Wonder Woman can lead the way out, above and beyond our current state. Wonder Woman commands respect. That respect can carry over to other female characters. It can carry over to respecting all human beings.
That respect is the key to Wonder Woman’s success and popularity. You just don’t mess with Wonder Woman. She is bigger and more powerful than any one person or corporation. With that in mind, it is my pleasure to share with you my interview with Tim Hanley, author of “Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine.” You can read my recent review here. You can visit Tim Hanley’s site here. And you can definitely pick up his comprehensive study of Wonder Woman right here.
Henry Chamberlain: It would definitely be good to get your take on the current climate for female characters and, well, actual females today. How do you see the character of Wonder Woman as relevant to the woman’s struggle–or is it, really? Your book certainly points out how Wonder Woman has a mixed record for supporting women as equal to men.
Tim Hanley: I think that Wonder Woman the symbol is far more relevant than the current incarnation of the character.
Wonder Woman the symbol still represents female strength and power, and she’s sort of the representative of all female superheroes to the wider, non-comics reading world. As an icon, she’s very important, and has been for some time. In the comics, though, right now she’s the God of War and Superman’s girlfriend, and neither role seems to have any particularly relevance to women today. In fact, I know many women and Wonder Woman enthusiasts who are irate at what’s been done to the character in recent years. She’s beloved as an icon, but her recent adventures aren’t particularly inspiring.
HC: Now, this is tongue-in-cheek, and yet serious too. What is really the difference between Wonder Woman and any other corporate creation? How is Wonder Woman that different from, say, Ronald McDonald?
TH: Well, Ronald McDonald is a clown and Wonder Woman is not, so there’s a key difference right off.
More seriously, I think there’s a big distinction. Wonder Woman wasn’t created to be a corporate mascot, she was created to embody her creator’s theories on female superiority. As pie in the sky and occasionally problematic as William Moulton Marston’s ideas were, Wonder Woman was created to show young readers the strength of women and provide a counterpart to all of the male superheroes who were running around when the genre debuted. Marston had much bigger ideas than making money. He was trying to bring about a matriarchal revolution. Now, that hasn’t panned out yet, but it’s an impactful origin.
Currently, as much as Wonder Woman is used to sell comics, lunchboxes, and t-shirts, there’s a deeper meaning attached to the character that springs from this origin and what the character has meant to readers. Young girls who read Marston’s Wonder Woman grew up to make her an icon of the women’s liberation movement, and she’s been a symbol of feminism ever since. She’s become a corporate product to a certain extent, but she means much more than that.
HC: There’s the recent article by Janelle Asselin you have most likely read that speaks to the challenge ahead. Here it is again for our readers right here. She talks about how she received rape threats after criticizing a DC Comics title, “Teen Titans #1,” that features a Barbie figure on Wonder Girl. What do you make of this climate of sheer hatred and what can be done?
TH: What Janelle’s had to deal with just for talking about a comic book cover is beyond deplorable, and it definitely showcases a dark, shameful subgroup of comic book fandom. However, these threats and vitriol are clearly the futile cries of a dying breed. Scores of comic book creators have spoken out against this exclusionary, misogynistic foolishness and made it very clear that such voices are not welcome in the community.
More significantly, so many female creators and fans have rallied around this issue and are refusing to let threats stop them from speaking out about sexism in the industry. The industry is changing; it’s more diverse, more inclusive, and the idiots who think that comics should be some sort of He-Man Woman Haters Club that caters to their sexual fantasies are getting pushed to the margins. They’ll squawk about it, and make threats and terrible comments, but they’ve already lost.
HC: If we are willing to say there is something special about Wonder Woman, what do we do with that special quality? If we cannot rely upon a corporation to make the best choices regarding a character that hits so many readers in a positive way, what is the solution? Fan fiction? Cosplay? Do you just enjoy the character as we see fit and then, perhaps move on?
TH: It’s definitely frustrating when a character’s comics don’t live up to what they mean to you. It’s comics, so inevitably there’ll be a new take that might better capture the character, but until that comes the waiting game isn’t very fun. Fan fiction and cosplay are good outlets, and with Wonder Woman there are nearly 75 years of old stories you can read, plus various cartoons and such; if the current Wonder Woman isn’t grabbing you, I can promise there is one you’ll enjoy somewhere.
Comics are so cyclical that most fans have developed ways to still love their favourite characters even if they’re not keen on their current comics. And there are other outlets; I’m betting there are a lot of lapsed Wonder Woman fans having fun in the Carol Corps, just waiting for an awesome, new take on Wonder Woman to come along so they can re-add Wonder Woman to their pull list. But there are a lot of great female superheroes out there in the meantime.
HC: What do you see as the future for female characters? Given the undeniable interest by women readers in comics, what will it take for comics to be more engaging for women? It’s not like it would cut into any profit margins to be more inclusive, as Janelle Asselin makes clear. Are we one or two generations away from fundamental change or what? Will more audience interaction correct Wonder Woman’s current unsteady position?
TH: At some point, the big superhero publishers are going to realize there’s a substantial and ever-growing female audience to tap into, see the types of books they’re enjoying, and hire the right people to create similar content.
Marvel is starting to do that now, and hopefully DC will follow suit. They’re leaving money on the table by not doing so, and that stack of lost cash is growing every day. I’m optimistic that it will be sooner than two generations, though the slow, tepid progress on something as obvious as a Wonder Woman movie tells me that a huge shift is still farther away than I’d like it to be.
But yeah, so long as women (and men) keep buying the comics featuring awesome female characters that are already out there from their competitors, the pressure to change will grow and grow and eventually DC and Warner Bros. will get that they’re sitting on a potential gold mine with Wonder Woman, and all of their female characters, really. As I said before, the industry has changed; it’s just going to take a little while for the folks at the very top to see it and do something about it.
HC: One thing that strikes me about the depiction of Wonder Woman in DC Comics is that, to their credit, I never really find myself questioning her overall look. I mean her physical form always adds up. I don’t think I’m looking at a distorted body image. That speaks volumes. Also, I don’t think that a contemporary Wonder Woman readily falls into any sexist trap as other female superhero characters might. It’s like she’s too big to play any games with. Too bad that consideration doesn’t spring to mind for every female character, don’t you think?
TH: Yeah, DC’s depiction of Wonder Woman has never really gone completely off the rails. There’s been some rough moments – the Deodato era springs to mind, though that was brief – but all together her appearance has rarely been problematic, especially in her own book. They tend to go for artists who lean towards realism more than exaggerated figures; part of this might be the influence of the Perez relaunch on the Modern Age Wonder Woman, but there might also be an element of DC knowing that Wonder Woman fans won’t stand for it if they go too sexy or exploitive with the art. She’s had some great artists over the years, too, and ones that really respect the character.