As Derek Zoolander would say, Wonder Woman is so hot right now.
She’s the only character to emerge from Batman V Superman without having been brutally savaged by either critics or fans, she’s got a solo film coming out next year and she’s making her debut in DC Comics’ deluxe Earth One range – a series of graphic novels placing DC’s main characters in a world more like our own.
It’s just a shame that it’s taken her 75 years to get here.
History, it’s fair to say, has not been terribly generous to Wonder Woman – or to comic book heroines in general.
Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette are aiming to change that with their graphic novel Wonder Woman: Earth One. They’ve put their own spin on the classic Wonder Woman origin story – Steve Trevor crash lands on Paradise Island, Diana helps him escape, and then she is forced to account for her actions in an Amazon trial (hence the chains she’s wearing on the controversial cover).
We spoke to artist Paquette at the London Super Comic Con to get his take on the character, and why it’s time for Wonder Woman to go back to her 1940s roots. “Back in the day Wonder Woman was almost a response to the idea of the much more macho comics of the time,” Paquette says. “In recent years she’s become more and more of a warrior, barbarian character. I can see why they would do that... but by doing so it’s almost like they’re saying that for a superhero to be relevant they should make the male, macho aspect of that character more prominent, which is kind of what they do with Wonder Woman. Making her more ass kicking... and I’m not sure that’s the way to go.”
The ‘strong female character’ trope is one that’s been taken increasingly literally of late. Take Zoe Saldana’s Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy – she kicks all kinds of ass, but she’s not as layered as she should be. Hell, Groot got a better emotional arc than she did.
But the female-led comics and TV shows that are really gaining traction are the ones that go beyond the ‘strong, sexy woman’ cliché. Agent Carter battles office politics just as often as she battles evil Russians, Supergirl’s greatest strength is her emotional intelligence and Jessica Jones solved crimes on the toilet – not a sign of a sexy heroine. In comics, Batgirl is rocking her yellow DMs and solving mysteries while Ms Marvel is basically a modern-day Spider-Man, albeit one who is female and Muslim.
TV has always been a strong medium for female characters, but the recent move towards better female characters in comics is the real surprise. Comics are known for their large-breasted, over-sexualised heroines, which is why women have traditionally been reluctant to read comics. Agent Carter and Jessica Jones were such a hit because they never looked like they were created merely for the entertainment of men.
When Paquette created the women of Wonder Woman: Earth One, he was keen to show a variety of female figures alongside the more idealised Amazon form so as not to alienate a female readership. “It’s fun that [Wonder Woman]’s beautiful, but it’s almost pointless to aspire to this level of godliness because it makes almost no sense. But at the same time [Earth One] shows that all these other options are also beautiful.” Despite making Wonder Woman as gorgeous as a demi-goddess should be, he was very careful not to objectify her. “At least I’m conscious of that trap, which is not the case for a lot of other artists who fall all the way into the pit.”
He lays the blame for sexualised female characters at the feet of artists who are simply in a rut. “[W]ith some of the artists what might come across as sexism in terms of the female figure is in fact just their inability to draw anything else. It’s not a statement that women should have this sort of breast size, it’s just this is how they’ve learned to draw comics and how they learned anatomy since they were a kid and they don’t see it anymore.”
Paquette is quite gleeful about the controversy that Earth One has already caused, thanks in equal part to the sight of Wonder Woman enchained (seen as too anti-feminist), and to the book’s bold approach to both modern and old-fashioned feminism and its lack of violence (seen as too pro-feminist).
He’s a self-proclaimed feminist from a “very progressive society” (Quebec), and he’s not afraid to say that he and Morrison were making a “social statement” with this book. “Playing the shocking aspect... can awaken the beast in American society, and it actually did. This book already got some critique. I think we’re already shocking a lot of people.” But that shock is what gets people talking about women in comics and the media, and forces people to reassess their own position. “I don’t want to do safe comics anymore,” he says. “I want to do risky stuff.” And, in this case, ‘risky stuff’ includes an openly bisexual Wonder Woman.
The character of Wonder Woman is in the unique position of feeling both classic and fresh. In this current comic book movie boom, hers will be the first film to be led by a superheroine. In that sense, she’s new. She just also happens to be one of the most iconic figures on the planet.