Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Time for a Makeover: Wonder Woman #600

It has been widely announced over the past day that today's Wonder Woman #600 will include a drastic retooling of its titular character including a retcon of her origin and more importantly, a new costume. This news even made the front page of CNN, putting Diana's new outfit roughly on par with the death of Captain America in terms of mass media exposure.

I was prepared to write this blog post last night, but I thought I would wait until I actually had issue #600 in my hands. I'm glad I did. Having read the real thing as opposed to a bunch of news articles definitely changed my opinions. I did appreciate being given more of Lee and Straczynski's insights into the new design, plus being able to see it in action.

This is the first issue of Wonder Woman I have ever read in my life.

I'm sure it seems almost wrong that I am writing about women and comic books, yet I don't read the books of the most famous and iconic superheroine to grace printed page. My introduction to the world of spandex and heroics was via the X-Men. My reading of comic books began there and expanded mostly outward into the Avengers franchise, giving me a very Marvel-centric worldview. However, despite my lack of reading, I do know who Diana is and what she stands for... both as a hero and as a cultural icon. Despite extremely damning evidence to the contrary, I have not actually been living under a rock.

To begin with, a few comments on my impression of issue #600 itself:
  • The collection of pin-ups and portraits peppered throughout the issue were a lovely celebration of Wonder Woman's iconic look. I think the Ivan Reis and Greg Horn pieces were my favorites. Given the much-publicized nature of the new costume, I did find it curious that not a single one of the standalone art pieces featured it.
  • With every monumental, publicized issue, there is an ulterior motive of drawing in new readers. Since I bought this issue, it seems that the marketing and press releases worked their magic on at least one person. However, I'm not sure that this issue accomplished the goal of making Wonder Woman accessible to these new readers. The first three stories seemed design to display her character qualities; the first displaying the juxtaposition between the icon and the human, the second her wisdom along with her apparent affinity for cats, and the third her level of power. The brief forth story read like a short teaser trailer. It was the fifth story, the one establishing the new direction for the character, that lost me.
  • The fifth story is sprinkled with bits of exposition about Diana's past, obviously in an attempt to catch people up to her current status quo. Yet, I was still left wondering what this book is supposed to be about. It seems that the current goal is for Wonder Woman to rediscover her purpose and find her relevance in this modern world. In theory, this would be a fantastic point for a new reader to jump on. The new reader can go on this journey of discovery with Diana, learning as she does. Nevertheless, I was still left feeling that I missed something vital and thus I didn't quite get it. The previous four stories told me how wise, strong and wonderful she was. So why is it exactly that she feels so lost? Someone will have to explain this to me. Hopefully the next few issues will. (Yes, I'll give it a few issues. I wouldn't want the only DC comic book in my collection to feel lonely.)
As the news leads me to believe, the most important part of this issue is, of course, Wonder Woman's new costume. In a way, this may be true. For an illustrated super hero, the costume is often the core of their identity. It is their most recognizable attribute and thus a shift in costume is often a signifier for a greater change in a character herself. I was prepared to declare that Jim Lee had designed a very nice costume from the pure superhero fashion standpoint. It was modern, detailed and practical. However, I was going to follow this by saying Wonder Woman is too much of an icon, her costume being an inextricable aspect of this, to change her look.

I've changed my mind.

I want to give this new costume a chance.

Let's face it. Her old costume was rather dated. One thing that struck me as I read this issue is how much she seemed to fit in with the gritty, urban environment that surrounded her. I could not help but to think of how Wonder Woman would stand out like a sore thumb if she were in her classic costume. If her new journey is about her trying to find her way and purpose in today's world, she does need to look like she belongs there rather than looking like a wandering relic of another era. Not to mention, this costume doesn't leave me wondering just when the Amazons got around to inventing double-sided tape.

I also decided that the sketch released to the public among the myriad of news stories didn't necessarily do the costume justice. In particular, I think the promo sketch failed to really show us the jacket. The sketch makes it look like a vaguely Rogue-esque bomber jacket. Before seeing the costume in the actual issue, I had intended to propose that DC try a more armored look if they wanted to give Diana a more practical outfit and cite Marvel's Valkyrie as an example. After getting a closer look, however, we can see that the jacket may be one of the more interesting components of the new look. It is heavily armored, reminding me of a mix between a SHIELD uniform and a linebacker. Yet, the fabric beneath the armored shoulders has an interesting drape to it that subtly alludes to a classic Grecian look. Overall, I find the new outfit combines a lot of different elements, fusing the classic with the modern for a remarkably cohesive look. Most importantly, enough of the old look is still there in some form that she still looks like Wonder Woman... at least to me.

I believe the last, lingering question (that naturally ties in to how long this costume will survive) is whether or not it will be able to work its way into the public consciousness as a known image of a heroine. Will people be able to see a picture of Diana in this costume and recognize her as Wonder Woman? The tiara, the bracelets, the stars, the eagles - all of her symbols - are present, but will that be enough? Or, will people expect the golden age style with the bold patriotism, despite the fact that Wonder Woman is now trying to navigate the 21st century? Only time will tell. Unfortunately, in this day and age, it is a rare thing that an experiment is ever given the time it truly needs to prove itself as viable.