Friday, January 08, 2010

Hero of the Week 2010 #1: Wonder Woman

Real Name: Diana
First Appearance: All-Star Comics #8 (December, 1941)
Group Affiliation: New Guardians, Amazons, Justice League
Gaming Credentials: Justice League: Task Force (1995); Justice League: Injustice for All (2002); Justice League Chronicles (2003); Justice League Heroes (2006); Justice League Heroes: The Flash (2006); Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe (2008); DC Universe Online (TBR)
Infinite Wars Cumulative Ranking: #13

It's not easy being Wonder Woman!

Not only does she have to contest personal nemesis, manipulative gods, and the over ambitious villains who spill over from her Justice League colleagues, but she also shoulders the burden of being a public female superhero. If you haven't thought about it before, you might not realise that that burden involves more than super sanitary products, hairspray, and double-sided tape -- there's a very important real-world countenance to being a significant female pop culture icon.

In the comics, Wonder Woman has the conflicting duality of being both a diplomat of peace, and a sword-wielding kicker of butt from the Amazon island of Themyscira. She's not just a card carrying member of the JLA, but also an icon to man and super-man alike -- a heroic figure who has adopted the United States of America as her home, and adorned herself in the red, white, and blue, of the flag.

Here in the land of non-fiction, she's regarded as one of the trinity of major popculture icons, alongside Superman and Batman, that headline DC comics. While it's a reasonable title for a character that's weathered seventy years in print, it's not necessarily an accolade that lines up with her in-fiction portrayals, or her penetration as a comic book hero.

Truth be told, it's been a good few decades since Wonder Woman has cracked the top of any sales chart. One would like to think DC comics would have the dedication to keep their character alive in the face of any adversity, but there's every likelihood that, were a contract not in place to demand monthly publication as a stipulation of DC's ownership, the heroine would've fallen out of print long ago.

These varying factors have led Wonder Woman to be an incredibly complicated character, despite the relative simplicity of her design as a beacon of truth and justice. DC have struggled to find a definitive account of the character, constantly revamping their approach in an effort to bring Wonder Woman to the level of intrigue that her status as the best known woman in comics suggests.

The release of Bayonetta has renewed discussion in the webspace about sex relations in games.
Speaking relatively, video games have actually been reasonably progressive in the acknowledgment of strong female role models. There's the unfortunate omnipresence of double-D busts that come with characters like Lara Croft or Mai Shiranui, but even those prominent curvacious figures have contributed something to the battle of sexes along with iconic female heroines like Samus Aran, Chun-Li, and Sonya Blade. Heck, by 1988's release of Super Mario Bros. 2, even Princess Peach was burning bras and smashing glass ceilings, as she went from damsel in distress, to gliding playable protagonist!

It's fair to say American superhero comics have had their fair share of femme fatales, as well.
Behind Wonder Woman is a long line of lady liberators ready to represent the fairer sex, including Catwoman, Invisible Woman, She-Hulk, Powergirl, Batwoman, Storm, Jean Grey, Supergirl, Ms. MarvelHawkgirl, Witchblade, and a whole host of others, each running the gamut of personality traits, powers, and roles within their stories. Even so, for the most part, women remain a slight minority in a world where boof-headed hunks of muscle spend their time busting faces and oozing testosterone.

This first HOTW of the year was inspired by the release of DC's Blackest Night #6, which converts several of their iconic heroes into barers of Lantern powerrings that represent different aspects of the cosmic emotional spectrum. Wonder Woman numbers among these, converted into a violet-themed "Star Sapphire" for her capacity to love [pictured right].

Blackest Night has been heavily anchored by the manifestation of characters who represent these coloured rings and emotionally driven Corps. Wonder Woman -- famously referred to as an ambassador for peace -- rightly fits the bill for the violet power of love, but there's a reasonable argument to be made about her conversion which has resulted in an even more suggestive pink costume than her traditional star-spangled panties and golden bustier. An argument over whether or not this is a just depiction of a character whose responsibilities go far beyond breaking the jaws of evil doers and spreading goodwill to all of mankind.

It's the type of dialogue that consistently arises in comics, represented, but not defined by, the phenomenon of Women in Refridgerators -- a phrase coined by writer Gail Simone and her collaborators on an original site that discussed the use of women as disposable mcguffins [referring to the demise of a Green Lantern's girlfriend in the nineties].
When Fangirls Attack is a prominent hub for links to these types of discussions, and an extension of the "WiR" phenomenon, which arguably borders on sensationalist argument, but is a symptom of a realistic male dominance of the superhero super-genre.

Wonder Woman -- as a long standing popculture icon as relevant to video games as she is comics -- will always be a heavily scrutinized figure. Unfortunately, this high profile status and the jostling claims to the character have harmed her as a fictional entity, as much as it's helped. Wonder Woman may remain in the spotlight, but corporate sensitivities have frozen the character in an often bland state of mediocrity. Discussing the definitive Wonder Woman has become a nigh impossible task, with alarmist opinion often undermining any involvement of complexity the character might have in events like, Final Crisis; where she was dispatched by a mind controlled Mary Marvel, or Blackest Night; where she now shares the sexually provocative design of the Star Sapphire character(s).

This dissemination of characters and their handling by creators is something I don't think video games have really succumbed to, which, in a strange way, has allowed a more open acceptance of sexuality. Bayonetta is one example of a character that will inevitably offend, but I wonder if the conditions of video games have allowed a lighter, and consequently, better balanced analysis of what it means to be an empowered female in the modern world. The Lara Croft phenomenon of the mid-to-late nineties certainly proves that there can be more to a character than overt sexuality, and that attentions can lapse, just as easily.

Video games aren't generally regarded for their penetrating reflection of the human condition.
They certainly do, however, reflect as much as any other artform or entertainment exploit, speaking to the best and worst of our society. Video games and comic books have so many things in common, but by boosting characters like Samus and Chun-Li to the very top of the pile in their early days, it seems gaming has had an advantage over the print medium.

Wonder Woman introduces Raiden to the bloody-side of her Amazon fist!

Wonder Woman featured as one of the hard-hitting heroes in Mortal Kombat versus DC Universe in 2008, and will return to video games later this year as one of the many iconic heroes walking the world of DC Universe Online. In comics, you'll find Wonder Woman appearing prominently in DC's mega event series, Blackest Night, in her own three-issue spin-off, Blackest Night: Wonder Woman, and in her solo series, Wonder Woman. Check out for more info!

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