She Has No Head! – It Took Gail Simone
If you thought last week’s Lois Lane confession was a big deal…well I’m going to blow your minds this week because…I’ve never liked Wonder Woman.
Let me give that a minute to soak in…you with the rotten fruit in back…sit down…let me finish and then if you still want to throw it…be my guest.
I know there are actually a surprising number of people who feel this way about Wonder Woman, but as a “Women in comics! Go!” advocate of sorts, I’ve long buried my head in shame at the fact that I couldn’t seem to like Wonder Woman no matter how I tried. Although I’ve been informed by my mother that as a child I possessed (and loved) my Wonder Woman underoos – which makes me think that there was a time when I loved Wonder Woman – but it wasn’t a time I can remember, so it remains a source of shame. It feels kind of good to come clean actually.
Here’s the real problem though…I couldn’t really tell you why I didn’t like her. It wasn’t like with Lois Lane where I had never really given her a chance, or because her original concept was as someone’s girlfriend (which of course would rub me the wrong way), or because I had some weird possibly unfounded dislike for her profession.
On paper Wonder Woman is actually my dream superheroine.
She’s a powerful woman that needs no man to make her important. CHECK
She comes from a badass three thousand year old matriarchal society. CHECK
She’s an Amazon. DOUBLE CHECK (I love the idea of Amazons and exploring the history of Amazon culture in a fictional way).
As a result of her Amazon heritage she sees herself as a sister to all women, immediately making her a positive female portrayal unlike many of her contemporaries. CHECK.
And many of her stories are based on mythology, a subject I love. CHECK.
So really, before an issue is written or drawn, she’s just a character I should be into, and yet I’ve repeatedly found myself bored and bristling whenever I read her over the years.
And I tried MANY of the different versions of Diana. Over the last 15+ years of comics reading I’ve picked up many a random Wonder Woman issue and also made an effort to read entire arcs in trade trying to force myself to become a fan.
I’ve sampled the Byrne Wonder Woman, the Perez Wonder Woman, the Heinberg Wonder Woman, the Picoult Wonder Woman, a lot of the Rucka Wonder Woman (it’s the version that came closest for me), some Jimenez Wonder Woman…and even an issue of Brian K. Vaughan’s Wonder Woman…but despite all these different takes, and even in the hands of arguably my favorite comic book writer (Rucka) I have just never gotten Diana. And it left me feeling like an impotent bystander, just watching as the most important superheroine in comics, a character I should be enjoying and advocating for, passed me by.
Don’t get me wrong; even though I didn’t “get” her, I still appreciated the hell out of her presence. I’ve been grateful as all get out for her ability to ride out the tough times and remain an iconic hero…to stand up and hold her own with Batman and Superman over the years. I’ve also understood (and agreed with) her incredible significance in the tapestry of superhero comics. But I just couldn’t care for her, which at the end of the day in my opinion, is a big fat FAIL.
So what’s the problem?
In an attempt to analyze what the problem might be I decided to write down the first three words that came to mind when I thought of Diana.
Yikes. One out of three ain’t bad?
Those are not the first three words you want coming to mind with the most powerful female superhero in all of comics. I felt lost. How could I advocate for female superheroes (and be someone that wrote a freaking novel about them) and not love Wonder Woman?
And then one day it all changed.
Because one day Gail Simone started writing Wonder Woman.
Suddenly, under Gail’s pen Diana became softer and more relatable to me, less perfect and preachy and more interesting, and most importantly, and the key to all of this I think, is that Simone’s Diana is kind of funny.
In nothing I read before was Wonder Woman funny. Even in the hands of Greg Rucka, whose incarnation of Diana I had come the closest to falling for, was Diana ever remotely funny. Instead she was always serious and formal and stiff (though less so in Rucka’s hands than in other versions). She was well written and respectfully handled by Rucka, and I think he gets her, but the version of her he gets, just doesn’t personally work for me, not on all levels. In fact, not only were the old versions of Diana not funny, but she didn’t seem to have much of a sense of humor at all, and I don’t know about you, but a sense of humor, it’s critical. When I look at the people I adore in my real life, a sense of humor is generally requirement one. I’m certainly not advocating that Wonder Woman should be all Plastic Man all the time or anything, but funny changes things.
Funny immediately undoes both 1. Cold, and 2. Preachy, in one fell swoop
I can see why not everyone would be on board with this. Funny is certainly a departure from the character that existed for years and years. For people that already loved Diana and “got” her as I couldn’t, perhaps they see the funny in Simone’s Diana and don’t think it fits the character…and I think that’s fair. But for me personally, I think there was no way Diana was ever going to find a home in my heart without that sense of humor coming to the forefront a little and making her more real and less princess and perfection.
So let’s take a look at some of the moments that Simone has hit in her run that have turned me around…*
First, on page seven of Simone’s first issue (vol.3 #14), and really, only page two of Diana’s appearance in the issue, Diana makes a joke. Honestly, I almost fell out of my chair…did…did Diana just make a joke? Hell yes she did:
Also, Simone brought in the gorillas, and honestly? They’re worth their weight in gold. They help the levity of the overall book, but as it’s an almost inadvertent comedy (they have no idea that they are freaking hilarious) it helps keep things balanced:
Nemesis aka Tom Tresser as Diana’s love interest works for me. He’s a very serious very talented guy, walking around pretending to be not so serious and not so talented. It’s hard to imagine Diana with anyone, perhaps because she herself can’t quite imagine it, but Tom works for me. I like it and want it to work, and am glad it’s not working easily…it shouldn’t be easy, for either of them.
Simone actually managed to make me have kind feelings for sharks. Impossible you say? I would have thought so. I fraking hate sharks…like so much that if someone gave me a button to push saying it would destroy all the sharks in the world but also simultaneously collapse the delicate natural balance of the world and kill us all, I would have to seriously think about it. That said, the Megalodons, giant ass crazy scary sharks that protect the waters of Themyscira seem honorable as hell, and I felt for them on this page…damn you Simone!:
Simone does “quiet” issues really brilliantly. Diana spends so much time fighting (I mean really, the woman never gets a freaking break) that I find myself really appreciating Simone’s more quiet stories, where she gets a couple pages to peruse toy shops in Tokyo with Black Canary:
Or when she gives Giganta a bit of a beating because her broken heart is just too much too bear (yes, this IS downtime for Diana):
And lest you think from these pages that Simone has made Wonder Woman all girl talk, gorilla hijinx, and stand up comedy routines, don’t worry – here’s some intense violence for you:
Simone’s Wonder Woman is still 90% epic battles, excellent Greek history, and difficult warrior choices, but for me, it’s that 10% that’s something I’ve never quite seen before in Wonder Woman that makes all the battles worth it – makes all the stories and stakes something I can care about.
While writing this column and thinking about why this funny aspect of Diana, something so simple, won me over, I realized that a huge part of the problem for me with Wonder Woman over the years is that she always gets put into this frame of ‘she must be all things to all people…she must be perfect’ and that is just impossible, even for a superhero…even for a comic book character.
While Batman and Superman get to be just that…Batman and Superman, Wonder Woman ends up getting put on this pedestal that expects her to be every woman…to represent all things good and perfect and heroic, and because she’s alone in standing up in representing all women, she can’t also represent the flaws in women…because it undoes the one marquee role model we have. It doesn’t even matter that it’s impossible to be perfect, because even if it could be done, it isn’t very interesting to read, and it ties the hands of writers and artist everywhere.
So Wonder Woman (both the character and the book) keep getting saddled with this heavy burden of being all women all the time, and of embodying perfection. But because there are seemingly infinite marquee male leads in comics – Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Flash, Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Wolverine, – you can take your pick, and they can all signify different takes on heroes in comics. But when you boil it down there is only one long running marquee heroine in comics – Wonder Woman. So she has to cover ALL the bases – and it’s just too much load for any one character (or book) to bear, and she’s constantly buckling under it. It’s impossible for Diana to be all things to all people and it’s the primary reason I think that she (and her book) are so often considered a disappointment despite the brilliant creators, writers, and artists often at the helm.
But this to me is why the simple act of adding a much needed sense of humor, both to the book in general, and to Wonder Woman specifically helps to cut back on those expectations. How can you be disappointed that she (and by association her book) cannot be ALL things when you’re too busy laughing and falling in love with her?
Once you fall in love (as I finally did) it’s easy see that nobody can be all things, but that doesn’t make her contribution any less…and it doesn’t mean she can’t be loved for just being.
The irony is that I think the simple solution to “fixing the Wonder Woman problem” that I’m always reading about is not to do anything to her. She’s fine as she is, and she probably always has been (well, mostly), it’s just that she needs some powerful superheroines to carry the load with her. She needs a powerful Batman superheroine equivalent (and wouldn’t it be great if we get that as rumored in the form of an ongoing Batwoman with Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III at the helm); she needs a Flash and Captain America, a Spider-Man, a Wolverine and an Iron Man. She needs other powerful women to have strong ongoing (long running) books so that she doesn’t have to answer the ‘female superheroine question’ alone. They can all answer it in their own ways, as the men do, allowing Diana to answer it in hers.
Of course this takes a long time. You can’t have a marquee hero overnight. And it’s not going to be easy, it wasn’t easy for Diana forging mostly alone these past 69 years, and so it won’t be easy for others, although it should be easier considering that Diana has paved the way to a degree. Hopefully as comics change and more progressive men and women become involved on all levels from editors on down the line, we’ll see that change and Wonder Woman won’t have to carry the burden alone.
If you, like me, have been on the fence with Wonder Woman over the years, I urge you to check out Simone’s take on Diana, it’s not going to work for everyone, but I really do believe there’s something new and interesting there, something that deserves a look. And now is a great time to take that look, Issue #40 just came out last week, and it’s the beginning of a new arc. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t my absolute favorite of Simone’s issues since she started, and on the heels of such an intense emotionally resonant arc, it had a lot to live up to, but I’ve come to trust Simone with Diana, and so I know that even if #40 wasn’t my favorite issue of all time, she’s got the character down and the story she tells will be rewarding, illuminating, and enjoyable. And what more could I really ask of a superhero comic?
* I didn’t talk about the art here, because this post wasn’t really about the art, but I think it speaks for itself in the pages I posted. Wonder Woman has been in very good and respectful hands for a long while now – between Aaron Lopresti, Bernard Chang, and Terry Dodson (and with Nicola Scott on deck) – the art on Wonder Woman has been consistently beautiful for Simone’s entire run.