Thursday, July 1, 2010

I like it.

Comic Book fans are a notoriously conservative lot. We want fresh and exciting stories that feature our favorite characters, but we also have a resistance to change.

The new Wonder Woman's costume designed by Jim Lee is no exception. With the introduction of her costume change in Wonder Woman #600, the blogosphere has erupted with commentary.

We've been down this road before: the black Spider-man costume, Az-bats, Electro-Superman, etc. Sometimes costume changes gain acceptance or they are so subtle that it's hard to actually notice the alterations. Frequently the more bold changes are reversed within a short period of time and this might be no exception.

This also hasn't been the first time Princess Diana has changed her look. After losing her powers in the 70s, she sported a white jumpsuit and she wore a jacket and bike shorts while being replaced by Artemis in the 90s.

One thing this costume change has that is different from her previous ones is that it retains many of the basic elements of the original. There still is the tiara, bracelets, golden lasso, and WW symbol while retaining red and blue colors mixed with a new black element.

Still, that hasn't prevented a largely negative response to the new look. Some feel that the attempt to make her more fashionable falls flat as it reflects a male viewpoint of women's style while making significant changes to an iconic image.

For myself, I find that the changes made are long past due. For quite some time I've favored a move away from the more traditional tights and capes look that have dominated superhero comics for the past 70 years. In the 80s there was a period where more comics chose to dress their characters in street clothes or some hybrid with traditional costumes. This was most frequently found with the addition of jackets to many a characters' wardrobe. While this quickly became a cliche, I felt that they were on the right path.

As was demonstrated by shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Heroes, you can have your super heroes and make them memorable through good characterization not flashy outfits.

Don't get me wrong, I love the traditional super hero costume. Yet, as more superhero stories attempt to appeal to a more mature readership it becomes difficult to take such stories seriously when the central characters are wearing outfits designed to appeal to the imaginations of young children.

In addition, adapting all of these costumes to the page seems to place an unfair burden on many artists. Instead of forcing them to draw bodies that fit well into tights and making ornaments like capes appear practical, let them just focus on drawing people for a change. People that can represent a variety of ages, ethnicities, emotions, and personalities.

Perhaps it might be time to use the traditional superhero outfit as a divider between the readers of comics. If you are producing a comic aimed at young children or all-ages, then use the traditional Wonder Woman outfit. For stories aimed at an older audience give her something to wear that might be more respectable in the "real" world. There's no reason that a character can only wear one kind of costume at any one time, we change our looks every day.

Another point I'd like to make is about the current state of Wonder Woman in comics. For several years, her comics have tended to sell poorly. This is in spite of some memorable runs by creators that include: George Perez, Phil Jimenez, John Byrne, Greg Rucka, Gail Simone, and many more.

It seems like the only reason her series has not been permanently canceled is because of the legacy that she represents. She is one of the most iconic symbols of all time, but that hasn't translated into consistent sales.

I believe that the critics of the change in her look are sincere in their appreciation of her, but how many of them have been regular readers of the series with the old look? If the traditional Wonder Woman formula is so great, why isn't she a top 100 seller?

Time will tell if the new story direction reflects well, but for now I applaud the new look and hope that it is able to take hold.