DC has decided to change Wonder Woman’s backstory and origin. They’ve also decided to change her iconic costume.
My first reaction is: beats actually trying to write a good story with a character DC hasn’t had a clue about for decades now.
My second reaction is a little more nuanced.
On the costume: Superhero costumes should be simple. Simple colors. Simple patterns. Maybe an iconic logo. It should be easily identifiable, shouldn’t be too busy. It should get the job done and not much more.
If you look at the superheroes who have survived the decades, almost all of them have very simple costume designs. Batman is just a cowl with bat ears, his logo on the chest, a utility belt, and a cape. Superman is red and blue underwear, a red cape, and again, another great logo. Spider-Man is red and blue. No cape. But the mask with its large eyes is very distinctive and you can’t ignore the webbing. Also, logo on chest. Iron Man, while having many armors over the years, has stuck with red and yellow for decades. And, while it isn’t exactly a logo, he does have that circle in his chest.
It goes on. The Fantastic Four have blue with a four logo on their chest (of course). Each has their own distinctive features. The Invisible Woman is blonde (and, yes, a woman). The Human Torch is quite often on fire (and being on fire usually helps one stand out in a crowd). The Thing is a giant orange rock monster. And Mr. Fantastic’s gray streaks at his temple are practically part of his uniform.
It goes on.
Hellboy is a red demon with ground down horns in a trenchcoat with a giant fist. The Hulk is mostly naked green giant in tattered jeans. The Joker has chalk-white skin, green hair, a purple tuxedo. The Penguin has a tux, too. And what would Dr. Doom be without his green tunic and gray power armor?
The point here is that most comic book characters that have stood the test of time are fairly simple to draw. There’s a practical reason for this. Not all artists are created equal, and the simpler the design, the easier it is for an artist of even modest talent to draw it. In the 90’s, artists loved to draw elaborate character designs, full of complicated patterns, belts, and pouches. Oh, how they loved the pouches! While it looked edgy in theory, it also made these characters blend into each other. If you’ve seen one Image character, you’ve seen 90% of them.
And that’s important to remember. A character can be too busy. Spawn might have looked “totally awesome” with his huge cape, chains, and skull accessories, but if he wanted to be more memorable, all he really needed was to ditch the accessories, put a logo on his chest, and maybe keep his skulls down to one on his belt buckle.
The new Wonder Woman costume isn’t simple. That’s my biggest gripe against it. It’s far too busy. Some have pointed out that it’s outdated, very 90’s, and that’s a fair criticism. But my bigger criticism is that it just isn’t very memorable.
All of us comic book fans know this costume isn’t going to stick, and that this is little more than a publicity gimmick from DC. And that’s the biggest problem here. DC hasn’t known what to do with Wonder Woman for decades now, and if I can be brutal, I’m even going to suggest that DC would gladly get rid of her if she wasn’t such a recognizable icon. She’s an asset, not a character. They really have no interest in her, in crafting interesting stories with her. They just want something for merchandizing.
Maybe that’s harsh, but it seems to be true. The costume change is just another in a string of gimmicks to keep the character in the public eye, and that’s really not much different than what happens to other characters now and then. But for Wonder Woman, that’s almost entirely all she has. Taken at face value, this costume change is just another attempt to draw attention to Wonder Woman, to keep her a viable merchandising icon.
The problem is that nobody ever seems interested in making Wonder Woman anything other than that. I’ve written before about Wonder Woman and how I feel she isn’t a great character. She has her defenders, and I get where they’re coming from. I want to like Wonder Woman, and I have in the past. I loved her in Justice League: The Animated Series. I thoroughly enjoyed her recent direct-to-DVD Animated film. But for the most part, I find Wonder Woman either dull or saddled with far too much baggage. The costume change only serves to diminish her further.
It might be naive of me, but I believe that people will care about a character when a character is worth caring about. And it will take more than a bad costume change to make Wonder Woman worth caring about. It’ll take a writer and editorial team that are more interested in her adventures than her costume and how much mileage they can milk out of changing it.
If they’d really just wanted to update the outfit, they’d have just give her some pants.
Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,