Published Jan 01, 2006Wonder Woman is going to lose her virginity. Ok, not literally, but her age of innocence is coming to an end; after the stagnation of the series and plummeting sales, a new creative team has been assembled to tackle the job of revitalising the comic series. It's a daunting task that will blend elements of politics, sex and fantasy in an effort to keep people interested in the Amazon princess.
A lot has happened to Wonder Woman since the days of TV's Lynda Carter. Wonder Woman is no longer the icon she was meant to be; instead, she's been turned into a superhero sex symbol. Her original purpose as a strong female presence in a male-dominated world has been transformed into providing her team-mates and the readership with eye candy. With her popularity steadily waning as more and more people turn away from dead end storylines and shoddy art, clearly the Princess is in trouble.
Created in 1941 by psychologist Dr. William Moulton Marston, Wonder Woman was designed to empower women at a time when feminism was virtually unknown, particularly as a pop culture commodity. Dr. Marston believed his comic could serve as a psychological tool for a new type of woman; all women lacked was the self-assertive power to put forth their own desires.
Through his comic heroine, Dr. Marston influenced scores of women. When it occurred to him that others may not share his vision, and in order to keep his Wonder Woman from falling into rougher hands, he stipulated that she be written in a certain way or he would withdraw the licensing from DC Comics. He believed he was helping a great movement by encouraging the growth of women's self esteem, and that if that theme weren't left alone he would drop the project.
Writers' respect for Wonder Woman lasted almost 30 years, until George Perez finished his five-year stint on the book in the mid-80s. Perez had seen Wonder Woman through tough times, including revamping the book after her death during the "Crisis on Infinite Earths" storyline. During his time, Perez crafted Wonder Woman with her creator's intent in mind. Perez's Wonder Woman was strong and powerful, while still keeping her beauty, and her popularity swelled during this time.
But times changed and Wonder Woman was "updated" to make her more palatable to new comic readers. In the late 80s, the comic's writers seeking a larger male audience began a wave of costume changes and depletion of storylines. Led by newcomer John Byrne, this new Wonder Woman completely contradicted everything both her creator and George Perez had envisioned. By turning Wonder Woman into a scantily clad sex symbol, many loyal readers felt alienated and popularity began to decrease, particularly with the female readers who admired the work of Perez.
While sex appeal Wonder Woman made sense for the bottom line, many comic writers struggled with their own loyalties to the comic's genesis, not wanting to abandon her feminist themes. For years the character has suffered the push and pull between these opposing interests. Now, a new writer has given the task of reuniting Wonder Woman with her sense of independence. Greg Rucka has picked up where George Perez has left off, and her self discovery is picking up speed.
Wonder Woman is entering a new phase in her life. She is on the verge of losing something very dear to her, and the way it happens will be startling. In previous storylines, she has lost both her mother and sister, and an important love interest recently died. This new loss will mean a whole new way of thinking for her and a whole new way of seeing those around her. By becoming just like everyone else, Wonder Woman will not be able to use any of her powers to help herself. She will face dealing with things as a person, not a superhero.
No, she isn't going to actually have sex (yet), but she is losing something almost as precious as her maidenhead. She is being set up to take one of biggest falls in comic history, and the least of her worries right now is her romantic future. As an Ambassador to the UN, she has been put into a position where she is extremely vulnerable. A dramatic turn of events for a superhero who can punch Superman's lights out, this new storyline is a welcome sight after so many dismal attempts to keep the attention of a fickle comic industry.
Female Superheroes Face More Than Foes
Even though they battle many of the same monsters and villains, female superheroes have to deal with more than their male counterparts. Not only do they have work harder to be taken seriously, but they're also burdened with the weight of gender-oriented social issues.
Sure, Superman has his bad days, but he's never had to deal with a jealous husband with an inferiority complex. Janet Pym, aka the Wasp, was one of the first comic heroines who was personally confronted with domestic abuse. In her storyline, she endured regular beatings and day after apologies until she finally left.
In the 1950s, the Fantastic Four were the first family team of superheroes. At a time when the women's movement was heating up, Sue Richards, aka Invisible Woman, had the ability to turn invisible. The social message was clear: this heroine's only talent was to simply disappear until she was needed or her presence was no longer an inconvenience to the "important business" at hand for her Fantastic male counterparts. As times have changed so have her powers, and she is now one of the most powerful heroines in comics today.
Barbara Gordon was the original Batgirl until Joker shot her, crippling her for life. The thought of spending the rest of her life in a wheelchair devastated her, until she realised that she could still fight. Through her rehabilitation, she has evolved into Oracle, the information broker of the superhero world.
There are many triggers that are used to create superheroes. Historically though, female superheroes tend to go through more emotionally. Their origin stories are regularly more "mundane" and less fantastical, and their journeys tend to be more rooted in realism and emotional turmoil. (A bias that, to be sure, is heavily rooted in the prejudices of male writers.) But the comics remain an interesting social Petri dish through which to observe these changing social roles.