Saturday, February 26, 2011

Yeah, I'm still on about this guy.

Today's timewaster was a Steve Trevor tumblr. I've been bookmarking and saving so many panels the last couple weeks I just went ahead and set up a place to dump them. It's weird how stuff like this happens.

I always liked this character as a concept (and I've always found it deeply suspicious that the only prominent Silver Age love interest to get written away was the MALE character who had to be rescued by a female character), but until I looked through my stuff with an eye specifically for his parts I hadn't realized just how much I liked him as a character.

Wonder Woman's adventures tend to be divided between stuff in the US and stuff back on Themiscyra, and when it's set in the US (or starts there and goes to a special world) usually she has her boyfriend along for the ride. Sometimes she follows him, sometimes he follows her, but he's this really fun mixture of comedic sidekick, hapless eye-candy and love interest in the Silver Age.

He did get one leg up on a lot of female characters in that, being a male character, they let him actually fight and do stuff. Steve's a neat character in that he can and does take command of a situation when his girlfriend isn't around. He just seems to prefer to follow Wonder Woman's lead once she shows up, and this is something that shows up in Golden and Silver Age storylines. He's mostly looks and guts, but he's got some competence. I get the feeling a lot of people don't respect this character because they haven't really stopped and looked at anything with him in it.

I do find it pretty funny that I've spent several years making fun of Hal Jordan for getting bashed on the head, when there is this other character--who is not only a pilot but a MILITARY INTELLIGENCE EXPERT--who has a severe head injury in the origin story and gets conked on the head pretty much every appearance afterwards.

I strongly suspect the frequent head injuries are why he doesn't recognize his girlfriend, even when she is leaning over his bed saying "Take a CLOSE look, do you see ANY resemblance between me and Wonder Woman?" In retrospect, that might make the Diana Prince identity mean. The Golden Age story was she wanted to take care of him, the Silver Age story in issue #99 is that she wants to mess with his head, and the Silver Age story in #162 establishes that at first she wanted to care for him and then she got mad he didn't recognize her. To which I have to go "Umm... you were JUST worried about him having brain damage."

Fortunately, he is absolutely adorable when unconscious (a modern Endymion--which is a terribly creepy story when you think on it) and able to come up with something complimentary 99% of the time when regaining consciousness. And she thinks it's so admirable when he tries to do something brave, because he doesn't have any powers or equipment. It actually helps his love life that he gets knocked out so often.

I will be terribly disappointed if no one ever does a story with the Queen of Fables putting him to sleep, and Diana waking him up with a kiss.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Not So Many Loves of Wonder Woman: Aquaman

I never really got into Wonder Woman until Morrison's JLA (fortunately, the old TV series was in reruns on the scifi channel so I didn't have to just settle for the Byrne issues at the time) so the first love interest I ever saw for her was...


Honestly, I'm one of Those Fans who only found Aquaman stomachable during the 90s when he ran around barechested and bearded with a hook hand. I think part of it was his role on the JLA, though. He was this grumpy anti-social complainer surrounded by optimists. Even though he was completely out of his watery element in most stories, he seemed to fit, seemed to serve a purpose.

And I did enjoy the little ongoing plot with Wonder Woman, where the two seemed to be old friends but he was secretly attracted to her. It had a few things going for it. One, it gave Aquaman a reason to be cranky but still come along. Two, it was the only dynamic like that: Morrison didn't really develop sexual tension between Diana and Superman or Batman, and while he had Flash and Green Lantern discuss how attractive she was they never really fixated on it. Three, it was almost completely one-sided.

I liked it because it added a bit of character to Aquaman but had no chance of going anywhere. Diana didn't seem to think of him that way, and his own storyline wasn't open to pursue this. He spent time suppressing his attraction to her and she rolled her eyes at him and told him to stop being such a pompous all the time. It was a touch of melodrama in the background of an action-driven series.

Of course, Diana's had a lot of admirers like this, where she's the love interest for some curmudgeonly dude who won't get anywhere with her for various reasons. It was the first one I ever saw, though.

It was also the first time I ever saw a scene where I thought "That simply doesn't work." That was in the Mark Waid storyline with the Queen of Fables.

There's a scene where Diana is discovered to be asleep, Snow White-style, and Wally and Kyle are standing over her trying to figure out who should kiss her. Aquaman steps up, pushes them aside and tells them it's a job for a prince. Then, in a lovely splash page, he kisses Diana.

It's meant to be one of those great moments, those little bits that justify Aquaman being on the league and drive home his personality but... it seemed wrong.

And I don't mean wrong as in "I have consent issues with this fairy tale" wrong, I mean wrong as in "Hey. Wonder Woman should not be kissed awake by Aquaman" wrong.

Really, it's the exact same wrongness that makes the Queen of Fables a great villain for Wonder Woman. This villain thinks Diana is Snow White, and Diana is as far from Snow White as possible. Yes, black-haired white princess known for being the "Fairest in the land", but in a narrative role? Diana's not a princess who is tied to the kingdom and rescued. She isn't someone who is the daughter out on a specific quest to end a curse. Diana is the character who leaves home to seek fame and fortune. She's supposed to find love, her destiny, and make a name for herself before she returns home to take the throne.

Yes, Diana is a princess who's a superhero, I cannot emphasize this sort of girl appeal enough. But in a fairy tale character role? Diana's not the princess in this setup. Diana's role is that of the prince.

Wonder Woman doesn't get kissed by to life. Wonder Woman is the one who kisses the cursed character back to life.

And I enjoyed the storyline, and I like the villain who caused it, but that moment did change something for me. I didn't like Aquaman and Wonder Woman sexual tension anymore. His "stepping up to the plate" moment really suited his character but just jarred with Wonder Woman's natural place in the narrative. It broke the entire dynamic for me. It just seemed wrong.

I think, actually, it would have seemed less wrong with Wally or Kyle because neither had the same tension prior. Wally or Kyle would have just been "Oh man, I hope this works" with some teasing from Diana after. With Aquaman, it was this opportunity he'd wished for the entire series. The chance to swoop in and be Diana's Prince. It was basically his shot at being a man and winning her, and really Diana isn't a character you "Win" by being a traditional male hero who saves the girl. It would be disservice to her if that were to work. Fortunately, I think the editors and writers who thought this would be cool looked at that and went "Yeah... let's try Wonder Woman and Batman instead."

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A typical flight for Col. Trevor

From Wonder Woman #107, Gunslingers of Space!

I don't know how the industry at the time showed enough restraint to pass up a Silver Age team-up of Lois Lane and Steve Trevor, but if they were to appear in the same panel could anything less than the complete and total destruction of the DCU be the result?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

This is not an effective way to recapture the Golden Age appeal of Wonder Woman

Dustin Nguyen's Generation Lost #22 variant:

I'm not particularly angered by this. Don't get me wrong, I don't like it, but I'm long past outrage in this category. There's a long tradition of covers where Diana or another character is tied up with the lasso, that's just the nature of a story where the main character uses a lasso as a weapon.

And, of course, there's the infamous "bondage theme".

Honestly, I hate to address the "bondage theme" because the Internet and the Comics Industry have the same weakness here. A lot of people out there don't understand nuance and complexity. A lot of people out there don't understand that sexuality was simply an element of the Golden Age Wonder Woman, and that her appeal and her effect went far beyond crackshit pop Freudian analysis. A lot of people don't understand that yes, this character was intended for little girls, and that the bondage play elements had symbolism beyond the puerile ideal that everything that with a wink or a nod indicates that sex is the foundation.

So I'm going in here today, and possibly in the next few posts, and I'm going to say flat out that acknowledging a sexual element does not mean the same as reducing everything to sex, that acknowledging sexuality in a female character does not mean that the character is intended solely for the male gaze, and that if you respond to any of my posts with anything along the lines of "hruh, hruh, bondage means she's there to get tied up" couched in pseudointellectualism I'm going to save myself the time and right now call you a shallow, posturing idiot and unworthy of my time. That will be why you don't get a response from me.

Now that that's out of the way, yes there was tying up of people and all sorts of giggly subtext in Wonder Woman. Yes, there was a sexual element--her freaking patroness is Aphrodite--and it was part of the fun. And yes, I think it is absolutely absurd that a follower of Aphrodite who started out with such a bright and playful subtext back in the 40s is consigned to Eternal Virginity in the modern era.

Here's the thing, much as we see Diana in perilous situations where she gets tied up, if you wait a couple panels she always ALWAYS breaks free. It was a not-so-subtle commentary on women in society, how they allow themselves to be restrained and restricted by men. Wonder Woman breaking free of her enemies was symbolic of women finding their strength and breaking free of patriarchal rule. Every misstep, every capture, every humiliating and titillating position was to reinforce that, which is why it always ended with her breaking free before she or her friends got hurt.

And every time I see some moron argue that bondage covers are a tradition and were just there as a sneaky-sexy to sell a female character, I want to scream at everyone: THE BONDAGE IS A GIANT METAPHOR FOR WOMEN'S RIGHTS, YOU GAPING SIMPLISTIC MORONS. IT IS NOT JUST THERE FOR YOU TO WANK OFF ON.

That is, of course, not to say that you can't wank off on it... That's your business and yes, there is an element of sexuality to be found in many stories (about everything, not just Wonder Woman and not just superheroes). I'm saying if you do, keep it to yourself and don't insist that we all see that as the end-all-be-all to it, or that greater themes should be sacrificed in the service of sexualization. Fetish material is not the foundation, the point, or all there is to Wonder Woman.

In the DCWKA thread, someone said that cover looked like something Marston would've submitted, and while I initially agreed I'm going have to take that back. It looks considerably more humiliating and mean-spirited than anything from the Golden Age. Danger and restraint in a Marston story served to set up the triumph at the end and there was a hint of that optimism in the Peters art.

Of course, I may just look unkindly upon it because there are other elements to the stories and covers of the Golden Age that we'd be guaranteed if we saw Wonder Woman tied up with her own lasso. Elements that would drive home the true theme. We'd have Diana breaking free of the trap, through her own wits and strength. We'd have a group of women who are oppressed by the villain, and we would know that Diana would inspire them to join forces and overtake the villain. And we'd have the main male character in the story trapped and humiliated right along with her, to show that men are oppressed by the same worldview that constrains women. (Key point here: He doesn't free her, she frees him.)

As Generation Lost is a Judd Winick story, I expect to see none of that in this book. And there's no power and joy in this image of Diana here.

Really, that's one thing that seems to have been cut from Wonder Woman covers and appearances all around. Power and joy. She's supposed to be a woman in charge of her life who loves the universe and everyone in it. Even bound up with her own weapon, she's supposed to carry that effect. Seems everyone remembers they can tie her up, but few remember that in the end she's supposed to take control. She's supposed to win in the end. (Also, she's supposed to be the Dom.) Thing is, lately in the writing she often doesn't win in the end. This has gotten so pervasive that nowadays we don't really trust a Wonder Woman story to be uplifting, and we certainly don't trust the covers to carry any message other than "this is hot".

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

How big was Dwayne McDuffie?

This big.

I'm speechless

CBR News has learned that comic writer, animation producer and respected industry veteran Dwayne McDuffie passed away. The cause of death and specific details are unknown at this time.
This is a huge loss. He was behind some of the best animation we've seen in recent years and one of the most creative minds in the industry.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Pitiful Pool of Prospective Paramours

Steve Trevor wasn't the only Silver Age love interest, but he was honestly--even in 1958 when they actually let him almost outsmart her--the most likable. Our other options were usually villains or...


He's Diana's teen romance from when he was Mer-Boy. He used to try to protect her underwater and she would save his ass. He used to fight with Bird-boy over her. He used to follow the dumbass advice of dumbass Mermaids about how girls were all alike and fuck up courting her because Amazons are immune to that shit. Of course since Wonder Girl became Donna Troy, I guess the Mer-Boy and Bird-boy fighting over her experience went to Donna. Maybe? And I think post-Crisis they've all been replaced by Aquaman, but I'm not sure.

What I am sure of is that I fucking hate Mer-man. Mer-man's sole purpose is to create a Lana Lang-style love triangle and have them fight over Wonder Woman like a prize. (The lead story in issue 125 is actually called "Wonder Woman--Battle Prize") He also tries to rush in and save her from situations she's perfectly capable of handling herself. I'll give you that Steve does this too, but he seems a lot more inclined to sit back and just keep within eyesight. Mer-man actually tells her not to do things like he knows better. Then he gets his ass saved by her.

Really, just take all of Steve's Silver Age Rough-Around-the-Edges Macho Flaws and multiply them by 10. That is Mer-man.

And when Steve encounters Mer-man, take his competitive pigheadedness and watch it multiply all of HIS flaws by 10.

Then add pissed off Hippolyta telling them they're a bunch of idiots.

Mer-man does suffer from a problem Steve doesn't, which is that he doesn't appear often enough for there to be many stories to offset when he acts like a jackass. Steve can be a pushy jerk because he's around next story being loyal and supportive, and telling her how awesome she is and that she always saves his life. We get to see Steve remember that Wonder Woman is more capable than him often enough that it actually seems endearing when he tosses himself into danger to help her. Mer-man... just acts like an asshole, and seems to not ever remember that she is considerably more powerful than he is.

Really, because of this pigheaded arrogance the competition stories have the option of being very funny. For example, in #125 Mer-man (without asking) grabs Diana and (without asking) jumps into the ocean to show off underwater because he has the advantage there. Steve gets annoyed and follows. Diana watches Mer-man fight a swordfish, then sees Steve is losing oxygen and consciousness looking for her and rescues him. Mer-man follows them to land where Steve beats up a gorilla, and Mer-man gets captured by a giant bird. Diana saves his ass. That's... actually pretty funny.

Except at the end of the story (and all of these stupid competition stories with Steve and Mer-man or Mer-Boy and Bird-brainboy) she doesn't tell them they're idiots and send them packing. She tells them she likes them both, and then looks at the audience and asks how she could possibly choose between the two. Which is bullshit. They both suck in these stories.

"How can I choose?" Don't. Send them both packing, then go to the Superman franchise and ask Lois out. Maybe you'll hit it off and give Clark a break from this sort of shit too. At the very least you'll get a nice meal and some entertaining company while Steve follows you around with his adorable pilot's hat in his hand begging you to talk to him again.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Mirage Mirror

The backup story in Wonder Woman #130 is a simply amazing secret identity story. It features Diana, Hippolyta and Steve behaving without a shred of logic between the three of them. It may be one of the most enjoyable things I have ever read.

It starts out with a sequence about Diana asking Steve out on a date. Now, think about these three panels for a minute.

Each time Steve answers that he has a prior engagement with Wonder Woman. Diana actually went to the trouble to make a date with Steve and then change into her alter ego to ask him out at the same time.

This would make sense if she just wanted to see if he'd break a date with her, but no... she actually wants him to break a date with her and go out with her.

Eventually he does accept a date (probably because she asked when she hadn't already made plans with him) but doesn't put out any illusions about actually being interested in Diana romantically. Instead, he hangs out with her and talks about how awesome Wonder Woman is.

This really bothers her, because she feels like he's ignoring her... as he talks about awesome she is.

And I know some people read this and go "Wow, what a freaking jerk, going out with her and talking about another girl the whole time" but you gotta remember... he is actually dating Wonder Woman and she knew this before she asked him to spend the afternoon with her. Hell, as far as he knows, she is his girlfriend's best friend. Either he and the princess are in a very open relationship (which is likely) and he's Silver Age style tactless (which he is anyway, and it is hilarious), or he thinks that they are just spending time together as friends (which is also pretty likely when you take into account Steve Trevor's incredible mental density).

See, Secret Identities are a great idea to protect your loved ones but the way Diana is set up she doesn't need it. Her mother is on Paradise Island and she is openly dating Steve in her superhero identity. So in the Silver Age, the Diana Prince identity exists to try and convince Steve Trevor to cheat on Wonder Woman with Diana Prince.

And when he doesn't... she gets upset.

And when he does go out with Diana, but proceeds to be completely honest with both women about who he really loves... she gets upset.

Now, there's a few ways to simplify her life here (and for all I know they've all been addressed in those parts of the archives I haven't had a shot at) based on what she really wants. If she wants Steve to love her in the Diana Prince identity, she can simply turn down his romantic invitations as Wonder Woman and catch him on the rebound in her Diana Prince identity. She has no problem with saying no to a marriage proposal, but for some reason she is always meeting him for walks in the park and going for drives in his car.

If she wants Steve to love her for her true self, she can stop asking him out in the Diana Prince identity and just date him as Wonder Woman, which is her real self, the way she met him, the persona that's associated with her actual family and history and not a purchased or completely fabricated false identity. The Diana Prince identity can be used to give her a break from celebrity, give her access to information she needs to fight evil, and give her a chance to watch over her boyfriend and best friend incognito. (This is how they pulled it in the TV show, and Diana was simply flattered when Steve went on about Wonder Woman to her and Etta.) But she doesn't do that, she fixates on getting her to love her with glasses.

If she just suspects he's shallow... Well, this isn't going to help because the two women are identical with the exception of glasses. (Kalinara's theory is Steve assumes he's imaging the resemblance because he loves Wonder Woman so much. I must admit, this is a stupid enough thought that Steve Trevor might be thinking it.)

For some reason (the writers) she decides not to simplify her life. Instead, she decides to teach him a lesson. How dare he be totally upfront with two women! How dare he go on about how much he loves her!

To that end, she goes to her mother for help. It turns out that Hippolyta pulled the same thing when she was dating Hercules. (Yes, Silver Age Hippolyta dated Hercules.) It must be some weird Amazon ritual for hazing male suitors.

And because Hercules, when dating a no-name Amazon warrior who never took her helmet off, went on and on about how beautiful the Queen was Hippolyta decided to fuck with his head a bit. She produces a magic mirror that will temporarily change her appearance when she and her suitor look in it together. Hercules is sufficiently weirded out that he focuses on the no-name Amazon warrior afterwards.

In the meantime, Steve has tickets to a charity carnival and can't find Wonder Woman. So he, making clear that he's only asking because his girlfriend isn't around, asks Diana to go. She's so happy she calls off the trick.

And that's when we get to a sequence that has made me love Steve Trevor and his dense, tactless, clueless Silver Age love interest brain forever.

"I'll have to wiggle out of my date with Diana Prince" He doesn't think that. He says it out loud on the phone with Wonder Woman. (And "mistake her voice for Wonder Woman's"? What the fuck? Is the writer as confused by the dual identities as Diana and Steve are?)

And she gets mad, but doesn't let him know.

Still, they are clearly in an established open relationship. He'll tell her right to her face that he's made dates with other women, and she doesn't yell at him for it. (And no, she's not afraid to tell him when she's mad at him. See issue #127 when he tells her his dream about being married to her was horrible.)

And that's not the best part... Look at what Steve thinks "wiggle out" means:

That's right, to Steve Trevor, wiggling out of a date means telling the girl up front that he found a date with another girl that he thinks is prettier. Bear in mind, before he asked her out (and judging by Diana's pleased reaction this was the first time he'd ever taken the initiative and asked Diana Prince out) he said it was because he couldn't find this girl and he had those tickets.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Most Honest Man in Comics.

And yeah, that was a pretty fucking tactless way to break a date. It's more clueless than mean, though, because it seems like he thinks he's going easy on her. "EVERY woman looks bad compared to this girl, not just you." This man does not suspect for a second that these two women are the same person. (Unlike Lois.) He is really just too dumb to hate. (And he's so cute in his little pilot outfit. I love how he wears that everywhere in this era.) I suppose I should feel bad for Diana... if this whole thing weren't something she set up. I love Diana but honestly, she's being pretty bad in this issue. Besides, she's getting upset at hearing how awesome she is. It's pointless to pity that. (I don't feel sorry for Clark either.) She's just not cut out for this secret identity thing.

So anyway, he ditches her.. for her... and goes to the carnival where Diana's set up the magic mirror in the fun house. She makes herself look very fat, Steve is bothered but polite about it, and then some villains attack so she kicks their ass as a fat lady. Then she turns back, and he's relieved. Then she makes herself very tall and thin and long-necked. He's freaked out now. Bad guys attack, she fights them off.

Steve's weirded out and pretty scared by the whole thing, so he walks away. She gets mad. Clearly he left her because she was ugly and not because he needs to lie down for a bit or get his eyes checked out.

Or even because he's in trouble, because god knows he doesn't get knocked out and kidnapped every time she's not watching.

To be fair, Steve is shallow. That kind of goes with being not smart. He's also tactless as hell. That also goes with being not smart. I think it's pretty funny, because just about everyone is pretty dumb and tactless in the Silver Age.

Really, the big thing to be annoyed at is how PRESUMPTUOUS he is. He just assumes Wonder Woman and he have a standing date. Of course, in other issues when she lets him know she's mad he is instantly apologetic so this is something she could take care of if she wants to. That's writers forgetting Diana comes from a society where women get to speak up when they're offended. It's a character flaw of Steve's, but something correctable in-story.

Anyway, I will give Diana that she ends this story on the best possible note. Lucky her, she has a friend who understands the need to screw with your significant other's head from time to time.