Dressing Wonder Woman. Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Put On Pants

Quick! Picture Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman in your head...how are you imagining them? Tights, capes, bright colours, and a bathing suit, correct? Wait...why are you picturing Batman in a bathing suit?

"Quick! To the nightmares of children, Robin!"

Earlier this week, DC rolled out some new designs for our favourite trinity of Superheroes - that don't wield hammers, shields or turn green with anger - and so far, the public opinion is divided. Especially concerning Wonder Woman's new duds. You're either applauding DC's decision to 'cover up' their lead female character after 50+ years or, you're a sexist jerk who wants to keep her exposed to salivating, virginal fanboys. I'm being sarcastic, of course, but judging by the knee jerk reactions this topic is getting, I figure I'd best be clear. Primarily because, with this article, I'm immediately going into a no-win situation. You see, I'm mostly known for being a pin-up artist - or, a 'cheesecake' artist if you will. And for many, that immediately invalidates my opinion on this subject. The hair trigger response I've seen to my kind in regards to our opinion on the new costume is "oh, so you think she should be strutting around in a thong with her boobs popping out?" Sigh. No. No, I don't think that...as a red-blooded male, I would enjoy it, yes, but that's not the character of Wonder Woman. And this is where I clarify that bit.

The new Wonder Woman...aka Kitchen Sink Lady

In addition to being a 'professional pervert', I'm also a character designer with almost 20 years of experience, thank-you-very-much, and in my honest opinion, the costume is over-designed, and very likely 'designed by committee'. And before I go any further, I want you to think on that word - honest - because that's going to be the theme of this piece. I'm going to be dropping honesty bombs like Spinderella drops a beat, yo!

Spinderella with Salt N Pepa. Pictured here in pants.

DC has been on the receiving end of a lot of flack over their portrayal of women since the debut of the "New 52", especially in the depiction of Starfire (now a barely clothed, vapid, sex toy) and a still-pantsless Wonder Woman. Starfire's primary audience comes from the Teen Titans animated series, where she was a fan favourite to millions of little girls. Her costume was fun and cute, and suited her character perfectly. It showed a little bit of skin, but nothing that would be excessive for your typical Nickelodeon teen show. Now, her comic version was always on the skimpy side, but the latest design put it in Penthouse Forum territory (that's still a thing, right?). There was a fan outrage from people who actually care about this character and yet, DC has taken no steps to rectify this situation. And this is where I'm curious about things. Does Wonder Woman seriously have the same sort of passionate fanbase? She's a wider known 'brand' to the general public, but does anyone who is thumping their hands on the ground about her lack of pants even read her comics? With this kind of outrage, you would imagine that Wonder Woman would be the top selling female DC comic. However, that honour belongs to Harley Quinn, a character who actually started out being more covered than a ginger in the desert, but now exposes more skin than Miley Cyrus's Instagram account.

"Tee hee. I shop at Sears"

Wonder Woman has gone through several new 'conservative' looks in the last 4 years and each one was heralded with the headline of "Finally! Pants on Wonder Woman!" This might just be my male insensitivity TM, but how important are the pants for this character? Is there anything about her background that would suggest her life might be improved by not having to shave above the knees a few times a week? If we do a little historical research on Greek warrior women, we find out that exposed legs and arms are perfectly reasonable. We accept this sort of costume from gymnasts, ballerinas,  acrobats, weight-lifters, and dancers, so why the outrage for a 50 year old superhero? And I'm sorry, but if you watch any of those reality dance shows, the female contestants make Wonder Woman look like she's wearing a burqa.

No pants were harmed in the making of this photo

And this brings us back to the covering up of Wonder Woman. From the look of the new Wonder Woman costume, I'd hazard a guess that all the black/blue bits were once left exposed in the initial design. Then, committee member #6 looked at it and said "The dames are still gonna have a problem wit dis, yous guys. Cover dem bits up." So they gave her tights under her armour, which has the same aesthetic as wearing a hoodie under a tank top. It just looks bad and unnecessary. Especially the priest collar. There needs to be a unifying theme for a design to be successful and at the moment, Wonder Woman could be better renamed as American Warrior Ninja Priestess. There's nothing there that says Greek or Amazonian heritage. This design is a first draft effort in my opinion and the next step is stripping away the elements that don't work...and there are so many. But the real question is, do you create the design that best suits the character, or do you worry about what the vocal minority is going to say. The only way DC was ever going to win with a new costume for Wonder Woman, would be to have a female artist design it. And to be honest, they should have hired a professional female designer from the animation industry to come in and revamp the costume. Why someone that specializes in animation design? Because the most successful designs are the simplest. Take Bruce Timm's versions of the Justice League for example...they are simple, clean, and retain all of the characteristics that make that hero who they are with minimal clutter.

The latest designs for all of the heroes from Team DC are covered in seams and lines that work against the shape of the body instead of enhancing it like a professional clothing designer would do. While trying to defend their design choices, DC creators and fanboys have been pointing at Marvel's redesign of Captain Marvel and wondering why there wasn't the same controversy with her "putting on pants". Captain...or Ms. Marvel as she was once known, was also a member of the bathing suit brigade, and she was redesigned to have a full body suit that wouldn't look out of place on a male superhero. But you see, DC, the reason why there wasn't any outrage is because they did a GOOD design that suited the essence of the character. You guys gave Wonder Wolverine frickin' wrist blades! What purpose can they possibly serve a character with superhuman strength? I'm not going to make any jokes about the 90's calling and wanting their design back, because others have said much funnier things than I already.

A costume update done properly with taste and style

Alas, DC's executives seem to lack any sort of self-awareness of what once made their brand a success, and they are looking at business models and trends from the the 90's that almost ended up killing off the entire industry. The first rule in rebranding is the company needs to stand behind its new brand to show confidence to the public. Is DC doing this? Well, to an extent. They released the new designs to a variety of  mainstream publications to help generate some buzz among the general public. But are they showing confidence in their brand by pushing these new designs over all the old ones for merchandising? Not even close. The original Wonder Woman has a nostalgic 'cool factor' to her that has far more brand recognition than this temporary design will ever have. If they truly believed in this new costume, they would be pushing it hard, but the reality is, this is a publicity stunt to hype sales for a short period of time. In a year, we'll be seeing yet another costume on Wonder Woman as a new creative time takes over the comic.

So lets get a few things cleared up before I leave you all for another week. Am I a fan of the traditional costume? Honestly, no. It's too overtly 'American' without having a proper reason to be. I know, I know...there was a retcon of the character a few years back so that she wears the American flag as a tribute to her adopted country. But I've seen far better designs that keep the essence of her costume and bring forth her Amazonian/Greek heritage. In fact, the costume design for her first appearance on the silver screen is actually pretty bad ass. She looks like a warrior.

"Tell me again how to dress...I dare you."

This outfit serves a purpose and it's no more sexualized than Russel Crowe in Gladiator, or Kirk Douglas in Spartacus. Wonder Woman is nigh invulnerable so the armour is pretty redundant, but it still looks cool, and keeps all the essence of the character intact. And here's another honesty bomb... the real issue isn't whether she's wearing pants, it's how the artists choose to depict her. The cartoons show her as a powerhouse of a character, able to hold her own alongside Superman and Batman in a fight. She is a respected member of the Justice League and the way she's animated and framed in the series, reflects her distinguished role. She wears the traditional bathing suit style costume, but it's never sexualized....it's like watching a female high diver. The costume is basically the same, but what they do in it isn't for a viewer's sexual gratification.  However, the comics are another breed. Here, the bathing suit is usually a thong and there are all-too-frequent lingering butt and cleavage shots that reduce Wonder Woman to an object, rather than a role-model. Putting pants on her isn't going to fix this. Costumes in comics are basically a layer of paint over the skin anyway...and really, do yoga pants leave much to the imagination either? So perhaps its artists who need changing rather than the costume.

However, no matter what I say here, the proof will be with the public. So take a look around at the next comic convention you go to and pay attention to the Wonder Woman cosplayers. I have a feeling the traditional old costume will be the one you see everywhere, and it's here to stay for another 50 years.


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