Friday, January 11, 2008

Wonder Woman: Amazon, Superhero, Playmate

Not surprised by the cover to the February issue of Playboy (NSFW link) making the rounds on the Internet, showing a naked model with the Wonder Woman costume painted on to her flesh.

Some comments on the story on the blog Jezebel caught my attention:

"If female comic book heroes weren't regularly dressed like whores, I'd be more upset. Since they are, this is merely a logical extension of that, sorry to say."

"You mean people interpret WW's classic hot shorts & and corset top as a sexy-crime-fighting uniform for some years now? I'm baffled."

"Also, funnily enough, her costume in that picture is waaaaay closer to the way Wonder Woman looks in the comic books than anyone with an actual costume ever gets."

"Did they at least keep it authentically Wonder Woman and do a whole lesbian bondage themed spread?"

"Again, I think one of the points that folks are missing is that Wonder Woman hasn't been a feminist superhero for years (possibly not since her creation). She already IS a character designed for male consumption; Playboy hasn't appropriated anything."

There were also a number of female commenters who bemoaned the fact that this sullied their memories of their Wonder Woman underoos as a kid.

And, an interesting tangential point was brought up. Fashion magazines encourage women to be deathly thin & equate a twiggy figure with beauty -- but porn mags regularly show "healthy"-sized women. Which type of publication is more hateful/damaging to females?

As for me, like I said, I wasn't surprised by the Playboy thing. It was a cheap shot by the magazine, to be sure. But I would be far more outraged if this happened to Batgirl or Supergirl. To me, Batgirl was always the true feminist superheroine -- smart, independent, and under-sexualized. Supergirl was the virginal innocent -- originally portrayed as your own kid sister or cousin.

But, Wonder Woman was created by a dude with really strong and weird opinions about women & sex -- he referred to women's vaginas as their "love parts" -- and all that baggage couldn't help but taint that character. Adventurous, resourceful Batgirl is the superheroine I wanted to be. Wonder Woman was half-naked. Now, in Playboy, she's all naked. Look at the proportions and pose of that Playboy cover and compare it to that of a Terry Dodson Wonder Woman cover -- outside of the nipples, how do these images differ?

My God, if anything, the oft-reviled Adam Hughes covers actually portray a Wonder Woman far "deeper" than the Dodson covers:

I state again my belief that there is a time and place and need for this sort of cheesecake stuff, whether it's a superheroine's costume design or Playboy in general. But it's erotica. Wonder Woman is an erotic figure. This controversy just states the obvious.

Which is not to say that WW can't be/has not been redeemed and made into a character that women and girls can truly look up to. But I will finally believe this when she's no longer drawn by cheesecake artists. I'll believe it when she's no longer half-naked. I'll believe it when they get somebody like Michael Gaydos drawing the book.

But all those things will never happen. Because Wonder Woman as erotic object is very very very very MARKETABLE.

And there is nothing wrong with marketability. But, let's not be shocked by the porn thing.


  1. Well, that's the thing, isn't it?

    Soft-core porn like Playboy or Penthouse is created by straight men for the consumption of straight men.

    Fashion photography is created by mostly gay men and a few straight women for the consumption of straight women and a few gay men.

    I think if there was a broad-based (heh) and honest effort to explain to young women that... depictions of women in fashion and television and film have pretty much nothing to do with what men find attractive and...

    Everything to do with gay fellas trying to make women look like twinkish men so that they like what they look like and what... type-A overcompetitive straight women want to compete over...

    I think we'd make a whole lot of progress about gender and sexuality in this culture really really quickly.

    I'm 6'6 and 290 pounds, for God's sake, how in the hell could Paris Hilton's heroin-chic body be attractive to me?

    I'd accidentally crack a rib trying to hug her, let alone... uh... getting any farther.

  2. I think that maybe the outrage is more at the "Modern Linda Carter" thing than at the photo itself.

    (And I just keep thinking of that conversation we had about superheroes as celebrities and which magazine would match which heroine... If only I had known)

  3. In other news, the Wonder Woman redesigns at Project Rooftop were terrific. And some even included a skirt! Or *gasp* pants!

    I've always found it odd that superheroes would go into battle wearing the equivalent of a bathing suit. Even the invulnerable guys don't fight in skimpy duds (other than Namor and Hulk).

  4. ...This is a controversy? It's freakin' PLAYBOY.

  5. I pretty much agree with you; I would go a step further & say that Batgirl or Supergirl wouldn't piss me off either because YEAH, it is erotica. It isn't weird to sexualized heroes! If anything, it reinforces the power dynamic. I mean-- actual pornography is often degrading & messed up, but pin-up (Playboy) & erotica are not evil by virtue of their nature. Sex isn't evil, & wanting to have sex with Wonder Woman (or girls dressed like Wonder Woman) isn't weird.

    That said, I think the ACTUAL WW could really do with a costume evolution. I don't even mean that she can't ever wear this outfit. The fans positive reaction to "hardcore Wonder Woman costumes" like Kingdom Come & whatever else? Is proof enough that it would work. I really like the greek warrior skirt & think that should be status quo.

    I still think the best WW cover is the Hiketeia.

    I am a fan of the "rock, paper, scissors" Big Three-- Batman beats Superman, Superman beats Wonder Woman, Wonder Woman beats Batman.

  6. I'm surprised they can do this legally. Isn't the playboy costume close enough that it could be considered copyright infringement?

  7. A turning point for me in comics came when I was reading a Batgirl story pencilled by ... someone with a two part name ... Von Eden? Does that sound right? ... Anyway, there was this two page splash of her leaping across the rooftops -- standard hero-broadly-sailing-through-the-air pose -- and her bosom was ... moderate, moderate if not small ... exactly what you would expect for a highly athletic woman.

    And it was like a light bulp. PingI "D'uh!" I'd never thought about the intentionally eroticized nature of superheroines before that.

    I agree, there's a time and a place and nothing inherantly wrong with deciding that certain heroes will have a more pronounced sex appeal. I just wish such things were more character driven and more consistently presented. Too often the "time and place" is "all the time/any place". I mean, c'mon, the Invisible Woman has all these things going on with her as a character. I don't need her to be a smokin' hot MILF at the same time.

  8. My thought is that everything after Golden Age Wonder Woman has been a mistake, that Marston got it right when he created Wonder Woman as the wonderfully twisted woman with a rich, fully mythos behind her unmatched by an superhero before or since. I did like the Perez version of Wonder Woman but too many feminists and SNAGs think they OWN Wonder Woman just because they LIKE her. If Wonder Woman belongs to anyone, it's to the straight young males whose money keeps the book in business.

    My article on the topic: