Through Dirk I found this link to Alan Moore’s proposal for Glory, Rob Liefield’s Wonder Woman knock off. Since I’ve been doing an on again off again series on latter day interpretations of Wonder Woman, I was curious to read Moore’s ideas and see how he stacked up against Marston’s original stories.
There’s no doubt that Moore’s a smart guy, and he certainly keys into some of the things about Marston’s work that I like. For instance, Moore describes Steve Trevor as “one of the most truly pathetic love interests in comics” — and argues that this is a strength, not a weakness. Has anybody played Steve for mascochistic laughs after Marston? I don’t think I’ve seen it (certainly not the most recent animated movie where Steve’s an action hero and teaches WW to love (blech.)
Some of Moore’s other readings of the material don’t strike me quite, quite right though. In general, he does tend to pick out things about the original work that are fun or weird or entertaining — and then he suggests updated analogues that are almost but not quite as fun, weird, or entertaining.
–He mentions Etta Candy and the Holiday Girls as “sickening Nancy Drews” and points out that they could be used for humorous effect or (suitably aged) for a poignant touch. And it’s true — the Holiday Girls are completely bizarre. (Though they started in the 40s with Marston, not in the 60s as Moore suggests.) But the *most* bizarre thing about the Holiday girls was that Marston played them straight. Etta wasn’t there for laughs (or not only for laughs); she was actually frequently the hero, often tougher and more competent than WW, and always tougher and more competent than Steve. I don’t see any indication that Moore noticed that.
–Moore talks about the Invisible Plane, calling it “exactly the sort of lovely, pointless idea that I think we should encourage.” But then he goes on to suggest it be updated to create something which “fits more” with Glory’s mythological background. He decides on a Diamond Chariot, an intelligent crystal growth which can “reform itself according to any configurations that Glory programs into it.” Which is fine… but probably the most entertaining thing about the plane in the first place was its utter incongruity and awkwardness. Why do the Greek mythos Amazons have an invisible WW II plane lying around? Why is it invisible, anyway? Where on earth (literally) is she keeping it? Moore rationalizes the trope — but rationalizing isn’t necessarily making it better.
–Moore has got some fun villain ideas (the bondagey Venus Fly Trap, for example) but nothing nearly as weird as Marston’s female-gorilla-turned-into-a-woman, or the cross-dressing transgendered wizard character. (Though perhaps Moore would have come up with something nuttier if he’d gotten to actually write the thing.)
As far as the bigger picture stuff goes, the same thing applies: Moore does understand where Marston is coming from…but only up to a point. He says that “Dr. Charles Moulton was a barely suppressed psycho-sexual lunatic who [wrote] Wonder Woman with one hand in his pocket…” and points out how bizarre it was to have all this bondage stuff in a comic that was supposedly “designed by experts especially for the young and impressionable female reader.”
However, what Moore doesn’t seem to quite grok is that Marston knew this as well as anyone. Better than anyone, probably. You can go online and find quote after quote with Marston talking about how much he likes seeing strong women bound, how much he likes to submit…and how all of this relates to his feminism. (The top of this recent post includes a few examples of Marston holding forth.) In other words, Marston isn’t some weird idiot savant who didn’t know what he was doing. He put the bondage in there because it tied in (as it were) in very specific ways with what he thought about gender relations and with his (perverted, but real) vision of feminism.
So Moore goes on to say that this weird supposedly-for-young-girls-but-actually-stroke-material vibe is “one of the only really interesting and unique things about the [Wonder Woman] comic book…we’d do well to create a similar coy but suggestive edifice for the new Glory”
I think there are a number of problems with that comment. First, to say that the bondage/feminism is “one of the only” interesting things about Marston’s run is really confused — that’s the only thing in Marston’s run, practically speaking! That’s what it’s about! That’s the whole kit and kaboodle! Marston examines it obsessively, from every level, and very self-consciously.
The point here is in that second bit, where Moore says that “we’d do well to create a similar coy but suggestive edifice for the new Glory.” Okay…but Marston wasn’t about being “coy but suggestive.” He was about expounding a feminist/utopian philosophy which he was invested in for erotic as well as philosophical reasons. Moore gets the exploitation, but misses the rest of it — and so what he comes up with is “coy but suggestive”, with some bondage elements and eroticism and a semi-closeted lesbian admirer/companion for Glory. In other words, he wants to do somewhat subtle PG-13 exploitation — which is fine, and could be very entertaining…but I’d argue (and have argued recently) that Marston was doing something different. Among other things that “something” involved his compromised, bizarre, but genuine commitment to a female readership — somthing that Moore’s proposal explicitly doesn’t have (Moore says he wants to “prime the story with plenty of open spaces for the readers’ filthy, disgusting thirteen year-old mind to inhabit” — and I don’t think the mind he’s thinking of belongs to a girl.)
None of which is to say that Glory wouldn’t have been fun to read. There are even a couple of points where Moore’s series might have improved on the original: Moore, for example, actually seems interested in Glory’s secret identity, and was eager to write stories about it, whereas Marston (at least as far as I’ve seen) seems to have included Diana Prince because, well, super-heroes have secret identities, and it’s not too much trouble to put her in a couple of panels per story.
Overall, though I seriously doubt that Glory would have been as loopy, as funny, or anywhere near as good as those old Marston comics. It’s not too hard to be more self-aware than Siegel and Shuster and Mort Weisinger, and craft a series of Supreme stories that are able to encompass the joy of the originals and add some more thoughtful reflections as well. Trying to do the same thing with Wonder Woman, though…well, it’s not at all clear to me that Moore is more self-aware than Marston, and it’s entirely clear to me that his grasp of the material is less thoughtful and less original. Moore has done some things I like probably as much as the old WW comics…but Supreme wasn’t one of those things, and reading this proposal, it’s very hard for me to see how Glory could have been either. (It might have been the best take on WW short of Marston, I suppose…but I’ve been arguing at some length that second best Wonder Woman is not an especially high bar.)
And you know what? Even if Moore did somehow manage to write as well as Marston, Harry Peter’s art would kick ass on any lame-ass nineties super-hero hack who Liefield dragged in. (There’s a faint suggestion in the proposal that Moore was thinking of bringing in Melinda Gebbie to do some work on the title; I suspect [Update: on the basis of no actual evidence, I should add] that she’s the “Peters stylist” he alludes to. And she would be better than a standard super-hero artist…but she’s nowhere near as good as Peter himself.)
I was hoping to talk about Promethea here as well, but this post is long enough already, so I’ll probably save that for tomorrow…or possibly next week, depending on how things go….
Update: A follow up post is here