Thursday, March 31, 2011

Reboots and Retcons

I suppose the fact that they couldn't find any letters praising the new JMS reboot for the Wonder Woman lettercol this week proves that this direction just isn't working. Really, though, I'm not that horrified. She'll be back to herself when it's over, and we'll have some nice Hester-written moments to show for it. My reaction to Wonder Woman reboots has changed from outrage to fatigue, because really this is a character that has been rebooted and reinvented so many times that this resiliency has become part of her franchise. Kanigher retooled the origin to get rid of the golem part and add some boyfriends in her teen years (for some reason, though, every commentator seems to focus on Hippolyta's makeover and losing the Holliday Girls--who did show up after a few dozen issues) and did some Golden Age revival attempts, but it really started with O'Neil. Ever since he took out both the Paradise Island and Man's World supporting casts, her powers, and her costume in one fell swoop we've seen writer after writer change the place.

I mean, we all know the Post-Crisis history of cast devastation and sporadic revival. JMS reboots the whole damned thing after Simone had to rebuild the supporting cast because Pfieffer tore up the Amazons in a crossover after Heinberg brought back the secret identity/secret agent and Rucka left the place in ruins on Infinite Crisis orders. This was of course after Jimenez took out her mother and brought back some Golden Age villains after a series of quite forgettable writers failed to do anything interesting with the elements Byrne brought back once he'd erased the entire Boston supporting cast, which had been put in post-Crisis to replace the classic military supporting cast that he shoved to the side along with the personalities of the gods and any Amazon technological advancements. No matter how good the writer, they are either responsible for or immediately followed by mass destruction of any recognizable elements.

But much as I get on about Perez (and damn it, I will still complain about Perez), this was nothing new. A sampling of Bronze Age comics easily reveals a similar addiction to soft reboots. After O'Neil, they drop the white suit and bring back the powers, go on for a bit, bring back Steve, play around on Earth-2 for several issues at a time, kill Steve, then bring back Steve and wipe Diana's memory. They move her from Washington to New York to Washington again. The UN to the Pentagon. I think this constant change is why I see Diana as an active explorer and a traveler. She doesn't put down for very long. (Simone's run was pretty good in that she incorporated travel into the plotlines, focusing on Diana rather than try to convince us to accept a brand new supporting cast as permanent fixtures.)

Thing is, hard reboots--retelling the origin completely from scratch--are few and far between. We've had Perez and JMS (which is only fleeting anyway). Anything else (Heinberg) has been a flashback retcon in the middle of the moving story. Diana's still the same Diana, just with a slightly altered past. Pre-Crisis we had Marston and Kanigher and.. well, a particularly odd one from Roy and Danette Thomas. See, back in 1983 they decided they might try a harder-edged Wonder Woman for a while. Even that far back it seems they wanted to drop the boyfriend and the motivated initially by romance thing to reflect modern sensibilities, and this seems to be the first try for this.

Umm.. yeah. I didn't photoshop that, that's really what she says when she wins. And it gets more annoying to me. See, as they fly home Diana makes her intentions very clear to Steve.

That's right, no dating, because he's a man and he sucks. At this point, and I believe it's intentional, we're meant to think she sounds pretty terrible and might be a bad guy. But JUST in case, old Roy wants to drive the point home by giving us her thoughts on killing in battle.

To be fair, she doesn't kill the guy. But clearly we're dealing with a brand new Diana here. Even more of an overhaul, I'd say, than O'Neil gave. (On the plus side, she did not give up her powers for a man!) However, as this is an origin story she's going to have to learn a valuable lesson. From, of course, a man...

Now, all of us and Steve know at this point that he has no chance in hell of actually hitting her with a bullet. He even tells his men that she can deflect them, but of course they shoot anyway and things go from bad to worse.

Turns out poor Diana really did feel something for the guy. She's horrified and upset, and flees the scene not out of fear but grief. A regretful scene later, she decides to turn over a new leaf but the damage has been done. She's been branded as criminal menace and must now seek redemption while on the run!

If this had become the regular origin, I imagine I'd be infuriated. But as it goes, this was a gutsy attempt. He has her come to the world all full of war and judgment, which causes tragedy and teaches her a lesson. And we have a Wonder Woman: Fugitive! set-up at the end. Could've worked, if they'd given it a chance. But really, it didn't last very long and before you knew it we were back to the regular setup and Mishkin took over. And I'm glad, because while heroes that start off bad and learn an important lesson are compelling, one of the things that makes Diana unique is that her origin is relatively untragic and her motives are optimistic and altruistic.

She lives an idyllic life which is disrupted by the appearance of a man--a creature she's only heard stories about. She rescues him, nurses him back to health, and wins the opportunity to accompany him back to his legendary world and fight the terrible evil that threatens it. She becomes a great hero to the universe and maps the modern world for her people. She's an explorer, a traveler, a wandering hero who takes the first opportunity to leave home and seek her destiny. She's not a reformed villainess, a woman haunted by her failures or traumatized by her losses and mistakes. She's a peacemaker and a warrior, and yes I do agree that she would kill if it was absolutely necessary but she has the wisdom to know when it's necessary and she doesn't carry the guilt of reckless destruction with her. She is isolated, caught between two cultures, and carries the heavy burden of the mythic hero who must always put aside her personal wants to serve the greater good, but she's a genuinely good person who came from a genuinely good place. She's not a dark character, and making her one simply doesn't ring true, even if you start from scratch with a reboot.

All scans from Wonder Woman #300, written by Roy and Dann Thomas, art by Keith Pollard. I advise anyone who gets a chance to pick it up and read the whole thing, because it has some very interesting ideas in it.


  1. I've never heard of this particular retcon, but this interpretation of Diana does sound awful. On the other hand, that's some beautiful Keith Pollard artwork there, isn't it? ;)

    But slightly off-topic, I'd like to know more about your take on PĂ©rez' run. It's my favourite era of the character (in no small part because I really don't think she has ever ad a better artist on her book, even with Phil Jimenez).

    As I got older and read more about it, I've found that Perez' run was really not without some troubled parts(Hippolyta falling for Heracles, for example), but in my mind, he's still the wrtier that "got" her the most.

    I'd love to read a more of your perspective on it, especially the parts you do like.


  2. Something I don't get here. And this applies to the Wonder Woman animated movie as well. I've known women who enjoyed just about all the runs you've objected to. Even the Thomas run. Similarly, I've seen opinions of women regarding the WW animated movie that are on the opposite ends of the scale. Some thought it was spot on for the most part (dcwomenkickingass) others thought it incredibly offensive (the woman @ comics worth reading). The only thing I’ve seen recently where there’s a consensus of opinion is JMS WW, and that’s only because it’s clearly crap that women AND men hate. The sales show that the majority of all readers are not impressed.

    I think this is a huge problem for female comic fans that they can't unite in their opinions on this stuff. Everyone bitches at DC about WW or whatever female hero not being portrayed in the “right way“, but what is an executive to think or believe when he/she hears 20 women saying 20 different things about a product or brand? This isn't a problem that exists when talking about race for the most part. Most minorities, generally speaking, are on the same page with however a minority character is portrayed or treated. We all know where the lines are drawn so we don't offend someone. When it‘s crossed, the minorities are one voice in their anger (the casting of Last Airbender is a good example). But with fangirls, the line is a jagged one that's all over the map. Where is the “shared” anger?

    Any explanation as to why this is? This isn't just my opinion on the matter, this is something glaringly obvious and easily proven by simply visiting any blog sites where a woman reviews or comments on a comic book where the portrayal of a woman character, offensive or otherwise is brought up so telling me that this is some “stereotype“ or coincidence or anomaly doesn’t’ really wash. Case in point, the comments over at cbr regarding comments made in the recent 3chicks pod cast where one woman hated Kathy Kane being revived in Batman Inc and others loved it. Hated Kathy Kane being resurrected…loved Stephenie Brown being resurrected.


    The 1979semifinalist once said women aren't a hive vagina. Fair enough. Not all women are pro choice or pro life, but all women are concerned about breast cancer, right? Where is the “breast cancer” issue in comics that all women readers can unite behind and why haven’t they done it yet? In order to influence change you're damn well going to have to be a hive vagina to get heard and taken seriously.

  3. Ummm...different strokes for different folks? Some women like superheroes, and some don't. Some MEN like superheroes and some don't. I happen to like Wonder Woman, but I don't always like what they do to her. I happen to like Aquaman and I don't always like the things they do to him either.

    You really can't expect ALL women to mysteriously unite and present a shared vision, just like you can't expect the same reaction from all the men who read comics.

  4. It's the "some women" I'm talking about. The reaction of male fans is pretty much irrelevant since their demographic is the one being catered to by comic companies. That's the reason you don't see fanboys out there trying to effect change. How often do you see male run comic sites complaining about continuity or projects that are targeted at the already converted? The majority of that audience has what it wants.

    I'm talking about the women who keep wanting change from the comic companies. The ones who say "give women characters more agency!" The ones who say "stop dissing Cass Cain!" The ones who think pushing back the release of Batwoman isn't just a questionable business decision done for reasons that no one is privy to, but a conspiracy and spittle in the face of female and lgbt Batwoman fans everywhere.

    The only time I've ever seen a united voice is with things like "fashion". Don't draw her with high heels! Don't draw her with that plunging neckline where her boobs are spilling out. That sort of thing. But given the popularity of Tarot among women, it seems that was a pretty pointless exercise (although it got pants for Diana and combat books for Batwoman) Still, it at least looked like women uniting behind something to effect change and get respect from comic companies. Sure, not every woman has the same tastes. But where is that one issue that really bugs women about comic books? That women really want to change for the better? And why is there such a deafening silence on that issue? Because getting pissed off about things like Agency or resurrecting Kathy Kane or a lois lane kids book that died a long time ago or high heels on Adrianne Palicki's sky blue boots is something that only the tiniest of tiny minorities are complaining about and are things that no one at the big two cares about. At all.

    What do the majority of female comic book readers (key word there...MAJORITY) really want DC or Marvel to do for them? I haven't heard of a fangirl, blogger or female comic book artist/writer yet that can answer that one. And that just seems odd.

  5. I feel as though I am hi-jacking Ragnell's blog here, but as a woman, I can only tell you what I want from a comic book. I want a well-told story. I want good artwork. I want a story that is respectful of the characters, both male AND female.

    I want female characters to actually have clothes on, and for them to be competent at their jobs. I don't want them all to have rape in their back-stories. And if you ARE going to draw them in ridiculously revealing outfits, then draw the men the same way.

    Oh, and give Ice her original origin back. The retcon sucks.

  6. "What do the majority of female comic book readers (key word there...MAJORITY) really want DC or Marvel to do for them?"

    Write good books? You seem to have this idea that all female fans need to get together as a bloc and agree on something, and comics fans don't do that. Ever. Ten fans have thirty opinions about comics.

    "That's the reason you don't see fanboys out there trying to effect change."

    This made me laugh out loud. At you, not with you. The mark of the fanboy is passion. Comics fans are the people who engage passionately with comics, and they will lobby hard for or against changes they like or dislike. Watch the Q&A at any con panel. Ask any fan about their favorite (or least favorite!) pros.

    The stereotypical fangirl complaints are probably "We see too much softcore porn and it bums us out" and "We see our favorite (female) characters being disrespected and given short shrift." But every fangirl isn't going to sign on to both of those propositions, just like I can't get every fanboy to agree with me that "One More Day" was a fucking travesty.

    But there are some facts floating around out there. Lois Lane used to outsell Batman. That's a fact. There's a lot of potential upside to the "female comics market." So if a bunch of female fans are saying, "I'd like this better if it were less porny" or if I tell you my little nieces just can't get enough of princesses, that may be useful "market data."

  7. @sally, appreciate your opinion on the subject. Thanks. As for hijacking the blog, I have no such qualms, clearly.

    @jesse, re:

    “This made me laugh out loud. At you, not with you. The mark of the fanboy is passion. Comics fans are the people who engage passionately with comics, and they will lobby hard for or against changes they like or dislike. Watch the Q&A at any con panel. Ask any fan about their favorite (or least favorite!) pros”

    Yeah. That didn’t make me laugh at you or with you. It did make me think that you hadn’t been to a con in about 20 years. I’m not talking about dumbass fan boys bitching out Kurt Busiek at the marvel panel because he referenced Avengers 133 in Avengers Forever when he meant to reference 132. Yes, fan boys are passionate, but about stupid shit like too many buttons on Captain Marvels tunic or Submariner was missing a wing on his left foot in panel 6. Yup…they “lobby hard” in that respect. In other more substantive areas, not so much. Actually…never.

    As far as stereotypical fan girl complaints, it sounds like you had a really informative talk with a fan girl about comics….in 1993. They’re not talking about that shit any more. Girls are reading manga porn now. These days, they’re talking about lack of female “agency”. The sexism of comic execs, real or imagined. Bitching about more white male characters getting their own series when there’s a dearth of minority characters. How it’s fucked up that Vixen doesn’t have her own series. Bring Cass Cain back, don’t bring Kathy Kane back. All valid criticisms (except for the last two) but criticisms that are certainly not voiced in the mainstream of comic fandom by either male or female. So are the opinions of these fan girl bloggers representative of a majority of fan girls out there? Or just lone voices on the internet bitching about something that only they want? I hear a select few, like 4 or 5 very vocal women saying “this needs to change, that needs to change” but I don’t hear anyone else saying it. The average fangirl reflects the opinion of sally. But really, I don’t even hear many fan girls saying that much. All of which leads me to believe that the majority of fan girls are pretty happy with the state of comics as they are. That the manufactured outrage at a few fan girl blogs is exactly that, something that gets them a few hits, nothing more.

    But with fan boys, you KNOW they’re genuine, and all on the same page with their outrage. You know…like when Superboy wore that hoodie?