I wonder

Stand witness, friends, as I commit a major act of sacrilege by declaring that one of the Holy Trinity in the DC Universe has a bad costume:

On one level, obviously, this is a perfectly fine costume, as it has helped elevate Wonder Woman to the upper echelon of recognizable and bankable heroes. It's not ridiculous like Calendar Man or hideous like Lightstar or in an obnoxious color like Paladin. It's in primary colors, it shows a lot of skin, and it has a consistent identity, so it satisfies the bare minimum standards for a competent outfit.

But what jumps out at you when you look at Wonder Woman (and don't go with the reflex schoolboy answer)? For me, it's this overwhelming sense of the United States. Red, white, and blue, white stars on a blue field, hints of an eagle in the chest piece (depending on the era). It screams "American Flag".

What's missing is any sense of this person as an Amazon, as a warrior from another culture, as someone who is, fundamentally, not American. I get that she was developed during a time when being pro-Americas was a prerequisite for any character, and that her buddy Superman pretty much cornered the market on that angle. But Superman's costume isn't so blatantly American as Wonder Woman's, which frankly would not look out of place on a female Captain America.

Its badness, therefore, is of a higher order. I would argue that it fails because it says nothing whatsoever about the person wearing it. Furthermore, I think this is a great example of a failure arising not so much from the costume designer as of the character herself. Wonder Woman doesn't have any real reason for existing on her own as anything but a female Superman analogue. And yet grafted onto that is this patriotic shell that makes no sense from the character's perspective.

Setting aside the "meta" aspect of character influencing costume, though, the specifics of her outfit are also strange. The top is usually drawn as metallic, yet (as usual with fantasy females), such armor would be useless in an actual battle, leaving most of her body completely exposed. And if she's invulnerable, as the modern incarnation seems to be, what's the use of metal armor in the first place?

Star spangled underwear always struck me as a bit absurd. Which, given the fact that they're wearing their underwear on the outside in the first place, is quite the trick. You can see in the live-action version just how ridiculous it plays out in real life, however -- it just looks like she rolled out of bed in a seventh grade slumber party.

The basic concept of the bustier is fine, and I actually like the way it translates in the live version, but in the comics I always wonder just how that works. They draw it (as here) sucked onto her breasts like wet plaster, but no metal would work like that. Or if it did, there's no way she'd be able to shove those things in there.

I just think the design misses the mark badly, forced to borrow a patriotic identity out of fear of giving the character herself any real heft or weight. I'd love to see her in something that brought out her Greek origins, or reflected more of a warrior princess motif, or really anything that wasn't warmed over Captain America.

I look forward to your evisceration of my feeble thought process in the comments!

24 Responses to I wonder

  1. I said it once, I say it again: A costume themed by with national flag is a very good way to ruin a costume. Captain America, Wonder Woman, Captain Britain and whatever others there are, all have awful costumes, because they try to represent two concepts at once – it just doesn’t look good. For some reason costumes based on american flag seem worst to me, probably because of all those five pointed stars. Something about asymmetrical stars in a costume feels repulsing to me.

  2. Interesting take, Kalkin. For me, I actually like Captain Britain’s outfit a lot, I think the lines and angles work really well with it. And like Cap (who I also like), their whole shtick is to be representatives for their nations, that makes it all hang together for me.

    The main problem with Wonder Woman is that she’s not an American hero, really, or supposed to be the national super-hero icon. She’s an Amazonian ambassador, if anything you’d think she’d deliberately NOT wear the flag of the nation she’s appointed to. You don’t see the Russian ambassador parading around New York in star-spangled suits, after all.

  3. They tried explaining the costume in the Wonder Woman animated movie (which was very good and worth watching). They explained that it was intentionally made to resemble the flag so as to broker peace between the two nations.

  4. I get that Jake, but I don’t (personally) find it a very satisfying explanation. Again, ambassadors don’t typically wrap themselves in the host nation’s flag. I can see them dressing more in the style of the culture — Arabs wearing suits instead of robes, for instance — but the national regalia is a bit much.

  5. Her martial armor in Kingdom Come was better.

  6. I gotta agree with you there Jeff, event though I like WW, the costume I really like is the battle armor. It’s right there in the background of that George Perez illustration you put up.

  7. What I notice is that the man on the left is wearing a Wonder Woman outfit, falsies, and a thick, curly wig. The woman on the right has an actual woman’s build, which makes sense with her being a real-live woman and all.

    I know this is a discussion of the costume, but the body is so bad on the left – it really does look like the artist drew a man, added breasts, removed the package and called it a day.

  8. Good point Laridian. The hips are so narrow, the shoulders so broad … It’s bad enough she’s labeled as the “female Superman” but this is taking it a bit too far.

  9. Perhaps the design needs to back to the original where instead of star-spangled briefs, she had a skirt, and thigh high sandles instead of high heel boots.

    The problem I have with the current costume is that for a champion of feminine power, she is dressed in an outfit that only enhances her female form.

  10. Reader Kate

    I don’t like Wonder Woman’s costume either. It’s got too much uncoordinated detail; the top part and bottom part seem to come from two completely different outfits.
    And damn, but comic artists ALWAYS seem to draw women’s shoulders to broad and hips too narrow. A straight line descending from a woman’s armpit is supposed to intersect her hip, guys.

  11. I’m a bigger fan of the homage from Astro City: Winged Victory.

    It’s similar to Wonder Woman’s armor in many ways.

    I don’t mind patriotic symbols, and I understand the color scheme was intended because red, white and blue are common costume colors for heroes. Yet they could have done so without making it so over the top (See Superman)

  12. Oh maybe that should be a contest..redesign Wonder Woman’s costume..?

  13. If I remember right in the early days Wonder Woman was sent away from the island and found America to be her new home. So she was showing her pride to be an American even if only adopted. I think if more people that come to America would use this as an example and show pride in their new home instead of trying to change it and make it like where they came from, America would be better for it.

  14. Jack Zelger

    I’ve often seen fan artists reimagine the costume and have it more resemble an ancient Greek outfit. That seems to be a way to go, since some warriors of that age weren’t all that covered up. Give her chest more traditional armor look from that time, and it’d work better. Though, you may just make her look like “Xena, Warrior Princess”, but they’re pretty close, anyway. A recent Smallville put Lois Lane in a similar outfit, which was obviously meant to echo WW, but had nothing to do with the character.

    The funny thing to me is, if you just removed the stars, the outfit wouldn’t be very American. Then, like Superman, she’d be just red, yellow and blue. Realize though, that if they made her outfit less American for say, a movie adaptation, people would complain it was done to appease people afraid of patriotism, even if you tried to explain it just didn’t fit the character.

  15. Jack Zelgar has a point. So does Hammerknight.

    Personally, I’ve long had issues with the “Amazon Princess” donning a representation of the American flag as her costume; and I’ve never really been happy with the explanation put forth of “in order to broker peace between the two nations”. To me, this seemed like a cop-out. Especially considering the Amazon nation’s apparently still rabidly ongoing “no males on the island” policy. However, I really like the costume redesign that Jeff did (http://www.heromachine.com/2010/05/14/sod-135-wonder-woman-2/). I think it does more to capture, or link Diana to her Amazonian heritage; although I’ll note that even HE went with the American patriotic look and the star-spangled nether regions cover.

    I commented to the other Pool Cleaners about it, and the general consensus seems to be that her outfit has become too iconic to be able to change overmuch. After all, in the 70 years of her existence the only real change has been her taking off her star-spangled skirt to reveal her patriotic granny panties.

  16. That was the dilemma I had PCFDPGrey, I didn’t feel like I could change her outfit so completely. It’s become iconic, for better or worse.

  17. Nick Hentschel

    I’ve long favored a base of WHITE for Diana’s costume, as part of a more recognizably Greco-Roman look…….and also, because I happen to think that white is a sexy color.

    i haven’t put it together on HM yet, ut here’s what I propose: make the breastplate (“cuirass,” if you want to be technical about it) less form-fitting, and more obviously armor. After all, she may miss one with her bracelets, from time to time. Keep Lynda’s “eagle design, but make the base color a darker bronze, instead of red. And have a sort of “halter” going behind her neck, from the top of the cuirass, to show how she holds the damn thing on, and make her look a bit brawnier.

    As for the “lowers,” replace them with either:

    A) a plain, breezy white skirt, which looks VERY appropriate, so that it matches the look of, say, Caesar or Augustus in armor.

    B) plain, long, white tights, going all the way into her boots. This is a bit more modern, and probably looks better, on the whole.

    It might be particularly good to distinguish between these two looks by time: Hippolyta could wear the skirt during WW2, and Diana could wear the tights in the modern era.
    No opinion on footwear yet, but for the modern costume, I’d like to bring the tiara down beyond her ears more (“She-Ra” style, you might say), but keep it relatively slender. And I’d almost certainly draw her features more “Mediterranean”: darker eyes, aquiline nose.

    I *really* need to get to work on drawing this…..

  18. “Nick Hentschel Says:
    May 20th, 2010 at 11:40 am
    I’ve long favored a base of WHITE for Diana’s costume, as part of a more recognizably Greco-Roman look…….and also, because I happen to think that white is a sexy color.”

    …And because a white outfit would go transparent as soon as it gets wet; right? ;D

    Actually, what you’re describing sounds very much like what Stan Lee imagined if he had created Wonder Woman:
    http://www.amazon.com/Just-Imagine-Stan-Wonder-Woman/dp/1563898241

    Interesting concept.

  19. Nick Hentschel

    “Actually, what you’re describing sounds very much like what Stan Lee imagined if he had created Wonder Woman:”

    A little; I guess great minds think alike. 😉

    And the “transparency” thing was a big deal with all ancient Greek clothing: remember, they didn’t wear underwear!

  20. Nick Hentschel

    And on that note, I think I’ll start moving the idea back towards the dress: think of it as a re-work of the 40’s costume. I might even keep the sandals!

  21. AbecedariusRex

    Completely agree. Always thought the costume was too outrageous and gaudy, not to mention too American. Where was Amazonia, anyway? Northern Greece? Thrace? The concept of an Amazon in the Bahamas was always a bit absurd. If anything I’d prefer to see the costume take on Greek dimensions, too, though the real Amazons went topless and chopped off their left breast so they could shoot a bow and arrow better (which would probably not be a good selling point for Diana Prince to young prepube boys).

  22. Nick Hentschel

    The origins of the Amazon legend are often linked to the Sarmatians, a horse people whose territory bordered the Black Sea area, so geographically, you’re more or less right. (They also have a link to the King Arthur legend, but that’s another story.) However, I don’t think the Amazons have hesitated to move to the Caribbean if they had to: Classical Greek costume would have worked pretty well there!
    Curiously, while the “combat mastectomy” was sometimes said to be the origin of the word, “Amazon,” (again, there are disagreements) Greek art never depicts them that way. (Probably, they couldn’t find any one-breasted models!)

  23. Jigglypuff

    http://browse.deviantart.com/?q=Wonder%20woman%20redesign&order=9&offset=48#/d1raukg

    I really like this redesign better. It fits with the Greek mythological themes better, not unlike that stupid star-spangled granny pants leotard.

  24. I think my big problem with the Wonder Woman ensemble is all the little things. Let’s start at the feet. Not that I’m into feet, mind you; it’s just a logical step since there are no problems at the other end. The red FM boots with the high heels make no sense for any superheroine, but the white trim manages not to match the gold trim on the other red parts of the costume. It doesn’t match the white stars on the…trunks? What garment, exactly, does Wonder Woman wear on her (exquisite) bottom, anyway? Anyway, the arrow-shaped trim on the boots doesn’t match the shape of the stars, so that’s just bad.

    Next we have that weird low-rise brief-whatever-thing already mentioned on her already-mentioned derriere. Granted, it does a wonderful job of showing off what her momma gave her (via sculpture!), but it seems more practical for swimming or sunning. (Of course, her swim gear, paradoxically, covers almost all of her body, while still making her look pretty sexy…and still not Themysciran.)

    On to the girdle. That looks like metal with no joints and two pointy ends that look like they would stab right where she would bend. Not much fun there.

    You’ve already touched on the impracticality of keeping a bustier on one’s chest during combat. She’d constantly be tugging that thing up on the real world. In order to keep the bustier up and keep ABC Standards and Practices from going ape, Lynda Carter’s real-life costume, to hear Debra Winger tell it, was so wired up to support Ms. Carter’s ample assets that she couldn’t comfortably turn at the waist.

    Above that, there’s not one thing until we get to the tiara–possibly the only functional item she wears other than the lasso. The tiara, at least, keeps her hair out of her face.