Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Wonder Woman

Since comic book readership has traditionally been predominantly male, female super heroes were often a tough sell. Not that there weren't several attempts made, but characters like Lady Luck are largely forgotten today. As the median age of comic book readers began to rise in the 1970s, it was easier for the comic book companies to cultivate popular female superheroes since adolescent boys were only too happy to see a curvy, buxom woman in spandex kicking butt. The one female who beat the odds and remained popular from the golden age to modern day was Wonder Woman.

As a kid, I was aware of her name, but I didn't really know anything about Wonder Woman until I read her origin story reprinted in Jules Feiffer's wonderful book on comic history, The Great Comic Book Heroes. In a sense, I was experiencing Wonder Woman for the first time the same way the rest of America experienced her for the first time in 1941. The origin takes place just before the beginning of World War II when Army Intelligence officer Steve Trevor uncovers the leaders of a spy ring and goes on a dangerous mission to capture them. Along the way, his plane runs out of fuel and crash lands on Paradise Island, home of the Amazons. While Trevor is nursed back to health, Princess Diana falls in love with the man and fights to win the honor of taking Trevor back to America so he can finish the job he started. Her mother, Queen Hippolyte, fashions a special costume for her that incorporates elements of the U.S. flag and the golden eagle. Thus, Princess Diana adopts the U.S. as her new home and fights to protect her.

Plenty has been written about what Wonder Woman represents to young girls and to American society in general. I think her biggest contribution was to bring a female perspective and influence to the male dominated machismo of the super hero world. Shortly after her introduction, she was given membership into the all-boys club Justice Society of America. By the time the Justice League of America was formed in the Silver Age, Wonder Woman was part of DC's top three heroes (Superman and Batman being the other two, of course) who had run uninterrupted in comics up to that time. She also established the precedent of there being at least one female in every comic hero team.

Other than that origin story, I have to say I never read a Wonder Woman comic. I only saw her as part of the Justice League, or in the Super Friends cartoon show. There was also this bizarre TV movie from the early 70s:

Gotta love the wakka-cha wakka-cha theme songs back then!

I also watched the Lynda Carter version, at least for a season or so. As much as I liked Wonder Woman, I couldn't bring myself to read a comic featuring a woman. My guess is that most boys had the same reaction, which is why action figures based on female heroes were not as popular in those days. Ideal put out a line of female hero dolls in the 60s to compliment their Captain Action line, but they sold poorly and are quite rare today. Called the Super Queens, the four dolls were Batgirl, Supergirl, Aquaman's wife Mera, and Wonder Woman. I never tried to collect them because, in addition to being expensive, I didn't think they looked all that good. While Captain Action was muscled and articulated to look and pose like a hero, the Super Queens were slight and had limited articulation. They also possessed extremely girly faces not befitting of a super hero.

Still, I wanted a Wonder Woman doll to put amongst my other DC figures. Several years back, Mattel put out a series of Barbie dolls dressed like DC's female heroes. The costumes were great, but I've never been a fan of the Barbie doll in general. Again, it's too slight, the articulation is wonky, and the faces are way too soft and pretty. They are dolls for girls, after all. I bought a Wonder Woman Barbie and slipped it in with my Superman and Batman and Aquaman, but I wasn't happy about it.

Then, last Christmas, my wonder woman wife bought me some Cy Girl action figures for customizing purposes. These female figures are articulated like male action figures and are more curvacious than Barbies, looking very much like the way women are drawn in comic books. They are also provided with two different chest pieces, one featuring smallish breasts and one with larger breasts, depending on what type of effect you want to create. Although my brunette Cy Girl had bigger hips than the Barbie, I figured she could probably slip into the Wonder Woman costume with some encouragement. Happily, I was correct. Of course, I had to use the smaller chest piece since the big boobs simply would not fit in the costume, but I think a smaller chest is better suited to an athletic woman anyhow.

The finished product appears to me as a modern, realistic interpretation of Wonder Woman rather than her iconic image, but I like it. She's also much easier to pose.

1 comment:

ExoticSeamstress said...

Love WW costumes! I make them.