Wonder of Wonders

Fri, January 29th, 2010 at 10:58am PST

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PARADISE HIGHLANDS
Wonder Woman thoughts from Scotland

by Martin Gray

The original ... and best?

Love it or hate it, everybody knows Wonder Woman's costume. Yes, the details might change according to fashion and artistic whim - culottes to shorts to hotpants to thong, eagle bodice to double-W, tiara over or under hair - but the basics remain the same. Golden tiara with red star, yellow and red bodice, star-spangled shorts, red boots...there have been times when Diana hung up the costume, but the new looks never stuck.

In the Sixties, desperate to increase sales and create buzz, a revamp of Wonder Woman saw her Amazon powers vanish and the costume replaced by mad Mod garments as Diana unofficially took her inspiration not from the Classical gods but from TV's Emma Peel. Such a fashion fan was she that she even ran a boutique. But the perceived need for characters to have a recognisable costume theme meant that whatever the occasion, Groovy Di Prince was soon dressing all in white, all the time.

But times changed, and after feminist thinker Gloria Steinem publicly came out in favour of the traditional Wonder Woman colours, DC capitulated and returned Diana Prince to her role as Wonder Woman, complete with with red, white and blue costume.

In the Nineties, writer Bill Messner-Loebs had Diana lose the Wonder Woman position for awhile to fellow Amazon Artemis, leading the princess to don a more modern ensemble created by artist Brian Bolland. Some readers loved it, many hated it, but for me the "biker chick" look was an imaginative update...and we all knew it'd be gone with the storyline. Oh, and Messner-Loebs also had Diana don a rather fetching new look after being kidnapped by space slavers.

But the iconic look always returns.

The argument, as I understand it, is that the needs of marketing demand that the Diana in the comics matches the Diana of tee shirt, flip flops and fridge magnet fame. Because it's not like the comics came first, or anything.

Sixties style goddess and yoga fanatic

But why, exactly? How many people who remember Diana from her Seventies telly show, or know her from the more modern Justice League cartoons, and then buy a product on impulse, are later going to try the comic book? Very few, it seems, if issue sales - falling along with most titles these days - are anything to go by. Of those that might look at the comic, are their heads really going to explode with confusion if there's a character in there called Wonder Woman with features akin to their mousemat heroine, but wearing something different? Is the person on the street so stupid that they'd be utterly bewildered and never buy another issue? I'd argue there are plenty of factors in comics today more likely to deter a casual buyer from becoming a regular reader, such as price, overlong "arcs" (in my day we just called 'em stories) and the problem of actually finding the things on sale.

Then there's the oft-mooted Wonder Woman film, which you can file under "Believe it when you see it." It's been in development hell for years, and if a big budget movie ever does get made, do you think it'll matter one whit to the producers what Diana is wearing in the comic? Did it bother the producers of Iron Man or Batman, both of which proved massive hits? In the Eighties, knowing a Supergirl movie was coming, DC changed Kara's costume from her well-liked Seventies look to an outfit more suited to Olivia Newton John's "Physical" video than a sane super-heroine. And then the film went with something else, leaving Supergirl stuck with freaky curls and super-sweatband (making her death soon afterwards a mercy).

Nope, should a Wondy film show up, DC will possibly tweak the costume in line with the film; meanwhile, there's no point holding back creativity for something that might never happen.

So the heck with marketing and the film as an excuse. It's the 21st century, Wonder Woman's occasionally rebooted comic is getting a 600th issue in line with its original publication history and it's the perfect time for Diana to follow her patron Venus and make a splash. But rather than emerge naked from a clamshell, she should disembark the Invisible Plane in a new costume fit for a princess.

And I don't mean a Barbie-style royal or, heaven forbid, that Xena rip-off. I mean a costume uniquely suited to Diana, princess of Themiscyra, and her personality, background and mission. A tall order, but one well up to the creatives in the industry if they're given leeway to let the imagination run wild.

A new costume, properly introduced and supported by DC Comics owner Time Warner, could make a massive media splash, sparking interest in Diana's comic and fuelling demand for a film. More importantly for Time Warner, it introduces 1001 fresh marketing opportunities. Just think of all the dolls (action figures indeed!), items of clothing and Slurpee cups just waiting to be redesigned.

And there's no reason the original costume can't still appear anywhere DC and its licensing partners wish. Brand one as Wonder Woman and the other as the Original Wonder Woman and should the new look eventually go the way of Classic Coke, the original outfit is still in the public consciousness. How many little girls wouldn't want both Wonder Woman nighties?

The perfect ensemble for tackling space slavers

And wouldn't those same kids be even more excited to buy if they'd had a stake in the new look? If they'd been asked to help with the redesign?

That's right, I'm proposing a contest.

In the Sixties and early Seventies DC Comics would use reader suggestions when a new look was needed for the Supergirl and Legion of Super-Heroes strips (fellow WoW columnist Carol Strickland's Light Lass costume was such a nicely thought out look that it's been the basis for her visual ever since). It was fun for the readers and helped invest them in the strips.

I'd like to see that on a bigger scale; not just an in-comic competition, or even across DC's entire line, but one open to comics fans and non-comic fans alike. Call it, say, Wonder Woman: the Look of a Legend.

  • Email info packs to schools and youth groups with templates and design brief (stars and a tiara must feature, say), images of Wonder Woman's costume through the years, plus a character profile of Diana, perhaps in strip form. And mention where entrants - all of whom are designated Wonder Scouts - may find DC Comics locally. Suggest to the pupils that they let their local press know they're redesigning Wondy. I work in newspapers, we love any excuse to feature kiddie art and photos. Names and faces sell papers - and get Wonder Woman's name out there. Remember, plenty of people who buy products featuring Diana's image don't even realise she has a comic, they think she's a heritage character.

  • Get the teenage mags involved, challenging readers to help make Wonder Woman a heroine for today, with a link to a DC mini-website featuring a slightly aged-up version of the schools info pack.

  • See if any of the womens fashion magazines would take up the story, even if they just run a brief item with a link in their news section, that's something.

  • Get TV fashion design show Project Runway to feature the Wonder Woman project as an offbeat assignment - wouldn't the characters the show attracts just love to tackle such an offbeat challenge? Heck, maybe even a famous designer or two would throw their couture hat into the ring - imagine a costume created by Cher's chum Bob Mackie! Could Diana actually twirl the lasso around all those feathers?

  • As entries come in, DC shows them on a website open to public vote. Maybe a one-off magazine could be produced showing the history of the Wonder-costume and showcasing incoming designs as worked up by DC artists. Finally, the top ten are made up and a catwalk parade held at...well, it may be a stretch to get New York Fashion Week behind the fun, but how about San Diego Comic-Con? That'd likely net the project some publicity on Entertainment Tonight and other TV shows. Whichever celebs are pushing their new films could judge, with DC having the veto.
Diana swaps bathing suit for Hell's Angel chic

Obviously, not all of this would come off, but some of it would, and it wouldn't take a lot of money on DC's part - a couple of bright interns could get the ball rolling enough for the contest to gather momentum. It would take a bit of time, which is why I'd announce the new costume as debuting in 2012, Wonder Woman's 70th birthday. The result would be announced on Wonder Woman Day, the anniversary of All-Star Comics #8 (dated December-January 1941-42, so likely October sometime).

At the very least the contest would bring some buzz to the Wonder Woman character (or as they say in Marketing, property). A proportion of kids would get excited about comics and some would become readers, maybe even, God forbid, regular ones, if DC put out more low-priced, high-quality Johnny DC books where children can find them.

If the new costume proves popular, fantastic. If it winds up being pensioned off after five years, no harm, no foul - the contest would go down in comics history as a stunt, even if DC had been sincerely open to a permanent change. But everyone's had some fun along the way, Wonder Woman's gotten positive publicity, and she'd get another boost as she returns to the classic.

Go on DC, give it a go. And if you want a volunteer for the judging panel...

Martin Gray is a journalist in Edinburgh. He's a regular comics reviewer for, er, himself at Too Dangerous for a Girl: dangermart.blogspot.com. And if you want to see some truly awful Wonder Woman costume revamps - and one or two good ones - check out Carol Strickland's A Brief History of the Wonder Suit at http://www.carolastrickland.com/comics/wwcentral/costume_indices/wwcost1.html

TAGS:  wonder of wonders, wonder woman

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