Merciful Minerva! Last week's edition of Wonder Woman saw the pride of Paradise Island decked out in a new set of superduds. It was about time. The outgoing outfit had been feeling fussy and fusty for the past few decades, harkening back as it did to World War II, when it was natural that an all-American woman of steel would look as proud as Rosie the Riveter and as sumptuous as a nose-cone pinup. The bald-eagle bustier, the star-spangled high-cut shorts—these are indelible. But our gal had begun to resemble a majorette.
As revamps go, this is a fairly vampy one. Wonder Woman has achieved a sartorial level of depressive chic parallel to the recent moodiness of her peers—none-more-noir Batman, ever-more-sulky Superman, the not-necessarily-friendly neighborhood Spiderman. DC Comics has allowed Wonder Woman an ensemble to match the angst that is every postmodern crime fighter's burden and birthright.
She debuts the new wardrobe in concert with a new storyline, one that begins as she dashes down an alley while bullets spray her path and thick existential fumes billow from her interior monologue: "I don't know who I am. I know only what I'm told," she broodingly broods. "The only thing I know for certain … is that they're trying to kill me." It would be much more difficult to accept such sentiments from a person wearing red go-go boots with white piping.
Instead, this Wonder Woman is delivering roundhouse kicks by way of glossy black leggings that melt into street-ready harness boots with stars at the ankles. The bold bird at her chest has shrunk in size and slid in altitude so that it now resembles a belt. In turn, the golden double-W that was once at her waist now sits at her neckline like a bulletproof brooch. Bringing the whole outfit together is a jaunty bolero jacket with stars glinting on its padded shoulders. Reviewing the look for the Washington Post, Robin Givhan ventured that the jacket adds a "rock star, Balmain flash" contributing to Wonder Woman's new air as "an international sophisticate." Jim Lee, the co-publisher of DC Comics, writes about this new wardrobe item in terms that that would earn the nodding approval of a Project Runway personality: "The jacket and boots confirm the costume's functionality, and the open, thinner tiara and shape bracelets reveals a light, even youthful, bent to the Amazonian Princess."
While Tim Gunn might add that the costume is not too costume-y, the fact remains that the non-costume-y-ness of the new uniform is merely one among the myriad complaints rendering this the most controversial superhero makeover since Chris O'Donnell's Robin got a new codpiece. Some geeks abhor the relatively modesty of the new togs. Some traditionalists regret that it shrinks from tradition. Some readers of FoxNews.com regard its downplaying of patriotic motifs as "another American disgrace." The influential Hollywood blogger Nikki Finke has ventured that the "ruined" Wonder Woman "looks ready for Goth Day at the Sherman Oaks Galleria"—a fair characterization that nonetheless disappoints in its implicit disdain for every girl in the Valley who ever moped publicly while wearing a Cure T-shirt.
I cannot claim to have followed Ms. Woman's career closely—indeed, I can scarcely differentiate between the crisis on infinite earths and the crisis at Fort Sumter—but such grumbling seems to miss the point. As conceived by the brilliant and daffy William Moulton Marston, Wonder Woman is a Gloria Steinem ideal as embodied by a Russ Meyer supervixen and raised to the level of an Earth Mother. "Frankly, Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world," he once wrote. "There isn't love enough in the male organism to run this planet peacefully." He intended his Amazon as a suffragette who does not suffer fools. If she is now a slave to fashion, it is only because she's developing a contemporary understanding of what it means to dress with authority. This is a 21st-century tough-love look.