Sep 30, 2013

Back Issue Ben: Here Cometh the Bride of Ultron!

Back Issue Ben is a column written by Ben Smith for the Comics Cube! See his archives here.

Here Cometh... the Bride of Ultron!
Back Issue Ben

If you’re like me (first of all, I feel bad for you) and you think that George Perez is a bit of a sexual deviant, then you’re in luck, because in this story you get to see him draw Ms Marvel’s panties. If you’re not like me, then…I really don’t know why you’re here, there are plenty of other more interesting things on the internet (please don’t go away).

(Before you get mad at me for besmirching the good name of George Perez, let me just remind you, he’s directed softcore superheroine porn, so…I think he’s comfortable with himself. Marv Wolfman on the other hand, that sick jerk just has it coming.)

Anyhoo, today we’re going to be taking a look at what I’ve slowly been discovering is a pretty underrated Avengers run by one time wunderkid, and future Editor-In-Chief of all Marvel, Jim Shooter. Jim Shooter, as you may have read, eats babies and once threw John Byrne down a flight of stairs (that last part’s not true, as far as I know, but the writers from back then sure make it seem that way).

This time, Ultron shows just how smart and advanced he is by continuing to make allies using the brainwaves of human beings that hate him, by making himself a robot bride that he can do….I don’t really know what with. I don’t even want to think about it, I’ve started in a dark place this week.

Let’s squish this goomba.

Sep 26, 2013

Roundtable: Retro Series

Welcome to another round of the Comics Cube Roundtable, where we at the Cube give our takes on certain comics arguments. Click here for the full list. 

I'm gonna let Ben kick it off this week:

Any longtime comic book reader has probably done it (no, not that). Waxed poetic about the wonders of yesteryear, the series that was better back when, or the character that was cooler before whatever arbitrary line has been drawn in the sand, demarcating the better from the “they ruined him when…”

Well, today will be no different, as I ramble on incoherently about the retro style series I would love to read, separated by decade. (Kind of like my own little version of the VH1 retro series I Love the ‘80s, which I indefensibly loved.)

Shall we begin? We shall.

The 60s

Ben: The one and only possible answer here is a Spider-Man and Human Torch series set in the swinging ‘60s.  Johnny Storm and Spidey have long had the kind of friendship that I prefer to have and to read or watch, which is a strong foundation based on mutually giving each other a hard time (see Kelso and Hyde from the underappreciated television classic, That ‘70s Show).  I don’t have all the details sketched out in my mind, but it definitely would involve Spider-Man making moves on Doris, Doris allowing it to get Johnny’s attention, and Johnny getting super mad about it.  The reason I’d set this in the ‘60s is I want maximum amounts of goofiness and fun.  Plenty of appearances by Paste Pot Pete, Plant Man, the Vulture, the Beetle, and any other villain with no more complicated an evil motivation beyond “the Torch gets on my nerves.”  Sweater vests, sock hops, beach parties, and girls that don’t kiss on the first date.  Plus, lots of asbestos.

Dream Creative Team: Dan Slott, Stan Lee, and Steve Ditko

Travis:  Black Panther. And no “he lives in America and teaches school and jumps around as a super power” either. Adventure comics. King of a fantastic and powerful nation made of science and badassery who has adventures as the living avatar of his people's god, ancestors, and hopes. Don't deflect, don't whitewash, and don't sublimate Panther for the sake of the nearest white superheroes, while also highlighting his allies and enemies, from Daredevil to Killmonger. Headfirst and hardcore.

Matt: The 60’s is obviously a great time for a family adventure series. What screams family adventure more than the Fantastic 4 (6)? You have eccentric dad, Mr. Fantastic, nearly destroying the world trying to create the perfect toaster. You have Sue Richards, protective mother and the level-headed one of the group. You have uncle Thing, strong, protective, a bit dim-witted. You have uncle “Human Torch” Johnny, free spirited, wise-cracking and ready for adventure. Additionally you have 2 kids, ready to take part in the hijinks and potential swashbuckling good times. I think the drawing should be a bit more stylized of the time, the rounder lines, softer edges, sort of animation-quality drawing. I am also adamant that the stories be Silver Age zany from time to time.

Duy: After reading a bunch of Kirby-era Thor and Ditko-era Dr. Strange, I'm pretty convinced I want a Thor and Dr. Strange team-up series set in the 60s, but with  just so people can go wild with 2013 effects. Thor saved Dr. Strange's life early on in their careers by performing an operation on him. How does this never get mentioned again? Stan would write. Ron Frenz would draw, because when I think of the list of guys who can ape Kirby and the list of guys who could ape Ditko, Frenz is the only guy on both lists.

The 70s

Ben: The easy one here is Power Man and Iron Fist, probably the most popular answer to a question like this.  It’s not hard to see why.  The Times Square setting back before it got cleaned up (apparently).  All you’d have to do is simply take any Blaxploitation movie poster from the ‘70s, replace the characters with Power Man and Iron Fist, and work backwards from there.  Just take the whole mystique of ‘70s New York City from films and television, distill it down into one amalgamated vision, and pop in the ultimate superhero odd couple.  Working the skuzzy back streets of the big city, and making a few dollars to boot.  Just soak the whole series in sweat and grime.  Throw in some appearances by Moon Knight, some visits to Hell’s Kitchen and a certain blind attorney, and you have at least one monthly reader right here.

Dream Creative Team: Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, and David Aja

Travis: Let's Geki-ga in! This is as close to self-consciously retro as I want to get: big crazy robots and the monsters who fight them. Flowing handsome hair, lovely big eyes, and giant fucking robots. Cutey Honey, Godzilla, Soldier Blue, and massive mecha whose arms shoot off and do stuff.

Matt: I like the idea of street-level, dirty, dark, dangerous do-gooders, and alliteration, for this decade. Since it would give me an excuse to bring back the greatest superhero hairstyle, ever, I would actually set an entire series in Manhattan. You’d get Daredevil, Iron Fist and Power Man (afro required) and let them fight the rise of violence and drug use in the 70s in New York. Their costumes also kind of scream 70s nostalgia to me, I’m not sure why that is for DD though.

I actually have no idea what to do for the 70s. I guess it's not an era I've thought about much. So I'm just going to say that the DC Western Heroes, from Bat Lash to Jonah Hex, get transported right into the 70s and they have to deal with it. Gun-toting cowboys in an era that abhorred war? Yeah!
The 80s

Ben: Due to the overwhelming expansion and domination of the X-Men franchise that really began during this time, it would be really easy to throw out a retro series about the uncanny mutants here.  But considering every X-Men comic that’s come out since has basically been a callback to Claremont’s heyday (even his own), I’m going to go another direction.  Since the ‘80s was basically the decade of the tie-in comic, particularly for this reader, I say we go all-in on that concept.  Star Wars, Transformers, GI Joe, Visionaries, Inhumanoids, He-Man, Voltron, MASK, and Thundercats all together in a taste explosion the likes of which haven’t been felt globally since chocolate first met peanut butter.  Dr. Claw calls together a council of Cobra Commander, Starscream (making moves behind Megatron’s back), Mumm-Ra, Skeletor, Darth Vader (and whoever the bad guys were on the rest of those shows) all plotting against the forces of good behind their army of Inhumanoids and sentient robots.  Only collectively, under the leadership of Optimus Prime, and behind the badassery of Snake Eyes, can the day be saved.  (10-year-old me just popped a boner.)  Luke Skywalker, in your classic misunderstanding, faces off against Snake Eyes, easily destroying his katana with a swing of his light saber.  But then Snake Eyes picks up a light saber of his own…  Matt Trakker driving Jazz, Duke riding shotgun, Scarlett with the uzi in the back seat.  Storm Shadow does the universe a favor, by decapitating Spike Witwicky and Rick Jones.  Up in space, Voltron and the Millenium Falcon do their best to keep Unicron from eating the Death Star, which would grant him untold power.  Shockingly, in their darkest hour, Rom makes his long-awaited reappearance into comics, wielding the Matrix, destroying Unicron, and saving the day.

Dream Creative Team: Brian Michael Bendis and Mike Zeck

Travis: John Constantine wandering around big gatherings of superheroes as different shared universes collapse, reboot, or reestablish themselves, from the TMNT universes to the GI Joe-verse, the Marvel Universe or subsidiary New Universe, et cetera. John's got the jackets and the big ties, natch, looking very much a reflection of his temporal element.

Matt: Buddy comedy time. Yes, that’s right, Booster Gold and Blue Beetle (Ted Kord), laugh and love. Set on the beautiful beaches of Coast City. The tans, the mysteries, the moustaches! I don’t think I need to go beyond that concept to sell it, except to say, Ted will have a moustache and it will be visible at all times, regardless of costume. Think Miami Vice meets Magnum PI meets Golden Girls.

Duy:  If there ever was an era that X-Statix would have worked better in, with its concept of being like a celebrity team as well as a sports team, it's the 80s. Imagine U-Go Girl hanging out with Michael Jordan (or a fair equivalent), or team members based on Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and Charles Barkley (as The Spike and The Anarchist were loosely based on Allen Iverson and Dennis Rodman). Imagine Doop hanging out with Michael Jackson and The Anarchist trying to get with Madonna (insert Dennis Rodman joke here). You'd buy it.
The 90s

Ben: A ten-issue mini-series called “What’s in that pouch?” where the key questions of the decade are finally revealed.  (Spoiler alert, Cable had gummi bears in his.)

Dream Creative Team: Shoot me

Travis: Small press, creator-owned stuff that gets all the talent paid exceptionally well. No necessary connections between stories or characters, just anthology style.

Matt: The 90s were a time of change and prosperity and peace (in the West). The Soviet Union fell and technology really took off (yeah internet and computers!). Old Soviet heroes getting used to the fall of the USSR/Berlin Wall would be a good start. Rocket Red or Omega Red getting used to abundant blue jeans or being able to finally, openly listen to the Beatles. Juxtapose that with a hero like Mr. Terrific or Tony Stark really taking their tech ideas to insane heights. 

Duy: This one's easy for me: the lost adventures of Ben Reilly, the Scarlet Spider! Peter Parker's clone spent five years of his life travelling, and we only ever saw a few months of it. I say we see the whole thing, but set it in the 90s, because Ben's kind of a product of his time. One necessary story: Ben must have been in Seattle at some point in 1992.
The 00s

Ben: In a celebration of all that has come before, I propose a team-up series of the greatest female characters in comics history (as determined by me).  U-Go Girl claws her way back from the land of the dead, dragging Gwen Stacy with her.  Gwen quickly becomes “Gwen Stacy: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and joins U-Go Girl in solving the identity of the mysterious figure that will plague our heroines throughout the series.  Colleen Wing and the Black Cat, brought together by seemingly unrelated circumstances, are forced to break into the Baxter Building, where a visiting Crystal from the Inhumans is unwittingly pulled into the story.  After the final piece of the puzzle, Squirrel Girl, is added into the mix, they team up to defeat the mystery puppetmaster that has been pulling their strings, none other than the villainous Enchantress.  After saving the day, they decide to remain a team, to fight the foes that no one else will fight, but they don’t always get along.

Dream Creative Team: Mark Waid and Steve McNiven

Travis: Widescreen reference-stuffed mashup fight comics with a twist. Mark Millar is not allowed to write it, but Brian Bendis can draw a few pages.

Matt: Massive, pervasive use of technology to gather information from around the world and combat global threats clearly lead to a Midnighter series. He would be able to process the massive amounts of information now available at humanities fingertips and possibly, hopefully,  stop Lolcats from becoming a thing.

Duy: If the success of the Iron Man movies have taught me anything, it's that we live in a perfect age for technologically based superheroes. So, with that, I say, DC should have a Steel series where they just go wild with the tech effects.

Sep 25, 2013

Well, Wikipedia Says...

Well, Wikipedia Says…
Travis Hedge Coke

Preconceived notions are something you can never fully get away from, but to indulge them is hazardous. Not just in a “life-saving, intensely dangerous situation” way, either, but in ways much more important: how much you can enjoy certain comics. (All entertainment, but this is a comics column. Comics!) The problem with preconceived notions is that they are often a mix of knowledge and ignorance and we don’t know the difference. Don’t cite Wikipedia to argue a plot point with someone who’s actually read what the both of you are talking about. Don’t criticize something for falling short of your expectations if your expectations were a completely different story or tone than the comic was ever attempting. You don’t sound like you’re smarter than the talent who made the comic, you don’t come off as having greater perspective, you just sound petty. If you expect a comic to be a horror story about flying monkeys but it was always a street-level crime book about a young woman who raises goldfish in a bad neighborhood, the comic is not at fault for not providing flying monkeys.

Two different kinds of understanding come together when you read a comic to form your overall comprehension: the first is you taking in the information in the comic, the second is based in preconceived notions, and is influenced or wholly constructed of what you expected to find. Your expected understanding may come from something you believe about the artist or publisher, it may have to do with the characters or character names in the comic, the year of its release, suppositions about sexual politics, received wisdom about a genre.

An expected understanding, or anticipatory understanding is, on some level, necessary to understanding any kind of storytelling, particularly notable in our ability to take two separate panels of visual and textual information and turn them into a narrative by understanding that the information in the second panel is a progression of the information in the first. Even the understanding of whether the panel on the left or right, top or bottom is “first” or “second” is anticipatory understanding. When a set of panels violates your anticipatory understanding of what order they should be read in, it is distracting, disruptive, and yet there may be no signs in the comic that you should read them the way you believed you should.

You need to be able to anticipate certain things. On some level, you need to anticipate that dark lines with color blocking some of the lines into shapes is representing scenes of people, trees, skyscrapers, eagles or aliens. If you only took in what was presented to you then and there looking at the page, even the words would mean nothing more than that there are dark shapes in semicircles or squares, often followed eventually by a single dot or a dot with a vertical line immediately above it. It isn’t anticipatory readings that are the problem, it’s privileging them over the information in front of your face while you are reading. It’s taking a review or everyone knows over the actual panels, words, story or dynamic in the actual comic.

Thing is, sometimes I do it, too. We all let our expected understanding get the better of us some days.

I didn’t get Kathryn Immonen and Tonci Zonjic’s Heralds when I first read it, not because it is particularly complicated or because it doesn’t make sense, but because I went in thinking it’d be this and instead it was this other thing. Reading stuff on the internet, seeing who was in the book, I made assumptions and when the comic did not follow my assumptions, I thought either the comic had been derailed or I was missing something huge. The comic is about expecting women with familiar looks or familiar names to be the person they remind you of. The thing is, a lot of people speculating about the comic before it came out or while, did believe those women were the women they were familiar with because they have a similar name or the same hair. I fell into it.

During a reread, a year or two later, I caught an exchange between two characters, Patsy Walker and Valkyrie, and Patsy says (roughly), “Hey, Val, remember when…” and Valkyrie says, “No. That wasn’t me. That was another Valkyrie.” Patsy follows it up saying that’s the point, just because you have the same name, even if you also have the same gender, hairstyle, and even mutual friends, it will never make you the same person. You can’t replace people that way, no matter how many times someone has dated a dead ringer for an ex, in life or in movies.

It’s a good message. It’s a good comic. I only didn’t get it because it went in the direction the talent intended, not the direction I thought it was meant to go.

That’s when the anticipatory understanding gets in the way, when you think a story has to do something and when it isn’t the story is wrong, not your assumption. A comic is not “meant to go” in any direction just because you assume so or someone on a message board said so. Misunderstanding what someone said on a message board, or over coffee, in a press release or in any circumstance can add to your expectations, but misdirect them without you noticing until (if ever) it’s too late.

Dr. Hurt, from Batman RIP
Grant Morrison said, “when we begin to suspect the identity” of the villain in his Batman: RIP it would be “possibly the most shocking Batman revelation in 70 years.” And, while it was being released, people began to suspect he was Bruce Wayne’s father and that freaked people the hell out. Others suspected the villain was secretly Alfred, and that freaked those people out. When it was confirmed to be neither or them, people began to criticize the comic and assume the end was changed by the publisher because where was the shocking revelation? The words “possibly” and “suspect” were ignored in favor of the more memorable and dramatic “most shocking.”

Whether it’s writing letters to complain of excessive cursing in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic (there isn’t any past “butt” or “damn”), posting online to criticize Exploitation Now for “forgetting” to be a series of gag strips and having melodramatic storylines (Poe knew what he was doing, whether you like it or not), or hating on Dark Knight Returns for making Superman a weak character who does no good (he saves lives, Batman appears to die fighting him, and his last appearance is condoning Batman’s new plans with a wink), you are letting your expectation get the better of you. Respond to the material on hand, the comic you are reading, not your expecations.

And for those among us who read this entire article and believe I am unfairly picking out comics readers or insinuating only comics readers misunderstand in this way, I’d like to remind how much philosophy and pretension some critics read into Robert Rodriguez’s breakthrough El Mariachi because it was subtitled and independently produced. Too many critics, to this day, have complained that he hasn’t lived up to the promise of his early efforts because he stopped making movies in Spanish and has more or less made only action and children’s films, nothing mature like the tale of a musician mistaken for a gangster so several shootouts and chases could be strung together for ninety minutes.

There are people out there, right now, teaching classes using Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita to express their ideas that the author was a closet pedophile and condoned (or even lionized) the protagonist, despite all textual evidence which paints Humbert as a moral monster with a fine vocabulary as his sole redeeming quality and just why that redeems nothing of consequence.

Any field, any interest, anyone and everyone falls into this trap to some degree, at some point. You have to know the trap is there, and you have to make the effort, sometimes, to pick yourself up out of it. It may be easier, instead, to live in willed ignorance and just complain about how you know Dragon Ball Z should have swear words in the dialogue because a fan translation you saw one time had f-bombs every sentence. Just because you saw pornographic fan art of Superman or Sailor Moon, even high quality or talented art, does not imply or prove that there are pornographic moments in the comics or officially licensed adaptations of either property. No citation or observation, in isolation, is evidence that you should lock onto regardless of any or all evidence to the contrary, no matter how much you prefer the understanding you are loyal to.

Try to hold to your preferred reality, even when the irreality of it becomes obvious, and you will be wrong. You will be frustrated, perhaps upset, and you will be wrong.

Sep 23, 2013

Back Issue Ben: Top 10 Covers

Back Issue Ben is a column written by Ben Smith for the Comics Cube! See his archives here.

The Ten Best Comic Book Covers of All Time
as Determined by Back Issue Ben, the Ultimate Authority on Such Matters

I’m a sucker for covers. An appealing cover can get me to buy a comic I wouldn’t normally be interested in, only to later be disappointed that I just forced myself to read the most recent issue of Thunderbolts. Such is the power of a well-designed cover image. (Incidentally, I have the same weakness when it comes to magazines also. No, not Playboy!)

Whether it be the old school type of cover, with an image that represents the contents of the book, or the more modern pin-up style cover, it doesn’t matter (as long as there are boobs).

This week, I’m going to run down my top ten favorite comic book covers of all time, in no particular order, as near as I can remember it. Feel free to disagree, just know that you will be wrong.

Web of Spider-Man #32
Pencils: Mike Zeck; Inks: Bob McLeod; Colors: Janet Jackson

I’ve recently arrived at the realization that I was a bit morbid as a kid. If the image of Spider-Man dressed in black, crawling free from his own shallow grave counts as morbid, then I guess I was morbid! Who are you to judge 10-year-old me?! I was never creepy about it. Anyway, this has long been my favorite comic book cover ever, and Mike Zeck has me as a loyal servant for as long as we both shall live. (As long as it’s nothing sexual. If it is, then…we’ll just have to see where it goes, I can’t make any promises.)

Boob count: 0 (surprisingly)

Gen 13 #12
Pencils: J Scott Campbell; Inks: Alex Garner; Colors: Wildstorm FX

Probably the first J Scott Campbell cover I ever noticed, before I knew who that was. My love of cheesecake is no secret, and is on full display when it comes to this image. The best sign, to me, of a great cover, is if I want to attempt to draw it myself, and this is no exception, as I have tried and tried to replicate this image using my own feeble skills. Always wearing pants at the time, in case you want to be accusatory! Also, there’s no way I’ll ever actually read this comic, I just like the cover.

Boob count: 2, and they’re spectacular

X-Force (Volume 3) #9
Pencils: Mike Choi; Colors: Sonia Oback

I love Domino and her whole design (despite the dog-spot on her eye), and she just looks awesome on this cover. Not even the presence of Wolverine can drag this cover down. (This cover making this list is in no way influenced by my owning the original art for it.) I’d have to imagine, in the Marvel universe, seeking a mate with your normal real world skin color would be a bit boring. If I was a fictional character (and I’m pretty sure that I am) I’d be going after blue women, bone-white women, red women, and the ever reliable green. Basically, I’d be after Gamora, U Go Girl, and Domino, in that order.

And that my friends, is how you cross into creepy territory. Like a bespectacled Army scout trudging through the underbrush.

Boob count: 4

Amazing Spider-Man #121
Pencils: John Romita Sr; Inks: John Costanza; Colors: Dave Hunt

I can’t imagine seeing this cover on the racks as a kid and not wanting to pick it up. I wish I could have been old enough to get it brand new on the day of release (not really, because then I’d be older than I am right now, and had to live longer in the prehistoric ages before technology, and those days most definitely sucked). Would I have believed the promise of the cover blurbs, or simply thought they were bluffing yet again? Who’s to know, I wasn’t very smart as a kid. I like the yellow background too. It really pops right out at your face, like some kind of mustard-comprised phantom of doom.

Boob count: still at 4

Uncanny X-Men #138

Pencils: John Byrne; Inks: Terry Austin; Colors: Glynis Wein

I love it when they use grids of old covers as the background of new covers. It just works for me, because I’m nostalgic like that. Plus, the background is pink, which tends to stand out a little. John Byrne in his prime doesn’t hurt either. And its Cyclops being a total tool and quitting, which never gets old. Seriously, look me in the eyes. It never gets old.

Okay, I’ll be honest, I just really wanted that Toys R Us shopping spree.

Boob count: I can’t really get a good look at Storm here, so still at 4

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1
Art: Kevin Eastman

The iconic image of the four turtles, huddled together on the rooftops, crouched in combat stances, prepared to strike. The amateurish quality of the inking only adds to the atmosphere of the image, making it seem all the more dark and moody. I like my turtles silly and fun like from the cartoons, but still jumping from roof to roof through the dark of the night, kicking ass and fighting the Shredder (which is why you all should watch the new cartoon on Nickelodeon!).

Boob count: 4

Crisis on Infinite Earths #8
Pencils: George Perez; Inks: Jerry Ordway; Colors: Anthony Tollin

The Flash, muscles tensed, ready to strike, making his last stand. The ultimate heroic death depicted in one iconic image. What’s not to love? I know most people prefer #7, but I much prefer Flash gritting his teeth and prepared to fight, over Superman bawling like a newborn baby. I used to pretend I was Flash in the bathtub. What that entails, I’ll leave up to your imagination.

Boob count: shockingly 4

The Transformers #5

Art: Mark Bright; Colors: Nel Yomtov
Look, just because I might have had a slight fascination with fictional deaths, doesn’t mean I was some emo kid. I never liked the Cure all that much, and I didn’t dress up like Edward Scissorhands and say “whatever” a lot. I just happened to enjoy seeing my favorite characters decapitated and mangled. This was a great moody cover though, Shockwave was badass in the comics.

Boob count: I’m not counting robot super one-boob

New Avengers (Volume 2) #15
Art: Mike Deodato; Colors: Rain Beredo

Squirrel Girl! That’s all that need be said.

Boob count: 6!

Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #10

Pencils: Mike Zeck; Inks: Terry Austin; Colors: Christie Scheele

Tough pick for the final spot, but I have to go with this epic shot of Dr Doom, battered and ruined, as he faces the Beyonder “To the Death!” I was tempted to go with #1, with all the heroes barreling out towards the reader, but I always loved the detail involved in this image. And, once again, I was obsessed with fictional deaths as a kid, so Doom on his last legs was instantly appealing to my warped little mind. It’s really quite amazing that I ended up being a, at the very least, non-disruptive member of everyday society. I think I should be applauded for that.

Final boob count tally: 6 (All of this was just to highlight that I’m not as boob-obsessed as even I predicted I’d be. Most of these choices were pretty close to outright lies though. Next time I’ll just do my top ten J Scott Campbell covers, since those are the ones I really favor, I just didn’t want to admit it publicly and be branded some kind of anti-realistic- anatomy perv. At least not again. That was a bad summer.)

Final Brain Thoughts: That does it for what was no doubt a stirring and informative look at a list of comic book covers. A subject that I don’t think I can stress enough the importance of. My extensive lack of training in art criticism and genuine inability to appreciate normal things should in no way reflect upon the above covers in any negative way. In fact, feel free to print this out and carry it around in your pocket, so that you can whip it out at random passers-by. At minimum, it will be better than what most of you usually whip out at pedestrians.

This list could probably very easily change tomorrow (or just have easily been filled with ten different Spider-Man covers), but at this moment in time, here it stands, a monument to all that is excellent in comic book cover imagery.

If you’re feeling really froggy, feel free to comment with a list of your ten favorite covers, so that maybe we can get the seriousness that is comic book cover awareness out there. Only with your help can we tackle this serious problem.

Keep hope alive!

Sep 19, 2013

What's Wrong With Wonder Woman?

So, DC and Warner Bros. recently announced that Batman will be in the sequel to Man of Steel (I'm fairly certain that regardless of the quality of the movie or his performance, Ben Affleck is going to be my favorite live-action Batman ever) and that Flash will show up on Arrow and get his own movie. Conspicuous by her absence in any of DC's mainstream media plans is the First Lady of superhero comics, Wonder Woman. This prompted me to ask...

What's Wrong With Wonder Woman?
by Duy

Seriously, what's wrong with Diana? I like Diana. I've been marathoning Justice League and Diana's her favorite character in it. She's a badass! But she's also earnest and sincere. She's also one of DC's most recognizable icons, and — let's face it — the most recognizable female superhero in the world. No superheroine from any company's got anything on Diana as an icon. She's on so many lunchboxes, bookbags, T-shirts... why, two years ago, she got her own makeup package from MAC. I was walking in the mall and passed the MAC store and there were these huge standees of her drawn by Mike Allred!

So how is it that, with the exception of two failed pilots, some guest appearances on other show, one animated movie, and sharing the spotlight with many other characters in team cartoons like Super Friends and Justice League (Unlimited), Wonder Woman has headlined all of one TV show? The Flash is about to get his second.

How is it that she's had no movie appearances at all, while her male compatriots in DC's "Trinity," Superman and Batman have had, between them, 13 since 1978? How come she never has more than one comic at any given time while the other two regularly have two or more? How come she whenever she headlines a big event, it seems like it's one of those "small" big events while someone like Green Lantern gets the bigger ones? If DC Comics is going to keep saying Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman as a trio, then shouldn't they be promoted as such?

So what's wrong with Diana? Well, I've scoured the Internet for what various people thought about it and I saw some common themes emerge, and I also had some thoughts of my own. Let's check out some of them and see what can be done about it. By the very nature of the topic, I'm going to end up talking about a possible Wonder Woman movie more than anything, but I think these could be extrapolated into all media.

Common Reason #1: Wonder Woman does not have an iconic origin.

I see this one quite a bit, and I don't get it. Okay, sure, Diana has a pretty long origin that involves being sculpted by her mom from clay (Grant Morrison is getting rid of this in his upcoming Wonder Woman: Earth One graphic novel, stating that it's too creepy and makes her too remote, but I like it since it heightens the mythological atmosphere), growing up in Themyscira/Paradise Island among other Amazons, then winning a tournament of various skills for the right to bear the mantle of Wonder Woman and go to "Man's World," but at most I would say that the problem there is that it's long. In a movie, it would take a significant amount of time, perhaps too long. When George Perez and Greg Potter rebooted the character in 1987, the first issue focused on Wonder Woman before she has the impetus to leave Paradise Island. It's got 32 pages — 10 more than a regular comic issue — and it still feels too cramped. There's too much text used to bypass whole developments. In fact, Perez stated in his Modern Masters volume that that origin issue only ended up being 2/3 of what was planned. It was just too long.

What can be done about this? I actually am not sure, short of not starting with an origin. Man of Steel had many flaws, but one thing I did think it got right was that the story was told in a nonlinear fashion. See, unlike Batman's, Spider-Man's, or really, even Iron Man's, Superman's origin is pretty long. You have to show Krypton exploding, him landing in Smallville, and then being raised by the Kents to be the best possible person he can be. In a linear narrative, that's a long time. Think about the first Superman movie and how long before you even saw Christopher Reeve.

So one solution for Diana is to intersperse her pre–Wonder Woman life with the main story, but I've got another: let's just skip the origin altogether. As Travis has mentioned before, origin stories seem to be valued more by comic book fans than anyone else, and cited that Die Hard's John McClane didn't have an origin in the movies until they decided to do a comic about it. One of the most loved superhero movies of the last decade, The Incredibles, didn't have origins. And one of the most common complaints of any superhero movie is when they spend too much time on the origin. There is such a thing as starting a story in the middle. In literary terminology, it's called in medias res. It means "In the middle of things." We continually, in life, walk in the middle of a story. We can pick up the pieces as we go along. It's okay.

One more thing, if we really need an origin story: Wonder Woman may not have an "iconic" origin, but I don't think anything can truly be iconic unless it has a chance to get out there in the public consciousness and, preferably, be repeated. Spider-Man's origin has been shown in many a cartoon and two movies; Batman's is ingrained into the public consciousness at this point; we all know what we think of when we see a rocket flying away from an exploding planet. Wonder Woman doesn't have that, and she deserves a chance to have that. What's more, since her origin isn't ingrained in the public consciousness, creators have a chance to take some liberties with it.

So in short, no, I don't buy it.

Now, let's go to one thing where taking liberties is going to lead to public outcry.

Common Reason #2: Her costume is too sexy.

I've often seen people mention that Diana dresses too provocatively, with someone I know even saying she dresses like a stripper. These complaints are often accompanied by statements that it's hard to take such a character seriously because she's wearing a bathing suit.

Personally, I think if you put the right actress in the suit, you will get the desired effect. With these iconic, inspiring characters, you're looking for someone with presence, someone who can command a room just by walking in. One of these people is Christopher Reeve, who commanded the room more easily than anyone who ever wore the Superman suit — and he wore his underwear outside of his pants. Another example is Terrence Stamp, who played General Zod in the first two Superman movies, and still had a regal way about him that that dude from Man of Steel screaming "I! WILL! FIND HIM!" never had, even when Terrence Stamp was wearing a bedsheet and Michael Shannon was decked out in full battle armor.

Of course, the perfect example is Lynda Carter, who played the character in the mid-70s TV show and is still associated with the character to this day. In spite of the camp and the obviously very outdated standard of the series, Carter is still praised for her rendition of Princess Diana. There's nothing about her that looks "silly" or inherently not serious. Said former Wonder Woman writer and artist Phil Jimenez:
Also, she wore an outfit that shouldn’t have worked but did—and without shame. She made the “bullets and bracelets” and “magic lasso” iconography instantly recognizable to millions, and she played it seriously, making us take Wonder Woman seriously (if not some of her lame 70’s villains and situations). Lynda Carter WAS Wonder Woman, and with this version of her, I’m not sure the character would have meant as much to me.
If Hollywood can find someone with half the presence of Lynda Carter, I would consider it a victory. Jimenez said recently, "You put the right actress in the costume and you get this generation's Wonder Woman (physically, at least). Screw either up and it won't matter regardless."

This also applies to animation and the comics. Any artist can sexualize Diana, and in fact, I've read before on some message boards (this was a long time ago, so apocryphal) that when Mike Deodato was drawing Wonder Woman, her sales would go up whenever her shorts got smaller. And that might be true, but I think that's a route that's kinda cheap and that DC and Warners don't need to go in. I think George Perez drew a Wonder Woman that was clearly respectful and respectable. I think the animated version of Wonder Woman in Justice League was just as inspiring a presence as Superman (she was a more inspiring presence in season one, really, but a lot of that is by virtue of Superman getting knocked down every 3 seconds).

I do understand the desire to put pants on her — more, really, than I understand the ridiculous uproar that comes whenever someone puts pants on her — but personally, something about the pants just doesn't sit well with me. It certainly isn't aesthetic, since I think that for all the flaws of the failed TV pilot she appeared in, you can't really say Adrienne Palicki didn't look good. But there's just something about the original suit (maybe that's it; just by virtue of being the original suit) and those arrangements that more say "Wonder Woman."

I've thought about what it is, and one thing I thought of is just this: There are no pants where she's from. Everyone's in a toga or some battle armor, or something. Themyscira is an island where the women are comfortable with their bodies, and Wonder Woman is a character who, at least at first, is a little naive (but not stupid, as Jimenez differentiates in the previously linked interview). There's a sequence in the Justice League episode, "Eclipsed," where G. Gordon Godfrey is criticizing her for her lack of modesty, and she just says "What's wrong with the way I dress?!?" But also, it does feel a bit like the pants are a little too "generic superhero." For a character who has roots to ancient history, it feels too contemporary, in much the same way that putting Thor in spandex instead of... whatever it is he wears... feels like it grounds them too much.

Diana in civvies.
This is not to say that Wonder Woman should never wear pants, and in fact, one thing I liked about the character in the Perez run (and to some extent, beyond that) is that she had a variety of clothing that still retained her iconography. She had her regular costume, a ceremonial garb, a battle armor, and some civilian wear, but in all those various ensembles, she was still, recognizably, Wonder Woman. Her symbol was on all of them and it retained her red-and-gold color scheme. So maybe that's a solution that the Palicki pilot was on to: having her change costumes in the same story. Because why not? People wear different clothes.

(As an aside, why is this such a remote idea? When I started reading comics, Spider-Man was switching back and forth between his regular blue-and-red costume and his black costume. People change clothes. Sometimes more than once in a single day.)

Ultimately though, when it comes to the movies, with the exception of Christopher Reeve and, uh, the people who have played the Hulk, no mainstream American superhero has ever had a direct one-to-one movie adaptation of their costume. Hollywood has always taken its liberties with superhero costumes, and Wonder Woman won't be any exception. There have been photo shoots with Wonder Woman cosplayers that have often been used by fans to show that such variations of her costume could work in live action. Most of the time, as in this case by Sarah Scott, they tend to be some variation of battle armor, but harkening to her original costume, with a skirt.

So there are a lot of options. I don't think the aesthetics of Diana's costume is a hindrance. It's an iconic concept that could stand to be remixed over and over, and she'd still be Wonder Woman. Just pick one (or several), put it on the right actress, and give it a chance. In her article addressing this issue, Sonia Harris states that "there is a certain kind of woman who could never be perceived as a merely ornamentation, no matter how she dresses." Cast the right woman as Wonder Woman, and no one will see her as "merely ornamentation."

Common Reason #3: Her costume makes no sense.

I see this bit of criticism slightly less than the "sexy costume" one, but, frankly, I think it holds more weight. The issue here basically comes down to "If she's from a mythical island that's based on Greek mythology, why is she wearing the American flag?" It's a valid question and is one of those things that, if not explained, could easily take people out of the story. I know there are some purists who think of superhero costumes as being convention and that any story needs to just go with it, but that stopped being a thing in the Silver Age. Even at the start of superhero comics, costumes usually had some semblance of explanation — Superman resembled circus strongmen, Batman wears a bat costume because a bat flew through his window once and he wanted to scare criminals, Captain America wore it to inspire Americans — but come the Silver Age, explanations and rationales for costumes were more and more becoming the norm, especially once Marvel took off (the Fantastic Four started wearing costumes because Sue wanted them to be recognizable as a team; Spider-Man wears red and blue because he was going to be an entertainer; Thor... well, those are just Asgardian clothes).

Almost every incarnation of Diana has either had some explanation as to why she's clad in American iconography, or she's wearing something else (like a leather jacket, or an Emma Peel–type costume). Her original version, created during World War II, was specifically because she was going to America to help with the war effort. In the Perez incarnation that defined Diana for the better part of the last 25 years, it's because an American pilot named Diana Trevor landed on Themyscira and helped out the Amazons, so Hippolyta named her daughter after her and the Amazons created gear to honor Diana Trevor. Yanick Paquette, artist on the upcoming Trial of Wonder Woman (formerly Wonder Woman: Earth One) recently said:

My first thought when Wonder Woman with Grant was mentioned was ‘I don’t want her to be dressed as an American flag.’ Not because an American flag is wrong but it made no sense. She’s coming from such a rich, wonderful culture with so much iconography (Greek culture), so why does she not use that, and why would she dress up as a flag? She’s not Captain America. But at the same time, I understood that this kind of iconic colour/texture is something that’s recognizable, so in that aspect it does have value. If I could reach the same design with a few differences, but make it so it’s not coming from the flag, it’s coming from a natural extension of her culture, I could live with this. The retro-engineering of her costume into something that makes sense is already embedded into the story... The animal associated to Aphrodite is a dove so instead of an eagle on [Wonder Woman’s] breastplate, it will be more of a dove. It’s not the American eagle, it’s the Aphrodite dove. Stuff that creates [the letter] W is by accident, so it’s not like she already has a letter of the alphabet on her [costume]. In the end I’ve created a structure so it feels inevitable for Wonder Woman to look the way she does.
So there are ways to explain it, and ways to tweak it.  Diana's costume doesn't conform to one specific design, just a basic concept that broadly describes its elements. When John Byrne took over the character in the 90s, he removed all but two stars from the shorts. Maybe that's enough if you want to distance it from the American iconography.  And, for my money, that picture of Sarah Scott up there doesn't really scream "American" to me. Something as simple as changing the stars to gold instead of white was enough to put that distance for me.

Again, there are a variety of options. It doesn't make sense? Then make it make sense. Creators continually have.

Common Reason #4: Mythology is a hard sell.

I've read before that there's a correlation between how much of a Wonder Woman story is steeped in myth and how much of it is just basic superhero fare, and that correlation doesn't bode well for the former. So if mythology is a hard sell, then maybe I can get it... except...

Thor exists. Thor has a movie. Thor is in the third highest-grossing movie of all time. Thor's movie has a sequel coming out soon.

I'm not saying Wonder Woman is a female, Greek version of Thor, because she's not. But if anything, Thor is even more steeped in mythology than Diana is. If they can do Thor, they can do Wonder Woman.

Also, to add to this discussion, here's something Travis told me before: "I know Perez and everyone since has really amped up and focused on the Greek Gods stuff, but if we're going 'faithful' I want them riding kangaroos and playing bullets and bracelets or who ties up who games."

Wonder Woman is great in terms of exploring the mythological side of the DC Universe, and she's obviously the specialist on it, but to relegate her to just that is a disservice to her versatility as a character. She gets into wacky adventures, and she's also a Themysciran ambassador to Man's World. This would be her first time seeing anything of the world. Some of the most captivating stories in Perez's run involved Diana dealing with Myndi Mayer, her publicist and agent, who was there to help her get her message out. Phil Jimenez's most beloved story in his run is #170, "A Day in the Life," where Lois Lane hangs out with Diana to see what she does all day. And it's a doozy: speaking at universities, making TV appearances to promote the Wonder Woman Foundation, meeting with the President as part of her ambassador duties, playing basketball with some kids, teaching some women self-defense, speaking at the United Nations, and playing pool with Lois.

There is so much to work with. So much in the way of possibility. It doesn't have to be just "myth."

Common Reason #5: She doesn't have an arch-enemy.

Another thing I've seen people say is that Diana doesn't have a good rogues gallery, and specifically, no arch-enemy, so people don't know who they'd use in a movie. In one (admittedly very horrible) pitch I've seen, they use Dr. Psycho, the tiny man with the mental powers.

But I'd argue that Diana does have an arch-enemy. Diana stands for peace and tolerance, and she's a creature granted powers by the Greek gods. In the Perez run, her first true enemy — and the one who should be her arch-enemy — is Ares, the god of war.

Even more than a renegade Kryptonian, a sadistic clown, or... uh... Loki, Ares is an incredibly imposing threat. He is the actual embodiment of everything Diana stands against. You want big blockbuster scope? Hell, if you want the kind of symbolic representation that Warner Brothers keeps trying to give their movies in the most heavyhanded manner with absolutely no subtlety, here it is on a silver platter, and for once it wouldn't come off as unbearably forced. Ares, the god of war.

There's the idea that you should save the deadliest for last, though, so assuming that they plan a Wonder Woman trilogy and want Ares last, here are a couple of other options. The Cheetah would be great in a first movie to establish Wonder Woman and her capabilities.

And Circe, who is supposed to be the same Circe/Sersi from The Odyssey, would be a compelling villain to fight because she's so powerful. She's a sorceress, she can turn men into animals, and Wonder Woman can't beat her just by punching her out.

You can tell me that Wonder Woman's rogues gallery doesn't have a lot of depth, and I'll agree with you. But you can't tell me there isn't enough to do three movies.

Common Reason #6: Her personality traits contradict each other.

If her culture is from ancient Greece, why is she wearing the American flag? If she preaches peace, how come she's so good at fighting?

Wonder Woman is a study in contradictions, and even Mark Waid, who I consider to be the best pure superhero writer to have ever existed, has said he found it difficult to tackle the character in the evergreen Kingdom Come book. As a result of his inability to really reconcile Wonder Woman's contradictions, she more took on the role of a plot device than an actual character in the story, he admits.

Wonder Woman stands apart from the rest of the comic book superhero icons, because you can't sum her up in one sentence. There's consensus as to what Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, the Hulk, Iron Man, and even Captain America stand for, and you can sum it all up in a few words. "Superpowered protector of earth." "Symbol of an ideal America." "Rage." "Using technology for the best possible uses." "The superhero whose superpowers make it worse for him." "Dark vengeance." With Diana, it's more complex. She's more complex.

Kurt Busiek has a convincing take on the issue:
I don’t think it was the “ambassador of peace” part I sad I didn’t like — it was the part where, for a while there, Wonder Woman was presented as a pacifist, and specifically as someone who was trying to be non-violent, to shy away from violence as a way of addressing problems. I thought it made her seem whiny and preachy and wimpy — she’s an Amazon, for Pete’s sake. She’s not a pacifist, she’s a warrior, a champion, one of a culture of women who train in combat all the time and shoot guns at each other as a freakin’ game! She believes in peace through strength, in offering the hand of friendship to any who’ll take it, because she’s tough enough to back up that open hand with the strength, skill and grit to make sure that she won’t get trampled. Non-violence is the goal, in that she wants a world that’s peaceful, but until the world is like that, she’s willing to knock heads together as much as they need knocking. She’s an Amazon, not Ghandi.

In that specific sense, there's more to explore. Maybe it's harder to figure her out. How many people can you accurately sum up in a few words? Not many, right? And those that you can are probably not very interesting. But you want to get to know the complex people if they're interesting enough to begin with. Diana, certainly, is. That she's a complex character would only make her journey more enlightening. Perhaps it would even be more involving than the character arcs of any of the other icons, because we would come to the same realizations that she would at the same time she does. Nothing would be set in stone, we wouldn't know the answers ahead of time as we would the others.

If anything, that Wonder Woman is a study in contradictions is more of a reason to put her in a movie, not a reason against it.

Common Reason #7: What to do for a romance?

I know there are those who say that a good story doesn't necessarily need a romantic angle. Let's assume that Hollywood won't greenlight a Wonder Woman movie with no romance. I think that's a safe assumption, because, you know, Hollywood.

For most of her existence, Diana's romantic life has been tied to one man: Steve Trevor. He was the pilot (this is consistent in most versions) who lands on Themyscira and introduces Diana to the idea of Man's World. And for the most part, it's a typical superhero/civilian relationship. Steve gets in trouble, Diana saves him. Diana even had a secret identity of "Diana Prince," who wore glasses. Tried and true, right?

Well, not really. Under the pen of original writer William Moulton Marston, whose stories were drawn with a whimsical flair by HG Peter, this pairing was treated as typical, an inverse of the Superman/Lois Lane combination. But once Marston left/died, subsequent treatments had more friction. According to Wikipedia, Steve became more and more threatened by Diana's power, and Diana was apologetic about it. Steve was even written out of the series several times. Since the Perez-written 1980s revamp, Steve and Diana haven't been a couple in the comics, although Steve has shown up in the 2009 animated movie (voiced by Nathan Fillion), Justice League's "The Savage Time," and one teaser in The Brave and the Bold.

So what's at the bottom of this? Well, to be honest, I think the problem is partly societal. We live in a society that generally frowns upon a woman being stronger than her male significant other. But there's also a problem with the character's basic construction. The Diana/Steve pairing was a reversal of conventions and Marston knew that, hoping to prove a point with it. In Les Daniels' DC Comics: Sixty Years of the World's Favorite Comic Book Heroes, Marston is quoted, "Give (men) an alluring woman stronger than themselves to submit to, and they'll be proud to become her willing slaves!" In fact, Marston was an early feminist, but more than that, he was a proponent of female domination, believing that women should be in charge of everything, as Grant Morrison said recently, to the point where men should just "get collars on, and get down on all fours, and just admit that's where you belong, guys." CBR went in-depth in it here. But as an addition to all that, Marston was really into bondage — tying people up, chains, spanking, the works — and even lived with his wife and a mutual lover, the latter of whom always wore bracelets, not unlike the type Wonder Woman would wear.

Marston played this kind of thing straight, and I would say that the whimsical style of Harry Peter as well as the generally younger age of the audience (not to mention that it was a different time, in general) back then made it a bit more subversive (can you imagine if that came out today? How much would netizens and protest groups be all over that?).

When Marston left the title, the whole pairing of Diana and Steve became trickier, because, again, we're a society that doesn't by and large look kindly upon males who are physically weaker than their significant others. There have been other attempts to pair her up romantically, however. Phil Jimenez tried to build up a black character named Trevor Barnes, whom he says received "negative and often racist" reactions. Justice League Unlimited teased pairing her up with Batman, but nothing concrete came of it. And both times she's been rebooted in the comics, in 1987 and in 2011, she's been paired up with Superman. I don't know what the reaction was like to the 80s storyline.  It didn't last long anyway, and seemed to serve as a vehicle to explain why they didn't date (a shame, really, as I thought there was a bit more mileage in that plotline to have it end so quickly).

But the recent pairing has been met with a lot of disdain among vocal fans (though it was successful enough that the pair got their own series). Some fans believe that it devalues Diana, and has had her take a backseat to a character more powerful than she is. This is the flipside to the Steve problem.

So there's our general pickle. A contingent of fans will complain when Diana is stronger than her boyfriend, and another contingent will complain when Diana is less powerful. And then there's the entire spectrum of problems that fall in between those two sides.

I don't even really think this problem is exclusive to our Amazing Amazon. When you look at something like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you realize that Buffy Summers' two main love interests, Angel and Spike, are both vampires — and they're both bad for her. Angel loses his soul and turns evil when experiencing a moment of pure happiness, and Spike has issues of his own. Did I mention that they're both vampires and can't ever age or take her out in the daytime? She had one boyfriend in the entire series that tried treating her right, right from the start (Riley Finn), and fandom hated him. (I did, too.) But that was an easy way to build up tension and drama in Buffy, by pairing a vampire slayer up with a vampire. That option doesn't really work for Wonder Woman, who we're supposed to hold to the highest possible standard, and we assume that she's the best judge of character possible.

Fortunately, we already have a blueprint. Steve Trevor is clearly the one to use since that bypasses a lot of potential problems (fans accusing the movie of unfaithfulness, to name the biggest). And in the Wonder Woman animated movie in 2009, they managed to portray Steve as competent enough to win Wonder Woman's affection (he holds his own against the Amazons), without ever making it so that Wonder Woman has to take a backseat to him. This in effect makes him her sidekick, but hey, if she's gonna be fighting the God of War, then I'd say she could use some help. Also, Steve in this one was played by Nathan Fillion, so there. Cast Nathan Fillion as Steve Trevor. It would work and he'd portray Steve with just enough levity.

Yes, I know, I just used the word "levity" in connection with a prospective DC movie. Work with me, okay?

Lack of options for a love interest angle isn't the reason you haven't seen a Wonder Woman movie made.

Common Reason #8: She's preachy.

I don't see this one as often as the others, but common parodies and hamfisted portrayals of Diana have her as being very preachy and given to lecturing. This is a problem that's built into the character. She was sent to Man's World to teach and inspire, and there's always the danger of that.

This is partly because Wonder Woman is such a powerful icon and symbol that her words and actions are more potent. Perez admits that his "Wonder Woman ended up being sometimes preachy, which I think was my own fault, but I wanted to take advantage of the fact that this was the iconic female super-hero."

I reread Perez's run recently and while I think the book itself got a little heavyhanded at times, Diana never did. There are ways to spread a message without coming off as evangelical. Here's Diana meeting the parents of her Boston mentor, Julia Kapatelis.

In short, like most of the others mentioned so far, I don't think this is a good reason to pass on a movie.

Common Reason #9: She's a female protagonist.

This one, unfortunately, has little to do with storytelling (aside from the problem with the romance that I mentioned earlier) and everything to do with marketing and getting butts in seats. The basic argument is this: Women have no problem watching a movie, tuning into a TV show, or reading a story with a male protagonist, but males have a problem with female protagonists. This is certainly true in my limited, localized experience, but I have no idea if it's true on a global, societal level.

When looking at some numbers for recent Disney movies (we're going to go with Disney movies because that "standardizes" the rest of the criteria as much as possible; it's still a completely very general model. Pixar complicates things because of their sequels and franchises.), we can see via that The Princess and the Frog, which came out in December 2009, had a wide opening weekend of $24,208,916, for a worldwide total of $267,045,765. Tangled, which came out a year later, had an opening weekend of $48,767,052, and totaled $590,721,936. Now there were many differences between the two movies — the races of the main characters, the animation styles (Frog looked beautiful; I'm never going to give up on 2D) — but one of the big differences is that Tangled was renamed from its original title of Rapunzel, because of the fear of alienating boys. The prince was also played up in the trailers more. So maybe there's something to that.

But if there's something to that, then Wreck-It Ralph should have slaughtered Tangled in the box office, right? After all, it's advertised as having a male main character, and the female co-star, Vanellope, is barely even seen (is she even seen in any?) in the trailers and promotional materials. Not really; it opened domestically to $49,038,712, and grossed $471,222,889 worldwide. You can't pull the "ticket prices are different" card, because they came out within two years of each other, so it wouldn't be that big a difference. And Ralph was in theaters a whole nine days more than Tangled. In the States, Ralph grossed $11,000 dollars less.

It goes without saying that there are a whole lot of other differences between the movies, and that statements like the one I just made assume that all other things are equal. That's never true in practice of any creative endeavor, and that's why you can't use this one thing — "She's a girl" — to decide not to pursue a project. It's ridiculous. Don't do it.

But of course, that's apparently what Warner Brothers did. In his essay espousing sincerity and criticizing the idea that gritty equals sophistication, Greg Rucka mentions that the box office failure of Halle Berry's Catwoman made WB conclude that female protagonists don't sell, instead of concluding that it was a bad movie.

The numbers argument is a bit more reflective in the comics. In 1991, DC Comics was supposed to have a Wonder Woman–centric event, War of the Gods, conceived by Perez. It involved the gods of various pantheons (Greek, Roman, Norse, New) going to battle against each other. But DC decided to focus on another event, Armageddon 2001, as their big event of the summer, relegating War to a four-issue miniseries with a female lead, which, in George Perez: Storyteller, author Christopher Lawrence called a hard sell, even in a bullish market.

If this attitude is in fact true, it will never change unless movie studios actually do something to change it. One day, Marvel is going to come out with a movie headlined by the Black Widow, Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk, or some other superheroine from their pantheon. When that day comes, and Wonder Woman still doesn't have a movie, isn't it going to undeniably be seen by fans of DC Comics and Wonder Woman as a wasted opportunity?

Common Reason #10: She's an icon.

Yanick Paquette has mentioned that for The Trial of Wonder Woman, he and Grant Morrison are running the story through Morrison's wife Kristan, noting that "this is a slippery project because I’m a guy." George Perez felt the need for a female editor — first Janice Race, then Karen Berger — while working on Diana. Hell, I'm running this column by a number of female friends just to make sure I'm not miscommunicating anything as much as possible.

Wonder Woman is an icon. And she's a very, very powerful, very potent icon. It can be said that the most enduring superheroes embody an idea. Superman is the ideal of all of us — honest, earnest, and a doer of good deeds without any motivation other than doing the right thing. Batman is human achievement, the kind you're capable of when you're driven. The Flash is speed; Green Lantern is imagination; the Hulk is rage; Spider-Man is the everyman; the X-Men are about being outsiders. Captain America is the American dream — the basics of which most people agree with, even if the specifics of it are complicated and vary from person to person.

Wonder Woman is an icon of female empowerment and feminism, and that gets complicated because it's not easily defined, and different people have different ideas about what it means. In 1968, Denny O'Neil and Mike Sekowsky tried to make her more "relevant" by removing her powers and having her master karate and putting her in mod outfits. These stories are collected in the Diana Prince: Wonder Woman books.

The attempt was meant in earnest, but no less than Gloria Steinem, one of the leaders of the Women's Lib movement, protested the move, reasoning that they took away the power of the only true powerful woman in comics. To reach a wider audience, Steinem launched Ms. magazine, and put Wonder Woman on the cover.

Forty years later, Diana would be on the cover of the magazine again.

Everyone's got a different view of what Diana's supposed to stand for, and as a result, everyone's got a different view of what Diana's supposed to be like. Her iconic status makes the argument more volatile. Even without a movie and the fact that she doesn't move comics like she used to, Wonder Woman means so much to people. Scouring the Internet, I can categorically say she has one of the most dedicated and vocal fanbases I've ever seen.

So you need to be careful with a Wonder Woman movie. Diane Nelson, head of DC Entertainment, has called the character "tricky," and has said that they "have to get the character right."

All I know is, as potent a symbol as Diana is, I think they'll be closer to getting the character right when they actually have a timetable for getting the character to work at all. Maybe they're overthinking it. Maybe they're already working on it and we don't know. But Diana is a character who deserves to not be held back. I think we can safely say that there will be a contingent of fans complaining about the final product no matter what — that's just the way of the world these days and it's one of the big effects of social media — and the only thing I can really say is suck it up, deal with it, and make the movie.

And in conclusion...

There seems to be a lot of talking about what's limiting Wonder Woman. Hell, I just spent over 6,000 words engaging in the same argument. These 10 reasons are the ones I see most often when looking around the Internet, and for all of them, my method of dealing with it is simply "Suck it up and deal with it." (There was an 11th reason — that DC and Warner Bros. just don't care — but I left that out because I don't want to assume that's true of everyone in the companies, and also if it's true, there's not much that can be done about it.)

Maybe there's way too much talking about what's wrong with Wonder Woman. There seems to be a lot of talk about her inconsistency, but to me that's a half-glass-empty approach. What I see are a lot of options. Will a Wonder Woman movie, TV show, cartoon, or comics big event be a hit? Who knows? How can anyone know unless they put it out there? What's wrong with Wonder Woman? Nothing, really. Maybe the problem is us.

Phil Jimenez said recently:
Use what's there and make it film-worthy and iconic. Give the material a chance as opposed to constantly second guessing it. And I would argue that Wonder Woman's "biggest problem" is that people keep assigning her "big problems" that they wouldn't heap on other characters in the same way. Therefore, people should start talking about what's AWESOME about Wonder Woman, her villains, and supporting cast, as opposed to what's so problematic about them (if, of course, they actually believe WW and her world are awesome).
I think she's awesome.  I think there are a lot of options, and plenty of opportunity. I think Princess Diana of Themyscira deserves a movie, a TV show, a solo cartoon, maybe even a second comic book. Her stature and symbol still mean a lot to people — just do an Amazon search for her and see how many products she appears on — and it's a shame that we're not seeing more stories featuring her on a grander scale.

Wonder Woman, all the world's waiting for you.

Some Wonder Woman stories for your enjoyment:

Sep 18, 2013

Pop Medicine: "So Inconclusive.

Pop Medicine is a column by Travis Hedge Coke for the Comics Cube! Click here for the archive!

“So Inconclusive.
Pop Medicine
Travis Hedge Coke

Mister Six is a character in The Invisibles who’s based himself on a character from a 70s cop show. He has a wonderful moustache and a button on his jacket that has, not his face, but the face of the guy he’s emulating.

There’s a realm where sexy and incredibly awkwardly geeky are difficult to differentiate. But, I’m not worried about that. I’m looking for a good title.

I had this idea to do a column of things I like about The Invisibles, and things that bug me, because post-Invisibles everything seems to circle it even as it recedes from significance for me. (That’s why I bought the omnibus, yes, because it’s receding in significance for me – this is called posturing, run with it on my behalf, won’t you?) I can make the lists, no doubt. I can gut the comic and dissect it. I can hold up the guts and bones for you and show how beautifully they work, pumping blood or bile where it’ll do the best.

I started out with a list, but it pared down in the work. It boiled down and sublimed and there’s fictional-boyfriend residue, sexy Bond woman glamour notes left off the screen and little of the intention I began with. Mirror-selves and fantasy proxies.

I think I know now why I love the jam effort towards the end, why I love the turnover of artists, the off-panel dramas and comedies of the talent, the references that don’t register, the stuff I forget. Perspective hurts The Invisibles. It’s perspective that makes the flaws, perspective that gouges its criticisms with hypocrisy and muddies the detail work. The Invisibles isn’t the work of one man, so many thanks for so many deities for that. The comic’s salvation is in divers hands. And in divers’ hands. You’ve got to get up in there, to make it. And, by make, I could mean the talent creating the comic or the reader grasping it, any of us surviving and outlasting it. Inlasting.

“Everything seems to circle” The Invisibles for me, this is true, but this is true of many works of entertainment, many people, several memories. And The Invisibles sets itself up for it, at least, which the memories may or may have not. The comic is a version of that game where, if you remember the game, you have lost it. It alludes to a number of specific cultural artifacts and elements, books, movies, paintings, songs and celebrities, but it also utilizes inference and strong symbols, sometimes without fully delineating how the symbol should be read. Context is a weak thing where this comic is working. When we are presented apples in The Invisibles, they can be seen to symbolize the world (as the one with the continents pictured right on its skin), temptation, knowledge, a gift, a curse, a trick, but right after Robin says of an offered apple, “Eve may have fallen for that one. Ragged Robin’s not so dumb,” she starts eating the fruit.

What does that say? It shows she ate the fruit. It does not even do that, though. It shows us some ink on paper that makes certain colors, certain shades, and we interpret those as Robin eating an apple that could be many things more than only an apple. Heck, we don’t even see an image of her eating the apple. We see bites are missing and she seems to have something in her mouth. Zeno’s fragging arrow.

The Invisibles covers this confusion more than once, this conflation of entertainment and reality, performance and truth. Plays are people walking prescribed paths speaking from memory, egging on an audience. Or they are words you can read giving dialogue and instructions. A comic is images and words combined in a way we understand to be a comic. None of what it makes us think may have happened, but everything we see, the ink and the effort, did and is happening. The ink lines don’t go away when you close up the covers.

But what is “really” there is, possibly, the least interesting of all options. What could be there is a little better. What we remember, or understand, those are good.

The omnibus has some interesting backmatter, including sketches from various hands, including Morrison’s, notes from artists and editors, pitch documents and early advertisements. King Mob, who Grant Morrison famously made himself into to some degrees as the comic ran, does not look like Morrison when drawn by Morrison, himself. But his Lord Fanny really does look like early 90s Grant Morrison in drag. That’s apt. And, Ragged Robin, before-the-comic to be called Raggedy Ann, she’s a sad mess. A pitch sketch, by Morrison, is all cleavage and holding herself. His description in the pitch admits she is “fairly underdeveloped” and “She’s the Death/Crazy Jane type of female figure beloved by boys who read Vertigo comics.”

Jill Thompson saved Ragged Robin. Oh, yes.

See, again, The Invisibles can be self-correcting. I was never Dane, reading the comic, even though Dane is basically my age, my generation. Dane was a kid. I wasn’t a kid at that age (sure, sure). Robin had great style in those early issues, she and Boy were the undealt cards for the longest time, and Boy just seemed tedious. But Jill Thompson drew Robin as less of a caricature than the other cast could be. She had attitude in her body language, pitch and direction. And she seemed the goofiest. Morrison’s writing helped, of course, but it’s that early Thompson-derived visual that most clicks for me. Robin’s the one who gets off by herself during “Arcadia” after all, it’s Robin who begs mysteries with every appearance, even when she’s not got a nanite-friendly bracelet going or showing off circuitry under the skin of her scalp. Maybe, it’s just that her version of cool doesn’t involve having to see people hurt, the way King Mob’s does, or Boy’s.

We get more of the display kit version of Robin in the “We’re all Policemen” short and in Volume Two’s reinventions, but once she’s a person, she’s a person. I always loathed the suggestion, in Anarchy for the Masses, the commentary book on The Invisibles, that Mob’s flat butt belongs to a “real human,” and Robin’s more rounded ass, by inference, isn’t. Supposedly a fan shared with Morrison some fanfic of her as Robin writing her way into the comic, and that comes out in the “official” version, too. It’s canon that Robin wrote herself into The Invisibles, which is seen in the comic as contemporary comic, a memoir published in the past, and – who knows – Mason probably financed an Invisibles movie, too. Or maybe he just produced The Matrix. Who knows.

Robin was never my fictional girlfriend, even though I was definitely one of the “boys who read Vertigo,” having traded a bunch of Jim Lee X-Men for issues of Nancy Collins’ Swamp Thing, and constantly rereading a stack of Rachel Pollack’s Doom Patrol given to me by Peter Lamborn Wilson, that got me through all the hormones and weirdness of early double digits. I was primed. But, but I didn’t want display case Robin even by the time we started to get her, and oh so sexy assassin-in-leathers Mob wasn’t my imaginary boyfriend for even a second.

For every panel of Robin hanging out a car window, yelling for more smart drinks and smiling broadly, there’s “We’re All Policemen” and Mob creating Robin out of pornoplasm that looks like his ex girlfriend. “I want the nerdiest boy in high school turned into the hottest sex queen” or whatever it is, “give me LA porn.” Not that there’s anything wrong if you happen to be the nerdiest guy in high school now turned into the sexiest woman with implants, but it didn’t particularly ingratiate either character to me. I know they’re constructs. I don’t want to remember they’re constructs.

“I’m as deep as this high ceiling,” to steal from Lou Reed, but I don’t want to be reminded I’m shallow. I don’t want to be reminded I’m deep.

The Invisibles keeps trying to sex you. It is a seduction. Maybe, Helga got close for me. She’s a walk on in a scene to show how swinging Six is, and somehow she walks on and then carries the title to its end. There’s my fictional girlfriend. A Philip Bond beauty, me but better looking and hella smarter, I think she vomits twice in less than twelve issues. Patrick Meaney, in Our Sentence is Up, the other commentary book on The Invisibles, seems to take her a lot more seriously than I can. Helga makes shit up. She even says so at once point, but you can catalogue out her lies and bullshitting starting with Six’s statement that she’d say she has no siblings, even though she later claims she impregnated her brother. I like Helga. Helga’s nuts. Mister Six is like that, too, really, so he can be my fictional boyfriend, while the bulk of comics diehards have Kitty Pryde or one of the various Supergirls all aliased Linda Danvers.

(And, because it all comes around and through again, I am reminded that one Supergirl was not, I think, called Linda Danvers, but, instead, she was called Matrix. And, one of her favorite tricks was to become invisible.)

You can get the Omnibus here: