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Wonder Woman's new look isn't half bad

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Wonder Woman made a much-ballyhooed appearance this weekend at Comic-Con, sporting her new look from the upcoming Batman v. Superman.

wonder woman

Here she is. Actress Gal Gadot's portrayal isn't challenging anyone's definition of conventional attractiveness. She's a thin woman in a sexy outfit. And those boots look a lot like they've got wicked heels.

But, especially compared to the way other women have been portrayed in superhero fiction, she looks pretty badass. She's looking fierce, muscular and ready to fight, and while her armor doesn't look exactly practical (breast plates are no good, folks), her costume looks appropriate for an Amazon. As many have pointed out, there's a definite Xena vibe to the new look, which makes a lot of sense, given the Warrior Princess' own ties to the Amazons. If you want to see just how Xena the new costume really is, check out Judd Winick's tweet, showing Wonder Woman and Xena side by side.

Even Lucy Lawless, the actress who played Xena, noted the similarities in attire.

The muted approach is a departure from Wonder Woman's look in the comics, where she sports a bright red, white and blue all-American look. I prefer the brown — nothing says Amazon demigod like a nice, rustic earth tone.

But the best thing about the new still is what it doesn't look like. It's not a cheesecake shot, with prominent butt. Wonder Woman is standing strong, facing a potential enemy, with her chin down and her eyes up. She looks ready to fight.

the best thing about the new shot is what it doesn't look like.

Contrast that to the way Black Widow is posed in The Avengers promotional materials. It's all butt, all the time. If you don't immediately think that looks ridiculous, consider what it would look like if the male Avengers were posed that way.

black widow

So often in genre movies — and in the video game character designs that are so often inspired by them — women, especially so-called strong, fighting women, are ridiculously sexualized. Bear in mind "sexualized" does not mean the same thing as "sexy." A sexualized character is designed explicitly to look a certain way and evoke specific feelings, usually, to appeal to heterosexual men. Other aspects of the character — their agency and apparent ability to fight, for example — are secondary to their conventionally attractive sex appeal.

"sexualized" does not mean the same thing as "sexy."

There's always a balance to hit. Movies like Batman v. Superman and The Avengers are exaggerated fantasy. As are games like, say, Street Fighter 4 and Dragon's Crown, which feature woman fighters. The characters in these franchises don't need to be "realistic." They have superpowers and live in hyper-exaggerated worlds. But they do need to make sense in the context of the fiction. And their treatment inevitably says things about our culture — our expectations based on characters' gender, our standards of beauty and sexiness, our ideas about gender in general.

Lisa

It's not impossible to strike a positive balance in a video game. Lisa from the successfully Kickstarted Treachery in Beatdown City is a perfect example. She is a Latina woman, wearing exactly what an MMA fighter would wear in real life — a tank top and shorts. She's posed like a fighter — chin down, hands up, eyes up. There's an exaggerated cartoon look to the game, but Lisa's design is completely consistent with the other characters and the colorful overall aesthetic.

The new look for Wonder Woman feels like it hits a similar balance. If her character is written and portrayed consistently with the way she appears here — strong, tough and defiant — in the final film, then I'll be rooting hard for the new Wonder Woman. If nothing else, this is a small but appreciable step in the right direction for the way women characters are marketed in genre movies.