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24Mar/110

Wonder Woman: Why the Costume Matters

Nothing can stir up quite so much trouble as a Superhero costume. Wonder Woman is back in the spotlight, with David E. Kelley's latest adaptation seeing fit to clad the usually fierce Adrianne Palicki in what appears to be very shiny latex.

Ex-Wonder Woman Lynda Carter has backed the new look, but within hours of it hitting the internet fans were rushing to post their own versions of what the costume should look like. Which, generally, isn't such a good sign. Why such the huge reaction to a costume? And is it really a Big Deal?

Wonder Woman Costume Last week the new costume from the upcoming Wonder Woman television pilot was unveiled. To say that fan reactions to the costume have not been kind would be a bit of an understatement. Opinions range from the outraged to the heartily amused and the new look has been derided as looking like a bargain Halloween outfit, with the occasional latex fetish playwear comment thrown in. In a world where current Superhero trends point towards the realistic and gritty, shiny and bright latex looks a tad out of place.

When it comes to contemporary Superhero adaptations there is an unwritten rule: a costume that works on the page will almost certainly not work on the screen. The best film and television portrayals are those that have created their own unique twist on the classic costumes that we all know and love. We'll (hopefully) never be seeing Wolverine in his bright yellow get-up, and even Schumacher knew better than to go with the old-school Robin look.

Wonder Woman's newest costume is lifted, in many different parts, from the comics with none of the tweaks to make it original and modern. This look is basically the old swimsuit one-piece with added leggings. The covered legs could well be a nod to Wonder Woman's latest look in the comics, but doesn't quite achieve the same sophisticated results given the material of choice. The heels are less easy to explain.

Wonder WomanIt's harder to do this in heels. Trust me.

When put together with the script that leaked back in February, things are not looking good for our favourite Super woman. David E. Kelley is well known for his successful television dramas, perhaps most notably Ally McBeal who shares her legal interests with Diana Prince, the secret identity of Wonder Woman. While I'd hoped that this may be a good sign of things to come, the leaks dashed pretty much everyone's hopes as Diana was in fact reduced to, well, to being Ally McBeal really. A woman who cries into her ice cream about men, worries that her merchandise sports bigger breasts than she does (while declaring “big tits save lives!”), and draws the line at them making a fat Wonder Woman doll. Because, y'know, that would be icky.

Excuse me, but wait just a darn minute. This is Wonder Woman. Of Themyscira. Island of strong Amazon women. Pal of Batman. Outspoken defender of women's rights. Does not compute. Ostensibly, this is to get the audience to sympathise with Diana, who is of course actually Wonderful in every way. But rather than making her more human, all this seems to serve is to weaken her. The audience is in fact capable of sympathising with a strong woman character who crusades for social justice, has her own superpowers, and doesn't need a man. Wonder Woman has been in comics since 1941; she's not about to run out of fans now.

But if comic fans in general are bemused by this latest incarnation of Wonder Woman, her own fans are absolutely gutted. As the first female superhero, Wonder Woman has had many troubles throughout her lifetime. She may have had questionably kinky origins (her creator William Marston believed less in feminism and more in female dominance, and also, um, bondage), but the Comic Code back in the 50's crushed her feminist leanings; she was seen as a bad role model for young girls, her forceful nature and energy giving her readers quite the wrong impression of a girls proper place in society. DC, her publisher, had their own code that declared that the “inclusion of females in stories is specifically discouraged... Women, when used in plot structure, should be secondary in importance”. Oh. Not so great for Wonder Woman then.

Lynda Carter as Wonder WomanWonder Woman, leading girls astray.

Wonder Woman does suffer the same fate as most other women in comics: she is very overly sexualised (count the panels that angle down her bust or up her legs for example). But Wonder Woman was still one of the first women in comics to have muscles, to have strength, to have her own career without need of a man, and in the past certainly if not the present, that was quite groundbreaking. Her most famous look is that portrayed by Lynda Carter in the 70s, which is actually quite close to Kelley's new version (minus the latex). Her rippling muscles were shown off to their best effect, and she had ditched the earlier mini skirt for the swimsuit look. She dallied with trousers in comics back in the late 60s when she gave up her powers and became a martial arts mod, but the success of the television show soon saw her return to her more classical look, and her powers.

In 2010, Wonder Woman was given her new darker, grittier look, which was met with much consternation from the comic fandom. Gone was the spandex one-piece, Wonder Woman now wore the trousers dammit. Her top was given straps rather than magical gravity defying breast holders, and the muted colour scheme distanced her from the US flag waving set as well as matching her always darkening personality. It was a drastic change after decades of her costumes changing little, and the reaction from her female fans was pretty positive: things were at least moving in the right direction. Undoing the sexualisation of a comic character is far more complex than simply covering them in clothing, but to remove the focus away from her bust and legs was still a big step.

A big step that now perhaps has been completely undone. The image brought to mind today at the mention of Wonder Woman is that of the latex and shine, of the “cheap Halloween costume” as so many are labelling it. The costume is of another era, an era past, and refuses to be taken seriously.

Wonder Woman is FierceRawr!

Diana Prince isn't just the most famous women Superhero, she's a feminist icon. She is strong, powerful, and seeks to bring peace to the world. But now, once again, she is forced into a sexualised costume where everything is focused on her looks, and into a personality that has her obsessing over her breasts, laughing at fat people, and crying herself to sleep over a man.

On its own, perhaps this isn't of great importance, perhaps there are bigger concerns to be worrying ourself with. But when it is symptomatic of the way women have been portrayed in comics and other media for decades, it's rather hard to ignore. If the super strong, super powered, super good Wonder Woman can be reduced to eye fodder – what chance does anyone else have?

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