Monday, April 13, 2009


A Wonder Woman To Believe In

From Robot 6 I learn that Ben Caldwell will be doing the art for a Wonder Woman serial in the forthcoming Wednesday Comics, and is sharing some of the art and design work on his blog. This is terrific news, as there are few people I'd trust more with the character than Caldwell, and with good reason.

Along with Nina Jaffe, Caldwell was responsible for the best interpretation of Wonder Woman to date, the sadly underpromoted and unnoticed line of young reader and chapter books published by HarperChildrens in 2004.

I don't know how many of you have sampled the new Wonder Woman direct-to-DVD animated movie, but if you haven't, I have suffered for you. It's pretty unwatchable for adults, filled with some brain-hurty plot-holes and odd characterization, but worse still it's absolutely packed to the gills with gore and violence, with some pretty unnecessarily adult sexual suggestions throughout. Characters are decapitated and killed in the first few minutes, and before Diana has even left Paradise Island the body count has climbed pretty high, and we've been treated to a few choice moments of Steve Trevor, Sexist Asshat. Suffice it to say, it's not for kids (which, of course, begs the question, Who is it for?), and there's no way that I'm putting Georgia in front of it.

The character of Wonder Woman is pretty broken, I think, and some have suggested (I'm looking at you, Mr. Nevins) that she isn't fixable, if for no other reason than because the character was devised to advance the notions of Dr. William Moulton Marston--some of which were laudable, some of which... not so much--and shorn of that subtext the rest of the character becomes problematic. There have been some good reinterpretations of the character in the years since, notably George Perez's post-Crisis relaunch and Gail Simone's recent run, but they've had to dance pretty hard to keep it all hanging together. Perhaps most annoying, though, since the days of Super Friends and the Linda Carter series (with a brief hiatus during the days of Justice League Unlimited), there hasn't been a kid-friendly--and more importantly little girl-friendly--version of the character in a long, long while.

But in the early reader titles I Am Wonder Woman, The Contest, The Arrival , The Rain Forest, and the chapter books Wonder Woman: The Journey Begins and Wonder Woman: Amazon Princess, author Nina Jaffe and illustrator Ben Caldwell managed to synthesize the best of the original Marston version with the parts that worked from Perez and elsewhere, and came up with a Wonder Woman that worked, and more importantly was aimed right at the readers who really need the character most--four to seven year old girls. And the books are good.

The books were released in 2004, all in the span of a month or two... and quickly disappeared from view. I stumbled upon them in a bookstore, my eye caught by Caldwell's art, which I'd been admiring for a while (in Dare Detectives and elsewhere), but after leafing through just a few pages it was the story that really sold me. I snatched up all the titles on the shelf, which wasn't much (and as I recall they had only one copy of each), and had to hunt the rest of them online. I talked the books up to some booksellers I know, but by that time it was already too late. I don't know what went on behind the scenes, whether the licensing deal between DC and Harper fell apart before the books came out, or if there was an editorial sea-change that took place between the commissioning and the publication, or one of a hundred different explanations. What I do know is that the comics world was all but completely unaware that these books existed, and that dumped as they were on the market without much in the way of promotion or support, the book-buying world didn't notice them, either. I don't know if there were plans originally for more, but as it stood that initial wave of titles was all that we'd see of the Jaffe-Caldwell Wonder Woman. Which is a damned shame.

In a better world somewhere out there in the Multiverse, in another worldline of the Myriad, there are shelves full of new Jaffe & Caldwell Wonder Woman books and comics for my daughter to read. In this one, though, there are just the scant few titles I bought for her when she was an infant. And I'm hanging onto them.

(Images ganked from here.)

Greg Rucka had a pretty good run with Wonder Woman right before (and after) issue 200. Though not as strong as the Perez issues, I liked how Rucka intermingled myth into the stories.

Then Infinite Crisis hit and the relaunch with Allan Heinberg killed the title for me.

I considered picking up the Direct to DVD. Hopefully the Green Lantern DVD movie will be better.

BTW I'm reading END OF THE CENTURY right now and really enjoying it!
I liked Rucka's take quite a bit for most of the run, but it seemed to peter out towards the end. When he wrapped up his run, my impression was that most of the interesting stuff he'd set in motion hadn't amounted to much, and I was kind of soured by that.

I actually liked the Heinberg run quite a bit (and *loved* his Young Avengers), but it depended so much on past continuity that it ran the risk of being impenetrable to newcomers.

But thanks for the kind words on End of the Century! Hope the rest of it doesn't disappoint!
howdy chris!

i'm so glad you liked those books! no one actually looks at anything i do except my wife, and she's still not sold.
i just wanted to let you know that i was hired to do all 6 HC books as a single project, i don't think there was any plan or change beyond that. in fact, i think it was more extensive than the fewer superman and batman books put out earlier in the same line. and i don't know how it was or wasn't promoted, but i think it's safe to say that nothing would have convinced most comic fans to buy these, since they were out of continuity, WW's costume was "wrong" etc. you should hear what people are saying about my current WW work!
but the are few things i've done that i am more proud of than the books with nina. in fact, i just happened to be meeting with the wednesday comics' editor when the whole idea was very rough, and i could have nabbed any character i wanted. i couldn't resist taking another stab at the amazon princess, she is easily the worst-served major hero in comics. (i suppose it says something that at that meeting, i happened to have dozens of sketches of scenes from the books that i'd redone for my own satisfaction)
there is no question that mark hired me because so much of my work is aimed at younger and broader audiences. well, frankly, i don't give a damn about "all-ages" or "mature" or whatever -- i just want each story to be appropriate to what it is. i have lots of gloomy cynical stories, i just don't see how WW really fits into that.

wow. what a long and boring reply. i'm just going to stop now. anyway, i'm slowly posting more WW art on my blog, and when i have a chance i'll also be posting more about the story, what i'm trying to do/avoid etc. normally i don't bother with that, because no one cares but me, but there have been all sorts of weird/interesting/dumb things people have been asking/saying about my WW story (which of course, no one actually knows anything about) and i think i have to say something, so people don't think it's all just about large eyes and acid pink colors. also, i think WW's really been given short shrift, and it's a shame that the most iconic comic heroine and potential role-model (i have 2 young daughters of my own i'd like to entertain!) has been marginalized as the property of a very specific fanbase.

and if you liked the dare detectives, i can only apologize and say the new one is much better. or at least, you actually get to know the characters better, and the plot is more complex, and the art is better, and... yeah.

ben c

ps - credit for the books also goes to the editor, charles kochmann, who recently put out mark evanier's amazing kirby book
pps - while i have some other fish to fry, i'd be extremely happy if i could trick DC into letting me do more WW stories. the current one is lots of fun, but there's obviously only so much character development and intricate plot you can cram into 12 pages. it'll probably never happen, but i've tricked people into doing crazier things before...
Thanks for chiming in, Ben! And looking forward to seeing the new WW stuff in a few months!

BTW, a couple of days ago I was talking to an old friend from college who has a couple of young girls, himself. After seeing this post he hunted down copies of the WW books you and Nina did in his local library's system, so you've got a couple new readers to add to the count!
Chris, I completely agree with you. These young-reader WW books are fantastic and my own seven-year-old daughter loves them. It breaks my heart that so few super-hero material is truly for kids, instead of for cynical adults.

-Jason Henderson
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