This week on Issue at Hand, we tackle the mother of all superheroines, the oft-misunderstood, oft-underestimated character of Wonder Woman. For the world’s most famous female superhero, there’s an awful lot about her character that has never penetrated the mainstream — not in the way the vital details of Batman, Superman or Spider-Man and their like have.
So join me for an extra long, extra-packed episode about Wonder Woman’s creation, her origin story, and the way her history intertwines with the feminist movement, the ups and downs of the comics industry and our definitions of feminine power.
Wonder Woman has always been bound by definitions of femininity. By the way whoever was making her stories at the time thought that a heroic woman should act and dress, and how a villainous woman should act and dress. Both in fiction and out of it, her power is rooted in the feminine, and she’s therefore expected to represent femininity itself. She’s not a female superhero, she’s the female superhero.
And Wonder Woman has very often stood alone in her femininity. She is one of the only female adventure comics characters to survive comics’ post-War upheaval. She has often been the only female hero in DC’s flagship superhero team, the Justice League (including the Justice League of the 2011 New 52 reboot and the Justice League of Warner Bros.’ DC Extended Universe). And in a few weeks, she will be the only female superhero to have brought a solo film to theaters in more than a decade. She’ll hold that title for two years more, until Captain Marvel hits screens in 2019.
Comics legend Dwayne McDuffie — founder of Milestone Comics, and the person you owe your childhood to if you were ever a fan of Ben 10, Justice League or Static Shock — lamented the role of being the most visible Insert Minority Demographic superhero of any kind, particularly speaking towards the ‘90s era of superhero comics of which he was a part.
“If you do a black character or a female character or an Asian character [in a setting dominated by white male characters],” he famously said, “then they aren't just that character. They represent that race or that sex, and they can't be interesting because everything they do has to represent an entire block of people. You know, Superman isn't all white people and neither is Lex Luthor.”
The solution, McDuffie found, was to create a variety of such characters, no single one bearing the burden of being the token representation. And that’s something that I fervently hope happens for our cinematic Wonder Woman as well.