Over the past few months, the two biggest publishers in comics have disappointed their female audiences. Over the summer, Marvel introduced a Spider-Woman cover drawn by veteran artist Milo Manara that featured the superhero scaling a building while "presenting" to the city below in an overtly sexual way. And at the end of September, DC had to apologize for selling sexist T-shirts, one of which reduced Wonder Woman, one of the company's three most iconic heroes, to Superman's sexual conquest.
Nowadays, it seems anyone who writes or illustrates a female superhero comic will have their work (rightfully) scrutinized for its treatment of female characters. And that's what Meredith and David Finch — creative team and married couple — are facing as they become the next to take on Wonder Woman come November.
"Right now, there's a lot more awareness in video games, in media, in literature about making sure we're addressing a balanced audience," Meredith Finch told me, amid the seismic sensory overload that is New York Comic Con. "It's fair for all of us to say, well now our characters are and should be reflective of our readers. And everybody's really trying hard. Maybe it's not happening as fast as we wish it was, but everyone is trying really hard."
Wonder Woman's feminism is changing
The Finches know about these standards and expectations first hand. This summer David saw some backlash after jumbling words and stating what many took to mean he didn't want his iteration of Wonder Woman to be considered a feminist.
"We want her to be a strong — I don't want to say feminist, but a strong character," he said, in an interview with Comic Book Resources that ran in July.
Finch apologized on Twitter within hours. But damage was still done — people began to question and worry about Wonder Woman's future. On Thursday, Meredith, who will be doing the writing for the series, took the chance to further explain his comments (David had a signing to attend).
"David did not intend to say that she's not a feminist," she said, explaining that Wonder Woman, like feminism, has evolved since the character was created. Finch says that her husband was just trying to make clear that there was no mandate from execs at DC to take Wonder Woman and create a token and hollow-feeling Wonder Woman, who would ultimately make for an empty female empowerment story. During the '70s and '80s, comics (Wonder Woman included) had a period where they were being used as PSAs from adults to kids, rather than fiction that stood on its own. That's exactly what the Finches want to avoid.
"The experiences women are having in the 21st Century are very different from the experiences Wonder Woman had when she was created. So we just want to focus on telling a strong female story, that I can relate to as a woman, and really, everyone can relate to," she said.
Why Wonder Woman shouldn't be perfect
As Finch mentions, Wonder Woman has had a long history and rich history but has also represented many different things. Her creator, a psychologist named William Moulton Marston, saw her as a feminine beacon of sexual freedom to male heroes at the time. And along the way the people (predominantly men) who wrote and illustrated her comic appearances, have shaped Wonder Woman in various ways.
The current comic has Wonder Woman as a sort of Xena-warrior-battle-maiden. It hasn't pleased everyone. Phil Jimenez, an artist who worked on the Wonder Woman comic at one point in his career, told the attendees of the New York Times OUT and Geeks OUT panel on Thursday night that the current Wonder Woman has become just another symbol of the patriarchy. Rather than being an outsider in The Justice League, she's become one of the boys.
"She absolutely embodies patriarchal norms—the same male superhero complex," he said. "One of the most popular versions currently is the warrior maiden, which is ground that's been taken care of by other characters."
Jimenez makes a good point: Succeeding by the rules of patriarchy isn't the end goal of feminism, nor should it be the end goal for Wonder Woman. True equality would have Wonder Woman, being able to be imperfect, rebelling, and carving out her own terms of success.
That said, Jimenez wasn't referring to the Finches' work. And the Finches seem to be planning a different role for Wonder Woman, one that's going to involve failure, humanity, vulnerability, and resilience.
"[Being imperfect] was the single most important thing for us, going into the book. She can lose her temper. She can cry. She's a person," Meredith told me. "This is the direction I want to go, this is what I want to bring to the character, and this is what I want to come out of the character. And I hope if I focus on that, the rest will naturally take care of itself."