Saturday, February 28, 2009

Allow myself to introduce...myself

Hi all! I am a superhero geek fanboy who isn't afraid to admit I dig Wonder Woman. I'm also married with children so I guess that helps offset the stereotypes somewhat.

In addition to my day job, I am a freelance illustrator with a penchant for superheroes. I decided to join these wonderful folks here so I could get a little focus and try to regularly get a WW themed drawing posted. In addition, I will be periodically posting pics of my WW themed action figures and comics.

I'm no WW expert, but the "First Lady of Superheroes" deserves her accolades, and I'm willing and able to throw a few out myself.

So in the meantime, I will do what lazy artists tend to do and post an old illustration with the promise of something new very soon!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Understanding Wonder Woman, Part Three



I think I made it clear in Part One to this piece, but in case you're joining late, this was written during Jodi Picoult's run on Wonder Woman. That's why I make some references to Gail Simone's "upcoming" run on the series. I'll plan to do another piece later focusing on Simone's work (so far).

So, I was talking about Greg Rucka. I haven't enjoyed every Greg Rucka story I've ever read, but I love how he approaches them. He thinks hard about them, and if he doesn't think he has anything interesting to say about a character, he won't write the story. And usually, I'm interested in his take on the characters he writes about.

So, I got pretty excited when I heard that he was writing Wonder Woman and I think he did a fine job of capturing the confidence that I've gone on and on about. Where I started getting tired was with his interpretation of Wonder Woman's Mission.

Although I think that giving her a Mission was probably a mistake in the first place, Rucka took it seriously and I think that's okay. It's part of the story now and dealing with it is probably better than ignoring it. But even though Rucka made the Mission the central part of his story (by making the Amazonian embassy Diana's base of operations and having her write a best-selling book that promoted Amazonian ideals), I think he was just as unclear about the Mission's details as anyone else.

Mad Thinker Scott takes a stab at defining the Mission and the thought he put into it is worth reading even though I don't agree with him. He sees "the championing of women’s rights and equality" as the core theme of her character and I think that's the perception that a lot of people have. But Scott also summarizes the inherent problems with having that as the Mission. He says, "If fighting for women’s rights is going to be the central theme of Wonder Woman’s conflicts, she’s going to have to get into stickier situations than she has in the past. For instance, there are women’s issues that Wonder Woman could fight for in the US. She could lobby to increase the amount of child care available to working women, so women aren’t held back in their careers as much as some are now. However, that isn’t the kind of conflict that comic buyers are looking for when they pick up a magazine about a woman who can deflect bullets and throw cars."

He goes on to suggest other women's rights situations that might make for more exciting adventures, but when he takes this Mission to its logical conclusion, he sees the reason that it would never work for a serialized, ongoing story: "I’d love to see Themyscira take a more aggressive stance on international women’s rights and actually get into armed conflicts with other nations; however, I’m not sure how long that Paradise Island v. the World theme can last, and Wonder Woman’s role in the wider DC universe would be radically altered." He finishes his article by admitting that he doesn't know where the line should be drawn in regard to how aggressively Wonder Woman defends the rights of women.

My own observation is that Wonder Woman probably ought to leave alone real-world issues like the Thai sex trade and the way women are treated by Islamic extremists. That would be as pointless as having Superman capture Osama bin Laden. It might be a cathartic story to tell, but it would ultimately make the DC Universe unrelatable. In an attempt to make comics more relevant, the ironic result would be that they'd become less so.

But there's another Mission that Wonder Woman has that's not only relevant, but has the advantage (for an ongoing series) of being never ending. And it all has to do with this confidence thing. In her post that originally got me thinking about all of this, Ragnell says that "Wonder Woman is supposed to already be the woman other women in fiction learn to be." And that's the Mission, folks. She's the woman that all women want to be. She's the role model.

I'm gonna skip ahead in my chronological examination of Wonder Woman comics and mention Will Pfiefer's fill-in issue between Allan Heinberg and Jodi Picoult's runs. It's a simple, stand-alone tale that was unfortunately overlooked by many in anticipation of seeing what Picoult would do. But it's a beautiful story about the dramatic influence that Wonder Woman has on the lives of women she's never even met. They want to be stronger women thanks simply to the example Wonder Woman sets. She doesn't have to take down the Thai sex trade to fulfill her Mission in Man's World; she does it just by being who she is. If the Amazon's have a philosophy that needs sharing with humanity, it's not all that contradictory nonsense about peaceful warriors; it's that women can and should be strong, confident people. And Wonder Woman's here to show them how. And you don't have to make the comic about that all the time in order for it to be true. It's just background to whatever she's currently doing.

Back to how the comics went though.

In the end, it wasn't lack of clarity about the Mission that made me grow tired of Rucka's run. It was his slow, thoughtful plotting. There just weren't enough big moments in his early issues, which was sort of the opposite problem that I had with Jimenez's run. Somewhere in between is a balance. But more on that in a minute.

I got interested again in Wonder Woman in the build up to Infinite Crisis. DC started playing up the idealogical differences between Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman, and Rucka was a huge part of making that happen. In a great issue of Adventures of Superman (written by Rucka), Wonder Woman made it clear that, unlike her male counterparts, she would be willing to kill if the need ever arose. I found that fascinating given the usual hardline, "no killing" policy most traditional superheroes take (antiheroes like the Punisher notwithstanding). I also found it profoundly believable considering that she's an Amazon warrior. Her opinions about execution and killing come from an entirely different place than ours and I loved that Rucka and DC were willing to explore that. And explore it they did just a little bit later when they had Wonder Woman kill Maxwell Lord in Wonder Woman #219.

Suddenly I was entranced again and I've been hooked on Wonder Woman's story ever since. Allan Heinberg got off to a great start during his run by not only exploring the consequences of Maxwell Lord's murder, but by balancing Jimenez's big action with Rucka's personal drama. Unfortunately -- though I'm thrilled to have him involved with Gray's Anatomy -- other duties took precedence and he wasn't able to finish what he started.

Jodi Picoult's run, with the return to the fish-out-of-water version of Wonder Woman, was a disappointment. I quit buying it after the first issue of it, but writing these articles made we want to check it out again, if only to keep up with where the character is going, so I've gone back and caught up. It's less annoying than that first issue, but I'm still anxiously awaiting Gail Simone.

I'm trying not to put too much pressure on Gail to be awesome, but as I've said before, I have high hopes for her. I haven't read her take on the character, but she's too good a writer not to have one and I have faith that at heart, her Wonder Woman will be a continuation of the character who grew to maturity in Messner-Loeb's run and we saw in Jimenez's and Rucka's. I also know that Gail has the ability to tell a great adventure story while grounding it in human drama, so I'm not worried on that end either. After all: "She’s punching a monkey off a waterfall on page three."

Gail seems much more concerned with telling exciting stories about "the best goddamned warrior planet Earth has ever known" than she is about the Mission or the dichotomy between Peace and War or any of the headier stuff and that sounds exactly right to me. Jimenez and Rucka needed to explore that part of her to get her to where she is today, but that work's been done. It's backstory now and as long as it remains backstory, there's no need to go over it again. Wonder Woman's ready to punch monkeys (or air pirates, kangas, man-fish, seal men, or Christopher Columbus).

I'm sorry I never got to talking about the Justice League cartoons. That's going to require more research, but I'm at a point now where I'd love to do it. In writing this article, I learned that Greg Rucka doesn't care so much for that version of Wonder Woman, so I'm curious to balance his opinion with Siskoid's (who rightly thinks that Wonder Woman was generally done correctly in the JLA comic) and see what I think. I'm done analyzing Wonder Woman for a while though. I just want to be able to enjoy her adventures now.

Big Hellos and Welcomes!

Alright, I would like to keep the welcomes up on this blog. I delayed a bit because we all seem to know each other so far, then I saw a name I did not recognize.

Welcome to The Lighning Bug, who run The Lightning Bug's Lair. At a glance I saw '70s horror and bikini-clad barbarian/apocalyptic future movies, so I will surely be returning.

I'll do a quick rundown of everyone else, but make sure you check out Micheal's posts on Understanding Wonder Woman, parts 1 and 2, and Becca's excellent drawing of our fair princess.

Our first non-contributor follower is formidable Jay from The Sexy Armpit, a blog devoted to geek culture and the great state of New Jersey. Jay has some other blogs too, which you can see on his profile.

Next, the illustrious Reis of Geek Orthodox and Crom!. If Batman and Conan ever had a child, you'd hear about it there :-)

Our current contributors have links to their sites in the sidebar, so I won't go to deep. We have artists Bubbashelby and Becca. Writer Michael May. Programmer Patrick (Sun and Heir). And Fanboy, little old me.

Remember, if you are interested in contributing to this blog, send me an email or try to Tweet me @d_whiteplume. All kind of material is welcome (we'll shy away from adult content, however :-). Part of the point is to have a place to post Wonder Woman info when your blog is not comicbook centric.

Amazon Princess Drawing

A drawing I did of our favorite Amazon (well my favorite at least :)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Understanding Wonder Woman, Part Two

In the first part of this look at Wonder Woman, I decided that what I want to see in a Wonder Woman comic is a heroine who is absolutely confident. I talked about the way that she's been portrayed visually over the last 20 years and promised to look at how she's been written during that same time period. So let's do that.

I've already covered George Perez's take on her because his visual depiction of her perfectly matched the way he wrote her: a wide-eyed, innocent fish-out-of-water who wasn't at all ready to stand next to heroes like Batman and Superman. What I haven't yet talked much about was Perez's reason for having Wonder Woman leave Paradise Island Themyscira.

In the '40s, when Wonder Woman was first introduced, she left the Amazons to help fight Nazis. It was an admirable reason and nobody questioned it. I don't think anyone today would question it either. But in the mid-'80s when Perez rebooted the concept, there wasn't an easy enemy like that who needed a Wonder Woman butt-whoopin'. So, Perez gave her the Mission.

If Wonder Woman's mission to Man's/Patriarch's World has ever been clearly defined, I haven't read it. I welcome correction if I'm wrong about this, but as far as I've ever been able to tell, it's description is limited to a vague "ambassador of Amazonian ideals." But what those ideals are has never been explained to me. It's been a while since I read the early Perez issues (out of dissatisfaction with whomever was writing Wonder Woman's current adventures at the time), but I remember there being something about living peacefully and somehow trying to line that up with the Amazons' status as a warrior race. I just never got it. And I don't think that any of the writers ever got it either.

Wonder Woman's next writer was William Messner-Loebs and it was about ten issues into his run that I read my first Wonder Woman comic. And it was this cover that made me pick it up. Unfortunately, the majesty depicted on that cover was very different from the struggling-to-find-herself character I read about inside. That character was much more in keeping with the following issue's cover that shows Wonder Woman having to get a job at a fast food joint in order to make ends meet. It was a cute story, but as a new reader to the book, I couldn't make it fit in with what I wanted to see Wonder Woman doing. You'd never see Lynda Carter flipping burgers unless Diana Prince was undercover somewhere. I didn't stick with it for very long.

I'm assuming that Ragnell read more of Messner-Loebs' run than I did. Her description of it is that it's about "a rebellious daughter who ran off to see the world and tried to become part of it." That fits with the whole Having to Get a Job thing, but it also describes why it wasn't the Wonder Woman I wanted to read about. My Wonder Woman would never have to run away from home or try to become a part of something. She'd do whatever she damn well liked and expect the world to conform to her. After all, isn't that the entire idea behind her having a Mission? To try to teach Amazonian ideals to humanity? And what is that if not trying to get the world to conform to her standards? Maybe she'd given up on that by that point, I don't know. What I do know is that she was a floundering character who elicited pity rather than awe. I want to be in awe of Wonder Woman.

I came back to Messner-Loebs' run later on, tempted by the event of having Diana replaced as Wonder Woman by Artemis. Replacing traditional heroes with newer versions was an old gimmick of DC's by that point, but they were making a really big deal about it and remember, I was looking for reasons to read Wonder Woman. And interestingly, I liked it a lot.

Even though her "official" status as Wonder Woman was taken from her, Diana was woman enough to give Themyscira and her mom a big ole "f*** you" and keep on doing her thing in a different costume. That's the Wonder Woman I wanted to see. It looks like maybe Messner-Loebs had a plan all along and was chronicling Wonder Woman's transformation from Perez's innocent to the confident heroine I wanted to see. Too bad DC fired Messner-Loebs right about then in order to make room for John Byrne's return to the company.

I won't go into a John Byrne rant here, but I need to say that even though he's single-handedly responsible for making me a hardcore comics addict, I really wasn't fond of his art in the '90s and couldn't make myself buy any of his Wonder Woman run. As Ragnell describes it though, "Byrne wrote a stiff, formal princess." I don't feel like I missed much.

After a couple of fill-in issues by Christopher Priest that I don't know anything about (though I really like Priest's work, so maybe they were good?), Eric Luke was the next writer. I'm pretty sure that I read the end of his run, but I didn't remember that until I started researching this article. Ragnell describes his version of Wonder Woman as "lost." Wikipedia says that she "was often questioning her mission in Man's World, and most primarily her reason for existing." Maybe that's why I don't remember his issues.

The reason that I read the end of Luke's run (and the fill-in issues by Brian K. Vaughan and Ben Raab at the end of it) was that I was getting ready for Phil Jimenez. I'd met Jimenez at a local convention and been totally wowed by him as a person and by his Wonder Woman pitch (which he was enthusiastically sharing with anyone who was interested). I wish I remembered now what the pitch was because I'm sure it would shed some light on this subject, but all I retained was the feeling of being impressed with how much thought he'd given the character. And for a while, I was impressed with his run too.

Jimenez was on the right track. His Wonder Woman was a strong, confident woman and in hindsight I think a lot of my opinions about what Wonder Woman should be were formed by the way he portrayed her. He gave her a love interest in Trevor Barnes and had her do all the pursuing at first. Trevor initially turned her down, but came to his senses later and asked her out.

There was a lot of controversy about Trevor at the time. Liberals thought that Wonder Woman should be portrayed as a lesbian; conservatives thought that Trevor's being black was overly PC. Jimenez couldn't win that one. My personal feeling about it at the time was nervousness that Trevor was going to be portrayed as not being entirely masculine. If Wonder Woman took the agressive, "male" role, then there was a possibility that Trevor might end up taking a passive, "female" role. I shouldn't have worried though. Jimenez was too smart and too talented to let either character be "weak" or passive. He started crafting a relationship of equals between the two of them. Unfortunately, I never did learn what ultimately became of it.

My dropping Wonder Woman during Jimenez's run had nothing to do with how the character was being portrayed and it had nothing to do with Trevor Barnes. But though I think he had those elements exactly right, Jimenez -- either through his own fault or DC editorial's -- kept presenting plots that I just wasn't interested in. There was the return of some George Perez characters whom I didn't care about. There was a civil war on Paradise Island that resulted in Wonder Woman's losing her crown as princess of the Amazons. Then there was that whole Our World at War crossover in which her mom died. It seemed like we were always going from one big event to the next and I started getting tired. There were some quieter issues, like the one in which Lois Lane spends a day with Wonder Woman for an interview, but the run as a whole didn't feel grounded. I finally gave up on it, but I'd like to go back and finish his run now to see where he ended up taking it.

After Jimenez, Walt Simonson wrote a six-issue homage to the powerless, white costume, spy years. I totally missed that one, but I got interested again when Greg Rucka, who's approach to writing I love, took over.

This is getting long again, so I'm going to cut it short here. Next time I'll talk about Greg Rucka, Allan Heinberg, and Jodi Picoult. I'll also try to mention her portrayal in the Justice League cartoon, but I haven't seen many of those, so we'll see if I can find anything interesting to say about them. But I will put in my two cents about what Wonder Woman's mission ought to be.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Just a snipet.

Via Comics Make No Sense. So, Wonder Woman was the secretary of the JSA?


Um... calling a woman "fast" is never a good idea, even when you mean it in the most innocent way, especially when she's capable of cracking your ribcage between two fingers. And is Johnny Thunder staring at Wonder Woman's chest? I think he is. The JSA was not the most progressive of super-hero teams.

One new invite pending!

Another artist joining our ranks. Bubbashelby sent me a request. He has a few pics of the Amazon here! I love the Ed Roth-styled Invisible Plane :-)

Super Friends Wonder Woman!

Thank you Amazon.com! Bock, bock!

This arrived today. One of the few traditional styled Wonder Woman figures I don't have (I believe I need one of the old skirt types). This is Wonder Woman as she appeared in The Super Friends. I don't remember how well they handled the Amazon there, but she certainly looks tough. Very Emma Peel.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Understanding Wonder Woman, Part One



For my first real post here, I'm copying over my first real Wonder Woman post from the Adventureblog. My fascination with her started from a realization that I liked her a lot as a character, but couldn't stay with her comic for any real length of time. After wondering about that in a couple of throwaway posts, this was a once-and-for-all attempt to get my head around what I liked about her and what I wanted to see in the comics.

Since I'm pulling this out of the context of my blog, I've edited it slightly to eliminate confusing references to other posts. Also, this ended up being a three-part deal, so I'll put the other two parts up tomorrow and Thursday.

***

It's bugged me for years that I really really want to like Wonder Woman, but don't. At least, not as much as I want to. Pretty much every time DC announces a new writer on the series, I pick it up hoping that maybe this will be the time that I connect with the character. But it hasn't happened yet. I think I've finally figured out why, but it's going to be a long discussion, so I'm going to break it up into sections.

I think that maybe the way for me to approach this is to first figure out why I want to like her so much. I obviously have some connection to her that I want to see strengthened. And even if that connection is just untapped potential at this point, identifying it will mean that I've figured out what I want to see future writers do with her.

Let me start by saying that it isn't that she's hot. Yeah, Wonder Woman is gorgeous, but if all I wanted was to read about a beautiful woman in a skimpy costume, well, there are thousands of other options for me. So, I'm going to start with the postulate that my interest in her is more than physical.

Since I grew up reading Marvel Comics, my introduction to Wonder Woman was through the Lynda Carter TV show. But... I don't think my real fondness for the character started there. I think I liked that show because I was nine and she was a beautiful superheroine in a bathing suit. That was physical. But maybe not only that.

It's hard to separate childhood memories from thoughts I've had in later years, but it's undeniable that the main reason people still think fondly about the show was due to how honest Lynda Carter's portrayal of Wonder Woman was. She completely sold Wonder Woman as a real person and she was every bit as heroic and strong (not just physically, but spiritually and emotionally too) as Superman or any other superhero. And I think the memory of that completely strong, comfortable, confident character is what I keep hoping to recapture in Wonder Woman comics.

Several years ago, before the Wonder Woman TV episodes were released on DVD, I joined one of Columbia House's VHS clubs where every month they'd send me a new tape with a couple of episodes on it. Whenever I'd get a new one, I'd get in touch with my brother-in-law and we'd sit and watch them and laugh at the bad German accents, the fakey gorilla suits, and especially at how sad of a character Steve Trevor was. He was especially hilarious during the IADC years when his solution to everything as head of an international spy organization was to call the police. But I'm digressing. My point is that we never laughed at Wonder Woman. As silly as the rest of the show could be, she was always an impeccable hero.

I think this touches on what Ragnell was saying about Wonder Woman and confidence. Wonder Woman should be the Sean Connery of her gender: men should want to be with her and women should want to be her. When Connery played Bond, he walked around every setting he found himself in as if he owned the place. Didn't matter if it was his office, a hotel, or the villain's headquarters, he was completely comfortable with himself. That's how Wonder Woman should be.

Not aggressively so. Not, as my friend Alex would say, "strident." Connery never had to convince anyone through aggression that he was competent. You knew it by just looking at him. Wonder Woman should be the same way.

I don't know if this is a secret or not, but men find feminine confidence incredibly sexy. The best, most iconic depictions of Wonder Woman totally get that. Yeah, she's got great hair, big boobs, and long, long legs, but so does every other superheroine. What sets Wonder Woman apart - when she's written and illustrated correctly - is that she's able to walk around in a frickin' bathing suit and be completely at ease. She's like Marvel's Sub-Mariner that way, only she's not a jerk about it. Sub-Mariner is another character who oozes confidence and so gets away with swimming gear as a costume. It's not the skimpiness of the outfit that's attractive; it's the way she carries herself in it.

This is why I don't care for George Perez's run on the series. It gets praised a lot for its attention to Greek mythology and its strong characterization, but Perez's Wonder Woman isn't the strong, confident heroine that I want to read about. His Wonder Woman is a fish-out-of-water. She's the new kid on the superhero block. She's wide-eyed and innocent. When Perez draws her flying, for example, she has an expression of joyous rapture. "Whee! I'm flying!" Which I guess a lot of people liked, but seems really... I don't know, girlish? to me. I much prefer this image of her flying. She's still smiling and enjoying what's going on, but she isn't so "yipee!" about it. She's more mature. Comfortable.

I even enjoy this downbeat depiction of her. She's being led away in handcuffs and she's not happy about it, but she is calm and in control. There's nothing happening to her that she isn't letting happen and it gives you the feeling that indeed nothing could happen to her that she doesn't let happen. That's not true, of course. Stuff happens to Wonder Woman outside of her control all the time. It has to in order to keep things interesting. But she creates the illusion that she can handle anything. Just like Bond.

Enough about the art. Next time, I'm going to focus on the writing, starting with Perez and moving up to Jodi Picoult. I may touch on pre-Perez, but I haven't read much of that stuff, so my discussing it will be limited to what I've heard other people say and that's going to be limited in its usefulness.

Villains: The Body Doubles

The Body Doubles are a duo of assassins made up of Bonny Hoffman (the daughter of a mob boss) and Carmen Leno (a former porn-star). They first appeared in Resurrection Man #1 (March 1996).

DC did a four-issue mini-series in which they were hired (read "conscripted") by an alien empress, the Mystress of the Rhormorid, who has a method of extracting the youth, beauty, and powers from creatures. She wants The Body Doubles to bring her Earth's most powerful meta-humans. They defeat the likes of Argent, Deep Blue, and Power Girl, and in the fourth installment try, and fail, to bring in Wonder Woman.

This mini-series is a cheesey, fun romp full of scantily clad heroines and the occasional boob-joke. The artwork is decent, the story is humorous; it is not a serious comic book. If you see it in the bins at your local shop, they are worth the read.



Some info from Atomic Avenue

Two more invites pending!

Patrick (sunandheir) and Becca have expressed interest, and invites have gone out. Woot!

Hello Also.

Darius was nice enough to invite me to participate in this, so I thought I'd take a post to introduce myself.

My name is Michael May and I've got a couple of homes on the Internet. I contribute to Comic Book Resource's Robot 6 blog as well as maintain my personal site, Michael May's Adventureblog. I love comics and over the last couple of years I've found myself more and more interested in women heroes in general, but especially in Wonder Woman. She's become a huge part of the Adventureblog, but huge enough that I've been considering starting a separate blog just for her.

Fortunately, I don't have to do that now thanks to Darius. I was nervous about starting a spin-off blog on my own, so it's great to have some company in this. I think this is going to be the place for Wonder Woman news, opinions, and art on the Internet and I'm very excited to be a part of it.

My plan is to start posting regularly tomorrow. Between some new stuff I want to share and some old Adventureblog posts that might be useful here, I should be able to do this as a daily thing for a while. Eventually that could taper off, but we'll see how it works out.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Hello!

I started this blog because I am a big Wonder Woman fan, and know there are others out there. I am sure on my main blog, Adventures in Nerdliness I can get a little Wonder Woman heavy. I thought this would be good for multiple contributors so we could share news and info, especially if your normal blog is not so comics related. Contact me if you are interested in contributing.