for the Bucky Cap story, much like Dick as Batman, I haven't enjoyed Captain America this much in years. While I think that bringing him back from the dead was lame, just as Jason Todd coming back was lame, I can't deny that I've enjoyed the stories. I'm talking about the Bucky Cap stories, not the J.T. stories. J.T. coming back was just wrong and pointless. The character, much like Barry Allen, was better and more important as a symbol than an actual character. I've got an extra crowbar, does anyone have Joker's number?
I got the Booster/Cape reference. I actually pulled out some old Vol.1 B.G. issues to read the other day and that was one of the issue.
I've been a fan of B.G. since since I got that first issue when it was brand new and a fan of Blue Beetle's since his first DC appearance in CoIE. So I don't deny my bias. It is very apparent.

When I pick my "dream team" of heroes it is almost completely made up of character that most people have never heard of. Unless they are avid comic readers.
Blue Beetle(the real one, Ted, not the Blue Scarab Power Ranger that claims the name now)
Booster Gold
Blue Devil
Animal Man
Power Girl
Capt. Atom
Firestorm
Captain Marvel
Manhunter(Mark Shaw)
Starman(Wil Peyton)
The Atom(Ray Palmer)
The Ray
Mr. Miracle(Scott)
Big Barda
Nightwing
Green Arrow(Conner)
Green Lantern(Kyle)
There are a few more, but that is the core of my favorites
Of course I like my Wonder Woman and Superman, but I'll almost always choose the b-team over the big guns.
Notice that a certain long eared individual didn't make any part of the list?
My Marvel list is quite a bit shorter, I'm just not a huge Marvelite. The Marvel characters I like are some of my all time favorites, but there aren't many of them.

Xarathos said...

First up, love the list. I actually know and love at least 50% of them (some, admittedly, through the DCAU, many of them through guest appearances in other books). And I agree about Ted, though Jaime isn't as bad as he might be... the power rangers comparison might be a little harsh, but considering my own feelings toward certain... other characters in comics, I can hardly blame you for it. ;)

The Batman/Batgod split is really hard to wrap your head around, until you remember that Batman's villains aren't exactly street level anymore, either. Joker is easily as deadly a threat as Lex Luthor - he's smart enough to be dangerous, and insane enough to be unpredictable. Bane is tough enough to give any number of DC heroes a hard time, with the possible exception of the rest of the Top-tier Justice League. Scarecrow, Poison Ivy (especially lately), Killer Croc... Batman actually deals with quite a few foes on a regular basis who are basically stronger than he is. He has that in common with Spider-man. Most of the time, it's either an easily exploitable mechanical weakness, pure insanity, and the Bat's intellect that means he wins against stronger foes.

Most of what I've seen of him in the JLA does put him in a supporting role - he hangs back, engages a little bit from the peripheral and when he can do some obvious good, and points out things he's observed that the other heroes can exploit. Unless of course he's staring down Darkseid and threatening to blow up Apocalypse...

It's not as inconsistent as it looks at first blush. Even Superman might have trouble dealing with the Joker on a regular basis, just like we all know Batman wouldn't win in a standup fight against the Man of Steel. That's why Batman doesn't fight fair.

This is one reason, though, that I'm glad of the whole "Batman Inc" thing - now we have the best of both worlds. Bruce Wayne can run with the JLA, playing "Batgod" if need be and training new heroes, while playing occasional mentor to "Batman" - Dick Grayson. We get a street level Batman, and a global defending, god-shattering Batman, and finally, finally, FINALLY they can be two different people.

But I must admit my own bias - I'm a fan of Batman (we call him "The Batman" around here). I recognize that you aren't, and I'll retreat from the subject with a gracious nod. I'm glad we could have a civilized discussion about comics, even when we're disagreed about something - these things degenerate far too quickly in certain circles...

My dream team is usually a mix of big-league heroes and b-listers, both DC and Marvel. Thor, Iron Man, and Cap have all managed to keep my respect, as have Superman, Batman, and WW. I'm a huge Green Lantern fan, I really liked the return of Hal Jordan (correcting a gross mis-characterization from the beginning of Kyle's run... of course, Kyle is AWESOME), though I still need to catch up on Blackest Night. Mr. Miracle (Scott), Big Barda, The Question (Vic Sage), Green Arrow, Dr. Strange, Cyclops (Scott Summers), Black Cat, most of the Teen Titans at any given time (especially Wonder Girl and Superboy), Deadpool, and Taskmaster. Though I know we'd have to pay him a lot to keep him straight. Also Nextwave. I miss Nextwave... the pure unadulterated nuttiness of those 12 issues was absolute gold.

As I said, though, it's time for me to graciously exit - we could easily go around in circles on this topic for ever, for our comic-fu is strong :D.

(Plus, this kind of got off topic, since it was originally about Wonder Woman. Poor girl... )

Thank you again for giving me a chance to debate about comics in a friendly manner - it's been fun! I'll have to drop by again sometime. :)

Geek Gazette said...

Thanks for posting. It has been fun having to have a friendly discussion. That happens far too infrequently on the net.
Stop by anytime.

BTW, I don't hate Batman. I prefer Dick as Bats, but I'll read Bruce if it is in his own book. I just don't like him in the DCU at large.

Geek Gazette said...

"(Plus, this kind of got off topic, since it was originally about Wonder Woman. Poor girl... )"

See I told you she can't hold people's attention. ;-)