Tag Archives: Wonder Woman

Doing It Justice?

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So… the question: Does Justice League do justice to the Justice League? My answer is a resounding “sort of.” Overall, I found the movie entertaining and fun, and that’s the most important part as far as I’m concerned. Let us all remind ourselves that this is make-believe. On the other hand, fantasy can provide us with a different perspective from which to consider reality, and it therefore reflects reality in distorted form. While I think some reviewers have taken this whole business too seriously, it is not necessarily  inappropriate to note our personal disappointments.

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In keeping with what I just said, I will unburden myself. The script was uneven, and the dialogue ranged from good to almost wincingly bad. As an example, some of the lines given to Jason Momoa’s Aquaman character were awkward. When I watched BvS, I was struck by the quality of Gal Gadot’s screen presence as Wonder Woman, but I felt that she was a better actor than some of her lines indicated. Seeing her performance in Wonder Woman confirmed that, and I feel the same way this time around about Jason Momoa. This has me looking hopefully forward to the Aquaman movie.

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The editing was a bit choppy, especially over the first 30-40 minutes. The abrupt scene changes without much setup diminished the impact of some otherwise impressive visuals. This approach works better in the panels of a comic book than it does on the big screen.  I think an additional 15-30 minutes of runtime would have been justified.

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Let me pick a little further. Warner Brothers still needs to work a little on the quality of its characters’ costumes. They have an almost plastic quality at times. Also, the CGI occasionally looked too much like CGI, and this made the action sequences less satisfying for me. Case in point: the visual appearance of Steppenwolf  at times reminded me more of a video game than a major motion picture.  The character, however, was wonderfully voiced by Ciaran Hinds, who has previously  impressed me in some serious dramatic films.

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Had I not seen Wonder Woman, I would have said that Justice League was an improvement for the DCEU. Warner Brothers owns perhaps the most iconic superhero pantheon in comics, but they need to pay more attention to scriptwriting, costuming, and special effects quality if they hope to catch up to the MCU. The cast was stellar and could have been better utilized for the above reasons. Aside from the actors I’ve already mentioned, there were Ben Affleck (Batman), Ezra Miller (The Flash), Ray Fisher (Cyborg), and (no surprise here since it was revealed before the premiere) Henry Cavill (Superman). Add in Amy Adams (Lois Lane), J. K. Simmons (another fine character actor as Commissioner Gordon), and a cameo appearance by Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen in the 1970s, a frightened policeman this time), and you have an excellent ensemble cast.

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I’ll include the following and fanciful cast poster from daniel-morphens because it includes the Martian Manhunter being played by my brother. I hadn’t thought of it before, but this character would be right up Doug’s alley.

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Everyone who hasn’t seen the movie yet should already know that they’re bringing Superman back. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but it was my favorite scene in the movie. I thought that they finally got this character right, and his action scenes were truly impressive to my inner child. As for his unveiling/resurrection, the reactions of observers will suffice.

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Modern Pantheon: The Justice League

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All of the image credits for this post go to Alex Ross, DC Comics, and Warner Brothers. For me, the above picture represents a standard. I have mentioned in a previous post that I thought that Warner Brothers and DC had made an artistic mistake when designing the costumes of their superheroes for this franchise. I mean, why mess around? The work has already been done, and I regard the work of Alex Ross as the gold standard for the visual appearance of DC characters. It’s okay to update things a little, and I would point to the design work for Wonder Woman as a less controversial example.

I don’t normally review trailers or other promotional materials for movies since I prefer to see the finished product before writing about it, but this was too intriguing. The poster below is a step in the right direction, and I hope it is an indication of visually more satisfying things to come from the DCEU. Featured in the movie poster are Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash, and Cyborg. I’m still not totally satisfied. After all, we’re talking about cherished images from my childhood here, but I’m willing to keep my mind open for the time being.

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You can’t go wrong with imitating an Alex Ross poster. I was enthused about the following version as well. It gives an indication that Superman isn’t going to stay dead (surprise, surprise). They might even redeem the colors in his costume. Then again, am I looking at a fan art insert? The lighting on the Kryptonian doesn’t seem to match.

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The trailer showed some good action scenes, some good dialogue, and some dialogue that still makes me wince. From the studio that brought you, “The bat’s dead; bury it,” we now have “Dressed like a bat; I can dig it.” Delivered by the king of Atlantis, no less. I read that Joss Whedon has been brought into the project, but I don’t know how much influence he’ll have since the filming was completed before he came on board. From all this, I expect that the final version of the movie will be uneven, but I think it will be worth seeing. I will test this hypothesis by firmly planting my 64-year-old derriere in a theater seat come November.

Graphic Mythology: Justice

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Although it was written by Jim Krueger and penciled by Doug Broithwaite, I purchased and read Justice (DC Comics), well, because it was painted by Alex Ross. Having said this, I can say that the artwork, as usual, is impressive. Since it is a Justice League story, it features a pantheon of superheroes including Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Flash, Aquaman, Captain Marvel, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, and many more.

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But there is an additional selling point to the story: the existence of an anti-Justice League of supervillains such as Lex Luthor, Joker, Brainiac, Cheetah, and Poison Ivy. There are more characters from the extensive history of DC Comics than I care to mention here lest it become tedious.

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The splash panels of fight scenes are profuse and typically busy, as would be expected given this cast. The story is intriguing but choppy in places. There were a number of developments that were not explained to my satisfaction (visually or in writing), which made for some awkward transitions. I had more trouble following the plot than would a veteran DC Comics fan, but overall, I was able to get the gist of it. I therefore think it is worth reading but perhaps not as much as Kingdom Come or The World’s Greatest Super-Heroes, which I personally regard as more outstanding efforts. The tone of Justice is also noticeably darker.

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Some of the more interesting sequences for me involved Captain Marvel. He’s a character I’m interested in learning more about. I like the extensive use of mythology in his backstory. The same can be said for Aquaman, with whom I am less familiar.

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Two themes emerged which especially interested me. Owing to my Christian upbringing, I am well acquainted with the argument of why God doesn’t intervene more openly if he truly does exist. The first theme appears early in the story and it deals with the question of whether or not the intervention of powerful beings threatens to stunt the development of their intended beneficiaries.

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The next theme is minor but related to the first, and it involves the restraint that must be exercised by powerful beings when weaker beings turn against them. I can crush ants, but I can’t control them. The God in whom I believe could both control and crush us, but he exercises restraint in spite of our many transgressions. Rather than blaming God for not intervening when human beings commit atrocities, I see more good in requiring human beings to be accountable for their own behavior. Pardon the mini sermon. I couldn’t resist, and I recognize that this is my opinion and not necessarily that of the creators of this graphic novel. At any rate, I would have liked to see these two themes explored more fully in this medium (regardless of whether or not I would have agreed with the conclusions), but I was at least glad to see them included in the story.

If you’re looking for another graphic novel with plenty of pages of artwork by Alex Ross, this might be a gratifying read for you. All illustration credits go to DC Comics and the aforementioned artists.

 

 

A Film Of Her Own (Part 3)

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Now for an analysis of the actual movie. Although the majority of the critiques I have read are effusive in their praise, there is an undercurrent of criticism. One is that the Wonder Woman movie (Warner Brothers) has nothing new to offer. I am reminded of how fickle critics can be. Make a movie that’s too different, and you have “a poor sense of genre.” Make it too formulaic, and it’s “more of the same.” I honestly thought that this cinematic effort struck a good balance between the extremes and that it actually was an original treatment.

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Keep this in mind: it’s a superhero movie, for crying out loud. Their will always be similarities such as a backstory element, the conferring or possession of superpowers, and external as well as internal conflicts. One review I read accused this movie of being too much like Captain America, down to the wartime settings and unorthodox support teams. While there are similarities, I really felt that this was its own story. The test I apply is that I could not predict what would happen as I watched the plot unfold. I will also add that Wonder Woman is at least comparable to Captain America (which I own and have enjoyed repeatedly) in terms of quality. Both are nice period pieces with fanciful embellishment. This is the first effort by the DCEU which I would consider comparable to the output from Disney Marvel. They still have a long way to go in developing their extended universe, but this was a definite step in the right direction.

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The combination of a World War I setting with themes adapted from Greek mythology invoked the neoclassicism of the early twentieth century. It was certainly one of the better applications of this that I have seen, and the special effects seemed appropriate to the plot, purpose, and themes of the story. Unlike a few reviewers, I was not put off by the CGI during the climactic battle. For once, I found the imagery of a DC film visually satisfying and easy to follow. This film also established a distinctive style of graphic art that I hope will persist in the DCEU.

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I found the mythological concepts enjoyable, particularly the reveal of Ares. He was admirably portrayed with nuance and depth. Although many already know who played him, I will refrain from mentioning the actor to avoid spoiling anything for those who don’t know and who have not seen the movie.

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The action sequences were good. The portrayal of trench warfare and civilian and military casualties was realistic enough to make me wince, and there were subtle touches of humor at the right times. An amusing sequence where Wonder Woman as Diana Prince attempts to make sense of women’s fashion is a nice contrast to the battle scenes and depictions of devastation.

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In my opinion, this film is worthy of a theater viewing. I thought it was entertaining, and I appreciated the respectful treatment given to this iconic character. Initially short on experience, she is also portrayed as informed and intelligent, and the state this movie leaves her in by the end begs for more stories to develop her possibilities. If you haven’t seen it yet, I recommend that you do, whether in the theater or as a rental, depending on availability.

The lady is waiting…

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A Film Of Her Own (Part 2)

The Wonder Woman movie (Warner Brothers) met my expectations and then some. It also satisfied my hope that this character would receive respectful treatment. Among those who should receive credit for this, I think Patty Jenkins, the director, should obviously be mentioned.

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Another of my suspicions was confirmed, as well. I already felt that Gal Gadot had good screen presence, but given a decent script, she can also act. Allen Heinberg wrote the screenplay of the story by Zack Snyder, and the script enabled Gadot to show some emotional range as well as wry humor. She also did her own stunts, and was credible in the action sequences. While her physique was not considered by some fans to be muscular enough for this role, I found it interesting that her body type actually wasn’t very far off from that of the original comic book character. I know I held the following panel up as a sexist stereotype last week, but I think it helps to confirm the point I just made.

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Additionally, DC Comics seems to have followed the lead of Marvel Comics by redesigning the look of a superhero to resemble the cinematic imagery.

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A number of characters paid homage to the Golden Age version of Wonder Woman. Chris Pine did a typically good turn as Steve Trevor…

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… and Lucy Davis was cast in a more dignified portrayal of Etta Candy.

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As Sir Patrick Morgan, David Thewlis was excellent, and I enjoyed seeing him in the role of a more mature character.

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Overall, I thought the movie passed the villain test. Elena Anaya was suitably creepy as Dr. Poison. While a little more one-dimensionally written, the German officer, Lundendorff, was well-acted by Danny Huston. The sequence when he dances with a disguised (well, sort of) Diana Prince is palpably threatening.

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Queen Hippolyta is played by Connie Nielsen, and her warrior sister, Antiope, is played by Robin Wright.

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Said Taghmaoui, Eugene Brave Rock, and Ewen Bremner (pictured left to right on either side of Chris Pine and Gal Gadot, below) constituted an admirable and rag tag support crew whose characters were surprisingly well-developed for the amount of screen time they were given.

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The cast was impressive, and the script and acting were good. Okay, this is fun, so I’ll drag it out for another week.

 

A Film of Her Own (Part 1)

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In the beginning – well, 1941, actually – Wonder Woman was unleashed on the world of men. Although her original adventures were set during the time of World War II, her movie debut was shifted to World War I, but this is beside the point I want to make first. Her initial presentation during the Golden Age of Comics was a nuanced contradiction between feminism…

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… sexist stereotypes…

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… and worse.

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The approaches and themes used in her portrayal made at least the pretense of an effort at being mature…

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… or lapsed into the juvenile.

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This variety and disparity of treatments has continued through various incarnations. What I’m trying to say is that from this beginning concept and simple artwork  grew an iconic image that grew larger and more nuanced than even her creators, William Moulton Marston (writer) and H. G. Peter (artist), envisioned. Once in print, she escaped their mental bounds and entered into the synergistic collective of her readership. Individuals interacted with this character until, today, she has come to represent different things to different people.

For this reason, any adaptation of the comic to the silver screen would be likely to generate both praise and criticism. Gal Godot looks the part. She doesn’t. The movie is an original breath of fresh air for the superhero genre. It isn’t. The CGI is appropriate for the plot. It’s over the top. It’s kind of hard to blame us for our conflicting expectations of the first movie about Wonder Woman. After all, so many of us think of her as ours.

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Whether you approve or not, this cinematic effort is considered socially significant because it is the first major movie of this genre where the main character is female (I’m not going to count previous efforts such as Elektra). The DCEU of Warner Brothers beat Disney Marvel to the punch on that one, and I suppose it’s only right from an historical perspective.

The “battle” over this representation will continue next week…

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Wonder Woman (2017) Gal Gadot

Recovering Ideals (6)

The fifth segment of DC Comics’ The World’s Greatest Superheroes by Alex Ross and Paul Dini starts with a section titled, Justice League of America: Secret Origins, which provides backstories for additional members of the Justice League. Besides Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman (who have already been introduced), we are also presented with The Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Green Arrow, Hawkman, The Atom, and Plastic Man.

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On an additional two-page spread, some additional characters with more minor roles are shown. These include Adam Strange, Zatanna, Metamorpho, Elongated Man, Phantom Stranger, and The Red Tornado.

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Once we’ve gotten the band back together, Liberty and Justice, a story involving the Justice League, follows. Along with some good action scenes…

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… there is the main story line, which deals with how the Justice League deals with the outbreak of a mysterious extraterrestrial virus which immobilizes its victims without killing them.

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The JLA must provide crowd control in addition to their efforts at finding and administering a cure for the disease.

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The artwork is beautiful (what else?) and the pacing and style differ from those of the previous four stories. There is more dialogue, and there is less narrative. The plot is necessarily more cluttered due to the number of outstanding characters.

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This was a fun, visually satisfying read. I liked the ethics of the story as exemplified by two ideas. One is the value of family and personal relationships in providing the basis for heroism. As I’ve said before, you can’t truly care about the masses without caring for individuals. Relationships with spouses, children, and friends indicate who we are. How can we truly be  heroes when neglecting or abusing those closest to us? The second idea is the recurring theme of superheroes becoming most effective if they work with, rather than above, ordinary human beings. It affords them their greatest power (political leaders, take note). This reminds me of the recognition in Christian doctrine of God placing the limitation on himself that human beings must cooperate with him voluntarily.

Next week: back to the modern pantheon of cinema.

Recovering Ideals (5)

The fourth story in DC Comics’ The World’s Greatest Super-Heroes by Alex Ross and Paul Dini is Wonder Woman: Spirit of Truth. The plot follows the pattern of giving the backstory first. In this case it is the founding of Themyscira by the Amazons on Paradise Island followed by the creation of Diana from clay by her mother, Hippolyta, the Amazon queen who has been empowered by the goddess, Aphrodite. Continuing the pattern, the story moves on to the recurring theme of the series.

As is probably evident by now, the recurring theme in this collection is the difficulty that superheroes have in dealing with the attitudes of the people they are trying to serve. This goes beyond getting human beings to behave. It is impossible to over-ride free will and force people to receive the right help in the right way. Our species can be funny that way.

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Although there are plenty of instances where Wonder Woman can do her normal superhero thing, there are others in which her efforts are not well-received.

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Take, for instance, this sequence where she prevents a tank from crushing a girl. The recipient of her heroism runs away from her in fear.

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Artist: Alex Ross (Credit: DC Comics)

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As another example, a Muslim crowd takes offense at her appearance and looks upon her activity as meddling by a cultural outsider. Instead of a hero’s welcome, she is greeted by a hail of thrown rocks.

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Humbled and frustrated by these incidents, she (as Diana Prince) confers with Superman (as Clark Kent). I think their appearance here in their “secret identities” is effective because it reinforces the advice he gives her. Having been humbled himself in the first story, he mentions that it would be more effective to work beside people rather than above them. In other words, identification helps bridge the gap in perception between ordinary individuals and those who are extraordinary.

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There are some interesting portrayals of Wonder Woman trying to become more involved with humanity by working in war zones as an explosives remover and (as in the illustration below) a nurse.

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The following sequence in which she prevents the use of women as a human shield is perhaps one of the better known from this story.

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I really liked the approach of inserting this character into real world situations (of which I have shown only a few). I also liked the idea of a nearly perfect character of mythological origin concealing her supernatural ability in an effort to communicate more effectively with people.

Next week: the final story of this excellent graphic novel.

Recovering Ideals (1)

I’d like to expound on the DC Comics Universe of my childhood. I realize that we all have different perspectives and that reality as any one of us sees it is not necessarily reality as it is.  At the age of ten, my friends and I were idealistic. Police and soldiers were good people who protected us and only used violence when justified. Authority figures were also good and acted in our best interests. We read DC Comics, especially Superman but also Batman and Wonder Woman. Back then, heroes were heroes, and we believed in “truth, justice, and the American way.”

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We were children of the Silver Age of Comics. For capes, my friends and I wore towels either tucked into our tee shirts or carefully safety-pinned around our necks, and we argued about who got to be the real Superman. Well, yeah, sometimes we squabbled or even fought, but we were good kids. My best friend and I volunteered to be traffic safety crossing guards (the diagonal belt and badge were cool), and our group in general befriended and stuck up for the little guys and the outcasts. One of our friends was so overweight he looked round, but we never made fun of him. We defended him when others picked on him. We had empathy and conscience, and our pre-adolescent society was one of inclusion and safety.

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Then came junior high school, high school, and increasing social pressure with its trademark betrayals and altered values. We became overshadowed by an awareness of racism, riots, the protests against the war in Viet Nam, abuses of power by our government, and the Kent State shootings. Resistance to the status quo became the new coin of the social realm. Some of my friends’ parents started getting divorces. With this greater awareness and disillusionment, we lost a good many of our childhood ideals.

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Even now, society tends toward the sarcastic and the cynical. We’ve been let down so many times that our first reaction is often skepticism when we are confronted by something good. I have noticed a trend in which people discard ideals on the basis of other people failing to live up to them. Very recently, I have had to remind myself that the ideal society of my youth never really existed, but that isn’t the whole story. I knew people, including my own parents, who truly lived by their ideals, and there were enough of them that they made the world better. The value in an ideal is that when people reach for it, society is better off. When a good ideal is discarded, too many people stop trying.

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Getting back to my DC aspirations of the Silver Age, I recently purchased and read a graphic novel that brought all of it back. The World’s Greatest Super-Heroes by Paul Dini and Alex Ross does a masterful job of combining the historical ideals of perhaps the most iconic superheroes in comic book history with a modern awareness that the world we live in is indeed a very flawed place. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Captain Marvel are featured in narratives which apply their virtues to real world problems with understandably mixed results. What I like about these stories is that they use fictional characters to focus our attention on the potential hero within each of us and that they do this without being heavy-handed.

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This is one of my favorite graphic novels, right up there with Kingdom Come and Marvels (my opinion, of course). And guess who the illustrator for both of those was? The panels are visually satisfying, the writing for the most part substantial, and the stories entertaining. In upcoming posts, I will examine some of the individual stories in this impressive collection.

Oh, and fifty-three years later, my buddies and I are still close.

The Pressure Of Being Wonder Woman

One of my daughters once played the part of Wonder Woman in a humorous skit put on by our church youth group. This same daughter got on well with the popular girls in her middle school, and she relayed to me a revealing conversation she had with a couple of them. The word they used was “horrible” when they described the pressure of keeping up the right appearance – pressure to have their hair just right, their clothes just right, their conversation just right, their facial expressions, their skin… I think you get the idea.

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Artist: Adam Hughes

You might wonder why I would choose this as a way to begin a post about the depiction of Wonder Woman by Adam Hughes. I think this will become evident later. Let me first say that I in no way mean to denigrate the work of this very talented illustrator. Here, for example, is his rendition of the first Wonder Woman cover ever done:

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This is obviously clever and well executed, as are the following:

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Here is a self portrait of the man himself.

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In regard to my first paragraph, some of his images somehow strike me as glossier and perhaps more sexually overt than the work of Alex Ross. I won’t go so far as to call them objectionable because I respect the skill and imagination of the artist, and I like his work. But they do remind me more of the cultural stereotypes to which women are often pressured to conform in modern society.

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By the way, and for those of you who were not aware, adherence to modern standards of appearance places a considerable amount of pressure on men to measure up as well. Stereotypes of attractiveness for men and women often distort the expectations of both sexes. This can have the effect of erecting barriers to healthier relationships, and I describe our current situation as isolation within association. We as individuals can choose to adopt more natural social standards that leave us and others feeling less threatened.

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Without walking into the minefield of what is or is not appropriate when it comes to clothing, let me say that I do not criticize women who choose to conform to modern standards of appearance as long as this is what they genuinely like to do. Nothing else should be read into them at first glance. Rather, people should make the effort to get to know one another and to be more accepting. Reputations, good or bad, should be earned rather than conferred on the basis of surface impressions.

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As a type of footnote to what I have said this week, consider the Venus de Milo:

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For millenia, this was a standard for feminine beauty in western culture. I think a good many women resemble this sculpture in one way or another while feeling negatively self-conscious about how they look. I think we need to expand our definitions of beauty.