Robert Valley’s Animated Wonder Woman And The Many Modes Of The Amazon [Opinion]
What artist Robert Valley did with his four-minute Wonder Woman short for Warner Bros. Animation’s DC Nation campaign was much more than simply express the powerful essence of the iconic superheroine. In just a few precious seconds, Valley defies every expectation absolutely anyone would have about what Wonder Woman could be, from the most hardcore fan to entertainment executives who’ve been endlessly vexed by how to depict the Amazon princess Diana in motion. But how it works is not simple; it’s not easy to articulate. But its success is totally manifest, and that quality is part of what defines the work of a great artist; someone with vision.
It is also inescapably f***ing cool, and demonstrates in vivid terms the versatility of her character.
Before Wonder Woman, Robert Valley endeared himself to animation aficionados with work on Æon Flux, Motorcity and most auspiciously TRON: Uprising, for which he won Annie Awards (animation’s version of the Eisners) for character design and storyboarding. He also executed a pretty cool oomic book Kickstarter last year. Based on his cutting edge track record, when I heard he was one of the myriad of stylists working on the DC Nation project, I would never have guessed his subject would be something as orthodox as Wonder Woman.
But what Valley demonstrates is that Wonder Woman has no orthodoxy. The animated short is a Giganta-sized leap in the direction Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang have been strolling in since they began their work with Diana in the pages of her DC Comics series a couple of years ago. With her traditional origin, prevailing characterization and classic costume thrown out, what Azzarello and Chiang posited and what Valley proved conclusively (and what I suspect Grant Morrison and Yannick Paquette will ratify in their forthcoming graphic novel) is that Wonder Woman is not a character like Bruce Wayne or Peter Parker, whose authors are beholden to unbreakable tenets of a core mythology. Murdered parents, a doomed planet, an estranged sidekick, a science experiment gone wrong — Wonder Woman is bound to nothing so discrete.
Wonder Woman is something more. An icon. A spirit. A totem. An elemental force of strength, beauty and majesty through which all manners of stories can be expressed, from the pioneering feminism of William Moulton Marsten’s original comics to the mythology-tinged superheroics of George Pérez in the 1980s to the dark urban fantasy of Azzarello and Chiang and to Valley’s very funny and stunning ’70s-styled badass. Narratively these visions have little in common. Aesthetically they have nothing in common. And yet they are all indelibly Wonder Woman.
What matters: A land of only women. A powerful princess. A man who needs her help.
What doesn’t matter: Everything else. Okay maybe an invisible vehicle matters.
You don’t need the formed-from-clay origin, Valley ignores it outright. You don’t need the tiara, Valley’s exchanged it for a chunky headband. You don’t need a skimpy costume, Valley’s exchanged Diana’s patriotic bathing suit look for a red T-shirt, star-spangled boyshorts, knee-high American Apparel socks and leather cowboy boots. You don’t need the invisible plane, but if you’re gonna have an invisible something then you can do what Valley did: trade in the jet for a hot rod complete with personalized plates and an 8-track playing some funky jams by TRON: Uprising composer Joseph Trapanese. Every one of those things sounds nothing like Wonder Woman, and yet there she is, in all her glory — arguably more glorious than she’s been in years.
Indeed, it’s a pretty glorious time for Wonder Woman fans, with so many authentic and diverse interpretations of Diana to enjoy. There’s a fantastic Wonder Woman comic going on right now that’s almost totally different than the ones that came before (in fact it’s one of the best books DC currently publishes). There’s an amazing Wonder Woman cartoon that we’ve just discussed at length that’s even more different than that. There’s every reason to expect something similarly impressive from Morrison and Paquette’s upcoming graphic novel, which is going to be more different than that. And eventually someone’s finally going to pull the trigger on a live-action Wonder Woman television show or film that will be more different than all of this.
Well, hopefully not too different from this…