March 13, 2008

Raving topless Wonder Woman is my hero

Part of what has made for this blog's slow start is that I don't want it to be a chore--I want it to be a place where I just run with things that hit me from the week's comic reading. And frankly, while I'm enjoying a number of stories right now, there hasn't been much in the "omg ha!" department lately. But then Wonder Woman and Black Canary infiltrated a Playboy club circa 1962 in Darwyn Cooke's Justice League: New Frontier Special, and I kind of can't stop doing whatever it is that's part-giggle, part-secret handshake, part-Celine Dion chest thump.

If you don't know, JL:NFS is a set of stories following up on the recent release of the Justice League: New Frontier animated film, which in turn is based on Cooke's 2003-2004 graphic novel DC: The New Frontier. It's an alternate take on the formation of the Justice League, set primarily in the 1950s. I'll confess to still having the original graphic novel in my to-read pile, but the new movie is HOT. Seriously, goosebump city. Anyway, the first (maybe only?) issue of the new series(?) came out last week and compiles several mini-stories about the New Frontier versions of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and a few others.

So in this one story, Wonder Woman, who of course was raised on an all-lady paradise island of warriors, finally has it up to here with male-dominated society and its objectification of women. She expresses her rage to Black Canary, who kind of laughs it off with a "here we go again" response. Now at this point, I'm a little annoyed because is seems like Diana's rant is sort of a lunatic feminist caricature, whom even Black Canary can't take seriously. But then I'm thinking well, hold on, someone with WW's background would be livid about 1962 gender imbalance, and would be full-on second-wave and then some (but in 2008 she'd be totally cool with everything, right?). Anyway, set off by a copy of Playboy and the growing popularity of Hefner's gentlemen's clubs, she convinces Black Canary to join her on a little field trip to persuade club patrons in Gotham of their wrongdoing using the lessons of Amazonian love. And if that doesn't work, by beating them "until they cry for their sainted mothers."

I don't want to give a panel-by-panel recap, but I will mention that after an angry dude tries to chase her away with a blow torch, Diana rips off her smoldering breast plate and clobbers him with it. And incidentally, she's having a blast. I adore Gail Simone's current Wonder Woman series, but even her purposeful, compelling Diana isn't exacting social justice with her burning bra in a gleeful, topless fury. Cooke has her doing things like leaping from the stage into the crowd of men screaming "Hola, dogs!" I love this Wonder Woman, I want her to babysit my future children.

It's the final panel, however, that earns Darwyn Cooke a good solid hundred, hundred and fifty points in the struggle to satisfy feminist comic book readers. As the heroines are leaving and the bunnies stand there dumbstruck next to a pile of pulpified men, Black Canary laments that no one will know what happened because Diana beat up any reporters that might have been in the room. Then one of the girls says "Whatcha doin, Gloria?" to the bunny next to her--a bespectacled redhead who is scribbling in a notebook and winking at the reader. OMG, HA!

Now here's what I think is the best part about that, in a comic book industry where females are often ambivalent about their fandom. If I had to wager, I'd say that a statistically significant percentage of people who read this book don't know that Gloria Steinem went undercover as a Playboy Bunny in the 1960s for a seminal article about the enterprise's treatment of women. Or if their sainted mother told them once, they forget the details. I could be wrong, but I've seen the Newsarama message boards, I don't think it's beyond the realm of possibility. What's impressive is that Darwyn Cooke's kicker for this story--in a mainstream DC superhero comic--was a wink-nudge, unexplained cultural reference where women are the insiders who would most appreciate it. Sure, the whole story is all girl-powery, and that's great, but boys who read comic books are happy to see the hot ladies kick some ass in any context, really. The Steinem thing, however, takes the earlier burning bra metaphor and makes it more than a humorous Wonder-Woman's-boobies plot device. And of course there are many men, like my own, who got the joke completely. But I don't think they got the shiver of appreciation that I did. Giggle handshake chest thump.


Anonymous said...

I MUST get this one now. I read that article of Gloria's when it was published in a collection entitled "Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions". Yay Darwyn for a tip of the hat!

Anonymous said...

I loved this issue too, and that whole Glora Steinem reference.

"I love this Wonder Woman, I want her to babysit my future children." That made me laugh hard.

Phillip said...

That also dovetails with the cover of the first issue of Gloria's Ms. Magazine. Awesome reference.