Monday, April 8, 2013

Some artists I think handle Wonder Woman really pretty well

As a comic strip character, Wonder Woman is a tall order. Especially for the many comic artists who have, more or less, one or two styles of women they can draw, and then mix it up with clothes and color. We know what Wonder Woman might look like in our mind's eye, but, like Superman, mostly we know when its wrong.

The comics describe Wonder Woman as:
Beautiful as Aphrodite, wise as Athena, swifter than Hermes, and stronger than Hercules
How do you draw that?

If you're many artists, you chuck the icon and start drawing a swimsuit model in a "sexy" pose.

As an example, DC took some ribbing thanks to the "variant" cover for JLA #2, which featured the usually tough-looking male members of the JLA, and then a kind of youngish, kittenish version of Wonder Woman. I don't know that there was a better way to make the point that WW needs to be portrayed as a peer to her JLA colleagues and not as the resident cheesecake, but in response fans created the "what if male superheroes posed like Wonder Woman" meme.  You sort of hope DC brass hears about these things and applies changes as they go along.

I wasn't a Wonder Woman reader until way late in the game.  I was vaguely embarrassed then (and now) to pick up "sexy" covers on comics, and during the 90's, when I was curious about the character, DC was in the middle of experimenting with both good girl and bad girl art on the title.  But when Phil Jimenez came on Wonder Woman,  I couldn't help but notice the covers weren't cheesecake, the stories were different from everything else I was reading, and when I flipped through the comics, the art was absolutely stunning.  I became a fan of the character thanks to the work of Jimenez, and then had a lot of work to do catching up.

The original artist on Wonder Woman was not one of the upstart cartoonist kids of the Golden Age, but Harry G. Peter, an older gentleman who's aesthetic fell more in line with turn-of-the-century newspaper cartooning than anything going on in the pages of Superman, Whiz, Flash or other comics of its era.

Wonder Woman prepares to bring two steely fists of justice to WWII
I doubt kids cared or criticized, but its not hard to see a different look and feel from Peter's work that might have made these early strips stick out a bit differently in Sensation and All-Star Comics prior to Wonder Woman getting her own title. 

Any feelings I have toward Peter's work is mostly fascination with the historical context of his work more than the raw affection I have for early Kirby, Eisner or Shuster.  But there's rarely any doubt regarding whose handiwork you're seeing until Peter left the title.  And he most definitely did get to participate in that whole light-bondage era of Wonder Woman scholars and nerds like to talk about.

hey, kids!  Comics!
Peter also drew some of the earliest versions of Wonder Woman's rogues gallery, from Dr. Psycho to Giganta, and those versions are all still really wild to look at.  They have more in common with circus art than first appearances of Luthor or The Penguin.

But let's skip forward, shall we?

The Modern Formula: George Perez

After Crisis on Infinite Earths, artist and writer George Perez took over Wonder Woman for a good, long stretch, rebooting Wonder Woman and placing her timeline as re-starting in 1986.  It's a great run with stupendous artwork and action-packed stories.  And, it was the end for Steve Trevor's direct relevance in Wonder Woman's adventures.

His Wonder Woman started as young and somewhat naive, but with a heart of gold and a warrior's spirit, and I think Perez's art conveyed that all very well.  That these books aren't continually reprinted is a bit of a crime as they do kind of work with current continuity.

Two decades later he did this splash as part of a story that was meta-commentary on Wonder Woman as the first great female superhero.

Adam Hughes

Cover artist Adam Hughes has become a fan favorite for his work featuring DC's female heroes.  He plays with a whole range of takes from stuff like the warrior image directly below, to flirty, to fun, to epic  and sometimes mysterious.  I have no idea what media he's working in most of the time, but I included the three images below to demonstrate the range not just of Hughes' work, but of how he evokes different aspects of Wonder Woman's character.

I'm not a huge fan of the height of the legline Hughes applies to Wonder Woman's shorts, and he could go further north with the breastplate, but he has a great knack for poses, faces, etc...

this is the DCU I want to be reading about

this is actually an all-time favorite cover and comic of mine

If you've never read the issue where Lois follows around Wonder Woman for a day, its pretty great. At the time DC was doing something I found interesting and altogether plausible; they were making it clear Wonder Woman and Superman were pretty good pals. In this issue, Lois is both getting a sort of "slice of life" take on Wonder Woman as ambassador, and also trying to figure out what is up with this woman her husband is always hanging out with. Its good stuff, and has some great character beats that I think are all too often missing from modern comics.

Hughes' Wonder Woman is most definitely Amazonian in stature, but he doesn't take a lot of risks with her appearance.  She's still mostly representative of beauty standards of the era, etc...  He just happens to handle those pretty well.

Darwyn Cooke

If you've never read Cooke's New Frontier, you're missing out on a terrific piece of superhero fiction.  It feels more like the energy of the post-Korean War era than the comics of the time in which it was published, pulling in red-scare energy, and the idealism, adventurous spirit that led to the space race.  Good stuff.

What I liked about Cooke's look for WW was that he wasn't afraid to give her curves.

I think there are a few ways you can think about what someone who can pick up a truck looks like, and I think one of those has to be a bit thicker of body than the average depiction of women in comics.  His take doesn't just play off the strengths of the era's fashions, it calls back to the fact that this was an era in which Jayne Mansfield, Jane Russell and Monroe were icons.  And then it lets that icon stop bullets.

see, this is why I'm okay with the idea of Christina Hendricks as WW
Cooke's Wonder Woman is an Amazon and she doesn't fall into the roles she took in the comics of the era.  No Justice League secretary for this superhero.  Her role in the Korean War surprises Superman (both of whom are there in an official capacity).  Its a different take, and I quite like the warrior-princess taken at face value.

The aforementioned Phil Jimenez

I don't know why Jimenez was more or less just handed Wonder Woman in its entirety.  But I can't argue with the result.

His Wonder Woman owes a whole lot to work of George Perez, no doubt.  He managed to make her appealing but never exploited her figure, and after some of the "sexy" Wonder Woman stuff going on in the 90's, it was a welcome change.

Doug Mahnke

I had the totally weird experience of telling Green Lantern and Justice League artist Doug Mahnke that I really liked his take on Wonder Woman.  He seemed oddly pleased.  Maybe complimenting his Wonder Woman is not something he hears often, but I especially liked the nigh-Mediterranean look he gave our Greek ass-kicker.  And that she looked like she was built a bit like an Olympic pentathlete.  The smooth hair is atypical for Princess Diana, who we usually see with a bit more volume, but it's an interesting look.

YOU did not kick in your fair amount when the office went to lunch!

And, of course, Alex Ross

Ross's watercolors always blow me away.  The most "realistic" portrayals of these comic characters is a harsh reminder how far afield it seems Hollywood seems to want to go when it does adapt the costumes when Ross manages to make the costumes and looks make sense.

The Turn-Arounds:  Jose Luis Garcia Lopez

a funny thing happened with the New 52 and the costume redesigns - fans somehow didn't quite cotton to them and it meant the artwork of Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, used for licensing purposes and reference purposes circa 1984, made the rounds.

I still remember seeing some of this art in a DC Comics Role Playing Game guide and being absolutely amazed.  And I still am blown away today.

Again, these were intended for licensing and reference, so the images basically have no context.  This was pre-George Perez reboot, so WW was pretty much a straight superhero at this point and much less of an Amazon Warrior, which led to all the stuff with armor, grim faces, etc...

I have no idea what put the spring in WW's step in that middle image, but it's freakin' me out.

WW is really trusting the auto-pilot on the Invisible Jet

What I can't name

While there are some great female superhero comic artists, I can't think of anyone who has taken on Wonder Woman for an extended period or been asked to make their mark on Wonder Woman.  Gail Simone wrote the book for a while, and even novelist Jodi Picoult did a few issues, but on art chores?  Nothing springs immediately to mind.

Seems like a pretty simple fix, but DC hasn't given any women a significant run that I know of.  I do have one immediate recommendation for DC.

I'm a fan of the work of Jill Thompson (Sandman, Beasts of Burden) and bought this print from her website a few years back.

Normally I don't do non-official prints, but this was very much the spirit of the comic at the time, and I loved the idea.

Maybe one day...


Jake Shore said...

I know very little about Wonder Woman. Most of what I've seen of her has been in stuff like Kingdom Come and other Justice League titles. If you asked what she's like, or what kind of personality she has, I'd be lost. Take away the warrior aspect, and I'm not sure. I like the character fine. She just seems like a blank slate. I know that's not the case, and I'm sure if I invested some time in her comics, I'd have a different view. But that's all that comes out of the stuff I've read. I think DC has that problem with several of its heroes. Characters like Batman, Green Lantern, Robin and Green Arrow are more distinct and you tend to get a flavor for the character pretty quickly.

In contrast, Wonder Woman, Flash, Martian Manhunter, Aquaman, even Superman, are harder to get a take on until you really get into the comics. At least, it seems that way to me. I was watching the Justice League cartoon the other day, which just came to Netflix, and I noticed the only two female heroes, Wonder Woman and Hawkgirl, were just slight variations of the warrior woman trope. Wonder Woman was just a little nicer, maybe naive, whereas Hawkgirl just wants to fight all the time.

That's one thing I've always liked about Marvel. The characters, in my view, are far more distinctive, original and relatable than DC's heroes. Their female characters in particular are much stronger (I think). Invisible Girl, Jean Grey, Storm, Kitty Pryde, The Scarlet Witch, Emma Frost, Black Widow and Rogue are all strong female characters who have distinctive personalities, frailties and don't easily fit into female hero stereotypes.

Jake Shore said...

As far as Wonder Woman artists, I think Darwyn Cooke, Alex Ross and Jose Luis Garcia Lopez are head and shoulders above the rest. I agree with what you said about Cooke's Wonder Woman being bigger and more curvaceous. She actually looks the part of a female warrior. I even liked how Cooke, in New Frontier, physically larger than Superman, but not unnaturally. It really did set her apart as an Amazon, without giving her loads of muscle.

Alex Ross is gives her a majestic, determined and refreshingly mature (not old) look.

And of course, Lopez's Wonder Woman, like everything he draws, is just classic. Clean lines, joyful, energetic, fun; I could go on. Love his art.

Jake Shore said...

One more thing. I'm curious to get your take on DC: New Frontier. I read it last year and have been meaning to write up a review on my blog. School has my blog backlogged with stuff I want to write about.

For me, New Frontier was a mixed bag. Some of it I loved. Some of it, I didn't. It was a mixed bag that I think could have been much better, but I love what Cooke tried to do with it, weaving the DC universe into American history. Anyway, hopefully we can discuss it if (when!) I get my review up.

The League said...

You know, it's funny. I grew up thinking Avengers was this sort of clumsy, hokey book with characters with these sort of cookie-cutter traits rather than personalities and that bickered because it was the book's gimmick. I took the character interaction in X-Men deadly seriously, as I did with Suicide Squad and a few other books I read, but when I tried to get into Avengers (original formula or West Coast) I never could buy it.

After 70 years I think it's fair to say that, much like Batman or Superman, Wonder Woman has been fluid in her personality, but I think there's a pretty good character there when you get past the baggage I think a lot of people bring to the character as a pop icon.

I don't think JLU, as much as I loved the show, did separate out the two characters enough (and Hawkgirl was never presented how she was in the comics, really) as they wanted to make sure the characters were taken as equals to their male teammates.

Somehow DC's female characters have gotten the reputation of not having the strong characters that Marvel has enjoyed, and, frankly, I think that's not fair on a page-by-page, character by character count. I'll give you your women of X-Men, but Invisible Girl and others have usually reflected the time period they're written in, from Sue Storm: doormat of early FF to the fact that Black Widow is defined mostly by which male hero's book she's guesting in. And I'm not sure Storm has been interesting since Claremont ran out of ideas for the character in 1991.

I'd give you the cast of Birds of Prey, Amanda Waller, Barda, Starfire, Lady Shiva, Catwoman, Power Girl (believe it or not), a few different versions of Supergirl, etc... many of which carried their own books in a way Marvel has never been able to pull off.

Wonder Woman is different from all of the characters, male or female, and I've always found the duality of her mission of "peace through strength and compassion" to be a fascinating idea.

The League said...

I was very much in the bag for New Frontier when it arrived. I respect it for trying to do what it did, knowing Cooke is an artist who wrote it as his own project and forgiving some of the roadbumps. It's a "warts and all" sort of take on some of these characters, and in an Elseworld's context, I've always appreciated what he did.