Posts Tagged ‘reboot’

If you’d like the shortest review for Ghostbusters that I can provide, it’d be this: It’s a fun, hilarious, if flawed action comedy starring some of the funniest women in movies and television.0004565435-ew-1420ghostbustters_612x380

It’s not hyperbolic to say that Ghostbusters is significant in the current landscape of Hollywood. It is both an example of the cinematic malady of reboots, remakes, and “reimaginings” of previously existing franchises as well as the agonizingly incremental shift towards female-led movies as viable properties regardless of genre. Unsurprisingly, then, that a lot of people would find “issues” with it, the reasons of which range anywhere from “Another reboot?” to “They’re ruining my childhood!” to, my personal favorite, “[insert expletives about women here.]” But whether you think Ghostbusters is the next step in the vast conspiracy of women taking over the film industry or it managed to “ruin your childhood” – somehow – I can’t stress just how important Ghostbusters is to the next generation of moviegoers. Yes, the 1984 film means a lot to the young men and women who grew up imagining themselves as Peter Venkman, Egon Spangler, Janine Melnitz, or maybe Slimer, but this new generation of girls and boys will be spoiled for choice as they get to pull from two casts of funny, smart, and competent Ghostbusters to emulate on the playground or dress up as for Halloween.

Having those options is a huge deal. Huge. As a tomboy who watched the gendered cartoons of the 80s and 90s, I often found myself gravitating towards the “boys’ cartoons,” which included Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, G.I. Joe, and The Real Ghostbusters. On the playground, however, I was still “the girl,” so I could only be a girl character because playground logic sucks. But it’s that basic kind of logic kids latch on to and when girl characters are ditzy blondes, secretaries, or the sexy evil counterpart while the boys get to play quippy heroes and awesome villains, it sends a message. Thankfully, some of us grow out of the gender binary as law mentality, but giving kids that ability to see male and female characters in similar roles goes a long way to ensuring they see equality as the norm. And if Ghostbusters can contribute to those future generations’ acknowledgment of women as comedians, action heroes, scientists, and yes, Ghostbusters, then the film is a success in my book.ghostbusters-full-new-img

What I find most interesting, though, is the way Ghostbusters addresses the “controversy” surrounding its main characters without really addressing it outright. It starts with a short, to the point question Martin Heiss (Bill Murray) asks of the Ghostbusters in the wake of their first successful capture of a monstrous apparition:

Why are you pretending to capture ghosts?

It didn’t really hit me until that moment, about halfway through the movie, that Ghostbusters, directed by Paul Feig and co-written by Feig and screenwriter Katie Dippold, is held up by a spine of subtext most women recognize immediately. The “controversy” surrounding the film being what it is, it’s impossible not to see the through-line that informs the Ghostbusters’ most prominent threat outside of actual ghosts: skepticism.

It makes sense, then, that Heiss, a skeptic, asks the question in such a condescending manner. He, along with the main antagonist Rowan North (Neil Casey), are part and parcel of the misogynist culture that continually thwarts women where matters of respect and legitimacy are concerned. While the movie itself never flat-out makes gender an issue within the plot or the story – save for an added scene blasting YouTube commenters and a quick, “You shoot like a girl!” towards the end – it’s constantly present in the external forces acting against the team. To wit, it isn’t a coincidence that these external forces are male. Heiss, Rowan, the ‘Buster’s secretary Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), and the Mayor of New York (Andy Garcia) all present minor and major hurdles for the team as they try to prove themselves in a city determined not to believe them. ghostbusters-2016-ghosts

The most fleshed out character arc in Ghostbusters concerns Dr. Erin Gilbert’s (Kristen Wiig) struggle to be taken seriously as a scientist. At the beginning of the movie, she’s obsessed with getting tenure at Columbia University because tenure equates to status within academia. When her book written about the paranormal with childhood pal, and fellow scientist, Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) resurfaces, she seeks Abby out to keep anyone at the university from finding out about her dalliance in pseudo science; thus the plot begins. The importance of those early scenes, however, feed into the movie’s subtext. Erin wants to be acknowledged by her peers and her university; she wants the pride associated with legitimacy and the respectability that comes with it. Her concerns and actions are deeply rooted in how she wants to be viewed by the rest of the world, which keeps her from throwing herself into her true passion. This is reinforced throughout the film as the media questions the veracity of their first paranormal catch, the Mayor’s office’s actively calls them frauds despite knowing the city’s ghost problems are real, and Erin’s personal trauma of seeing a ghost as a child only to ridiculed by other children with the moniker “Ghost Girl.” With each new development, Erin’s frustration and her desire for legitimacy become more apparent.

It makes the scene with Heiss that much more significant within the narrative. Everything about how Murray plays him is a reminder that women are scrutinized far more than men when it comes to verifying their work, actions, and words. Protection of female sex workers, reporting domestic violence and sexual assault, and even the concept of “Fake Geek Girls” are only a few examples of how women rarely get the benefit of the doubt. We’re liars until proven innocent and even the truth doesn’t guarantee anything. To put it another way, when Venkman says, “Back off, man, I’m a scientist,” he says it cooly and with smarmy confidence. When Erin says, “We can figure this out. We’re scientists!” it’s said desperately, as if everything’s riding on proving themselves as such. And for Erin everything is riding on proving that, as scientists, the Ghostbusters can fix the problem. Her confidence and her self-worth are tied up in her credibility more so than Abby, Holtzman (Kate McKinnon), and Patty (Leslie Jones) so her departure from the team after being called a fraud, yet again, rings true.logo

It’s unfortunate, though, that the scene in which Erin leaves the team is missing from the theatrical cut of the film. One of the consistent pieces of criticism towards the movie is its pacing issues, which I agree is problematic. The story has been building to Erin’s crisis of confidence and departure from the very beginning, so to lose it and what I assume would be an emotional moment between her and Abby as long-lost friend reunited, then torn apart again, is an odd choice. It’s a pivotal moment and the loss of it adds to the messiness of the third act. Her return to the group feels less triumphant and less emotionally resonant when we’re not really sure she left the group at all.

Erin’s return to the group is similarly an important moment because of the message sent. Yes, it’s okay to doubt yourself. Yes, the world may constantly try to weigh you down and question everything. But it’s through the strength and resolve of friendship, of a community, that keeps us going. Erin is the most like herself with Abby, Holtzman, Patty, and even Kevin. She’s more confident, self-assured, and she pushes herself to do things she never would have done before – because her friends are there to help her succeed and lift her up if she fails. She, in turn, will do the same. If you take nothing else away from this movie, at least let that be the one thing that sticks.

If you’ve been on the fence about Ghostbusters, I’d encourage you to go see it because it is a fun time at the theater. There are plenty of homages to the original film, but this new batch is doing their own thing and carving out a new branch of the Ghostbusters franchise. Hopefully, a sequel will give Feig and Dippold more time to flesh out the characters and give us an even more entertaining story starring these hilarious women. More importantly, Ghostbusters is a step in the right direction for women in Hollywood. We can bust ghosts with the best of them and the more chances we get, the more this won’t seem like a “big deal.”

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Dear Bruce Timm,

You probably don’t remember me, but we met briefly at this year’s Emerald City Comicon. Susan Eisenberg actually introduced me to you but since you’re not much of a talker and I was nervous/shy it was a very short “Hi” “Hello” kinda thing.

Anyway Bruce – can I call you Bruce? – I’m writing this because you and your teams on Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League, Justice League: Unlimited, and Batman Beyond are the reason I’ve been a long time DC Comics viewer and reader. I live and breathe the DC Universe more than anything (I have Big Barda tattooed on my arm for crying out loud!), so when I saw that you were returning to WB Animation for more DC Animated Movies, I was stoked. And then it was announced that the next movie you’re working on after Justice League: Gods and Monsters will be an animated version of The batgirlKilling Joke.

 

Bruce, if I could make one request of you before this movie has its script locked down, it’s this: Please leave Barbara Gordon out of the movie.

 

I don’t say this lightly. I’ve thought about this a lot and I even had a lot of reservations writing it down, but my brain won’t shut up about the subject so I feel compelled to let you know why. Mostly it’s that I’m so tired of having this conversation because it really seems to confound some people as to why myself and a great deal of female comic book readers have a problem with The Killing Joke. To be fair, there are some aspects to Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s work that I enjoy, especially the philosophical dilemma of what turns men like Batman and the Joker into Batman and the Joker. But there are parts of the book that are problematic and you know exactly what I’m talking about because, should you decide to go all the way with this movie, you’re going to have to address it within the story. Namely the shooting, torture, and sexual assault of Barbara Gordon by the Joker. If you could please just do me the solid of taking this out of the movie, along with Barbara, I’d appreciate it. And if you’re worried about the integrity of the story without Babs in it, let me assure you…

Nothing would change.

Joker_0113Just hear me out for a second and bear with me because I’ll most likely be covering story elements that you’re well aware of but are important to point out nonetheless. Within The Killing Joke, Joker, as a means of torturing Jim Gordon and getting at Batman, shoots Barbara, paralyzing her, strips her naked, photographs her, and it is HEAVILY implied that she’s raped. And this is just to torture her father and Batman. The only times we see Barbara are when she’s shot, when Jim is shown the photographs, and when Batman goes to her in the hospital. At no point in this story does Barbara make any decisions or take any actions that effect the course of the story. She is a PAWN, a piece of the story that is actually about Batman, Joker, and her father. This is the definition of both “fridging” and the “sexy lamp” tropes. Barbara serves no narrative function except as an example of the Joker’s sadism in order to provide motivation for other characters.

Quite frankly, I could do without it. Preserving the integrity of the story doesn’t have to include the maiming and humiliation of a character who currently has one of the top-selling books at DC Comics, one that has attracted more young women and new readers than DC could have hoped for. I can only imagine what will happen when those girls and their parents decide to pick up the new animated feature that includes Barbara and the horror that would result from watching such intense scenes of violence committed against a woman. Yes, Jim Gordon is tortured as well, but he gets resolution at the end as well as a moment to assert how his moral compass hasn’t changed despite the machinations of the Joker. Barbara gets no such moment.

And please, if we could avoid the “but she becomes Oracle” part of the justification for including Babs in the story should you choose to do so. She doesn’t become Oracle in the book and it’s a logical fallacy to assert that The Killing Joke is directly responsible for her new identity. There was no plan in place for Babs to move on as a superhero post-Killing Joke and she was all but written out of i will end youthe comics until Kim Yale and John Ostrander laid the foundations for her second life in Suicide Squad and Manhunter. The Killing Joke is only responsible for showing just how much regard for Barbara DC Comics had when Len Wein gave Alan Moore permission to “cripple the bitch.” The Oracle argument is further invalidated when one considers that amidst the New 52 reboot DC editorial could have easily erased The Killing Joke from Babs’ backstory, putting her in the position of starting from scratch as Batgirl without the story hanging over her like the Sword of Damocles. Instead, editorial kept The Killing Joke as canon but eliminated her time as Oracle due to the truncated timeline. It was more important to keep her paralysis and assault then it was to show her character growth as a hero operating out of a wheelchair. I mean, are you planning on doing another animated movie where we get to see the rise of Oracle? Anything including Batgirl? I see the next movies after Killing Joke are Batman: Bad Blood (featuring Batwoman) and Justice League vs Titans slated for release next year but wouldn’t an animated movie celebrating Batgirl or Oracle make more sense as a followup?

I ask only because the current Batgirl book from the creative team of Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher, and Babs Tarr is ridiculously popular and directly responsible for bringing in new readers to DC Comics, many of them young women and little girls. The tone and the style of the book is lighter and brighter with an explicitly feminist mindset. The team has gone above and beyond to ensure the integrity of Barbara Gordon/Batgirl while keeping her accessible to all readers regardless of gender or age. The kicker being we’ve already gone through a Batgirl/Killing Joke controversy, one where the team asked that the Joker variant cover be removed from their book because it was the antithesis of the women-positive message the team had cultivated in actively distancing the book from the Killing Joke as much as possible.

black canaryBottom line: The Killing Joke is toxic when it comes to attracting female readers and I doubt the animated movie would fare much better considering the most recent batch of animated movies have been all but gleeful celebrations of the PG-13 rating with plenty of violence and coarse language that makes it impossible for me to show them to my five-year-old nephew who loves Batman. It just doesn’t make sense, from a business perspective, to develop an entire line of superheroine products and merchandise for girls aged 6-12, one of those heroes being Batgirl, and then put out an animated product that features said character being horrifically injured and abused. I doubt whoever ends up writing the copy for the DVD/Blu-Ray is going to mention what happens to Babs in the description, so won’t that be a fun family moment when mom and dad buy their young daughter the newest animated movie that features her favorite hero only to watch the awful events that occur.

As a female reader, as a person who loves the animated movies and DC Comics, please write Barbara Gordon out of The Killing Joke. I would prefer she not be featured rather than sit through a movie that’s just going to be uncomfortable on all counts. And this isn’t a case where “then don’t watch it” matters. What matters is the continual validation of The Killing Joke and the insistence from DC Comics and some fans that it’s an essential story regardless of how it treats Barbara. There are others ways to torture Jim Gordon and I’m sure you have plenty of talented writers who could think of a million ways to push him without using his daughter.

Thank you for your time,

Sam

P.S. That Batman short was awesome!

Sam chats with Kelly Thompson about reviving Jem and the Holograms for a modern audience and the emotional gut punch of Heart in a Box. Also, get the official shipper name for Kimber and Stormer!

kelly thompson

 

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Logo by Nicole Jekich @NJekich
Music: “Jem and the Holograms Theme” by Freezepop

If bending to the will of North Korea wasn’t bad enough, it looks like Sony also likes bending over backwards to appease the male movie-going audience of crybabies who see an all-women cast for the Ghostbusters reboot as a threat to the time-honored tradition of busting ghosts. Clearly the lady-folk donning unlicensed nuclear accelerators is most unorthodox and ghostbusters-castcannot be tolerated by polite society.

As reported by Deadline, Sony has given the greenlight for director/writer/producer Ivan Reitman and actor/writer Dan Aykroyd to form a subsidiary production company, Ghostcorps, that will focus explicitly on developing Ghostbusters related properties and merchandising. First on the docket is another Ghostbusters movie slated to immediately follow director Paul Feig’s (Bridesmaids) 2016 reboot staring Kristin Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon. This sequel (?) already has Joe and Anthony Russo (Captain America: The Winter Solider) on board to direct following their first-look deal with Sony as well as Drew Pearce (Iron Man 3, Mission: Impossible 5) tapped to write the script and Channing Tatum on board to produce and, most likely, star per the pitch uncovered during the Sony hack.

Reitman further explained how the films will kick off the new Ghostbusters franchise to Deadline:

Paul Feig’s film will be the first version of that, shooting in June to come out in July, 2016. He’s got four of the funniest women in the world, and there will be other surprises to come. The second film has a wonderful idea that builds on that. Drew will start writing and the hope is to be ready for the Russo Brothers’ next window next summer to shoot, with the movie coming out the following hear. It’s just the beginning of what I hope will be a lot of wonderful movies.

Ghostbuster-Lady-ThumbThe key to comedy is (pause for effect) timing. So it’s really mind-boggling that Reitman and Aykroyd, two people known primarily for their comedic ventures, would have the inability to understand how poorly timed their deal with Sony truly is. Look, I’m all for expanding the Ghostbusters world. The premise is solid regardless of the cast, but I’m not the only one who sees how suspicious it is that Ghostcorps was announced in conjunction with the film following the all-women cast. World building is important to a burgeoning franchise, especially one with a 30-year gap, but this announcement feels exclusionary to Feig’s Ghostbusters. It also reeks of panic in response to the vocal minority of dudes who took to social media with their complaints about the reboot and the female leads while the tiniest violin played in the background. Not helping is the fact that Reitman and Aykroyd’s involvement lends greater legitimacy to the film starring Tatum and puts the movie-going audience in the position of creating a gendered dichotomy between the films. The kicker being that Feig’s Ghostbusters will most likely be referenced in the news as the all-female Ghostbusters while the Russo Brothers film will just be referred to as The Ghostbusters because Hollywood is stuck in the male-as-default mentality.a886df9e392dba27a9dd27225c748b56

Seriously, I wouldn’t be opposed to a Channing Tatum, and possibly Chris Pratt, starring followup if the studio had either announced Ghostcorps along with Feig’s reboot or waited until maybe the film was further along in production before throwing another one into the mix. It sends a message that the studio lacks confidence in Feig’s film and it’s disappointing that, as it stands, Wiig, McCarthy, Jones, and McKinnon won’t get to just be The Ghostbusters. It’s always going to come with the caveat of the female Ghostbusters despite the fact that women hold the same love and nostalgia for the original movies as men. Women cosplay as Ghostbusters, read the comics, and watch the cartoons, but you know what women haven’t really had in regards to busting ghosts? Representation on film. That’s what it all comes down to. Sure, a team of men and women would be great in future films, but having a full team of women in an action/horror/comedy sends another message about who can lead a film, the openness of multiple genres, and the strength of thoughtful world building.

Like I said:

This year marked the 30th anniversary of Ghostbusters, which first premiered on June 1, 1984. Strangely enough, this is also the year that’s seen the most traction on the much rumored, only dreamed about, and highly divisive continuation of the 212992-ghostbustersfranchise. While many fans of Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II, have longed for a third installment in the supernatural undertakings of New York’s finest paranormal experts, getting the movie off the ground has been a long and arduous process. The biggest hurdle in getting a third film made was the apparent lack of interest on the part of co-stars Bill Murray and Harold Ramis as well as director Ivan Reitman. Considering the cast and crew were essentially pressured into making the sequel by Columbia Pictures in 1989, it’s not surprising that there would be some hesitancy in making a third.

Plans to revive the franchise have been bandied about for over two decades with interest waxing and waning depending on popular trends in Hollywood and the state of the film industry itself. The project appeared to be moving forward in 2010 when Reitman announced he’d be directing and that Murray, Ramis, and Aykroyd would make cameos in order to pass on the torch to the next generation of Ghostbusters. The death of Harold Ramis in February of this year, however, followed by Reitman dropping out of directing a month later seemed to be the last straw for the franchise. With the need for nostalgia-fueled movies running high, was a third film even worth attempting if Ramis was gone, Murray a probable no-show, and Reitman backing off to produce rather than direct?

ghostbusters3The fact that Ghostbusters III is now a highly anticipated reality speaks to the franchise’s viability. With Reitman taking a back seat as the director, it was announced in October that Paul Feig would take over those duties, adding that he intended to make the next movie about an all-female team of Ghostbusters with screenwriter Katie Dippold. Neither Feig nor Dippold are strangers to projects with hilarious women – the two worked together on the buddy cop comedy The Heat (2013) starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. Prior to that Feig gained critical acclaim with Bridesmaids (2011), featuring an all-female cast of comedic actresses, while Dippold cut her writing chops on MADtv and Parks and Recreation. Their comedic backgrounds in sketch, improv, film, and television make them highly qualified to take over the reins of a huge comedic franchise that includes cartoons, video games, and comic books.

The only sticking point is Feig and Dippold’s plan to turn Ghostbusters III into a hard reboot, starting from scratch instead of building off of the first two films. Feig told Entertainment Weekly:PaulFeig_KatieDippold-585x424

I had lunch with [Sony Pictures co-chairman] Amy Pascal when I got back to town. She was just saying, gosh, nobody wants to do this. I said, yeah, it’s really hard to take that on, especially since it’s 25 years later. how do you come back into a world that’s had these ghosts and all this? It just felt too difficult. How do you do it and not screw it up? But then it was bugging me for the next few days because Ghostbusters is such a great thing and everybody knows it, and it’s such a great world. It’s a shame to just let this thing sit there. I want to see another one. My favorite thing to do is work with funny women. I was like, what if it was an all female cast? If they were all women?  Suddenly, my mind kind of exploded: that would be really fun. And then I thought, well, what if we just make it new? It’s not coming into the world that existed before. It’s always hard if the world has gone through this big ghost attack, how do you do it again? I wanted to come into our world where there’s talk of ghosts but they’re not really credible, and so what would happen in our world if this happened today?

 

gb33-ghostbusters-3-dream-cast-kristen-wiig-and-emma-stoneThere are pros and cons to this approach. On the one hand, I can totally see why rebooting the property and starting from scratch works to Feig and Dippold’s advantage. If the movie functions as it’s own thing, removed from the previous films, then it gives them the ability to establish their own rules as to how the paranormal works in a modern day setting. It also sets a new tone for possible sequels going forward that would allow them to do more world-building, making the movies as funny and scary as they want without having to stay true to what came before. Their Ghostbusters would be “spiritual” successors to Reitman’s in that the general premise would remain the same while giving them the freedom to branch out with their own brand of Ghostbusters.

On the other hand, Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II never concretely established the mechanics of the paranormal, so it would still be possible for Feig and Dippold to establish their new team of Ghostbusters while building off of the first two films. Yes, the tone of Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II was mostly lighthearted fun with a few freaky moments, but in the thirty years since Gozer tried to destroy the world and Vigo tried to possess a baby, there’s plenty of room to explore how the world has adjusted to ghosts being a thing and whether or not the Ghostbusters have thrived or faltered.

That’s why I feel like there’s more potential in at least keeping the next Ghostbusters film in the same reality as the first and second. One of the charms of the first film was the idea of treating ghosts like vermin, something that needed to be exterminated with the Ghostbusters taking on the role of blue collar working stiffs who just happen to take them out with highly unstable proton packs. The simplicity of the premise is how easy it would be to introduce new characters into the world.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that the Ghostbusters, in-universe, have expanded their business to other cities outside of New York, recruiting young, eager scientists, engineers, and your typical blue collar types in the same vein as police and fire departments. Depending on your team, there are plenty of ways to introduce the new characters. If Peter Venkman had a local tv show in New York, it’s not out of the question that one of the new Ghostbusters, or all of them, watched his show as children. cartoon ghostbustersRay owned a bookstore, so someone could have been a former employee. Maybe others took classes from Egon in college. Hell, Winston could have taken over the business himself, acting like the beleaguered captain to a bunch of newbie Ghostbusters. Or it could simply be a case of having characters who want to bag ghosts. Look at the plethora of “ghost hunting” reality tv shows; the paranormal is of definite interest to the viewing public and I could see a Ghostbusters parody of those reality shows, only this time the ghosts are proven to be real and the ‘Busters are cashing in on the trend.

Of course, the same parody could occur in a universe where the Ghostbusters are reintroduced via reboot. While trying to be “ghost hunters” a la the tv shows, a group of female scientists and enthusiasts discover real ghosts, which leads them down the path to becoming Ghostbusters. So, yes, it’s possible for in-universe and new universe explanations, but I still like the idea of one of the new Busters being such a fangirl for Venkman’s show that she went into paranormal studies because of him.

Ghostbusters is a franchise made to be updated as new teams are introduced. Dan Aykroyd definitely sees the same potential in the franchise, telling Dennis Miller on The Dennis Miller Show in 2011 that:

What we have to remember is that ‘Ghostbusters’ is bigger than any one component…The concept is much larger than any individual role and the promise of Ghostbusters III is that we get to hand the equipment and the franchise down to new blood.

enhanced-30907-1410210614-1The “new blood” in question may be actresses like Kristin Wiig, Emma Stone, Melissa McCarthy, Lizzy Caplan, Jennifer Lawrence, and Amy Schumer. But the recently leaked emails from Sony reveals another possible spin-off starring Channing Tatum and Chris Pratt, with the Russo brothers (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) producing, that could turn the Ghostbusters franchise into a multi-movie spanning universe where various teams from around the country, or the world, join together to defeat a major threat.

Yes, I know it’s wishful thinking, but in the post-Avengers world of movie making, I guarantee you the thought has crossed the mind of at least one executive at Sony. Anything that can be turned into a franchise of movies with tie-in comics, tv shows, and toy lines is ripe for the picking. So, yeah, DREAM BIG! And much like J.J. Abrams taking on Star Wars VII, Ghostbusters will be in the hands of a director and writer intent on honoring what came before while still pushing forward. There’s also a whole generation of actors who are passionate about being involved in the project because they grew up with the movies. As daunting as the task is to “get it right”, it’s also not about reinventing the wheel. Ghostbusters lends itself to finding new angles of storytelling within a familiar setting. All you need is a team, cool gadgets, some humor, and a lot of ghosts!

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But what are your thoughts on Ghostbusters III? Should they work within the already established universe or branch out on their own? Who would be your dream team of female Ghostbusters?

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The urge to name this Love in the Time of Wonder Woman was so strong, but I resisted the impulse. While there was an ease with which the rejected article title came, it didn’t quite capture everything I wanted to cover in talking about the 35 issue run of Wonder Woman. In the three years since the New 52 launched, the creative team of writer Brian Azzarello, artists Cliff Chiang, Tony Akins, Goran Sudzuka, colorist Matthew Wilson, and letterer Jared K. Fletcher crafted a new origin for DC Comics’ first female superhero, one steeped in the old mythology of the Greek Pantheon but intent on forging ahead to create a new mythology with Wonder Woman leading the way.

For the record, though, if you’re looking for a place that will at least consider making references to the works of Gabriel García Márquez….Bam. This girl.

Moving on.

As, presumably, the introduction for new readers via the “soft reboot” of the New 52, the creative team were faced with the task of making Diana’s story within her corner of the DC Universe fantastical, entertaining, and above all else relatable. In order to do so, Azzarello and Chiang dove into the core tenants of Wonder Woman’s character as established by her creator, William Moulton Marston, and used those elements to build a story around two essential questions: Who is Wonder Woman and what does she stand for? The answer lies in the simplest yet most complex word, love. From love springs a multitude of emotions – mercy, compassion, tolerance, anger, rage, and forgiveness – all of which hinder and guide Wonder Woman in her personal journey of discovery, a journey she doesn’t make alone. Though love ends up being the answer, how Diana frames her revelations is within the context of family; her biological family of gods and demigods as well as the family she builds with her friends and rebuilds amongst the Amazons. The consequences of such a framework, however, brings about the destruction of Marston’s “paradise”, but I think that was Azzarello’s intention all along. In lieu of paradise, of some perceived utopia, Azzarello posits that family and community should be the goal and only by understanding and submitting to love can such a goal be accomplished.

wonder-woman1-interiorBefore we go any further, and because this article will mostly be addressing Wonder Woman from a writing and thematic perspective, I wanted to talk about Cliff Chiang’s artwork on the book. Of all the redesigns in the New 52, Chiang’s Wonder Woman continues to be my favorite and is definitely in my top five versions. Chiang manages to capture the Amazon in Diana – tall, athletic, broad shoulders – making us believe that this is a woman who’s trained her whole life as a warrior. Her athletic aesthetics, however, don’t come at the cost of her femininity. Diana is gorgeous but Chiang deftly keeps away from sexualizing not just Diana but most of the book’s female characters.

The modern, or ancient, redesigns of the Greek Pantheon are probably my favorite aspect of the book from an artistic hermes-5Astandpoint. Instead of keeping to the stereotypical depiction of the Greek gods, Chiang makes them the embodiment of their particular territory or job. Hermes the Messenger has the visage of a humanoid bird, Artemis the goddess of the hunt and the moon glows brightly while sporting antlers, looking like a marble statue, and Poseidon, lord of the seas, is a gigantic fish-like creature, a great and powerful reflection of his domain. My favorite design is probably Strife. Though her only otherworldly aspect is her purple skin, Strife looks exactly like her name. The shaved head, heavy makeup, and slashed form-fitting dress give readers an immediate sense of unease, that anything involving her will lead to trouble. Wonder Woman is definitely one of the most beautiful books from DC. It’s vibrant and bursting with energy and color thanks to Chiang and colorist Matthew Wilson.

Okay, back to the rest of the article.

The origin of Diana of Themyscira is often one of the first elements tackled when a new creative team takes over the book or DC feels like rebooting. Unlike Krypton blowing up or Thomas and Martha Wayne being killed in Crime Alley, Wonder Woman’s backstory of being molded from clay and entering “Man’s World” has gone through several iterations since she first appeared in 1941. Because of this malleability, Wonder Woman tends to embody the attitudes of women within the modern world – wonder-woman-6depending on who’s writing – but each retelling and reinterpretation is hit or miss depending on a number of factors, one of the most prominent being the socio-political climate. When Diana lost her powers in the 1960s in order to make her seem more like the modern day woman it was met with scorn from feminists like Gloria Steinem who accused the creative team of taking the most powerful female superhero and stripping her of her powers. The intention may have been to make Wonder Woman relevant to the modern readership, the change was inspired by Diana Rigg’s Emma Peel in The Avengers television show, but the response proved that, like Superman, Wonder Woman’s core audience of female readers looked to her as an ideal, something to strive for and emulate.

William Moulton Marston addressed this need for an iconic hero for women and girls in the 1943 issue of The American Scholar, writing:

Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. Not wanting to be girls, they don’t want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.

Marston very much believed that the new world order would eventually be run by women and used Wonder Woman as “psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should…rule the world”. Unlike the violent tendencies of men and boys, girls and women had a greater emotional capacity that, he believed, made them stronger and better leaders. Wonder Woman was a figurehead for them to rally behind, a Pygmalion creation meant to embody all that women were capable of. Making Diana the princess of the Amazons who inhabited Paradise Island solidified Marston’s vision of a utopian culture of peace and prosperity run entirely by women. By venturing out into “Man’s World”, Wonder Woman brought those sensibilities captain-sensation-35with her as she fought Nazis and enemies on the home front, teaching and showing girls that violence wasn’t the only option but should more forceful actions need to be taken they were strong enough to break the chains or ropes that bound them. For all of the bondage imagery shown in Marston’s run, there were plenty of metaphors to be gleaned regardless of what “Dr.” Wertham thought.

Since Marston, the depiction of Paradise Island, later named Themyscira in the 1987 relaunch, and the Amazons have gone through as many changes as Wonder Woman. While Marston envisioned utopia with an all-female society, the exploration of Amazonian culture is a fascinating aspect of the Wonder Woman canon since the environment she grows up in acts as a reflection of the character. Some writers have utilized it beautifully (The Circle from Gail Simone, Terry Dodson, and Rachel Dodson) and others not so much (Amazons Attack! from Will Pfeifer and Pete Woods). How much Diana embraces or fights against her Amazonian upbringing is no different than how any person might face their heritage and family. And it’s here where Azzarello’s stamp on Wonder Woman takes a sharp turn for better or for worse.

strifeThe two most controversial aspects of Azzarello’s reboot were the changes made to Diana’s origin and the Amazons. In the New 52, Diana was no longer molded from clay and blessed with life from the gods. Instead it was revealed that she was the biological daughter of Hippolyta and Zeus, making her a demigod. After finding her mother turned to stone and her sister Amazons turned into snakes as punishment from Hera, Diana becomes immersed in her godly family of half brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts. In the process, she receives one final revelation about the Amazons: to continue populating the island with female warriors, the Amazons took over ships with men on board, had sex with them, kept the daughters and gave the sons to Hephaestus.

Many a critic and Wonder Woman fan cried foul on this change in particular since Azzarello essentially turned the Amazons into rapists. I’m not here to argue that point because it’s a valid one, but I think I understand why Azzarello made the changes. Again, Marston saw an all-female society as utopia, it’s why he named the home of the Amazons Paradise Island. But anyone who’s studied the concept of utopia knows that it’s never an achievable form of society despite what the creator desires. There are plenty of historical examples and it’s rare that fiction ever depicts a utopian society as anything less than sinister. Azzarello is yet another author in this category. Prior to the discovery of Themyscira’s repopulation program, Azzarello laid the foundation that all was not well on Paradise Island. Wonder Woman was already living in London, away from the island, and her return with Zola and Hermes, plus the appearance of Strife, brings out the underlying antagonism of some of the Amazons towards Diana. Referring to her as “clay” in a derogatory manner, it’s clear that peace, tranquility, and love aren’t always present.

Azzarello is no stranger to tackling the darker side of comic book characters. Some of his best works for DC are Joker, Lex Luthor: Man of Steel, and Superman: For Tomorrow, all of which highlighted essential aspects of the characters from Azzarello’s point of view. With Wonder Woman, Azzarello is arguing that Marston’s utopia is fallible and a myth in its own right. An all-female society is no less effective than an all-male society. The Amazons are, after all, still human. By distancing themselves from “Man’s World” they’ve lost their hold on an inclusive community. This is what makes Wonder Woman so WW-30dessential. She’s the bridge between the Amazons and the outside world, but only through taking the journey of coming to terms with her own identity and what it means to be Wonder Woman, a demigod, the God of War, and the new Queen of the Amazons, does she possess the wisdom to rebuild her family on Themyscira. She cannot separate these worlds any more than she can separate her identity. They’re all parts of a whole and by melding them she’s made stronger. It’s why she pleads with her sister Amazons to accept their brothers and protect Zola and her baby against the First Born’s army. They will be stronger as a whole, as a family, and it is simply the right thing to do.

LoveThroughout Azzarello and Chiang’s run, love is shown to be the root of Diana’s decisions and at the center of the conflict between her and the First Born. In their final confrontation, Diana ties it all together from a thematic perspective when she tells the First Born that his demand for love and power will never result in victory because he doesn’t understand that love is about submission. There have been several instances in the book where Diana was put into a position of submission – marrying Hades, tricking Artemis into “winning” a fight, the First Born’s proposal – but none of them were made out of an actual act of love. Compare this to what Diana has personally done out of genuine feelings of love; protecting Zola and her baby, forgiving a mortal Hera, helping Hades learn to love himself, and reuniting her sister and brother Amazons. She shows compassion, mercy, and forgiveness towards others because, at her core, her love for all living things is infinite. Fittingly, her last act in the final issue is an actual submissive plea to Athena to spare Zola’s life. By submitting to love and appealing to Wisdom, Wonder Woman shows us her true heroism.

I know I’m not the only one who has strong feelings towards Azzarello and Chiang’s run on the book, but I feel it’s been consistently one of the strongest coming out of DC and I’m sad to see the creative team go. There’s certainly plenty to unpack within those 35 issues, but this is just a portion of what I’ve taken away from it. But I’m interested to know what other people think.

Just, ya know, be civil. We’re all friends here.