Wonder Woman for Empowerment: The Female form in comics

DC Comics

Coming affront about the abuse that is inherent in the comic book industry is kind of scary, however, with Wonder Woman being chosen as the face of Female Empowerment by the UN, we need to at least consider some things that have been wrong with the industry in the past and in the present. Let us first take the case in point, Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman when she first started had very subtle sexual themes playing throughout, this became more and more apparent in some places. However, that in itself is not bad, but, somewhere Wonder Woman’s characterisation was that of a pin-up girl at first, even though progressively she left that baggage and became the Diana Prince we adore today. However, this also coincides with the fact that the comic book industry itself has many superheroines tailor-made to appeal to the male gaze. The overzealous breasts, the low necklines, the long legs, everything to create a cornerstone for what they believe is the underlying sexual appeal of the female form.

This has changed of course. Batgirl’s version by Babs Tarr featured a costume that many were overjoyed about because of how functional and great it looked, plus, it came with an art change that was beautiful. However, for a few like Wonder Woman and Power Girl the equation has more or less remained the same. The recent run on DC 52 for Wonder Woman is an exception. It is not wrong to be voluptuous indeed but, putting in context it becomes quite clear that it was made to relate to the heterosexual consumer base. This is also the consumer base that most fantasy gaming tries to attract and hence, the overwhelming majority of those have armor that is quite ridiculous, to begin with.

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This also comes from a comic book industry quite rife with abuse. As an artist came out yesteryear with her accusations, many of the comic book reader base were left with the disconcerting view of the comic book industry which scares us. However, we have had people like Bob Kane who denied rights to his co-artists for years so, it does not surprise me so much as it should. Perhaps, for most of the comic book readership who are aware of the underlying abusive narrative are comfortable with it because we have just gotten used to it.

We have got used to the fact that the main Wonder Woman book would more often than not have a male creator behind it, despite having female creators writing great Wonder Woman stories by the side. It isn’t very worrying that Greg Rucka is writing the book, he has always been positively feminist and holds a reputation for writing what was perhaps the best Wonder Woman run in the recent times (I personally prefer Simone’s run but, oh well). However, this is a view of the way female creators would often have a harder time making a name in the industry compared to the male counterparts, and this is not due to talent.

However, perhaps one of the most grievous debts the comic creators of Wonder Woman owe is to the queer community. Despite the obvious implications of the Amazonians as a queer community in the mythos (their man-hating isolated origins, the narrative underlying their creations, etc), there has been a remarkable amount of queer erasure in the stories. Recently, when Greg Rucka came out with the statement that Wonder Woman was obviously queer thus, it felt like a big win for the entire industry, but this is something that is problematic too. We would still probably never have her queer openly accepted on the comic book page. You could argue that it is not the point and that her warrior personality suffers from it, however, we have had relationships before too.

Wonder Woman as an icon is excellent, the warrior who struck a pose for all women, fought with medusa wearing a blindfold, had chauvinist villains who she fought against with ease, is an excellent choice, But, now is the time to have the discourse about how the comic book industry proactively has excluded women till now. Maybe, better stories will come out with it. Stories like Marguerite’s “DC Bombshells”, Noelle’s “Nimona” and “Lumberjanes” already have.

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Uttiya Roy

Coming from an emptying street in Kolkata, Uttiya fills empty houses in empty streets with colourful characters, some self-built, some read in books and comics. He writes to bridge the gaps between identities forged in mental sanctums and truths forged in realities. Just a fountain pen aficionado finding excuses to not write poetry by getting lost in books.

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