Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Wonder Woman--a retrospective...

I figured it best to start with the costume of Diana, known throughout Patriarch's World as the super heroine Wonder Woman. Having been in publication more or less continuously since her creation in 1941, her costume has changed little over the years with two notable exceptions. During her Diana Prince: Wonder Woman era, while depowered she wore variants of the white outfit on the far left, perhaps Diana's most fashion conscious, if painful period considering she ran a Mod Dress Shop when she wasn't fighting the likes of Dr. Cyber with her new mentor, the i-Ching (that's a whole other post). The other notable instant was when she lost the mantle of Wonder Woman to Artemis and then she wore the dark biker shorts/leather bra star motif with a pale blue bolero--must have been Black Canary's influence. The rest of the time she has stuck pretty close to her star spangled bathing suit. Here's the thing though, its not a bathing suit--it's meant to be armour. Depending on the armour's origins its either pieced together from the remnants of an American soldier or, as dictated by some Amazonian customs the colours of the nation one visits as emissary.
Most of the time however artists and writers forget that star spangled outfit is meant to offer some scant protection. And we get some real atrocities. Every now and again though artists remember she's an amazon warrior and out comes the armour. The most famous is probably the eagle armour designed by Alex Ross in the Kingdom Come mini-series. Faithfully reproduced here by Aaron Lopresti. The detail Ross paid to the authenticity, if somewhat stylized version of her hoplite armour certainly conveyed the sense of a powerful female warrior. Sometimes I think that's why she often gets the cheescake image--some men are truly frightened by powerful women. Still in my opinion the "screaming eagle" armour as it's been called definitely deserves an honourable mention for combining elements of her Amazonian heritage with her traditional colour themes. My other honourable mention goes to Brian Bolland for Diana's space pirate look. It's black and most importantly she gets to wear pants, something Wonder Woman rarely gets to do. The outfit is fairly basic and honours the mantle of Diana Trevor while drawing attention to her more rebellious status as an outlaw bent on breaking the established regime and freeing the thousands of female slaves held captive by the corrupt regime. I find myself often alone when I argue that Diana should get pants--it's hard to fight against the iconic status of the bathing suit Lynda Carter wore, but I will say this, often it's the Supergirls or Ms Marvels who wear shorts or skirts but the Invisible Woman, Hawkwoman they got pants. Shouldn't Wonder Woman trade in her shorts for something a little more sensible? At the very least I'd feel a little too exposed with my butt cheeks hanging out. Still Donfeld did a great job bringing the costume to life and Lynda Carter iconized it, and that's why it takes the number three place in Diana's closet and was definitely something she should wear. Interestingly enough actor/singer Roy Rodgers refused to appear in an early episode of Wonder Woman unless Ms Carter's outfit was modified. In that instance she was given fitted cream pants and a red drawstring blouse, but provided her own tiara, bracelets, belt, lasso and boots. This costume change was explained by Roy Rodgers' character's maid loaning Diana some of her clothes, despite the fact that the maid was a foot or two shorter and broader than Ms. Carter. Realizing that they couldn't trademark an eagle as easily as a logo Wonder Woman's logo changed and became a stylized WW logo that I was never overly fond of. Having read and watched Wonder Woman since the late 70s/early 90s I was sad to see the eagle go. And then Alex Ross brought it back in Kingdom Come, and we come to outfit number two in Diana's closet. Admittedly he only emphasized the eagle aspect of the WW logo but there it was. He also changed the shorts to a loincloth, possibly alluding to her earliest outfit which had a skirt. I like to think Ross was noting that since Diana hadn't aged she'd altered her costume to be more revealing to demonstrate her unchanging beauty--particularly since Donna Troy looked a little older and heavier, but that's not really in character or implied in the graphic novel (which if you have never read Kingdom Come get up right now and go and buy it and read it immediately--you won't be sorry). It also helps that Alex Ross is an unbelievably talented artist who knew how to handle his subject, powerful yet soft, terrifying yet beautiful. However I think the number one outfit Diana has worn would have to be the armour Drew Johnson designed when Diana fought the Medousa. Keeping her colours and the basic look of her costume he reinvented it as hoplite armour, once again drawing attention to her Amazonian and Greek roots. I think the bathing suit will never go away because its so iconic, but every now and again as I look at my collection of Wonder Woman memorabilia I see her costume as a costume and not Wonder Woman's clothes and for just a moment I'm a little scared of myself. That's why when Diana opens her closet I think the first thing she should see is this suit of armour, then she can move on the rack of spandex if she must. Now--what shouldn't Diana wear? As the beauty of Aphrodite is one of Diana's gods-given powers there is very little she won't look good in. However, just because you can wear something doesn't mean you should, and Mike Deodato Jr. helped Diana descend to lower levels of cheesecake than she ever had before. Warrior Woman Rule #1 "Do not fight in anything that requires you to have a brazilian wax before going into battle." This is not only dangerous as more of your body is exposed but also tacky and somewhat cheap. But Deodato was not done there, he introduced the Wonder Thong, a proud tradition that has been carried on by other artists including Ed Benes (the man responsible for Supergirl's skirt becoming a spandex belt) and occasionally Adam Hughes. Warrior Woman Rule #2 "No thongs." Simple and rather obvious both because again more of you is exposed and its an invitation to every super speedster and super villian out there to come on over and give you a spanking. Then you'll be fighting the rest of the battle with red cheeks, which even if your teammates won't say anything for fear you'll punch them through a wall, they've all still pretty much seen your ass. All of this goes triple for dresses, even if they're thong dresses. Imaging trying to fight with all that fabric wedged between your cheeks. How could anyone win a contest dressed like that? There are several heroines who are drawn wearing thongs and I really want to ask many of the artists in question if they've ever worn a thong and even done something simple, like playing volleyball or football. I'm not asking them to wrestle a cheetah or anything, but I think it might give them some good insight as to why the thong is ridiculous as part of a heroine's costume. I invite you to take a look at a couple of other ladies who've worn the mantle of Wonder Woman and let me know what you think of their fashion choices and if breaking any of the rules I've outlined above really helped them.
John Byrne

John Byrne

Thanks for reading...

Wonder Woman, Artemis, Hippolyta and all related symbols, insignia, costumes etc, are all © Trademarks of DC Comics and the images reproduced here are used only as illustrations for the purpose of costume critique and the promotion of DC Comics

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