So last week, we checked out Wonder Woman from the 1940s to the mid 1980s. We saw her go from a skirt to culottes to tight shorts to outfits that seemed inspired by either Emma Peel or David Bowie, depending on the issue. We saw the eagle emblem alter into a W insignia and we saw her switch from boots to sandals back to boots.
Then Crisis on Infinite Earths happened and rebooted Diana's history. So let's see what the new take on Wonder Woman has brought us since.
PEREZ AND THE POST-CRISIS WONDER WOMAN
George Perez was the new Wonder Woman artist and quickly took over writing as well, giving us a Wonder Woman far more engrossed in Greek mythology. Diana’s strength and resiliency were now said to be great enough that, coupled with her fighting skills, she could give Superman a very good fight. And she no longer glided on air currents. She could fly by her own force of will, like many other superheroes, thanks to the blessings of the Greek goddesses.
In the new Post-Crisis continuity, it was said that Diana’s suit was a special armor blessed by the gods. Perez added a reflective sheen to Diana’s costume, helping the idea that this was armor, perhaps a specially treated/enchanted leather. The golden belt was now clearly an extra layer of metal.
The bracelets were extended slightly and given a silver shine to them now, making Diana stand out from the other Amazons who only had simple steel bracelets. The idea that Diana would go nuts if the bracelets were removed was dropped. Now, the bracelets were purely reminders to Amazons of their previous subjugation and of the debt they owed to the goddesses for their freedom later on.
And check out the boots. Perez got rid of the high heels, believing they made you take Diana less seriously. He also used it as an excuse to make Wonder Woman a few inches taller so that she wouldn't be looking up at Batman or Superman.
Now, we know that in the 1940s Diana's outfit resembling an America flag made sense because she was going to be helping the US against the Nazis and wanted to be clear about whose side she was on. Post-Crisis, this was revised since Diana was a young hero in the modern day and obviously was not around during World War II. In later issue, Perez explained that USAF pilot Diana Trevor (mother of Steve) had crashed onto the island home of the Amazons years before Princess Diana had been born and that she had died while helping Hyppolyta's forces fight off some demons. To honor her, the Amazons took note of the US flag and Air Force pins on her flight jacket and, believing this was her coat of arms, adopted it as their own warrior decorations.
So this version of Diana's suit became the standard for several years. Brian Bolland became the cover artist on the series for a while and would occasionally draw her symbol as a separate layer of golden metal laid over the red. This became standard practice among artists, turning Wonder Woman’s insignia into another layer of armor.
The 1990s were not a great time for superhero fashion. Especially, it often seemed, if your hero were a woman.
As we entered the 1990s, tweaks started happening to Wonder Woman's uniform. It wasn't overt at first, but it seemed that different artists, both in her own books and in other comics where she would guest star, were progressively lowering the placement of her top and were also shrinking her shorts to show more skin. As time went on, it truly did become more like a bathing suit as some folks had criticized in the past. And finally, some artists made sure that Diana was actually wearing a French cut thong.
It may seem contradictory to some of you that I am okay with a swimsuit bottom but not with a French cut thong. Sorry, that's how I feel. There's a difference between 1, Wonder Woman keeping her legs free and being unembarrassed by her female form, and 2, Diana dressing in an overtly-sexual manner as if she's trying to distract everyone from her face, friend and foe alike. Some of the stories during this time were very good but it was hard to get some folks to understand that when they saw art that seemed focused on eye candy. I realize sex sells, but come on.
Another thing that happened in the 90s was the belief that any cool hero, anti-hero or vigilante needed to be decked out in black leather and/or to throw a jacket on them as an accessory. Some also seemed to enjoy pouches and shoulder pads in an alarming way. Diana was a victim of this trend.
Years back, there had been a brief storyline where Diana had lost the mantle of Wonder Woman to a redhead Amazon named Orana. In the 1990s, the story was represented and updated, introducing Diana to a new redhead Amazon rival named Artemis (get it? Artemis = Diana). A contest was held and Artemis wound up winning the mantle of Wonder Woman. She wore the same new French cut thong that Diana had been sporting. Since she didn't have super powers of flight and such, she was given winged sandals and armed herself with a bow and arrow.
Diana decided not to simply retire however. She wasn't Wonder Woman anymore, but she could still live the life of a hero. So she got a hair cut, a black outfit, wore a jacket with stars on it, and apparently had someone custom make her a “WW” belt. And this outfit... Where do I even friggin’ begin? The lame jacket that has no pockets nor zipper nor buttons and cannot possibly close in front? The weird, teeny-tiny boots? The bra replacing a shirt? Or how about the weird double-belt around Diana’s stomach? Is that for protection or has she tightened it so that she doesn’t fall into the temptation of ever eating?
People who complain about the classic suit not being a practical uniform need to get a look at this. Black leather does not automatically mean "realistic." There's nothing really interesting about this outfit and, worst of all, there's nothing in this style that speaks to Diana. Even if she were not Wonder Woman, Diana was the same person we'd known for many years, a warrior who was also a teacher at heart. None of that feeling or atmosphere can be found in this wardrobe, there's nothing of the optimism and hope that Diana represents. You want her to wear something that makes it clear she's no longer "Wonder Woman," fine. But it should still look like something the character would choose to wear.
JOHN BYRNE SIMPLIFIES
Of course, Diana became Wonder Woman again once the story arc with Artemis was finished. Artist/writer John Byrne then took over the book and tweaked her look again. The bracelets became even bigger, now covering most of her forearm and emphasizing that they were there for protective purposes and not just decoration. A very nice touch, one that actually makes them bracers rather than bracelets.
Like the 70s, the belt was now extended so that it touched the chest guard. He also increased the size of the tiara, which makes it less of a decoration and more functional, guarding her forehead from injury. Byrne didn’t care for drawing so many stars on Wonder Woman’s shorts, so he said screw it and just had two stars on the front and back. I understand the reason for this and but I also wonder if such a change actually makes the uniform look even more like a swimsuit.
As his run continued, Byrne had Diana basically die in battle, but her spirit was saved and brought to Olympus where she became the Goddess of Truth (and got herself a very simple but pretty outfit with a Wonder Woman belt). Then her mother Hyppolyta took her place as Wonder Woman. And then Hippolyta (or “Polly” to friends) wound up traveling backwards in time and spent several adventures in World War II, thus bringing back the idea that there had been a hero called Wonder Woman then.
Byrne outfitted Polly in his own version of Wonder Woman's origin suit. We got back the skirt and the eagle shirt instead of the W emblem. In keeping with the modern idea that the emblem was function, the eagle was now clearly a metal armor. And she now had a W emblem belt. Not a bad idea, but the size of it makes it fairly distracting when you've also got a golden eagle on her torso. The costume becomes a little too busy for my tastes.
Like his take on the modern Wonder Woman, Byrne preferred to draw a few large stars instead of many small ones on the skirt. And he altered the tiara with a new curved design. A pretty good look all around and the addition of weaponry (such as the sword with a W hilt) was another nice way of indicating that this was a different sort of Wonder Woman with different methods.
Since the 1980s, Wonder Woman artists toyed with the idea that if this uniform was actually a special and possibly magical suit of armor, then surely Diana had special alternate armors for specific occasions. There were also stories where she simply wound up wearing a different look because her armor was taken or wound up being ripped apart. One example is when Diana wound up in outer space for a while and had to fight off some folks who sought to enslave her, adopting the look of a space pirate in the process. There were also various stories where we would see a version of Diana from a parallel Earth or a possible future.
Grant Morrison and Howard Porter's "Rock of Ages" storyline showed Wonder Woman adopted clawed gloves and a full on helmet to help her with combat. It also had her evoke her old skirt by wearing a leather skirt with stars adorned at the edges, a design which Darwyn Cooke used many years later in The New Frontier. The famous Kingdom Come story by Mark Waid and Alex Ross had her wearing a sash that both evoked her old skirt and something worn by an ancient Greek or Roman warrior.
The armored look (and leather skirt idea) have gone through various interpretations via many artists, often displayed when Diana was facing a foe much stronger than her usual enemies or when she had time to prepare for serious battle instead of reacting to sudden danger. Some of these work better than others. In the end, it's really just a matter of individual taste and how realistic you like your superhero's wardrobe to be.
Alan Davis did a couple interesting takes on Diana in his mini-series JLA: The Nail, Diana sported the classic Post-Crisis armor of George Perez. But notice that the WW crest has its top edge curved downward, just to imply it’s an eagle’s head. It’s a small touch that I think is quite nice. Davis added further changes when he depicted Diana wearing “ceremonial garb” for a White House function and this outfit I really love.
The expanded eagle has the WW crest while also giving a clearer idea of it being a bird. I also seems like a functioning as a breast plate now rather than a band of metal just guarding the top of her uniform. This, along with the new boots, really emphasize this is stylized armor rather than just a costume.
The skirt is a sexier cut but avoids going into the bathing suit territory that many have criticized. And I dig the gold hem to it. Also notice that, like Byrne and some later artists, Diana’s tiara has been given a greater size and weight to it. But it doesn’t go overboard and make it a helmet either. You don’t want to completely lose the element of a tiara. Diana doesn’t need to deny the fact that she’s a woman or a princess in order to be tough. She’s all those things.
The cape might seem a bit much, but Diana has occasionally worn capes to certain ceremonies and functions and has always been able to easily throw them off when she had to rush into action. All in all, I think translating this look to live-action would give us quite a classy Wonder Woman.
As pointed out, many of these stories took place out of continuity. But that doesn't change their impact. At the end of John Byrne's run on the title, Diana came back from Olympus and was once again a mortal woman with super-powers. She went back to the Perez design, but now artists felt the freedom to be a little more fast and loose with her outfit. Jim Lee has done a few takes on the classic Wonder Woman style that have been very interesting. In the series All-Star Batman and Robin, her uniform definitely said warrior and took a nod to a Frank Miller design that extended the tiara to guard her nose.
In a Superman story where Diana and the Man of Steel had to fight, Lee gave us this other take on the uniform which is very cool. The skirt is back but with the weapons, shield and other tweaks such as the boots, the skirt now definitely seems like part of a warrior's garb. There are some great elements here and I could see this working in a feature film. And that cape with the clasp definitely adds to the old warrior flavor.
THE PHIL JIMENEZ COLLECTION
Writer/artist Phil Jimenez, author of The Essential Wonder Woman Encyclopedia, later took over Diana’s comic and had fun putting our hero in quite a few variations of her outfit. Depending on whether she was addressing the U.N., appearing before a school, riding a motorcycle with a friend, or having an adventure with the JLA, Wonder Woman was always dressed for the occasion and always looked good.
Phil was nice enough to actually chat with me about Diana's fashion sense. Here's some of what we discussed.
ALAN KISTLER: “So, Phil, do you prefer Diana in a skirt or tight shorts? Does it matter?”
PHIL JIMENEZ: “I actually like both; as with all fashion, it depends on the context, I suspect. I prefer the shorts for ‘battle’ and the skirt for casual scenes, although I suspect she could rock either at any moment, given who we’re talking about.
“Does it matter? It probably matters some commercially; the tight shorts are, arguably, sexier, and considering how important ‘sexy’ is to the core comic book consumer, she probably sells better in the bikini. Plus, most regular folks know Wonder Woman from the Lynda Carter show.”
ALAN: “I find that as I’ve gotten older, I prefer her in the skirt in general. I think the skirt just adds something regal about her and reminds us she’s a warrior PRINCESS. I also like how it gives a sense of motion. Tell me, do you prefer her chest guard as a stylized ‘WW’ or as an eagle design?”
PHIL: “I’ve never heard the term ‘chest guard!’ Again, it’s context. I actually like the stylized ‘WW’ from both an aesthetic and a brand perspective; it’s a symbol, and an easy one to draw. I love super-hero emblems or shields (I think the JLA has a fantastic roster of symbols, as does the Legion), and I think the stylized double-W is a strong, clean symbol that also has some time and history behind it. It was developed in the early 80’s right? That makes it almost 30 years old!
“I also think it depends on time period. I much prefer the eagle on the World War II version of the character, and the stylized double-W on the modern version. I really loved the eagle on Hippolyta’s WW armor…
“Admittedly, I’m not a fan of the stylized double-W chest guard AND the double-W belt [that became standard later]. It seems like a bit of overkill; I much prefer it when the chest guard becomes more eagle-like, just to prevent the repetition. It’s like Superman having an S-shield on his chest and his belt!”
ALAN: “I completely agree on that last point. Just makes me think the hero has low self-esteem. ‘You remember who I am, right?’ Just doesn’t work for me. So, should Diana even have a standard look? Or can any artist give their own take since Perez established that she has multiple suits?”
PHIL: “Tricky question. Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, and I love the idea that Diana has multiple versions of her armor. Further, artists have long been free to interpret characters like Batman and Spider-Man with outrageously successful results, so why not Wonder Woman? Let the artists play, and see what they discover about her and bring to the character and their work. Bolland, Perez, and Hughes are my favorite WW artists, and they certainly don’t have the same approach to the character (although their approach to costume itself is remarkably consistent, thinking about it)…
“That said, the character has suffered commercially for ages because of a lack of overall consistency of tone and continuity on her book. Artistic flourishes are one thing, but altering the costume ad nauseam hasn’t helped, especially the flip-flopping between pre- and post-Crisis versions. I liked her in tight pants when she was in outer space. As ever, design and context matter! But as a traditional uniform, well – I’ll take the bare legs.
"I think it’s the bottoms that really make everyone crazy. I prefer a minimal star pattern, a la the Lynda Carter/1970’s version of the costume. And I prefer a royal blue as opposed to a lighter blue. So while I do think the stars matter, I also think the shorts themselves cause the most trouble for people not accustomed to the costume or who want her to have a more serious, ‘warrior-ready’ uniform.
“I have a problem with people wanting superhero costumes to be too practical anyway. It’s less fun to draw. I’m not concerned if it would translate realistically to a movie, that’s someone else’s job.”
"But I wonder if it’s too much. Diana is a warrior, yes, but she’s also a teacher and an ambassador. She doesn’t invite conflict or look for a fight, whereas this suit might imply otherwise. Very pretty, though. And works just fine for Donna, especially with that silver color and the starlight skirt."
ONE YEAR LATER AND ONE YEAR OUT OF TIME
After the story Infinite Crisis, Diana dropped her Wonder Woman identity for about a year and questioned many things in life. She also adopted the new cover of government agent and super-human terrorist hunter Diana Prince, sporting some white outfits that definitely seemed a little familiar.
For a short while, Donna Troy (the original Wonder Girl) stepped in as Wonder Woman. It's not a bad outfit at all and the silver works very nicely for Donna, who's rocked that metal in a couple of different looks. The starfield pattern is another nod to some of Donna's own outfits, making this a blend of her own fashion and Diana's. It's also a nice way of making Diana's star-spangled skirt a bit more literal.
Very nice, but this style seems a little too much armor and not enough superhero for my own tastes. Just my thoughts.
Eventually, Diana returned to the role of Wonder Woman. It was pretty much the classic 1980s look except that artists now made sure to indicate the red top was some kind of leather, giving it seams to add texture and depth. The W was given a slightly more eagle-like design with added pieces. And now she had a W belt as well. As mentioned above, this seems a little over-kill with the same symbol and makes the suit seem a little too busy.
Still, overall good design, especially when you notice that Diana's outfit is actually covering her again, leaving the legs bare but not going for a bikini brief cut nor sitting too low on her chest. This outfit is sexy but not at the cost of simply putting the character on display.
Then came a controversial year-long story where Diana woke up to find that her timeline had changed. Paradise Island had been devastated years ago, according to the new history, and Diana had grown up more on the streets, becoming a brawler with martial arts skills rather than a trained Amazon warrior. Along with this came a new look. Some people really enjoyed the design, believing that Wonder Woman was now more realistic and that she could be taken seriously when she was not wearing a "bathing suit." Others felt that this was a betrayal of Wonder Woman's classic style and that it implied a woman superhero couldn't be taken seriously if she showed off muscular arms and legs.
As a Wonder Woman standard, I'm not really fond of this look. There's a bit too much black, I don't like the star on the back of the belt as if it's a back tattoo, the bracers now seem too busy, and the shoulder pads on the jacket appear clunky and unnecessary. I also wish the boots were noticeably separate from the trousers, because having them as seemingly one piece suddenly takes away from the practical appeal of this and brings it more to a runway fashion style. But for the story itself, I do see where this look is coming from and that it's meant to show a Diana who's personality was not the same as the classic Wonder Woman fans knew and loved for years.
Interestingly, once the jacket was dropped, I started to like this look a bit more. It doesn't appear quite as busy now and the straps on Diana's arms are practical but also work on a design level because they once again put in my mind the ancient Greeks and Romans. I also must say that I like the belt and I think making the tiara shaped like a W is a nice touch. If the top were one solid red piece, I might like it more. As it is, it seems a little too decorative and distracting with its many lines.
At the end of the storyline, Diana's timeline and history were restored. But Diana told her mother that she sensed yet another change was coming, that reality would find itself in a new state. But, she decided this didn't matter. Life meant change and whatever else happened in her future, she would always be Wonder Woman. Which leads us to...
DCnU - 52 RELAUNCH
This year, DC Comics decided to relaunch its titles and revise large parts of the DC Universe (or DCU), similar to how they revised continuity in the 1950s beginning with the Silver Age of comics and in the 1980s following the first Crisis story. Wonder Woman's initial preview images showed her wearing black trousers, which again caused arguments among fans who either thought this design was a blend of the classic and the practical or who thought that it was still an attempt to downplay the character's classic design and feminine qualities.
This initial design I had a few issues with, mainly the overwhelming nature of the black. Street Wonder Woman can wear black, but if we're going back to the superhero who fights demons, super-villains and aliens between traversing mythical realms and having time travel trips, I don't think it really matches the atmosphere. Diana's tough, but she's optimistic as well.
Whatever the case, when the new Wonder Woman #1 came out a couple of months ago, it had Diana wearing shorts again rather than trousers. This look evokes the classic design but there have definitely been changes. Like the initial preview images we saw, Diana now wears silver rather than gold, apparently a move meant to give her a different color palette than Superman. I understand that. I don't think it's necessary and I still think I prefer her with gold, but I understand the reason for the change.
The boots are now dark, matching the shorts rather than the top. This I'm okay with. When she had black trousers, I wanted the boots to be a different color. But now with bare legs, I think it works. The bracelets have now truly become bracers, not just in size but in design. I think this works, giving a nod to the classic look but focusing on practicality. The choker I don't think is necessary. We already have a W on this costume, we don't need another little one so close to the main emblem.
I still wish the top were a cleaner design. In the realm of comic books, where every black line stands out, I don't see a need to included every seam just because it's what would realistically exist in real life. This isn't real life, it's a different medium. I also wish the W chest guard had a strong angle to it so it could more strongly evoke a bird silhouette, but that's just my personal taste.
All in all, this is still an effective costume. And who knows? In a year, it may change yet again, so we'll just have to wait and see what comes next. Hope you've enjoyed this look at Wonder Woman's design history. Until next time, this is Alan Kistler, Agent of S.T.Y.L.E., signing off!