Wonder Woman is unique in how universally she is known as an iconic character, without actually having a comparatively strong customer base for her comic books. While her performance as a comic-book character has, at times, been strong, many more people seem to be happy to call themselves “fans” of Wonder Woman without having any interest in reading about her. Perhaps this is due to the efficacy with which her likeness has been used to sell all manner of products, from cosmetics to voting. She has become an icon of Amazonian strength, something which hasn’t always been the focus in her comic books, and an aspirational figure for a generation who have no interest and little access to looking past the superficial trappings of the character.
Growing up in the late ’80’s, I read and loved George Perez’ Wonder Woman comic books from the late ’80’s. After re-reading them recently, I was struck by how much of my value system he influenced with his stories of a powerful and highly principled woman.
Without avoiding controversy or fashions of the time, Perez managed to create a Wonder Woman to appeal to all ages of readers while also giving her space to impart moral lessons about humility and kindness. This juggling act of Perez’s wasn’t easy, and these days the Wonder Woman of DC’s new line of comic books is neither a compelling iconic hero, nor an appropriate role model for young children.
It is important to me that future generations of women have this colorful and powerful symbol of strength to enjoy, and so I have been looking for ways to disseminate this basic concept of Wonder Woman – a strong, iconic, independent warrior woman – to a younger demographic, outside of her current comic-book incarnation. For my 6-year-old cousin, I found a Fisher Price Little People Wonder Woman figure to play with, but I struggled with how to convey the concept of the character to her.
Since the current ongoing Wonder Woman comic book title is targeted at an adult audience, and the odd all-ages specials are lacking the enticing character or quality I was looking for, I turned to animation.
Justice League can work, at least to tease the character, it is definitely the Wonder Woman I want to share with young girls; strong, intelligent, brave, confident, compassionate, and assertive. Unfortunately it is Wonder Woman in a team context, lacking the independence of a focused story. For a young child, what I tried to find was something akin to the Super Best Friends Forever, something using a similar stylistic shorthand to convey some very basic (but essential) elements of the character. Eventually I stumbled on to Robert Valley’s short for DC Nation, a stylish departure for the character and a much-needed update to the old workhorse image.
Using his fashion-forward Giacometti-esque perspective, Valley streamlines Wonder Woman’s look and gives us an invisible hot-rod. Ready for action, this is still the battle-ready hero we need, recognizable even in her shorts and her red baby-T.
Wonder Woman as an iconic, inspirational figure cannot be perpetuated by continuing to play in the very limited, middle-aged men’s playground which DC Comics has shown itself to be, (as they so memorably stated recently “We don’t publish comics for kids. We publish comics for 45-year olds.”). There appears to be little sensitivity or interest in broadening the market or extending reach towards a new, different audience. Conversely, DC Nation has shown a willingness to explore the boundaries of their audience with surreal and fashionable takes on established characters, like the Robert Valley short, and so logically, we should now look to artists outside of DC comics to DC Nation. Playing with the icon is a great way to show us the possibilities and potential of a Wonder Woman for future generations within an area of the industry less enamored of a narrow, aging demographic. It is as children that we grew to love Wonder Woman, and that is the audience we need to court now in order to perpetuate and grow her appeal.