The ComicsAlliance Roundtable: Wonder Woman’s Costume Change
Chris S.: DC Comics announced yesterday that Wonder Woman’s getting a new costume design courtesy of co-publisher Jim Lee, who I’ve heard also does art. It’s a pretty huge change (into pants!), and so to mark the occasion, Laura Hudson, Caleb Goellner, David Uzumeri, David Brothers and I are taking a look back at some of the other costumes Wonder Woman’s sported over the years, from the Golden Age to today, beginning with her first appearance:
David U: I think more than any other character, the variety of takes on Wonder Woman’s costume really shows the variety of takes on her entire personality, namely: nobody has any goddamn clue what Wonder Woman is. I mean, it seems like everyone has their own personal vision, but unlike Superman and Batman, there don’t seem to be these great, universal things that everyone acknowledges apply to the characters.
Chris S: I think when you look at Superman’s costume, you get it: Flying cop. You look at Batman’s costume, you get it: Vigilante Dracula. Wonder Woman’s costume, however… What about this says “Amazon Princess?”
David U: The Amazon Gentlemen’s Club, maybe. There’s something about that original Marston take, though. The Rosie the Riveter arms, the long skirt… that entire picture is basically distillated “CAN DO!”
Laura H: She is a lady who is determined to jig.Chris S.: She is about to battle the Nazis with the power of a hoedown.
Laura H.: Probably people had more hoedowns back in the day.
David B.: So we’ve got awkward looking heel boots, tiny bangles and… what is her top? I know the current one is armor-y, but that looks like a regular old shirt.
David U.: Her costume and personality have always been weighed down by the American iconography in that original take, though. Because everyone’s always tripped over themselves to explain why she looks like Sarah Palin looks in her own dreams.
Chris S.: It’s got this really patriotic theme that fits with the time — we were ramping up for World War II — but unlike other characters with patriotic costumes like Captain America and the Shield, that’s not her whole deal. Even Superman isn’t obviously patriotic, even though he’s got the exact same color scheme. I’ve always been completely amazed that that costume more or less stuck around for 70 years.
Laura H.: Because it’s bad? I mean, Superman and Batman’s costumes haven’t changed much fundamentally.
Chris S.: Well, yes. But like I said, Superman and Batman’s costumes have more going for them. I mean, you could argue that for years, every other suit was a variation on their themes (although that honor probably goes to Silver Age Flash and Green Lantern). Capes, solid colors, very visually identifying. Wonder Woman’s costume doesn’t tell you anything other than that she totally loves America. She might as well have been bitten by a radioactive Betsy Ross as come from an island of immortal warrior Amazons.
Laura H.: Wonder Woman’s costume is all primary colors and is based on some pretty visually identifying iconography.
Chris S.: Yeah, but that iconography already means something else.
Laura H.: So you’re saying it misrepresents her?
David U.: I’m going to go ahead and say that red, white and blue stars and stripes pretty badly misrepresent a Greek princess, yeah. What’s good about this costume? What’s the appeal of it? At this point, the appeal is “inertia.”
David U.: This is like the least regal outfit of all time. I guess it’s not as bad as Namor’s speedo on that regard, but that’s about it. If you saw that chick in real life would you go “damn! what a powerful role model!”, or would you go “I wonder what con they’re hiring booth babes for this weekend”?:
Laura H.: The skirt is the main problem here. It’s one poodle away from a sock hop, and that’s not very awe-inspiring.
Chris S.: I think it’s important to note that while her original skirt was pretty billowy, it wasn’t all that long before she got what were essentially star-spangled biker shorts.
David U.: It’s a pretty American exceptionalist thing, too. It always bugged me, since she just pledged her allegiance to the first nation that dropped a dude on her island.
Laura H.: Imagine if she were redesigned around the Greek flag? All blue horizontal stripes with a big white cross on her chest.
Chris S.: I want to see Wonder Woman in red and white with a ton of little Maple Leafs on her skirt. “I’ve got to journey to Patriarch’s World, eh?”
Laura H.: Under the new retcon she is actually going to be raised in America and not Paradise Island.
Chris S.: And yet she loses the flag suit.
David U.: In that case, why America at all? I don’t get that.
Laura H.: It’s the same reason why every time an episode of a futuristic sci-fi show decides to make historical references it is always to an alarmingly specific sliver of Earth history in the late 20th or early 21st Century.
Caleb G.: It’s why nine out of ten “Doctor Who” episodes take place in the UK. So what about the next costume?
Chris S.: With minor variations (like the switch to sandals, then back to boots), that costume stuck around until around 1968, when Denny O’Neil and Mike Sekowsky took over the book and changed things up:
Caleb G.: Man, it’s weird. I actually like this costume. Maybe not for Wonder Woman.
Laura H.: I cannot tell a lie. I love mod fashion.
David U.: Now, Gloria Steinem absolutely hated this thing, right?
Caleb G.: But this girl looks totally cool.
David B.: I like it, but it’s super dated and not very super-heroic.
Chris S.: O’Neil had this string of coming onto comics and changing them up — he took Batman back to being a world-traveling adventurer of course, but also made Superman immune to Kryptonite and we all know what he did with Green Lantern and Green Arrow. The idea here was to make her more of a modern feminist, which they did by — wait for it — taking her powers away.
Laura H: And having her learn martial arts instead!
David U.: I could be totally off on my memory here, but I seem to recall Steinem was not pleased about the Wonder Woman depowering and costume change, thinking it deemphasized the power of her femininity.
Laura H.: I think equating fan nostalgia with femininity is pretty lame. I mean — consider the context. At the time, this would have been an incredibly fashionable and modern change. She’s looking cool. Her hair rocks. And she’s literally defacing the old, outdated image of herself. Also: PANTS.
Chris S.: She basically became Emma Peel.
David U.: There are worse things in life to be.
Chris S.: True.
David B.: A pair of pants can go a long way.
Chris S.: She didn’t really have a “costume” at the time, just mod fashion. But this is where she settled on the white outfits that people remember.
David U.: It’s a costume that wouldn’t work today, but if this were 1968 I’d probably be very excited about this costume on the CB Radio and in my fanzine submissions.
David B.: Who’s “Angela?”
David U.: Ask Neil Gaiman.
David B.: Boooo. I like the white costume(s). It gives her a cool style and sets her apart from other heroes. She’s not just Patriotic Hero #6 any more.
Caleb G.: So what led to the next costume? Because by the mid ’70s the iconic version was on its way back
Chris S.: The “New” Wonder Woman ran from 1968 to 1973. I assume that it just ended up running its course and they decided that a super-hero was more popular than just a spy (even at the height of popularity for the Bond films, the Avengers and the Prisoner), and they eventually decided to repower her and ditch the “non-costume” look. After that, it was back to business as usual for Diana:
Chris S.: Sexy ladies in diaphanous semi-see-through gowns, girls all tied back to back… It’s like you should turn the page and the line should be “We sentence you to DEATH! You may choose your method of execution! Will it be PILLOWFIGHT or WET T-SHIRT WRESTLING MATCH?”
Chris S.: If you look at that cover, it’s one of the first comics to get a total nostalgia revamp. They even go back to the Golden Age logo. And, you know. The bondage.
David B.: Interesting that there’s the one afro’d black Amazon.
Laura H.: Honestly? Steinem demanding a return of the “true” Wonder Woman sounds like some real fanboy sh*t.
David U.: Reading about the Steinem thing, it really does come across as rose-tinted-glasses fangirlism, doesn’t it?
Laura H.: “I demand that Wonder Woman be restored to her original glory and also receive a Batcave memorial plaque!”
Chris S.: Taking away her powers for the Mod revamp was a huge problem, I think. In order to “empower” her, they literally make her less powerful.
David U.: Maybe that just doesn’t seem like a big deal to me, where “oh no the hero has lost their powers” is Standard Plot Twist #48282. Like, “how will the hero deal with fighting crime powerless?!” is a pretty standard superhero story.
Chris S.: Yeah, but this was meant to be a more-or-less permanent new direction. I mean, it ran for five years. And that’s five years in Silver Age time.
Laura H.: I don’t really see it as any different than Wolverine losing his adamantium for years or Iron Man’s mind degenerating, though. It’s a pretty common theme after a superhero’s been around for a while.
David U.: I think the difference is the time period — back then, changes in comics WERE meant to be permanent.
David B.: I feel like we’re arguing two different things here. What’s the difference between a change in the ’60s versus a similar change in the ’90s?
Chris S.: Plots in 1968 very, very rarely continued from issue to issue. There are stories where Batman gets powers or Superman loses his or whatever, but they were back to normal by the end of the issue.
Laura H.: Just because it’s an early example of the now-common depowering phenomenon doesn’t mean it’s a not a valid example.
Chris S.: Well after that, and driven by the TV show, Wonder Woman’s costume basically stays the same until the ’90s, with the only major change being that the bottom keeps getting cut progressively higher. George Perez reintroduced it as being a ceremonial outfit representing the world outside Themyscira that was inspired by the flag worn by an airman who crashed there, which kind of made sense and was an interesting nod to her World War II roots. Then this happened:
Chris S.: Interestingly enough, this is another costume motivated by losing something: Diana was challenged by Artemis for the right to be Wonder Woman and lost, so Artemis got the costume and Wonder Woman got bike shorts and a bra.
David U.: Why does Diana still have the bracers, then?
Chris S.: All Amazons wear the bracelets as a sign of their enslavement from back in the day.
David B.: Willingly? Or is it like a magic binding/curse sort of thing?
Chris S.: It’s sort of the Paradise Island equivalent of a “Never Forget” sticker.
David B.: Well, that’s pretty dumb.
David U.: I can only take solace in the likelihood that Mike Deodato 2010 would not design the costume like that.
Chris S.: I actually have a theory about this costume and Mike Deodato. Deodato and his team of artists were always getting in trouble back then for drawing girls in thongs. Or, if not getting in trouble, they were always having to get colorists to shade in asses as though they were fully covered (this happened A LOT on his Thor run), so I figure at one point he was just like “the hell with it, she’s in shorts now.”
David U.: Look, it’s just hideous. Is that a f—ing chain she’s wearing as a belt? I realize I said that the original outfit was hardly regal, but this is nowhere near regal. The pose, everything: straight-up stripper fantasy. It is maybe the least empowering outfit I can imagine. That said, it comes from a time that also brought us AzBats and Mullet/Electric Superman. So maybe she didn’t get off so badly.
David B.: I don’t know that I’ve ever seen this costume in an actual comic, but it’s pretty lackluster, to be nice about it. How long did it last?
Chris S.: It didn’t last very long at all — only six months. Introduced in #94, and she was back to the normal suit in #100, just in time for John Byrne to show up with a minor redesign of his own: He didn’t want to draw all the stars, so she just got two in front and two in back:
Chris S.: Actually, now that I’m looking at it, Byrne had another change to it.
David U.: A melting face? Smug arrogance? Bad inking?
Chris S.: He added a metallic cast to the eagle emblem and that big ol’ belt, which makes it look more “armored. You know, as armored as a strapless one-piece swimsuit can be.
David U.: So what was Byrne’s design of the inevitable sexy-seductress Malice variant? (Can you tell I like to rag on John Byrne)
Chris S.: Again, it was a pretty lasting change, except for a brief time when Wonder Woman’s mother, Hippolyta (who looked just like her and was retconned into being the Golden Age Wonder Woman) came back and briefly revived the skirt. It wasn’t the hoedown model, though.
Chris S.: Yep! That’s the thing about Wonder Woman’s costume: There are a ton of tiny little variations that you don’t often get with something like Superman. People change the number of stars, or make it look more like armor, or change her boots into high sandals, but it mostly stays the same.
Chris S.: Next came the revival of the white “Secret Agent” outfit in the Alan Heinberg/Terry Dodson relaunch.
David B.: This was a civilian identity thing, right?
Laura H.: Dressing up in monochromatic lycra is not a costume. If you put on all black to rob a liquor store or play manhunt, you are not wearing a costume. You are wearing a color.
David U.: To be fair, it was never an official Wonder Woman costume. It was just her secret agent outfit while she wasn’t Wonder Woman.
Laura H.: I think the same thing applies to the last white costume.
David U.: It’s kind of like commenting on Clark Kent’s tie.
Chris S.: There’s a nice little contrast with the fact that she wears all white while her partner wears all black, but with the fact that Nemesis is meant to be a master of disguise, he’s not really “in costume” that much. Or shouldn’t be, rather.
David U.: To be honest, I’m not sure why it’s on this list. It was never presented as a Wonder Woman costume in-story, just some dumb thing she wore as Diana Prince.
Chris S.: The thing I like about this costume is that it’s making David Uzumeri hate me.
David B.: This is pretty boring as far as costumes go. The last all-white ensemble at least had the benefit of being a little trendy.
David U.: It is literally like criticizing Bruce Wayne’s tie.
Chris S.: Bruce Wayne trained for 20 years to pick the right power tie for any meeting.
Caleb G.: Ugh.
Chris S.: This one got an action figure!
David U.: Look, here’s all the conversation we need about this Star Sapphire costume: Out of all of the Wonder Woman costumes ever, this is the one that looks most like a stripper. This is saying a lot.
Laura H.: The best thing I can say about this is that it didn’t look as embarrassing as some of the other Star Sapphire renditions.
Caleb G.: I just like that they remove pretty much all of her body armor, but cover her nose.
Chris S.: Yeah, Nicola Scott does the best she can, but man. That thing. The Vampirella collar, the ab window…
Laura H.: Love makes your clothes fall off, you guys. That’s what we’ve learned here.
Chris S.: Love of BATMAN makes your clothes fall off. I can verify that as being 100% true.
David U.: Sufferin’ Star Sappho!
Laura H.: That’s the male Star Sapphire in the chair above, because sh*t’s egalitarian.
Chris S.: Man oh man.
Laura H.: Seriously though, how is that defensible? Dudes get head-to-toe body armor and women don’t even get a full bikini?
Chris S.: Yeah, that seems like it would’ve been the perfect opportunity to just do the same thing that was completely missed. Maybe they thought they had their bases covered with Vartox.
Laura H.: Maybe it’s because men ARMOR their hearts, while women are willing to be EMOTIONALLY NAKED?
Chris S.: And his armor has points because every girl’s crazy ’bout a SHARP-dressed man?
Chirs S.: Which brings us to the bold new direction:
Laura H.: There it is. Honestly, I like it.
Chris S.: I like it a lot, but that jacket is totally ’90s.
Laura H.: It is, but I grew up in the ’90s, so that is just the right nostalgia button to push for me. For example, I am reasonably sure I bought that choker at Claire’s circa 1994.
Chris S.: I like the little touches like the filigree on the bracers and belt that make it look like something ancient, but I wonder how many artists are going to stick with doing that much detail on them. I will say, though, I don’t much care for minimizing the logo.
Laura H.: Really? I like the subtlety of the W neckline. It’s recognizable and central, but you’re not being hit in the face with a golden eagle. I also like how the material for the shirt looks flexible and strong, but without seeming like an iron breastplate. Bendy future armor, maybe, with incredible tensile strength.
Chris S.: Yeah, it’s a really interesting take on her old outfit that uses the same sort of structure, but with pants. It’s like you said, Laura: What a difference a pair of pants makes.
Caleb G.: I think I like it when Lee’s on it, but in practice, on the Kramer pages… it starts to show its weaknesses. Kramer’s art is good, don’t get me wrong, but showing the full range of what this outfit looks like when WW starts kicking dudes in the face, the jacket starts to looks as superfluous as it really would be in a fight
Laura H.: You can definitely see the practicality start to go out the window in the Kramer art, as the full coverage shirt magically turns into a low-cut tank top. Seriously, it drops like two inches down her chest. Maybe three.
Caleb G.: Pants are great, though.
Laura H.: Yes, the pants are great. Also: her shoes, because they are not high heels. They are not even high heel boots.
Chris S.: I feel like with the jacket, they didn’t want to go with giving her a full cape or (for whatever reason) sleeves, so there’s the jacket. And it doesn’t seem like it wouldn’t work WITHOUT the jacket, as much as I’m not too crazy about it.
David U.: Look — she needs a damn cloak. Or a cape. Or something to make her a believable third silhouette next to Superman and Batman.
Chris S.: She should wear a poncho like Clint Eastwood in “A Fistful of Dollars.”
David U.: It’s two dudes with gigantic Final Fantasy villain cloaked silhouettes and then a chick in biker gear. I LOVED the cloak she was wearing in Infinite Crisis. Just a simple cloak over the costume made a world of difference.
Laura H: I think the jacket was a nod to the hip modern woman feel they want to give her.
David U.: Yeah, I get that Laura, it’s just — I dunno. I mean, I’ll wait and read the story and see how it plays out. With a “time is screwed up!” story, there’s no way it’s sticking around for the next 70 years, nor do I think DC intends for it to be. Hey, how the Hell is this going to affect Wonder Girl? Or Donna Troy?
Chris S.: Oh God. I hadn’t even thought of that. The most convoluted character in comics is about to get worse.
Chris S.: Didn’t Greg Rucka once say that he tried like hell to get a costume change, but DC wouldn’t let it?
David U.: I knew I didn’t hallucinate that! He totally did.
Laura H.: Yes he did, and Jodi Picoult was vocal about wanting to change it too.
Chris S.: I did wonder if it was Lee who wanted to do this, since he just became Co-Publisher pretty recently. And I honestly think that jacket excepted, this is probably the best costume Wonder Woman’s ever had. As we’ve seen, that’s not saying too terribly much, but it’s a start. And with the way things work you can start the countdown to her old costume coming back now, but I do think it’s better than what we’ve gotten so far.
Laura H.: Hey guys, want to see a picture of me wearing a Wonder Woman suit?
Chris S.: Sure.