Chapter Sixteen “It’s about Power and It’s about Women”

Chapter Sixteen
“It’s about Power and It’s about
Women”
Gender and the Political Economy of Superheroes in
Wonder Woman and Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Carolyn Cocca
Earth girls can stop men’s power for evil when they refuse to be dominated by
evil men. —Diana (Wonder Woman), in Wonder Woman Vol. 1 #5, by creator
William Moulton Marston, 1943
It’s about power and it’s about women, and you just hate those two words in
the same sentence, don’t you? —Buffy (the Vampire Slayer), in Buffy Season
8 #4, by creator Joss Whedon, 2007
POWER AND WOMEN
Wonder Woman debuted seventy years ago, and Buffy, twenty years ago. 1
Their male creators intended the two characters to build male acceptance of
female power.2 As strong community-minded “woman warriors” who consult, protect, and rely on friends, both of these superheroes present an alternative to a hierarchical, individualistic, patriarchal society. But at the same
time, both conform to some gender stereotypes, as they are white, heterosexual, and middle (to upper) class, battling their enemies while managing to
keep their long hair, beautiful faces, and attractive bodies unharmed. That the
characters embody these seeming contradictions broadens their potential audiences as well as widening the possibilities for different receptions by those
audiences.
215
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216 Carolyn Cocca
In this chapter, I analyze the transgressive possibilities of and the constraints on the portrayals of gender and power in Wonder Woman comics
(1941–2012) and the Buffy television show and comics (1997–2012). To do
so, I approach comics as interactive public spheres in which editorial boards,
writers and artists, parent companies, and competing constituent audiences
empower and constrain each other as to how articulations of gender are
produced and how they are received. 3
I find that moments of more fluid representations of gender in most of
Wonder Woman’s history were followed by periods of backlash and containment, that the similarities between the two characters illuminate how female
heroes are produced for maximum resonance (and maximum profit) across
different audiences, and that the differences between the two characters are
related to their bodies and their sexuality. I conclude with reflections on how
the Third Wave feminist sensibilities and aesthetics of Buffy, and of Wonder
Woman in the 2000s, may serve to moderate those cyclical swings and those
differences by simultaneously embodying, parodying, and subverting traditional articulations of gender.
WONDER WOMAN FROM THE 1940S TO THE 1990S:
TRANSGRESSION AND CONTAINMENT
William Moulton Marston created Wonder Woman in 1941. His Princess
Diana of the Amazons was “a woman with the eternal beauty of Aphrodite
and the wisdom of Athena, yet whose lovely form hides the agility of Mercury and the steely sinews of Hercules.” Her mission was to subdue Axis spies,
common criminals, and mythical characters, as well as to teach “Man’s
World” the peaceful and equal ways of the Amazons. 4 She and her female
friends often had to rescue her boyfriend Steve Trevor as well. Diana loved
Steve, but refused his proposals: “If I married you, Steve, I’d have to pretend
that I’m weaker than you are to make you happy—and that, no woman
should do.”
5 Space for such subversion of gendered binaries was created
through the wartime flux of gender roles.6
After the war, all of this changed. Comics were among the many sites that
materially articulated multiple Cold War ideologies that worked to construct
an American national consensus, reconfiguring order in the face of numerous
challenges.7 Femininity and marriage became central in Wonder Woman. A
backup feature called “Wonder Women of History” that profiled prominent
(mostly white) women was replaced in 1950 by “Marriage a la Mode,” which
documented marriage customs around the world; similar romance supplements continued for twenty years.8 Diana’s costume covered less, her boots
were replaced with laced sandals, and her hair grew longer and her eyes
larger. Steve’s (and others’) marriage proposals became constant. Instead of
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“It’s about Power and It’s about Women” 217
fighting fascism and crime with other women, she fought fantastic monsters
alone, sometimes infantilized as herself at younger ages, “Wonder Girl” and
“Wonder Tot.” These changes cast her more as object than subject; it became
more difficult to read the character as presenting challenges to traditional
hierarchies.
“I’ll lose him forever if I don’t do something to keep him interested in
me!” lamented Diana in 1968, as she gave up her powers to be with Steve. 9
While the creative team saw this big change as feminist in that she would
have to rely on her wits and not her superpowers, 10 some fans and some
feminists didn’t see it that way.11 After lobbying by these groups, her powers
were restored in 1973. But under the next editor, who said he “never cared
for Wonder Woman,” many of the 1970s and early 1980s stories showed
Diana in a smaller costume and more suggestive poses as she fought similarly curvy women.12 Gender-neutral public service announcements and romance supplements were replaced by ads for BB guns and bodybuilding, and
letter authors were more often male and adult. 13 From 1974 to 1983, only a
handful of letters referred to her as a feminist icon. 14 The portrayals were
often campy, sometimes with “battle of the sexes” stories that negatively
stereotyped feminism as antimale rather than proequality, 15 indicative of
misunderstandings of and backlash against the civil rights movements of the
previous decades.
But this would change in the late 1980s when DC Comics relaunched its
superhero titles in order to increase profits. The question was whether the
crosscutting pressures of the times would push those titles toward the increasingly homogenous fan market and the conservatism that could be inferred by its demographics (male, white, and older) 16 or toward a more
inclusive readership and authorship represented by the underground comix
movement, identity politics activism, and the growing diversity of writers
and artists in mainstream comics.
Wonder Woman’s reboot was shepherded by writer and artist George
Pérez, who represented the latter trend. His Amazons were created by Greek
goddesses from the souls of women who’d been murdered by their male
partners. As in the 1940s, Diana forged a new circle of female friends who
worked with her to bring “lessons of peace and equality” to Man’s World.17
Pérez drew the Amazons as a more diverse group and implied they might be
in relationships with one another. He drew Diana as looking more “ethnic,”
saying, “I picture her with a deep tan and a foreign accent.”
18 She had a
strong, fit body with a costume that covered her, wore flat instead of heeled
boots, and battled Greek mythological foes.
This portrayal was out of step with most superhero comics at the time, as
others had begun to feature hypersexualized, violent “Bad Girls.” Why Wonder Woman was not pushed in this direction (yet) seems to be because Pérez’s vision was supported by three female DC editors, including the title’s
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218 Carolyn Cocca
first female editor, Karen Berger. 19 She wrote, “The overwhelming majority
of comics [are] geared to and read by males. . . . [This] new Wonder Woman
comic . . . serves as a great role model to young women, but also contains
many elements that appeal to males as well. Wonder Woman crosses the
gender line.”
20 Fan letters were very positive. “You can’t keep a good feminist down! WW is back and looking better than ever!”
21 “I fully agree with
your perception of Wonder Woman as a positive and strong model for girls/
women. It also, hopefully, will take some of the chauvinism out of the male
readers brought up on macho men and weak women.”
22 Pérez’s run sold
quite well and remains a touchstone for fans and creators alike.
But by the mid-1990s, the superhero comics market crashed, reduced to
the base noted above: about 90 percent male, predominantly white, heterosexual, and young adult.23 In contrast to Pérez’s run, Diana’s look was
changed drastically as DC Comics played to the presumed wishes of the base
fans, “emphasizing her sexuality and downplaying her feminism.”
24 This
recalls the way in which the 1950s and 1960s hyperfeminized Diana followed the more hybridized gender portrayals of the 1940s. Written by
William Messner-Loebs and drawn by Mike Deodato Jr., Diana was often
portrayed fighting in a hyperviolent manner, and was often posed in sexually
objectified ways. 25 Deodato noted that he asked to draw Wonder Woman,
even though, as he said, “I hate drawing women. I prefer drawing monsters
and stuff like that.” But he also noted the sales success of the run: “In three
months, the sales doubled and tripled or something like that. . . . Every time
the bikini was smaller, the sales got higher.”
26
Letters from several issues praise Deodato’s art: “Mike Deodato, Jr. is
brilliant!”
27 “Mr. Deodato drew at once a beautiful princess and a fierce
warrior.”
28 Others were not thrilled with the objectification: “That thongback thing is not flattering. . . . Through the entire comic, every woman’s
cheeks are out flapping in the breeze. Give them some rear coverage and
some dignity.” Another wrote, “Personally, it’s a little heavy on the T&A for
me, but then, I’m female and that’s to be expected. . . . [P]lease get Diana out
of that slutty new outfit.”
29 There was criticism of the content, too: “The
stereotype that men are stronger than women is affirmed.”
30 Editor Paul
Kupperberg responded that male superheroes were also drawn as “idealized
versions of men” and said, bristling with annoyance, “I am, both by temperament and by politics, a feminist.”
31
As with the portrayals of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when Diana lost
her powers, the writer and editor in the mid-1990s felt they were presenting a
feminist character and comic. But in both time periods, the way in which the
character was often drawn as object rather than subject skewed toward the
presumed base audience of young adult white males in a way that undercut a
feminist reading of the material for others.
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“It’s about Power and It’s about Women” 219
BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER ENTERS THE DARK ALLEY IN
THE DARK AGE OF COMICS: THE LATE 1990S AND EARLY 2000S
As this time period in comics was described by writer Grant Morrison, “the
gender confusions and reorganizations of masculine-feminine boundaries
that marked the eighties had outgrown their welcome, so men became lads
and women were babes.”
32 Wonder Woman fell squarely into this area. Further, wrote Morrison, “no story could pass without at least one sequence
during which an unlikely innocent would find herself alone and vulnerable in
some completely inappropriate inner-city back alley setting . . . a skimpily
attired naïf penetrating the seedy underbelly of the urban nightmare.” Threatened, she would always be rescued at the last minute by a superhero. 33 Joss
Whedon thought the hero should be the skimpily attired naïf: “There’s the
girl in the alley . . . and then the monster attacks her and she kills it.”
34
Whedon both subverted the genre and made a political point: the petite
Valley girl cheerleader, societally dismissed as frivolous, has superstrength
and is critical to the world’s safety.35 Enter Buffy.
The Buffy the Vampire Slayer film ran in theaters in 1992; the television
series, darker in tone and much closer to its creator’s vision, premiered in
1997. This was at a time during which the Third Wave of feminism became
more prominent, grounded as it was by young women organizing in reaction
to the conservative politics of the 1980s and 1990s. It retains the Second
Wave’s emphasis on equality but extends it by building on critiques by
feminists of color who saw the Second Wave as having a predominantly
white, heterosexual standpoint. The Third Wave sensibility is antiessentialist
and nonjudgmental, embracing not only a variety of identities among people
but also within people. This includes not only openness to a continuum of
race and sexuality but also the reclamation of signs of femininity as empowering. While the slogan “girl power” was used by some Third Wavers early
on, it rather quickly became depoliticized and commodified, a slogan on Tshirts to be purchased rather than a description of a collective movement by
young women. However, capitalizing on the marketization of the term probably enabled shows such as Buffy to get on the air.36 Pop culture and mass
media are important in the Third Wave, not just for deconstruction but also
for production, which foregrounds personal narrative and tonally is often
playful, campy, and ironic—using humor rather than preachiness to move
people toward feminist ideals. Such a frame easily encompasses a female
superhero who is comfortably strong in her body and sexuality and is also
vulnerable in love, who uses humor and fights injustice, who is inclusive and
compassionate and decisive and deadly.
Although they appear quite different at first glance, Diana and Buffy
share a number of commonalities. Both superheroes have an origin and mission that stresses their uniqueness; both are referred to as “the chosen.”
37
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220 Carolyn Cocca
Both repeatedly show transgressors compassion and allow them a path of
redemption. Both have a relationship with a military man that shows a traditional view of opposite-sex relationships and how our heroes do not fit so
neatly into such gendered binaries. But at the same time, both characters
have a number of “others” that serve to construct them, in their white, heterosexual, middle-class-ness, as “normal” females.
Both, before and after the deaths of their (single) mothers, surround themselves with, love, and rely on others. The ways in which they encourage these
chosen families to work with them makes them unlike most other superheroes, male or female.38 For both characters, these families include their foils:
for Diana, this is Artemis; for Buffy, it is Faith. 39 The characterizations of
Artemis and Faith can be read as shoring up the main characters as “proper”
female warriors, but can also be read as challenging what it means to be a
“good” superheroine. Readers and viewers were clear that they wanted both
the hero and the dark doppelganger. Writers listened and had both Faith and
Artemis eventually embraced by other characters, fighting alongside them. 40
Both Diana and Buffy were constructed to unsettle gender boundaries and
especially to push males to embrace strong females. Just as Wonder Woman
creator William Moulton Marston sought to engender “male acceptance of
female love power,” Buffy creator Joss Whedon said, “The one thing I had
hoped to take part in was a shift in popular culture in the sense of people
accepting the idea of the female hero.”
41 As “others” among us, they live in a
liminal space in which they embody gender norms while also questioning
and subverting them. In this way the characters can open up more of a “range
of gender possibilities” that “baffles the binary” and “create a new gender
system in which [they] can enact ‘woman’ in nontraditional ways.”
42
CONVERGENCE IN THE 2000S: FEMINISM WITH IRONY AND
HUMOR
The way in which both characters house great strength in female bodies
destabilizes traditional gender norms. But the bodies themselves are quite
different. In contrast to Diana’s six-foot, solidly muscled, curvy, womanly
frame, Buffy is nearer to five feet, slim, and blond. One is a commanding,
stunningly beautiful presence; the other is seemingly unthreatening and girlishly cute.43
Buffy embodies the attractive female warrior while parodying it through
her body and speech, criticizing the superhero and horror genres and gendered inequalities with humor. This complicates the show’s politics. Was this
show feminist in its strong female characters, or was it reinscribing patriarchy through a cast of pretty, white, stylish girls? 44 Can we reconcile the
strong female agency, the friendship and community building, with the comCopyright 2014. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher, except fair uses permitted under U.S. or applicable copyright law.

“It’s about Power and It’s about Women” 221
mercialized violence and the emphasis on individual consumer power
through merchandizing? Do viewers and readers see the big picture about
gender and power if the story focuses on the individual hero and delivers its
message through irony?45
Joss Whedon basically answers yes to all of these questions: “If I can
make teenage boys comfortable with a girl who takes charge of a situation
without their knowing that’s what’s happening, it’s better than sitting down
and selling them on feminism.” He also said, “[If I made] a series of lectures
on PBS on why there should be feminism, no one would be coming to the
party, and it would be boring. The idea of changing culture is important to
me, and it can only be done in a popular medium.”
46 Pender sums up the
problem with those who would criticize Buffy’s adherence to traditional
forms while delivering a powerfully threatening message about those forms:
“If you say Buffy’s form and her content are incompatible, then you have to
conclude she can’t be feminist because she has cleavage.”
47
Buffy and other shows and comics like it created a space for a different
Wonder Woman, one that would take the character back to the visions of
Marston and Pérez while also incorporating more of Whedon’s sensibility.
By the mid-2000s, Buffy became more overt about its feminism and its messages about empowerment, and Wonder Woman became more self-conscious
and self-referentially humorous. Buffy could afford to do the former after
having done it gently with its viewers for the previous five years; Wonder
Woman could leverage increasing audience comfort with a postmodern ironic
sensibility to broaden its base beyond the core fans who were already on
board with its feminism.
“Diana is an inherently political character—she’s about feminist politics,
humanist politics, sex politics, the politics of war, etc.,” summed up writer/
artist Phil Jimenez.48 He made Diana’s mission explicit through her founding
of the Wonder Woman Foundation: to promote “the liberation of men, women, and children from the terrible problems that stem from antiquated religious philosophies and patriarchal fear—by educating them about alternatives.”
49 The Foundation ideas received mostly positive fan responses; a few
were negative, such as, “Gentlemen, your soapbox is showing.”
50 Another
fan disliked hints that some Amazons might have same-sex relationships:
“Lemme get this straight—you’ll slight the Christians, but encourage and
empower homosexuality? It is clear that homosexuality is not normal.”
51 In
response, the editor wrote, “For the record, Phil is working on giving Diana a
boyfriend. . . . Letters like yours make it easy to use the word ‘intolerant.’”
Phil Jimenez created Trevor Barnes, a dark-skinned, dark-haired, and
dark-eyed man who worked with Diana at the UN. With some Buffy-esque
humor not often displayed previously in Wonder Woman, she approaches
him and asks him out, and he turns her down. After a panel depicting her
shocked face, a male friend of Diana’s consoles her, “For god’s sakes, even
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222 Carolyn Cocca
I’d sleep with you! Honey, if he said no to you, he’s gay!”
52 The spoiler
leaked that Diana might have sex with him. Jimenez commented at the time,
“Empowering her when it comes to sexual choices is important. If it’s still
allowed to happen and all goes well [it] will be done in a respectful and
peaceful manner.” There was largely positive fan feedback to the idea, recalled Jimenez later, but also very “negative and often racist reactions,” as
well, that “undermined my goals.”
53 What appeared was one panel in which
Trevor’s parents find them lying on a couch, mostly clothed—a polysemic
image.
At the same time, there was more Wonder Woman–ness in the Buffy
universe. In its last television season, 2002–2003, Buffy increasingly made
speeches about power, about the strength to be found within each of us, about
teamwork and compassion. “I say my power should be our power. . . .
Slayers, every one of us. Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?”
54
These somewhat more earnest moments in Buffy, in and around its usual
humor and irony, are a device more identified with Wonder Woman: “Girls,
there’s nothing to it. All you have to do is have confidence in your own
strength!”
55 particularly as written by Marston, Pérez, and Jimenez.
The convergence of the two universes occurred in other ways as well.
Buffy creator Joss Whedon became attached to write a Wonder Woman liveaction feature film, later canceled by DC/Warner Bros. 56 At the same time,
writer Greg Rucka had penned a short story for a Buffy project in 2001, called
Tales of the Slayer. The following year, he began writing Wonder Woman,
having Diana work at the UN with a strong supporting cast, battling gods,
and teaching nonviolent conflict resolution to kids. 57
Rucka’s highly praised run was grounded in the real world, portraying
those for and against Diana’s ideals as explicated in a book she wrote. The
character nixes the first book cover suggested by the publisher, which
showed her lying sexily on her stomach with a small pink drape covering
very little of her—a meta-image that plays on the readers’ savvy in recognizing the objectification of women and its use as a marketing ploy, as well as
its inappropriateness for capturing the essence of Diana. 58 Rucka had some
characters frame her and her book as “nontraditional”: Greek, pagan, probably lesbian, vegetarian. One says of Diana, “I have no problem with her
heroics, but the moment that woman gets in front of children to promote a
life style and a belief system that right-thinking Americans find, frankly,
disgusting, well, enough is enough. . . . She flies in the face of core family
values. . . . She needs to remember her place.” “As a woman?” he is asked.59
The Buffy Season 8 comic, launched in 2007, contained a similar plot
point about the “Americanness” of the main character, grounded in sexism.
Says a military general of the slayers, “They got power, they got resources,
and they got a hard-line ideology that does not jibe with American interests.
Worst of all, they got a leader: charismatic, uncompromising, and completely
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“It’s about Power and It’s about Women” 223
destructive.”
60 It is to this general that Buffy says the epigraph that opens this
chapter, “It’s about power and it’s about women and you just hate those two
words in the same sentence, don’t you?” Buffy Season 8 also stated its ideals
more directly than had the first several years of the series: “Once upon a
time, I did something good. . . . I found a way to share my power. Girls all
over the world were given power—not just strength, though that does come
in handy—but purpose, meaning, connection.”
61 Along with this stating and
restating of her mission, Buffy’s adventures became increasingly fantastical,
with more monsters and demons, alternate dimensions, and large-scale battles—in other words, more akin to Wonder Woman.
Wonder Woman writer Gail Simone has noted that her style of writing has
often been compared to Joss Whedon’s.62 Like Pérez, Jimenez, and Rucka,
she portrayed Diana in the late 2000s as a feminist icon who related well to
our world but remained enough of an outsider to comment on its norms, often
with humor. In one issue, Diana and the Black Canary team up. The latter
informs her that they have to go undercover, and “the sexier the outfit, the
fewer questions asked.” Once dressed, she comments, “Ah, we look like
high-end trashy hookers in a Tarantino nightmare. Perfect!” Diana looks
down at herself, uncharacteristically awkward in expression and posture, and
asks, “Do we need to expose quite so much of . . . [my breasts]? And these
[high-heeled] boots seem completely impractical in a combat situation! I
can’t believe women are expected to wear these every day.”
63 This simultaneous display of and parody of their usual costumes and those of other
women may strike more of a chord with some readers than would a lengthy
speech about the objectification of female superheroes. The next arc portrayed two kids being saved from a giant serpent by Diana. The girl says,
“You’re so pretty. I got your lunchbox,” and the boy next to her says, “Who
cares about that? She’s tough!”
64 She is both, destabilizing our gendered
expectations.
This mixing of genres, juxtaposing a fantastic monster with talk of merchandising and kids’ traditionally gendered comments, along with the importance of protecting the vulnerable, isn’t what earns Wonder Woman mainstream attention, though. Rather, a short run in summer 2010 was covered
broadly in mainstream media because she was wearing pants. In an example
of life imitating Rucka’s story about the divided reactions to Diana’s book,
the Huffington Post wrote, “It’s about time [she] got a pair of pants! Crimefighting pants!”
65 Fox News was less enthused because the pants were black,
rather than blue with white stars: “Has she been stripped of her patriotism?”
66
That outfit looks almost exactly like what Buffy is wearing in the first
Season 8 comic: dark red and gold tank top, tight shiny black pants, and
black boots. But by this point in 2010, Buffy Season 8 was winding down. In
its last issue in January 2011, Joss Whedon noted that the comic had diverged
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224 Carolyn Cocca
somewhat from the series, “We’ve learned what you like, what you don’t. . . .
[In Season 9, we’ll go] back, a bit, to the everyday trials that made Buffy
more than a superhero. That made her us. I was so excited to finally have an
unlimited budget that I wanted to make the [Season 8] book an epic, but I
realized along the way that the things I loved the best were the things you
loved the best . . . the down-to-earth, recognizable people.”
DIVERGENCE IN THE COMICS, CONVERGENCE FOR
TELEVISION IN THE 2010S
From this point, the preachiness and the fantastical content would decline in
Buffy, and the self-referential commentary about gender and power would
decline in Wonder Woman. For Buffy this seemed to be a response to fans by
the creative team, as described by Whedon above. For Wonder Woman, this
was due to DC Comics rebooting all of its superhero books in 2011, as it had
in 1987, to improve profits. Mainstream news outlets covered DC’s initiative, and sales of all of their titles initially skyrocketed.
This “New 52” Wonder Woman has been praised for its writing, its focus
on the Greek gods, its story about Diana’s protection of a young woman, and
its art. It has also been criticized for its revision of her origin story and its
level of violence. After seventy years, Diana is no longer born of clay and
given life by goddesses; rather, she is the product of her mother’s secret
affair with king of the gods Zeus. The Amazons are no longer immortal and
peace loving. Instead, they seduce, have sex with, and then kill passing
sailors. They keep the female babies and sell the males into slavery in exchange for weapons. No longer is the god of war Ares Diana’s nemesis;
rather, he is her mentor. Writer Brian Azzarello has described this work as “a
horror story.” Never before would Wonder Woman have been described that
way, but Buffy often has been.
The new backstory gives our hero some family angst to deal with and a
hero’s journey to take as she rises above her heritage; it also hews more
closely to Greek myths. And the portrayal of Diana is far from sexually
objectifying. Artist Cliff Chiang has noted that at conventions, the split is
almost half and half between women and men who say they love the comic. 67
Writer Brian Azzarello has said, “We’ve definitely de-sexualized her,” and
“we’ve made her a very powerful woman.”
68
However, she also sticks a broken bottle in a demigod’s hand when that
demigod goads her. She grabs another irritating character’s testicles, tells
him to respect her or she’ll rip them off, and then punches him when he
reacts by calling her “cute.” She puts a sword through Ares, becoming the
goddess of war in his place.69 This stands in sharp contrast to the character
who, for decades, called all women “sister” instead of stabbing them, opened
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“It’s about Power and It’s about Women” 225
her hand to those who disagreed with her rather than using a closed fist, and
avoided war at all costs. She seems less proactive and more reactive, less a
leader and more part of a secondary player in an ensemble.
The question is whether these story elements, coupled with the desexualization and physical strength, still serve to enable new gender possibilities in
a female body. I would like to say yes, but rather I agree with Phil Jimenez,
who once said that this kind of portrayal makes it easy for people who
“prefer to see her as just ‘one of the guys’ so they aren’t confronted with the
very deep issues she was created to contend with.”
70 Her unique, antinormative mission to both embody and teach Amazonian principles of peace and
love and equality, always intimately bound with her origin and her upbringing and her woman-ness, seem to have fallen away in this incarnation.
Fans are similarly torn. Podcasters on ten comic-book-centered podcasts
initially loved the new comic; seven stayed with it after the first several
issues. A few noted that they had never before devoted time to even talk
about previous Wonder Woman comics on their podcasts. Some who were
displeased with her rebooted origin were willing to go with it due to the other
assets of the book.71 On three of the ten, the podcasters liked the first issue.
But it was downhill after that, particularly after the new origin of Diana and
backstory of the Amazons appeared and the violence increased. Some have
said that while it’s a good story, it does not read like a Wonder Woman
story.72 Postings to message boards reflect the same divide. Unlike the last
few writers, and unlike Buffy’s writers, the current Wonder Woman writer has
said that he doesn’t go on any message boards or blogs or look at reader
comments.
At the same time, in the new Justice League comic, which has triple the
sales of Wonder Woman, Diana’s face is drawn younger and sexier. She has
the same new outfit, but it’s smaller—she spills out of her top and bottom. It
made news, as DC intended, that Diana and Superman were portrayed kissing on the cover of the September 2012 issue of Justice League. Good Morning America showed the cover with the headline, “Superman! New sexy
sidekick!” and referred to Diana as a “homewrecker.”
73 Both are more traditional views of gender—the Justice League portrayal clearly objectifies her,
and the mainstream media coverage sees the female character as an accessory
to the male, tempting him away from his wife, Lois Lane.
These two new portrayals of Diana constitute yet another cycle in her
history. Marston’s empowering creation in the 1940s was followed by the
more traditionally gendered narratives of the 1950s through 1970s. Pérez’s
antipatriarchal, propeace mission of the late 1980s was followed by the sexualized bad girl of the 1990s. The overt and playful Third Wave feminism of
the 2000s has been followed by a violent portrayal in her own title alongside
a more sexualized portrayal in Justice League.
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226 Carolyn Cocca
Former Wonder Woman writer Greg Rucka has observed that portrayals
of women and people of color improved in the mid-2000s but have gotten
worse in the last few years. He noted that comic book readership has diversified somewhat, but “[the editors and publishers of mainstream superhero
comics] reject the presence of a female audience, and a broader readership,
and instead embrace a belief in a much smaller readership that is apparently
this theoretical 18–34 year old white male who likes his beer cold and his tits
big and his superheroes bloody.” But statistics show, he and the podcasters
continued, that more women go to movies and buy books than men, and that
women are more likely to control household spending than men, so the
decision to focus on what that audience may want is not economically sound.
“In the main, it’s a bunch of guys who don’t get it. It’s very, very gendered
with [Wonder Woman].”
74 More recently, he said that the publisher hasn’t
allowed the character “to have a voice that is a political voice, because
they’re afraid of controversy, because they’re afraid that controversy will
cost them money.”
75 Phil Jimenez, too, has cited “corporate involvement”
and “trepidation with labeling anything overly feminist for fear of economic
and social backlash” as contributing to Wonder Woman’s swings in portrayal.76
Buffy, which as a TV show had an audience in the millions, has gone back
to its roots in the comic as promised by Whedon in 2011. Season 9 has
backed away from the large-scale otherwordly action and is more focused on
Buffy, her friends, and the dark-alley slaying of vampires. She works in a
coffee shop and briefly as a bodyguard. When her client asks if her company
has anyone bigger to guard him, she replies, “I only come in Buffy size. And
it’s kind of the point. No one will ever think I’m a bodyguard.”
77 Her body is
a disguise for her strength. She reaches out to new allies, such as the teen
Billy, who wants to slay vampires in part to offset the bullying he has endured for identifying as gay. He worries, “I’m not a real slayer. . . . They’re
special. They’re called. They’re strong. . . . They’re always girls.” His friend
assures him, in a compliment that subverts the usually insulting use of the
phrase, “I think you can punch like a girl,” and Buffy welcomes him to the
team.78
So in 2013 in their comics, Diana and Buffy remain powerful women
fighting dark forces, but the Third Wave similarities, in the mixing of fantastic plot and social commentary and humor, in having a family of friends and
foils, in the sharing of power, have faded. There is, however, a potential area
of convergence for the two characters on the horizon. A new TV show,
Amazon, is being cast at the CW network. It is to take place in Diana’s
pre–Wonder Woman teen years, placing Wonder Woman in a girl-power
“box.” The producers may be trying to recapture the Smallville and Buffy
audiences through a strong yet vulnerable female character who is younger,
prettier, quippier, and more palatable and less threatening than a grown womCopyright 2014. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher, except fair uses permitted under U.S. or applicable copyright law.

“It’s about Power and It’s about Women” 227
an—at least to those whose dollars advertisers want to reach whom Rucka
mentions above. Jeffrey A. Brown describes the girl-power genre and its
limits as follows: “It can depict challenging images of powerful girls without
challenging cultural expectations of women.”
79 This can certainly be the
case, but it may also be pessimistic—couldn’t the girls who felt empowered
watching the young female hero bring that empowerment into their adulthood? Couldn’t the boys who respected that hero bring that respect into
adulthood?
What some may see as apolitical, postfeminist, commodified girl power
can be someone else’s thoroughly political and thoroughly feminist activism,
so the potential is still there for innovative, intersectional, and inclusive
reworkings of gender and power in this new TV show. As Buffy has shown in
that medium, the boundaries of a gendered box can certainly be rattled, bent,
and pushed through while in some ways relying on the traditional boundaries. Indeed, familiarity can help smooth the path to change. As Anne Marie
Smith notes about gender, “the effectiveness of new articulations depends on
two basic factors: the extent to which traditional articulations have become
increasingly weakened . . . and the extent to which new articulations borrow
from and rework various traditional frameworks so that they already appear
somewhat familiar.”
80
CONCLUSION: THE POLITICS OF NEGOTIATING
THE FEMALE SUPERHERO
Superhero stories don’t just reflect elite narratives of gender, or race, or class,
or sexuality that are then accepted by passive readers. There is always room
for queering the text and for forging spaces for empowerment that may or
may not have been intended by writers or editors or corporate owners. But
neither are dominant cultural narratives always resisted by consumers actively reading against a hegemonic grain, and producers, mindful of profit and of
broadening their characters’ appeal, are clearly mindful that different audiences have different levels of power. In the end, Wonder Woman and Buffy
and other titles like them are “read, reworked, or reinvented in quite unpredictable ways”
81 by a variety of constituencies.
Our task is to interrogate the “articulation of larger social and political
struggles” that occurs through the site of comics. 82 Why this can and should
be done through the genre of the superhero in particular is summarized well
by Grant Morrison: “Superhero stories . . . contain at their hearts all the
dreams and fears of generations in vivid miniature. . . . They tell us where
we’ve been, what we feared, and what we desired, and today they are more
popular, more all-pervasive than ever because they still speak to us about
what we really want to be.”
83
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228 Carolyn Cocca
NOTES
1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer debuted as a live-action theatrically released movie in 1992
and ran as a live-action television show from 1997 to 2003. A comic book series with the same
title, from Dark Horse Comics, ran from 1998 to 2004; not all parts of it are considered canon.
The current comic book series, also from Dark Horse, has run from 2007 to the present and is
canonical and continuous. Picking up directly after the end of the seven-season TV show, its
volumes are titled Season 8 and Season 9. There was a pilot for an animated series that wasn’t
picked up.
Wonder Woman debuted in the comics in 1941 and as part of the team of superheroes in
Justice League of America in 1960. These were produced by DC Comics. She appeared in a
live-action television show from 1975 to 1979. There was a pilot for a new live-action television show in 2011 that wasn’t picked up; a second television pilot is currently being cast,
tentatively titled Amazon. A Wonder Woman movie, written by Joss Whedon (the creator of
Buffy the Vampire Slayer) in 2005–2006, languished in development and was canceled. Wonder Woman could be seen in animated form in the 1973–1986 Superfriends and its updated
version from 2001 to 2006, Justice League, as well as in the direct-to-DVD animated film
Wonder Woman (2009) and four other Justice League films: The New Frontier (2008), Crisis
on Two Earths (2010), Doom (2012), and Flashpoint Paradox (2013). There are also two
comics for young kids, DC Superfriends and The Justice League Adventures, that have more
simplistic and nonviolent story lines and portray all of the characters smiling and with nonsexualized bodies.
The consumers of these various media—and of widely available merchandise—extend well
beyond the stereotypical comic book–reading audience (eighteen- to thirty-four-year-old white
males) to other demographic groups.
2. Wonder Woman’s creator, William Moulton Marston, sought to create a “feminine
character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.”
W. M. Marston, “Why 100,000,000 Americans Read Comics,” American Scholar 13, no. 1
(1943): 42. He opined that war would not end “until women control men,” but he was optimistic that this would occur because “Wonder Woman, and the trend toward male acceptance of
female love power which she represents, indicates that the first psychological step has actually
been taken.” Quoted in Olive Richard, “Our Women Are Our Future,” Family Circle, August
14, 1942, http://www.castlekeys.com/Pages/wonder.html (accessed January 1, 2013). Marston’s editor at DC Comics, Sheldon Mayer, commented that Marston “was writing a feminist
book but not for women. He was dealing with a male audience.” Quoted in Les Daniels,
Wonder Woman: The Complete History (New York: DC Comics, 2009), 33.
Buffy’s creator, Joss Whedon, said in 2001, “I always wanted the character to be an icon. I
wanted her to be a hero that existed in people’s minds the way Wonder Woman or Spider Man
does.” That same year he stated, “If I can make teenage boys comfortable with a girl who takes
charge of a situation without their knowing that’s what’s happening, it’s better than sitting
down and selling them on feminism.” These quotes are from two interviews with Whedon,
respectively, Shawna Ervin-Gore, “Interview with Joss Whedon,” Dark Horse News, 2001,
http://web.archive.org/web/20080211141837/http://www.darkhorse.com/news/interviews.php?
id=737 (accessed January 1, 2013); and Ginia Bellafante, “Bewitching Teen Heroines,” Time,
June 24, 2001, http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,137626,00.html (accessed
June 24, 2013).
3. In using the phrase “interactive public spheres,” I am drawing from Lisa Duggan’s
analysis of mass circulation newspapers in Sapphic Slashers: Sex, Violence, and American
Modernity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000). In speaking of the production/reception binary as more of a collaboration and negotiation, I am drawing from Jeffrey A. Brown’s
analysis in Black Superheroes, Milestone Comics, and Their Fans (Jackson: University Press of
Mississippi, 2000). I am not asserting that producers and consumers are equal in this space. I
am asserting that there is a mutually productive relationship between producers and consumers
and that each constrains the other in different ways. See Will Brooker, Batman Unmasked:
Analyzing a Cultural Icon (London: Continuum, 2000); Duggan, Sapphic Slashers; and Anna
Marie Smith, New Right Discourses on Race and Sexuality: Britain, 1968–1990 (New York:
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“It’s about Power and It’s about Women” 229
Cambridge University Press, 1994), on reception, resistance, and constraints. Jennifer Reed
uses the phrase “competing constituent audiences” in her 2009 article “Reading Gender Politics
on The L Word: The Moira/Max Transitions,” Journal of Popular Film and Television 37. See
also Carolyn Cocca, “Negotiating the Third Wave of Feminism in Wonder Woman,” PS:
Political Science and Politics 47 (January 2014).
I am speaking here of how active comic readers engage with authors, artists, editors, and
publishers, traditionally through letter columns (letters from fans, chosen by editors, appearing
in the back of new comics) and through comic book conventions. Today, this also occurs
through websites sponsored by the publishers, editors, writers, or artists themselves, as well as
in reader-sponsored blogs and podcasts. A number of prominent writers sign in to such websites and blogs anonymously to read posts; others do so openly and engage with readers. On the
many podcasts geared toward the medium of comics, podcasters discuss particular issues, or
story arcs, or characters; a number of them read e-mails, blog posts, or tweets from listeners so
as to engage with their concerns. Some of them interview writers, editors, and artists as well.
4. William Moulton Marston (w) and Harry Peter (a), Sensation Comics #1, 1942; and
William Moulton Marston (w) and Harry Peter (a), Wonder Woman [hereafter, WW] Vol. 1 #1,
1942.
5. William Moulton Marston (w) and Harry Peter (a), WW Vol. 1 #13, 1945.
6. Subversions of narratives of gender and power are not just about women, as a few works
on superhero comics note when they write about their appeal to queer youth, particularly in
terms of the resonance of a secret identity, for example, Roz Kaveney, Superheroes: Capes and
Crusaders in Comics and Films (London: I. B. Tauris, 2008); and Brian Mitchell Peters,
“Qu(e)erying Comic Book Culture and Representations of Sexuality in Wonder Woman,” Comparative Literature and Culture 5 (2003), http://docs.lib.purdue.edu/clcweb/vol5/iss3/6 (accessed January 10, 2013). A number of gay male Wonder Woman fans have expressed that they
found in her a strong role model without her strength being linked to being macho, that she was
accepting of everyone, that she was true to herself regardless of gendered expectations, and that
she didn’t bow to cultural stereotypes; Trina Robbins, “Wonder Woman: Queer Appeal,”
International Journal of Comic Art 10 (2008): 89–94; Gail Simone, “Five Questions with Phil
Jimenez,” 2008, http://fivequestionswith.wordpress.com/phil-j (accessed January 1, 2013);
Comic Book Queers podcasts #49, 2007, and #125, 2010; see also Kaveney, Superheroes; and
Peters, “Qu(e)erying Comic Book Culture” on the resonance of a secret identity for closeted
gay youth).
7. For historical overviews of comics and the comics industry particularly grounded in this
time period, see Matthew Costello, Secret Identity Crisis: Comic Books and the Unmasking of
Cold War America (New York: Continuum, 2009); Marc DiPaolo, War, Politics, and Superheroes: Ethics and Propaganda in Comics and Film (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011); JeanPaul Gabilliet, Of Comics and Men: A Cultural History of Comic Books, trans. Bart Beaty and
Nick Nguyen (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2010); David Hajdu, The Ten-Cent
Plague: The Great Comic Book Scare and How It Changed America (New York: Macmillan,
2008); Stephen Krensky, Comic Book Century: The History of American Comic Books (Minneapolis, MN: Twenty-First Century Books, 2008); and Bradford Wright, Comic Book Nation:
The Transformation of Youth Culture in America (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University
Press, 2001). None of these addresses gender at any length. Paul Lopes, Demanding Respect:
The Evolution of the American Comic Book (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2009), and
Mike Madrid, The Supergirls: Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy, and the History of Comic Book
Heroines (Minneapolis, MN: Exterminating Angel Press, 2009), are exceptions.
8. Marina Hollon, “Superheroine History, 1959–1984: Wonder Woman and Supergirl”
(master’s thesis, CSU San Marcos, December 2012), 89, https://csusm-dspace.calstate.edu/
handle/10211.8/261 (accessed January 1, 2013). Such supplements appeared in twenty-seven
out of thirty-one issues from 1962 to 1971.
9. Dennis O’Neil (w) and Mike Sekowsky (a), Diana Prince: Wonder Woman, vol. 1
[collecting Wonder Woman Vol. 1, #178–184, 1968] (New York: DC Comics, 2008),
#178–179.
10. Quoted in Daniels, Wonder Woman, 126. O’Neil spoke about it in this way at the Denver
Comic-Con on May 31, 2013, as well. He also admitted that while he was coming from the left
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230 Carolyn Cocca
politically, and thought he was serving the cause of feminism, he looks back now and sees that
his ideas about gender politics were not as advanced as he thought they were. See also Hollon,
“Superheroine History,” 102.
11. Ms. and DC Comics co-published a collection of Wonder Woman stories with a heartfelt
introduction by Gloria Steinem on what the character’s strength, compassion, and sense of
justice meant to her and other young women. Gloria Steinem, Wonder Woman (New York:
Holt, Rinehart, and Winston and Warner Books, 1972). Also, Ms. magazine debuted in the
summer of 1972 with classic Wonder Woman on the cover, hailing her as a feminist icon.
12. Editor Julius Schwartz quoted in Daniels, Wonder Woman, 134. Note the change in the
Comics Code in 1971 as it amended the Code of 1954 that enabled such portrayals. The deleted
material from the old code is in strikethrough and new additions are in italics: “Nudity in any
form is prohibited. Suggestive and salacious illustration is unacceptable. Females shall be
drawn realistically without undue emphasis on any physical qualities.” Quoted in Gabilliet, Of
Comics and Men, 316–20.
13. Hollon, “Superheroine History,” 93, 96.
14. Hollon, “Superheroine History,” 106, 113, 119, 120, 123. While six letters from 1974 to
1983 referred to Wonder Woman as feminist, twenty-six letters from 1968 to 1983 requested
that Steve Trevor be empowered.
15. See, for example, WW #219, 1975; #230, 1977; #250–253, 1978–1979; #263–264, 1980;
#275, 1981; #288–290, 1982; and #318, 1984; see also Lillian Robinson, Wonder Women:
Feminisms and Superheroes (New York: Routledge, 2004), and Madrid, The Supergirls.
16. In short, higher fuel and paper costs and increasing comic sticker prices, darker and
increasingly hypermasculinized stories, the growth of speculation and of comic shops followed
by the decline of both, distributor wars, and a royalty system that led to a focus on high sales of
superhero comics, as well as other causes, were leading to this more concentrated comic fan
base for mainstream superhero stories. See Brooker, Batman Unmasked; Gabilliet, Of Comics
and Men; Krensky, Comic Book Century; Lopes, Demanding Respect; and Wright, Comic Book
Nation.
17. Pérez, WW Vol. 2 #17, 1987. His run consisted of WW Vol. 2 #1–62, 1987–1992.
Madrid, The Supergirls; see also Brown, Black Superheroes; DiPaolo, War, Politics, and
Superheroes; Gabilliet, Of Comics and Men; and Kaveney, Superheroes.
18. Interview, Supernova Pop Culture Expo, April 9, 2010.
19. George Pérez, WW Vol. 2 #1, 1987, wrote in the first issue that no one else wanted the
comic, so he volunteered to take it on. But what he said in later interviews shows something
else at work as well. “‘They didn’t like the way the story was going to go; they didn’t like the
artist involved,’ Perez recounts. ‘They were just going to put it out there, settle for what they
could get.’ Barbara Kesel, then a DC editor, remembers she ‘strongly disliked’ [the original
writer’s] take on the character. ‘His WW was a nasty uber-bitch, rather than a hero,’ Kesel says.
‘To me, it was an embarrassing version of the character.’ [The] plot had been rewritten several
times in an effort to tone down elements some felt were misogynistic, but the revisions, though
more tolerable, were still far from satisfactory. Perez observed the apprehension among the
staff and realized WW was a book ‘no one had any hope for.’ He found his challenge. ‘I asked
Janice if I could come in and draw the first six issues,’ he recalls. ‘It was my first kiss from an
editor.’” Chris Lawrence, George Perez: Storyteller (Dynamite Entertainment, 2006), 77.
20. Karen Berger, in George Pérez, WW Vol. 2 #2, 1987.
21. Neil Roberts, in WW Vol. 2 #4.
22. Malcolm Bourne, in WW Vol. 2 #5. Other examples include, “You have Wonder Woman going in the best direction in which the title can be taken . . . emphasizing its Greek myths
and feminism” (Paul Carbonaro, in WW Vol. 2 #4). “She is a strong and interesting woman”
(Norman Ore, in WW Vol. 2 #5). “She is a tribute to her sex, a genuine wonder of a woman”
(Tonya Falls, in WW Vol. 2 #8).
23. Gabilliet, Of Comics and Men; Lopes, Demanding Respect, 122; Mitra Emad, “Reading
Wonder Woman’s Body: Mythologies of Gender and Nation,” Journal of Popular Culture 39
(2006): 969. See also note 16 above.
24. DiPaolo, War, Politics, and Superheroes, 83.
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“It’s about Power and It’s about Women” 231
25. See also Brown, Black Superheroes; Daniels, Wonder Woman; Madrid, The Supergirls;
Grant Morrison, Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God
from Smallville Can Teach Us about Being Human (New York: Spiegel and Grau, 2011); and
Kelli Stanley, “‘Suffering Sappho!’: Wonder Woman and the (Re)invention of the Feminine
Ideal,” Helios 32 (2005). Loebs wrote almost forty issues (WW Vol. 2 #63–100, 1992–1995),
and Deodato drew only the last ten, but those ten grew sales and drew great attention. The next
writer/artist, John Byrne, would draw Diana with curves as well as bulging muscles and a
grimace; she was not so objectified and looked almost exactly like his She-Hulk from 1992
(WW Vol. 2 #101–36, 1995–1998). Male superheroes’ muscles were supersized by this point as
well. But also note that male superheroes were never, and still are never, posed in the sexualized, objectified poses often used for female superheroes.
The trend toward these types of portrayals of women in comics was echoed in the wider
availability of pornography on the Internet and of role-playing video games with higher levels
of violence and sexual content.
26. Interview by Newsarama staff, 2006, archived at http://www.comicbloc.com/forums/
archive/index.php?t-29878.html. Generally, sales of a run tend to decline as it goes on. But
Deodato is correct—sales during his time on Wonder Woman almost quadrupled (http://forums.
comicbookresources.com/showthread.php?301596-Wonder-Woman-Sales-Figures-Now-to1942&p=10238789#post10238789).
27. Henry King, in WW Vol. 2 #93.
28. Eric Gerbershagen, in WW Vol. 2 #104.
29. The first is Kate Payne, in WW Vol. 2 #95; the second is Joanna Sandsmark in the same
issue. Joanna seems to undercut her own argument, implying that all women are oversensitive
to nudity rather than calling attention to the politics of objectification.
30. Robert Baytan, in WW Vol. 2 #91.
31. The first of these was in response to Kate Payne in #95; the second in response to Robert
Baytan in #91.
32. Morrison, Supergods, 235.
33. Morrison, Supergods, 251.
34. Tasha Robinson, “Interview: Joss Whedon,” AV Club, August 8, 2007, http://www.
avclub.com/article/joss-whedon-14136(accessed January 11, 2013).
35. As Fuchs writes, “part of Buffy’s genius lies in its ironic undermining of the status quo it
appears to epitomize,” and Buffy’s body is central to that (Cynthia Fuchs, “‘Did Anyone Ever
Explain to You What Secret Identity Means?’: Race and Displacement in Buffy and Dark
Angel,” in Undead TV: Essays on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, ed. Elana Levine and Lisa Parks,
96–115 [Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007], 102). But Brown writes that “the overall
girlishness of the contemporary action heroine allows these characters to be sexually appealing
to male viewers without implicitly challenging patriarchal standards” (Brown, Dangerous
Curves, 166). Both can be true and so can broaden the appeal of the character. For some
readers, patriarchal standards will be subverted; for others, they will be reinscribed.
36. In music, the term was exemplified in the 1990s by riot grrrl bands like Bikini Kill (who
used the girl-power slogan on an early one of their zines), Bratmobile, and Sleater-Kinney.
They were specifically grounded in protest against the Reagan and Bush policies of the 1980s
and 1990s, particularly about reproductive rights. More commercially, the phrase has been
associated (in varying degrees of accuracy) with the Spice Girls and Madonna, and with TV
shows such as Buffy, Xena: Warrior Princess, Alias, Dark Angel, La Femme Nikita, and
Charmed. The Third Wave has often been conflated, inaccurately, not only with “girl power”
but also with “postfeminism”—the latter being the idea that feminism isn’t necessary because
equality is here.
37. George Pérez, WW Vol. 2 #19, 1988. The voice-over introduction of each episode of
Buffy the Vampire Slayer states that she is the “chosen one.”
38. Kevin Durand, Buffy Meets the Academy: Essays on the Episodes and Scripts as Text
(Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2000); Frances Early, “Staking Her Claim: Buffy the Vampire
Slayer as Transgressive Woman Warrior,” Journal of Popular Culture 35 (2001); Susan PayneMulliken and Valerie Renegar, “Buffy Never Goes It Alone: The Rhetorical Construction of
Sisterhood in the Final Season,” in Buffy Meets the Academy: Essays on the Episodes and
Copyright 2014. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
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232 Carolyn Cocca
Scripts as Text, ed. Kevin Durand (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009), 57–77; Jowett, Sex and
the Slayer; Jennifer K. Stuller, Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in
Modern Mythology (London: I. B. Tauris, 2010); Sharon Ross, “‘Tough Enough’: Female
Friendship and Heroism in Xena and Buffy,” in Action Chicks: New Images of Tough Women
in Popular Culture, ed. Sherrie Inness (Gordonsville, VA: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 231–55;
Gladys L. Knight, Female Action Heroes: A Guide to Women in Comics, Video Games, Film,
and Television (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO/Greenwood, 2010); Robinson, Wonder Women.
39. William Messner-Loebs (w) and Mike Deodato Jr. (a), “The Contest,” Wonder Woman
Vol. 2 #90–93 (New York: DC Comics, 1995); William Messner-Loebs (w) and Mike Deodato
Jr. (a), “The Challenge of Artemis,” Wonder Woman Vol. 2 #94–100 (New York: DC Comics,
1996); William Messner-Loebs (w) and Ed Benes (a), “Requiem,” Artemis (New York: DC
Comics, 1996).
A number of Buffy scholars have written about Faith in varying levels of detail: see, for
example, Early, “Staking Her Claim”; Elyce Rae Helford, “My Emotions Give Me Power: The
Containment of Girls’ Anger in Buffy,” in Fighting the Forces: What’s at Stake in Buffy the
Vampire Slayer, ed. Rhonda Wilcox and David Lavery (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield,
2002), 18–34; Roz Kaveney, Reading the Vampire Slayer: An Unofficial Critical Companion
to Buffy and Angel (New York: Tauris Park, 2001); Rhonda Wilcox, “‘Who Died and Made
Her the Boss?’ Patterns of Mortality in Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” in Fighting the Forces:
What’s at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, ed. Rhonda Wilcox and David Lavery (Lanham,
MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002), 3–17.
40. Buffy Season 7 #18–22 and Season 8; Jimenez, WW Vol. 2; Rucka, WW Vol. 2; Simone,
WW Vol. 3.
41. “The Last Sundown” featurette, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, season 7, disc 6. See also note
2 above.
42. Quotes from Gwyn Symonds, “‘Solving Problems with Sharp Objects’: Female Empowerment, Sex, and Violence in Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Journal of the Whedon Studies
Association 3 (2004), http://slayageonline.com/PDF/symonds.pdf; Patricia Pender, “‘I’m Buffy, and You’re History,’” and Sherrie A. Inness, “Introduction: Boxing Gloves and Bustiers:
New Images of Tough Women,” in Action Chicks: New Images of Tough Women in Popular
Culture, ed. Sherrie Inness (Gordonsville, VA: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), respectively. See
also Brown, “Gender, Sexuality, and Toughness,” and Marc Camron, “The Importance of
Being the Zeppo: Xander, Gender Identity, and Hybridity in Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Slayage: The Journal of the Whedon Studies Association 6 (2007), http://slayageonline.com/PDF/
Camron.pdf; Lorna Jowett, Sex and the Slayer: A Gender Studies Primer for the Buffy Fan
(Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2005); Philip Mikosz and Dana Och, “Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Slayage: The Journal of the Whedon Studies Association 2
(2002), http://slayageonline.com/PDF/mikosz_och.pdf; Peters, “Qu(e)erying Comic Book Culture”; Zoe-Jane Playden, “‘What You Are, What’s to Come’: Feminisms, Citizenship and the
Divine,” in Reading the Vampire Slayer: An Unofficial Critical Companion to Buffy and Angel,
ed. Roz Kaveney (New York: Tauris Park, 2001), 120–47; Arwen Spicer, “‘Love’s Bitch but
Man Enough to Admit It’: Spike’s Hybridized Gender,” Slayage: The Journal of the Whedon
Studies Association 2 (2002), http://slayageonline.com/PDF/spicer.pdf; and Rhonda Wilcox
and David Lavery, eds., Fighting the Forces: What’s at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer
(Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002).
43. While Diana’s body has been more objectified, more often drawn with overt sex appeal
for a male gaze than has Buffy’s, Diana’s sexuality has been far more constrained. In seventyplus years we have seen Diana kiss a few people a few times, and that’s it. This speaks to a
discomfort with Diana’s sexuality that I would attribute to a Victorian view of a proper woman
as being chaste, virtuous, and nonsexual—an object not to be touched, on a pedestal that also
serves as a cage. As one Wonder Woman writer said of the character, “She’d concretized over
the years, had turned into this really cool Porsche that people kept in the garage. . . . One
podcaster said that Wonder Woman had become like his grandmother, and he didn’t want to
see his grandmother being flirty. . . . She became the mom of the girl next door you wanted to
date” (J. Michael Straczynski [w] et al., WW #600 [New York: DC Comics, 2010]). That girl
Copyright 2014. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
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“It’s about Power and It’s about Women” 233
was apparently Buffy. While her girlish body has always been more subject than object, her
love life and her sex life—in which she is portrayed as an active agent—are integral parts of her
stories. None of her relationships is idealized; none is portrayed as being between a dominant
male and passive female; rather, they are all messy disruptions of a traditional narrative of
heterosexuality.
44. Similarly, Mike Madrid writes of Wonder Woman, “Sex appeal was the spoonful of
sugar that helped the medicine of feminism go down” (The Supergirls, 155). Also Brown,
“Gender, Sexuality, and Toughness”; Madrid, The Supergirls; Pender, “‘I’m Buffy, and You’re
History’”; Peters, “Qu(e)erying Comic Book Culture”; and Taylor, “‘He’s Gotta Be Strong’”;
note the performative aspects of being a female superhero: that femininity can be put on, can be
camp or burlesque, can distract villains from a superhero’s true powers, and can disrupt gendered assumptions.
45. On these questions, see, for example, Brown, “Gender, Sexuality, and Toughness”;
Early, “Staking Her Claim”; Frances Early and Kathleen Kennedy, introduction to Athena’s
Daughters: Television’s New Warrior Women, ed. Frances Early and Kathleen Kennedy (New
York: Syracuse University Press, 2003); Helford, “My Emotions Give Me Power”; Inness,
“Introduction”; Jowett, Sex and the Slayer; Robinson, Wonder Women; Charlene Tung, “Gender, Race, and Sexuality in La Femme Nikita,” in Action Chicks: New Images of Tough Women
in Popular Culture, ed. Sherrie Inness (Gordonsville, VA: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 95–121;
Mary Magoulick, “Frustrating Female Heroism: Mixed Messages in Xena, Nikita, and Buffy,”
Journal of Popular Culture 39 (2006).
46. Quoted in Bellafante, “Bewitching Teen Heroines,” and Nussbaum, “Must-See Metaphysics,” New York Times, September 22, 2002, respectively.
47. Pender, “‘I’m Buffy, and You’re History,’” 43.
48. Jimenez wrote from 2000 to 2002, WW Vol. 2 #164–88. Quoted in DiPaolo, War,
Politics, and Superheroes, 86.
49. Phil Jimenez, WW Vol. 2 #170, 2001.
50. Chris Jackson, in WW Vol. 2 #173, 2001.
51. Seth Richard, in WW Vol. 2 #177, 2002.
52. Phil Jimenez, WW Vol. 2 #170, 2001. The next writer killed off Trevor. The death of
Trevor was written by Walt Simonson in 2003 (WW Vol. 2 #194). It can be interpreted as a
response to the criticism, or as a capitulation to the idea that the way to build tolerance is to
have the “noble” minority figure make a sacrifice and earn respect, or it may have been a way
to force the character back to her roots of forming new circles of allies around herself.
In another humorous turn, Wonder Girl Cassie Sandsmark appears to say that she has just
returned from a trip to Hollywood, where she got to “totally hang out on the set of ‘Wendy the
Werewolf Stalker’!” The accompanying panel shows a petite blond girl holding a stake in her
hand, with three other teens behind her and a werewolf looming over them, an undeniable
reference to Buffy. Phil Jimenez, WW Vol. 2 #171, 2001.
53. “Wonder Man: Phil Jimenez talks Wonder Woman,” January 23, 2002, http://www.
comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=796.
54. Joss Whedon, “Chosen,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer, season 7, episode 22 (20th Century
Fox, 2003), DVD.
55. William Moulton Marston (w) and Harry Peter (a), WW Vol.1 #13, 1945.
56. Whedon did not base Buffy on Wonder Woman; indeed, he says he had never been a
real fan of the comic. Rather, he says Buffy is closest to Kitty Pryde of the X-Men. Lev
Grossman, “Interview with Neil Gaiman and Joss Whedon,” Time, September 25, 2005.
57. Greg Rucka (w) and J. G. Jones (a), Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia (New York: DC
Comics, 2002), and WW Vol. 2 #195–226 (New York: DC Comics, 2003–2005).
In 2006, in an acceptance speech to an award given him by the group Equality Now, Joss
Whedon recounted that he is constantly asked why he writes strong female characters. He gave
many different renditions of his various answers over the years but then said that he always in
the end replies, “Because you’re still asking me that question” (May 15, http://www.
equalitynow.org/media/joss_whedon_accepts_equality_now_award). In 2012, Greg Rucka
posted a lengthy essay on the website i09 titled, “Why I Write Strong Female Characters,”
because, he too is constantly asked this question. The short answer, he says, is that he writes
Copyright 2014. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
All rights reserved. May not be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher, except fair uses permitted under U.S. or applicable copyright law.

234 Carolyn Cocca
“strong characters, and some of them are female” (May 22, http://io9.com/5912366/why-iwrite-strong-female-characters).
58. Greg Rucka, WW Vol. 2 #195, 2003.
59. Greg Rucka, WW Vol. 2 #198, 2003.
60. Joss Whedon (w) and Georges Jeanty (a), Buffy Vol. 8 #1 (Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse
Comics, 2007). In another parallel, Rucka’s run ended with Diana killing a human being,
Maxwell Lord, who was controlling Superman and forcing him into destructive actions. This
was in keeping with the trend in the 2000s in comics of portrayals of lack of trust in governments as well as in superheroes. See Costello, Secret Identity; Kaveney, Superheroes; A. David
Lewis, “The Militarism of American Superheroes after 9/11,” in Comic Books and American
Cultural History: An Anthology, ed. Matthew Pustz (New York: Continuum); and Morrison,
Supergods, on this point. Similarly, in Buffy Vol. 8 #8 in 2007, Buffy says, in contrast to the
seven years of the TV series, that she—like Diana—would consider killing a human being if
necessary (Brian K. Vaughan [w] and Georges Jeanty [a]).
61. Joss Whedon (w) and Georges Jeanty (a), Buffy Vol. 8 #11, 2008.
62. Gail Simone, December 20, 2010, comment on “Your Favorite Comics Character,” at
JinxWorld Forums, http://www.606studios.com/bendisboard/showthread.php?201442-YourFavorite-Comics-Character!&p=7399945#post7399945; and Gail Simone, January 12, 2011,
comment on “Your Favorite Comics Character,” at JinxWorld Forums,http://www.606studios.
com/bendisboard/showthread.php?202271-Gail-asked-to-write-Buffy-season-9-!-!-!&p=
7465009#post7465009. She wrote WW Vol. 3 #14–44—the first ongoing female writer of the
comic. At the end of her Wonder Woman run, Simone was asked to write for the Buffy comic,
although she declined. She also noted at the time that she never read or watched Buffy.
Two women had worked on writing Wonder Woman in the 1980s before the 1987 relaunch,
Mindy Newell (WW #326–28, 1985) and Trina Robbins (Legends of Wonder Woman, 1986).
Robbins also illustrated the series. Newell collaborated with George Pérez after the relaunch as
well (WW Vol. 2 #36–46, 49 [1989–1990]). Jill Thompson illustrated a number of issues in
1989–1991. In 2007, after yet another relaunch, best-selling novelist Jodi Picoult wrote a few
issues (WW Vol. 3 #6–10).
Note that there were no letter columns during this run, but that Simone launched a thread
on the Comic Book Resources site for fans to post comments and questions (some of which
were negative, although most were quite positive), and she quite often responded to them
directly. She does the same at gailsimone.tumblr.com.
63. Gail Simone, WW Vol. 3 #34, 2009.
64. Gail Simone, WW Vol. 3 #40, 2010.
65. Jen Wang and Diana Nguyen, “Wonder Woman Finally Gets a Pair of Pants,” Huffington Post, June 30, 2010, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/disgrasian/wonder-woman-finallygets_b_630771.html (accessed January 11, 2013).
66. Jo Piazza, “New Wonder Woman Loses Patriotic Costume in Favor of ‘Globalized’
Duds,” Fox News, July 1, 2010, http://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/2010/07/01/newwonder-woman-loses-patriotic-costume/#ixzz2HK9xqNBO (accessed January 1, 2013). Sales
of that issue were almost double those before and after it. J. Michael Straczynski (w) et al.,
Wonder Woman #600 (2010). The costume was designed by Jim Lee. For an example of
mainstream media coverage, see George Gene Gustines, “Makeover for Wonder Woman at
69,” New York Times, June 29, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/30/books/30wonder.
html?_r=0.
67. IFanboy podcast #272, November 13, 2012.
68. Fredcast podcast, February 1, 2013.
69. Brian Azzarello (w) and Cliff Chiang (a), WW Vol. 4 #1 (2011), #19 (2013), and #23
(2013), respectively.
70. Quoted in DiPaolo, War, Politics, and Superheroes, 86.
71. Among the podcasts I listened to for this article were (N = 20) Chosen: A Buffyverse
Podcast, Comic Book Queers, Comic Conversations, Comic Geek Speak, Comicast, Crazy Sexy
Geeks, Fatman on Batman, Fredcast, IFanboy, Invisible Jet Podcast, Matt and Brett Love
Comics, Modern Myth Media, Nerdist Writers Panel, The Stack, Supanova, Talking Comics,
Talking Toons, Three Chicks Review Comics, War Rocket Ajax, and The Word Balloon. ComCopyright 2014. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher, except fair uses permitted under U.S. or applicable copyright law.

“It’s about Power and It’s about Women” 235
mentary about the New 52 Wonder Woman was on twenty-six episodes (with eighteen men and
seven women) of seven of these podcasts: Comic Geek Speak, Crazy Sexy Geeks, IFanboy,
Matt and Brett Love Comics, Modern Myth Media, Talking Comics, and The Word Balloon.
Only one person on these seven shows expressed early and repeated disappointment with the
New 52 Wonder Woman, Bob Reyer of the Talking Comics podcast, who is a lifelong Wonder
Woman fan. He remarked, “It’s using the tools and the settings of what came before, but
without quite getting it. It can be its own enjoyable thing; it’s just not what it was and doesn’t
quite grasp the old concept” (Talking Comics podcast #50, September 26, 2012). I also listened
to interviews with writers, artists, and publishers on an additional fifteen episodes of the
eighteen podcasts listed above.
72. These three podcasts were Comic Book Queers, Comicast, and Three Chicks Review
Comics. Listen to, for instance, Comic Book Queers podcast #179, April 8, 2012. Later, others
on the Talking Comics podcast noted above became more negative about the New 52 Wonder
Woman; for example, on August 28 and 29, 2013, during their “Women in Comics” week.
73. Superman and Diana had done this once before in 1988, Action Comics #600, John
Byrne w/a, which crossed over with Pérez’s run. Good Morning America, http://abcnews.go.
com/GMA/video/dc-comics-rewrite-superman-ditches-lois-lane-woman-17056228. Note that
in the new Justice League, alongside Wonder Woman’s more sexualized portrayal, all of the
male superheroes are drawn with huge, chiseled biceps, chests, and thighs.
74. Interviewed on the Three Chicks Review Comics podcast #43, September 9, 2012. See,
for example, Brown, Black Superheroes, on the diversity of readership.
75. Talking Comics podcast, “Wonder Woman Panel,” August 29, 2013 (the panel included
this author).
76. Gail Simone, “Five Questions with Phil Jimenez,” 2008, http://fivequestionswith.
wordpress.com/phil-j (accessed January 1, 2013).
77. Andrew Chambliss (w) and Georges Jeanty (a), Buffy Vol. 9 #11, 2012.
78. Jane Espenson (w) and Karl Moline (a), Buffy Vol. 9 #14, 2012.
79. Brown, Dangerous Curves, 167.
80. Smith, New Right Discourses on Race and Sexuality, 6.
81. Duggan, Sapphic Slashers, 155.
82. Lopes, Demanding Respect, xxi.
83. Morrison, Supergods, 417.
Copyright 2014. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
All rights reserved. May not be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher, except fair uses permitted under U.S. or applicable copyright law.

Copyright 2014. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
All rights reserved. May not be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher, except fair uses permitted under U.S. or applicable copyright law.


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