DC Comics almost had Wonder Woman right but then they did this...
Wonder Woman. A character that needs no introduction. One-third of DC Comics Holy Trinity. An icon of feminism for 75 years. Arguably the most recognizable female superhero on the planet. Yet consistently, bafflingly, mangled by those in charge of her.
DC Comics has struggled with Diana, Princess of the Amazons for decades. Her runs have always been uneven. It’s a challenge to reconcile Wonder Woman’s (barely) sub-textual fetishistic slant from the Golden Age with modern audiences. So this has led to some heavy tinkering and revisionism. Some writers chose to strip Diana of her powers — once to work at Taco Bell. Some went all-in on the lesbian BDSM. Some found a middle ground. But throughout her history, Wonder Woman hasn’t managed to punch through with a “must read” story. There’s no “Killing Joke” or “For The Man Who Has Everything” that fans of Diana can point new readers towards as the iconic core of the character. Part of that can be blamed specifically on said tinkering. When you don’t give a character as high profile as Wonder Woman an easy to grasp personality and motives, you’re going to have a bad time.
Most recently, Wonder Woman underwent a transformation — along with much of her fellow superheroes — as DC Comics iterated themselves into their REBIRTH event. I say that only because they’ve been very vocal that this is not a reboot. Despite beginning the issue numbers over again and hiring all new creative teams for their books and changing the schedule of releases. But totally not a reboot! On June 8, 2016, WONDER WOMAN: REBIRTH #1 will launch under the watch of writer Greg Rucka and artists Liam Sharp and Paulo Siqueira. Please note that none of those people is a woman. But that’s just par for the course for REBIRTH. Other than Hope Larson on board as the BATGIRL and Julie and Shawna Benson on BATGIRL AND THE BIRDS OF PREY as the writers, not a single REBIRTH comic announced so far is written by women*. SUPERGIRL, SUPERWOMAN, and WONDER WOMAN are all written by men. It should go without saying not a single comic starring male superheroes is written by women.
*Amanda Conner continues co-writing duties with her husband Jimmy Palmiotti on HARLEY QUINN.
In and of itself, this is not a problem. Greg Rucka has written some of the better Wonder Woman stories in the last decade or so. One of my favorite panels ever comes from Rucka’s graphic novel WONDER WOMAN: THE HIKETEIA.
Image Credit: DC Comics/J. G. Jones
But decisions don’t happen in a vacuum, and DC putting two men on the Wonder Woman’s new comic is just the tip of the “What are you even doing right now?” iceberg. Did you know there are two other fantastic comic book runs featuring both Wonder Woman and a bevy of female characters right now? Or that another Wonder Woman title recently finished up its run wherein each issue was a separate writer and artist (many female) putting their own spin on the character? If not, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Each of those comics was or is part of the DC Digital First imprint. The now-defunct SENSATION COMICS FEATURING WONDER WOMAN was hailed by The A.V. Club as finally “manag[ing] to identify what makes the character successful and necessary.” THE LEGEND OF WONDER WOMAN by Renae de Liz gave depth to Diana’s childhood and features the triumphant return of Wonder Woman’s best friend, Etta Candy. Sadly, it looks like LoWW is already on the chopping block despite it being a fantastic run. And then there’s DC’S BOMBSHELLS by Marguerite Bennett, which features a very young and plucky Diana trying to stop WWII with her best friend, Meera.
So over the last two years, DC Comics has had THREE fantastic Wonder Woman comics created mostly by women, and they’ve done little and less to promote or foster them. I’m no businessperson, but that seems counter-intuitive. But if that was all, it could be chalked up yet another company not knowing how to properly leverage the Internet for profit. But wait, there’s more!
Part of the deal with the REBIRTH event is the idea of “getting back to basics.” When the announcement came out, Dan Didio (the co-publisher of DC Entertainment) had this to say:
“[W]e also believe in the direct market and the core comics fan. REBIRTH is designed to bring back the best of DC’s past, embrace the stories we currently love and move the entire epic universe into the future. We are returning to the essence of the DCU. With REBIRTH we are putting the highest priority on the direct market and we will continue to create and cultivate new opportunities for retailers to thrive and prosper, grow readers, fans and customers.”
Parse that out a bit and it becomes clear DC Comics is circling the wagons back to traditional comics fans. Direct market refers to comic book retailers, meaning fewer resources for places like Barnes & Noble or the library. “Core comics fans” means retooling their character arcs to draw their old fan base back in, which in turn will mean some stories that will push new readers out. Hence why comics like BLACK CANARY, MIDNIGHTER, and GOTHAM ACADEMY* all hit the chopping block. Comics about women, POC kids, and gay men aren’t catering to “core comics fans.” It also means things are looking grim for Wonder Woman.
*[Editor's Update: Apparently GOTHAM ACADEMY got picked up back when I wasn't looking. HUZZAH!]
Recently Frank Cho announced he had been picked up by DC Comics to do 24 variant covers for WONDER WOMAN: REBIRTH. TWENTY-FOUR. If you’ve been lucky enough to avoid the controversy that is Frank Cho, he is a comic artist who took the Milo Manara SPIDER-WOMAN controversy and ran with it. It’s been almost two years since the Manara cover, but Cho is still churning out covers like this:
As Cho has been consistently putting these “fanart” images out for months in the hopes of both reigniting the knuckle-draggers who missed the point of the Manara upset (at the time, SPIDER-WOMAN was aiming for a YA female audience…not exactly the place for erotic variant covers) and needling at the women who are “ruining the fun.” But each image was predictable, redundant, and kind of sad. So I — and many other comic outlets — had been ignoring them. That was a mistake. Ignoring Frank Cho just made DC Comics think no one minded his juvenile attempts at attention. DC Comics thought hiring a man who actively antagonize feminists to draw variant covers for the most feminist superhero in mainstream media was a good idea.
But can we really be surprised by DC’s mentality toward both Wonder Woman, her female creators, and her female fans? After all, this is the same company that has gone out of its way for years to coddle and protect a serial sexual harasser.
A dirty open secret in the comics industry, Superman editor Eddie Berganza has repeatedly been accused, and occasionally witnessed, sexually harassing women throughout the years. You can read a quick rundown of the timeline here. Remember that now-canceled SENSATION COMICS FEATURING WONDER WOMAN comic? One of the writers — Alex de Campi — came out about the problem of harassment within the comics industry as a whole, and specifically Berganza:
Now, the Superman office allegedly employs no women, and a cursory glance over the mastheads of several Superman titles and Wonder Woman seems to confirm that allegation. The reason, I’ve been told by several people who work or used to work at DC, is because one of the most senior editors is a sexual harasser with multiple incidents on his HR file.
It is not known to me whether the no-chicks-in-Supes-office diktat is the preference of the harasser, or whether it’s the HR department crossing its fingers and hoping to Jesus they don’t get hit with a liability lawsuit so big it’s visible from space. This guy was kept in the move to Burbank despite his record – allegedly because he has blackmail on one of DC’s most senior staff members.
Kids, there are five known big-name, vindictive harassers in comics, and about three bad drunks. Two harassers are writers employed by DC; one is a DC editor; two are writers employed by Marvel.
Once you realize the Superman office was also in charge of the main Wonder Woman comic while the DC Digital First runs of her character were in different hands, things begin to look a little clearer. Here you have an office completely devoid of women, run by a man who is known as a serial sexual harasser, in charge of a comic about a feminist superhero from an island populated only by women. Of course, it’s going to end in disaster.
They were so close to getting Wonder Woman so right with their Digital First comics, but they fumbled it at the one-yard line. If DC Comics really wants Wonder Woman to thrive, they’ll stop thinking they need to change her costume and start thinking they need to change her handlers.
[UPDATE: 5/10/16 3:46PM EDT] - DC Comics confirmed that Mark Doyle — the group editor for Batman — is the editor on Greg Rucka's run of WONDER WOMAN. Reps for DC could not confirm or deny that part of Rucka's deal in order to return was that he'd pick his editor, but several sites theorize as much. Perhaps things are looking up?
[UPDATE: 5/13/16 11:53AM EDT] - A DC Comics rep clarified that Nicola Scott will be drawing WONDER WOMAN: REBIRTH alternatively with Liam Sharp:
Nicola's "Year One" part of Wonder Woman: Rebirth is a storyline set ten years prior to Liam's "The Lies" storyline. They're working hand in hand to tell stories that run parallel to each other and will intersect at key moments.