One of the most discussed news items from last month’s Comic-Con International was the first look at Wonder Woman as she will appear in Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, the new DC Entertainment film by Zack Snyder. Played by Gal Gadot, this will be the first cinematic appearance of William Moulton Marston’s Amazonian princess and feminist icon in her nearly 75-year history, and naturally fans have had a lot to say about the portrait debuted in San Diego. In reaction to the image, members of the ComicsAlliance staff assembled to discuss and critique Gadot’s costume, depictions of super-women on film, and the current state of superheroine fashion in general.
Today’s participants include CA’s superheroic sartorialist Betty Felon; clinical psychologist and Arkham Sessions co-host Dr. Andrea Letamendi; comic book editor Janelle Asselin; journalist Juliet Kahn; comics writer/artist Kate Leth; and illustrator/blogger Angelina L.B. aka ALB, who makes her CA debut in this in-depth analysis. Join us for our roundtable discussion on Wonder Woman’s newest live-action steez, high heels, and the balance between practicality/realism and style in superheroine costume design.
Betty: So for those of you who haven’t seen it yet, above is the a teaser shot of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman for Zack Snyder’s Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, revealed during the Warner Bros. Pictures panel at Comic-Con International. In the days since, there have been a multitude of criticisms and concerns about Wonder Woman’s depiction and role in this movie, which is to be her first feature film appearance. What were your first impressions of this portrait and Gadot’s costume?
Andrea: My immediate impression: A little surprised. I expected it to be even more unlike the traditional version.
Kate: IT’S SO BROWN.
Andrea: Since she’s clearly on Mustafar the lighting is a bit off, so I’m not entirely sure that it’s all brown. It may actually have red tones under better lighting.
Betty: My first impression was definitely that the overall color story was just so murky and dark. Which I’m not surprised about, considering the overall tone of Snyder’s oeuvre.
Janelle: Some of it looks badass, but in general I just look at that photo and think, “It’s so muddy.” It doesn’t feel superheroic, it feels like they’re trying to make her Xena.
Andrea: The color does worry me, since she’s supposed to be the opposite of Batman when it comes to impressions. She tells Batman in the comics that he instills fear and distrust (in his cloak of darkness) but that she must be the emissary of peace (trust, faith). If her costume doesn’t translate that, we have problems.
ALB: I think what stands out to me most about this costume is how much I don’t care about it. Nothing about it is shocking to me. Of course they’re going with the classic Lynda Carter cut. Of course they aren’t going to give her pants. Of course she has heels. Of course she looks like she’s been working at a charity dog wash for hounds that assist firefighters all day and then crawled home through Silent Hill.
Juliet: [ComicsAlliance editor] Andy [Khouri] texted this photo to all the ComicsAlliance folks at SDCC and my reaction was, and still is, “uuuugggggggggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhh.”
Janelle: I don’t understand the weird strap around her middle.
Andrea: The strap is what holds her sword. It’s a shoulder scabbard so it could make sense.
Kate: I don’t understand why her hair isn’t much, much larger. I know that’s a nit-picky point, but I feel like Wonder Woman should have this kind of glorious mane; this extension of her fabulousness. Her hair reads very “got caught in the rain leaving the subway” to me.
Juliet: YES THAT. Wonder Woman (and She-Hulk) should always have big, untamable manes of hair. It looks like the kind of mussy sex curls that have annoyed my curly-headed self for years. See also: Emma Watson in the Harry Potter movies.
Betty: I definitely understand wanting Wonder Woman to have a bigger visual presence, via bigger hair and a better costume.
Kate: She looks like she’s wearing a costume, as opposed to a uniform.
Janelle: Honestly, I find the costume inoffensive and unremarkable.
ALB: I do like parts of it. I like that they kept certain silhouettes on her corset, like the “W” and the eagle motif. But it’s so brown. And it’s hard to tell if her actual costume is bright and beautiful and she’s just been running after preschoolers all day or if she accidentally left a black sock in her wash.
Andrea: But does it work in the world of Batman v. Superman? The designer wanted the costume to be relevant to that world. (Now I’m hoping the second Batman outfit also includes over-the-knee boots.)
Janelle: That’s a good point, Drea. In general, the current crop of DC movies have been muddy and this fits in. But I dig the armored look of the chest plate.
Kate: Of course she has over-the-knee boots.
Betty: I honestly think that the over-the-knee armored wedge boots are pretty stylish, but, like for me — not for Wonder Woman.
ALB: They’re cute, but laughable in the context of her supposed crime-fighting.
Juliet: I would love the boots on some of the X-women – Emma Frost with some diamond-studded ones, for example. Or Dazzler!
Janelle: I’m sure if any superhero can pull off heels, it’s Wonder Woman, but I just HAAATE heels on superheroes. Especially on characters who do not want to use sex appeal as a weapon, like Wonder Woman. She isn’t outfitted to be sexy, she’s supposed to just be badass.
Juliet: I say this as someone who loves thigh-highs in the form of both socks and boots: thigh-highs, especially in the context of women-in-blockbuster-action-films, are sexually coded. They just are. And paired with that itty bitty pseudo pteruges skirt, I know what they were meant to show off. I look at the shoes (and the outfit in general) and I know that the male audience was the top priority here. And maybe with other characters, that wouldn’t bother me so much. But this is Wonder Woman, and when it comes to Wonder Women, men should never come first.
Betty: Is there an appropriate context in which a superheroine can have heels as part of her costume?
Juliet: I think yes, as long as the context supports it. I would never take the Sailor Scouts out of their heels, for example, or Emma Frost. But Sailor Moon is by a woman and for girls, and as a child I didn’t see them as sexy — they were fun and stylish and part of the girlish fantasy (plus, they weren’t physical fighters — sans Jupiter). And Emma is one of the few characters who has a personality that supports the choice.
ALB: Heels make absolute sense to me on characters that don’t run/walk extensive distances, like characters with flight abilities. If I didn’t need to walk places I’d be wearing platforms all the time too.
Kate: I honestly just hate heels in superhero costumes SO MUCH. I feel like I’ve become used to it, but I think it’s so insane. You’re in these outfits to fight crime, to be acrobatic, to kick and punch. I can barely walk up stairs in heels. When I work out, I wear sneakers. When I hike, I wear boots.
Janelle: They really don’t make sense. I don’t know a lot of women who want to work out and fight who wear heels.
Betty: Honestly, in terms of design, I think that heels can look pretty cool when incorporated in certain costumes for certain heroes. For example, Zatanna’s heels work with her costume.
Juliet: Yes, definitely Zatanna!
Kate: Hmm. Okay. I get Zatanna.
Betty: But in terms of practicality, the amount of heels in superheroine costume design is overwhelming.
ALB: I think I’d have a different opinion about heels in the context of superhero costumes if it was in any way an even playing field. But so few costumed heroines wear non-heeled shoes that we get actually excited about it when we see a superhero in boots/flats (see Batgirl’s new design), so It’s hard to come to the conversation unbiased.
Juliet: I hate that heels are the default in so much media – to the point where, as a little girl, I just assumed all women hit a point where heels stopped hurting. Like, your feet just… changed shape? That’s how prevalent they are.
ALB: I am waiting for that day to come!
Kate: I’m 25 and I still can’t walk more than an hour in heels!
Juliet: Me either!
Kate: But I am really good at kicking!
Janelle: I have a few pairs that I can wear but I’m in general too damn clumsy.
Juliet: I own some cute pairs but I only ever wear them if it’s solely an evening thing. Never for more than four hours.
Andrea: I have no problem working out in heels.
Kate: How?! It feels like magic to me.
Janelle: Yeah, pretty sure you’re magic.
Andrea: Look, I can’t understand being nitpicky about Wonder Woman’s heels and realism. Not everything is going to be practical. I’d even prefer to see her with an actual functional lasso but understand that it will not be one “of truth.”
Costume designer Michael Wilkonson discusses designing the new Wonder Woman
ALB: I don’t even know if I’m annoyed about the heels. I’ve just come to expect it at this point. That’s why nothing about this costume shocked me, and similarly didn’t excite me. When we got the Wonder Woman TV show pilot costume, I mean, I hated it, but at least it got a reaction from me! With this I’m like “Yes, that’s a costume, ok.”
Betty: While I understand the scrutiny of a Wonder Woman in heels, I feel the same way about the nitpicking to an extent – I actually saw a fair amount of people similarly scrutinizing the practicality of the new Batgirl design in regards to the combat boots and how feasible it would be to jump on rooftops. That felt really nitpicky to me.
Kate: Excuse me! Batgirl’s boots are way more realistic than most other superheroine shoes going around.
Juliet: It bothers me, though, that Snyder’s vision for DC is all about practicality and (a juvenile vision of) “realism”… but it doesn’t extend to Wondy. Because she’s a girl, she has to be sexy first and foremost. So we get boob plates and heels. Everyone else gets GRRR KEVLAR AND BODY ARMOR AND TREADS ON THE COMBAT BOOTS but whoa girl keep those titties front and center. They throw some metal on her costume, but ultimately we know where the priorities are. So, to me, it’s half-assed and caught between two costumes— an overtly sexy one, and a more practical, hoplite-style look, like she’s often sported in the comics. And it’s weird.
Kate: People can nit-pick down to the finest detail, but it comes down to the fact that nobody was excited by this. All it took from the Batgirl relaunch were two promo images and one brief breakdown of the costume’s construction to drive the entire internet crazy with desire. We can pick out the things we like and dislike, but at the end of the day, there’s no denying that this is just boring. When you’re finally putting Wonder Woman in a movie, when you have the power the ignite that kind of frenzy, and you just churn out this bland Fem-300 costume, you’ve failed in some way.
ALB: Exactly, Kate! Like, how many cosplayers revved their engines when those Batgirl promos came out?
Kate: I doubt we’ll see the same response with this.
Juliet: That’s the thing to me — I dislike this costume, but mostly I feel weary when I look at it. Even if I didn’t have the issues I have, I wouldn’t love it. It’s boring. I have seen literally dozens of original cosplay designs better than this.
Janelle: There’s nothing about it that makes me furious but there’s nothing that makes me excited. Heck, I’d even go for the pre-New 52 Wonder Woman with pants-and-jacket costume as more exciting than this.
Kate: Cliff Chiang’s Wonder Woman design is awesome.
Betty: YES. The Cliff Chiang x Wonder Woman is a great design that I would love to see portrayed in real life. Stylish and badass.
Janelle: Yes, agreed. Let Cliff Chiang design all the things.
Kate: I saw that design and gasped out loud. This costume, from a huge multimillion dollar Hollywood movie, did nothing for me.
ALB: And it’s supposed to be for us, you know? We’re the gosh dang target audience. If you can’t get us excited then I don’t know what to tell you
Kate: Chiang draws her better than anybody. So large and powerful! He manages to make a bedazzled bathing suit look intimidating.
Janelle: I dig the segmented parts of the skirt. I think that’s cool.
Andrea: is that what that is? I can’t make out the crotch area. Too dark on Mustafar!
Betty: Hahaha, yes, it’s very short asymmetrical hoplite skirt.
Juliet: I just hate the molded boob armor. It’s a great way to make sure the enemy’s blows do not merely bruise you, but direct enough force to shatter your solar plexus.
Janelle: Does Wonder Woman have a solar plexus?
ALB: It’ll be interesting to see if this is the only costume we see her in or if we get multiple versions depending on terrain.
Juliet: I really hope we get some kind flowy chiton Themyscira deal.
Janelle: I guess we don’t know how much of the movie she’ll be in and how much, if any, of her story we’ll be shown to warrant other costumes.
Juliet: I would actually make very few changes to this costume. I’d make the skirt an actually function hoplite skirt; I’d lose the boots and put flat knee-high boots or shin armor in its place; I’d make the bodice a stiff leather if they absolutely needed boob definition or a functional chest plate if not — just something that doesn’t lift and separate. Basically, I would bring it in line with the kinds of armored costumes she’s had in the past. But all of those changes I’d make — all the details I take issue with — are things that make this costume overtly sexual. I’m a girl who likes clothes, and I’ve had the rules of How To Look Sexy For Boys pounded into my head since the day I was born, so I look at this and I know she’s following every single one of them: show off some leg, show the boobs, wear heels. She’s doing what I do when I want to look a certain way. And she’s Wonder Woman. She should never, ever, be dressing for men.
Betty: Exactly – upon first glance, Gal Gadot’s costume doesn’t really demand your attention or respect.
ALB: I’m certainly not scared of her here. And I want to be.
Kate: I want to feel like Superman when he deals with WW in DC: The New Frontier.
Andrea: I think more of this costume besides “uh okay.” Again, I try to imagine it working in the fictional world shown to us in this film.
Juliet: I’m starting to really hate the Snyder school of “desaturate it and throw a shitload of meaningless texture on it” school of costume design.
Betty: It’s almost like Zack Snyder has his own Instagram filter.
Kate: The Snyder filter: Everyone has 75% more abs and 98% less personality.
Betty: Sepia tone and you can add a pile of skull emojis under your feet.
Juliet: To me, a look more functional in design would make sense — she’s from an all-woman society of warrior poets. But it would also be an implicit rejection of the male gaze, and as such, an implicit celebration of women as women. Which is WHAT WONDER WOMAN SHOULD BE ALL THE TIME. She needs to be a power fantasy for me. For my little sisters. I need nothing about her whatsoever to be geared towards giving men a boner.
Janelle: Yeah, just like with the heels, there don’t seem to be a lot of choices here coming from what a warrior woman would make when she dressed herself.
Kate: I think it should be said that Gal Gadot does look like a pretty awesome Diana. I have no beef with Gadot playing the character (I know that’s been up for debate) but I wish they could’ve given her a costume that played that power up a little more. The feeling I want to get from Wonder Woman is like… If a really attractive but scary woman who clearly weight-lifts fixes my motorcycle and then winks at me.
ALB: Another little victory: no boob and butt pose. Tiny tiny tiny little victories.
Kate: I’m honestly shocked that there’s no blatant cleavage in this promo image.
Janelle: It’s true. She’s less sexualized than Black Widow in most of the Avengers promo images.
Juliet: Yeah, at least she’s glowering! Like, poutily, but hey, I’ll take it.
Betty: Especially considering the previous look they gave to Adrianne Palicki when she portrayed Diana in the failed TV pilot:
Betty: Do you think that there exists a WW costume that’s both strong and stylish that appeals to both men and women?
Juliet: Everything Cliff Chiang has drawn her in.
Kate: Cliff Chiang Cliff Chiang Cliff Chiang.
Janelle: Yeah, I think Cliff Chiang’s Wonder Woman is a great example.
Juliet: Also, most of her canonical armor looks. Greg Rucka’s run with various artists… her Kingdom Come armor by Alex Ross… I kind of like some of sillier Silver Age looks too, like her little lace up ballet slippers—but that’s just me.
Janelle: I love when people put her in classic armor rather than a swimsuit. I can suspend disbelief with her enough to think Wonder Woman probably does have some sort of anti-boob-flop super power so I don’t hate her in strapless tops too much, I just don’t see the point. I just think, when you break it down, as iconic as it is, nobody wears anything strapless if they can help it.
Juliet: Agreed with Janelle! I know the swimsuit is iconic but honestly I would ditch it if I were in charge. I don’t need it to be something more GRRR REALISTIC, just not something so obviously sexual.
Betty: It’s weird, because I don’t really register Gadot’s costume as sexy, as much as I register it as that boring choice for a “sexy costume” at a Halloween shop.
Juliet: Project Rooftop did a WW redesign challenge a while back and I’d prefer any of those entries.
Janelle: Yeah, it feels like if this was trying to be sexy, it failed. And if it was trying to not be sexy, it failed.
Juliet: As mad as I am, it’s so generic that I don’t know who even finds it sexy. I just know it’s supposed to be.
Kate: I don’t know if anybody thinks anything of it besides “uh, okay”
ALB: Someone out there, someone, finds it sexy. And that person… will undoubtedly leave a comment telling us so.
Janelle: They always do.
Kate: Give me this Wonder Woman:
Kate: If she needs pants, give me this Wonder Woman:
Juliet: So can we try to imagine the all-woman society that dreamed up this battle gear? Because I’m just getting Kate Beaton’s Strong Female Characters when I try to.
Juliet: Man, I WISH this were going to be adaptation of her Wonder Woman.
ALB: In this all-woman society, jazz music is always playing. A woman enters a room and a sweet saxophone solo comes out of nowhere
Janelle: I wish saxophone solos played when I entered a room.
ALB: I do too. I think it’s from watching a lot of cartoons growing up? Whenever the girl who was the !!HOT ONE!! showed up, saxophone solo. I was like, wow, I aspire to be saxophone solo hot. That’s a new level of hot. That’s ROMANTIC INTEREST hot. Being ROMANTIC INTEREST hot is very important. Because that’s the only girl on the show.
Juliet: Hot enough to be the romantic interest and thus the only woman to get three whole lines of dialogue at minimum!! This conversation is revealing to me just how bitter I truly am, damn.
Andrea: There is still context we’re missing about the film. Does she have purposeful screen time, lines, initiative? That’s more important to me than whether it’s a proper headband.
Janelle: You’re right, Drea. Her actual role could make the costume a moot point, ultimately.
Betty: This is true. I have to keep in mind that we haven’t seen her costume (or even Batman’s costume) in action yet.
Juliet: Listen, if Superman is wearing anything more than a speedo, I will walk out of the theater. He gets his power from the sun, it’s ONLY PRACTICAL.
Andrea: That does make sense…
Kate: Can you imagine if they released a trailer and she was a three-dimensional, important, impressive character who owned her screentime?
Kate: I’m speaking theoretically because that will never happen.
Kate: The best we’ll get is Black Widow.
Juliet: Imagine, like, a whole arc. That doesn’t involve Bats or Supes.
Janelle: As someone who looked at the Man of Steel trailer and had zero interest (even with thinking Henry Cavill is hot!) and didn’t bother to see it in the theater, well, I probably won’t see this one either. Unless the trailer shows her being really, really awesome.
Juliet: Man of Steel was just… so bland. Like… so, so bland. It was really “trailergenic”. And one of the trailers showcased a bit that draws from All-Star Superman so I was pumped. And then it just sort of lay there, flopping around with its Valencia filter on. I literally do not remember a single Lois line besides the one about having to pee.
Janelle: Right? So I don’t think that a powerful, interesting Wonder Woman is going to come out of the same folks. Which is why all I can do is speculate on the costume and fear the worst.
Juliet: What gets me is this: I love fashion.I wear ridiculous shit all the time. I love elaborate superhero wear. If I had it my way, Dazzler would only ever wear the most extreme Alexander McQueen sh*t. Hell, if I was a superhero, I would wear nothing but Nicki Minaj’s tour castoffs. But 1) comic creators are 95% dudes who know sh*t about fashion. Bryan Lee O’Malley is hiding all the male knowhow in his dragon hoard. And 2) in context, all of these choices aren’t about style, they’re about boners. And I am just so tired of boner opinions in my life all the goddamn time.
ALB: Where is Kevin Wada when we need him?
Kate: Nobody can best Wada, that’s just how it is.
Janelle: There are comics dudes who get it (like Jamie McKelvie) but also most of them just don’t care. It’s harder to care and understand women’s fashion. Some of the art I used to get as an editor would have girls dressed like it was like 1985 and not in a good way. Some of the best artists I know regularly read women’s fashion magazines to understand how to dress their female characters.
Kate: Get McKelvie on haircuts and construction, O’Malley on boots and Wada on style.
Betty: I am all about this proposed makeover team, but do you think that in a Zack Snyder film, it would actually be feasible to have a stylish and strong Wonder Woman? It seems like style and Snyder don’t really mix.
Kate: I don’t think it could happen in a Snyder film. The Marvel-verse is the only place with saturation.
ALB: I mean I liked the cute little pattern on Superman’s suit? The texture of it, instead of the standard flat blue fabric? But other than that, no part of any of these films have stood out as stylish in any way.
Betty: I’m curious as to how much we lose in costume design potential due to his “commitment” to a practical/real world vision.
Janelle: A lot. And I like practical/real world stuff but it doesn’t even seem to extend to this costume.
ALB: But it’s like Juliet said earlier, it’s all about “real world” and then we have this bag of laundry.
Juliet: it really is a bag of laundry — it’s a weird jumble of sexy halloween wear, some sci-fi elements, and stuff that’s Grecian…ish?
Janelle: I wish they’d gone full Grecian-ish and left off the sexy Halloween stuff but also thrown color at it.
Juliet: Yeah, they’re not really “realistic”–they’re just taking the concept of superheroics VERY SERIOUSLY. In the most juvenile way possible.
Kate: I think it’s important to talk about the redesigns that fans have embraced so wholeheartedly: Captain Marvel, the Project Rooftop redesigns, Batgirl, Catwoman.
Betty: Which are all aesthetically appealing and badass.
Juliet: Babs Tarr’s Batgirl is like, hilarious in how perfect its timing is as a comparison. The thing is, Babs Tarr is really, really good at drawing sexy pin-ups. Like, really good. She gets how to draw a hot woman in hot clothes. But unlike most comic creators, she knows the appropriate time and place and she knows what’s fashionable now and she takes Batgirl’s personality into account. All of these things are the absolute basics of character and costume design; taking them into account at all gets a huge reaction. That’s how desperate things are in comics. Tarr’s work is a testament to how important it is to have a lot of creators from a lot of backgrounds — she has an eye that is just very, very rare to find in a male comics creator.
Kate: I think Cameron Stewart and Tarr worked very closely on the Batgirl redesign. He built the body of the thing, but she really had the eye for the details.
Juliet: I’d put Stewart in that pull of style-getting dudes in comics, actually.
Betty: They both have a very strong eye for current women’s fashion, character design, and superheroic functions/practicality.
Kate: As with many of the comics, I wish DC would look across the street and realize that Marvel is doing so many things that are connecting with people. It can always be better, especially for female characters, but even Black Widow in Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a big step forward — as sad as that is, seeing as she’s nowhere near her own feature film. I guess that’s more character-based than costume-based, but this costume doesn’t give me much hope that it’ll outdo or come close to BW’s level.
Juliet: Marvel has historically not done as well with female characters. I felt way more comfortable jumping into DC as a teen girl and I think they, cumulatively, still have the edge. But just a few years of concentrating on women, look how much goodwill Marvel’s generated in the fan base.
Betty: Well, now that you’ve mentioned Marvel, how do you think this look compares to Lady Sif’s on-screen costume in the Thor films? Because I constantly think of Lady Sif’s costume and how they could totally make a Wonder Woman version of it.
Kate: Oh, I liked Sif.
ALB: Yeah, I have no gripes about Lady Sif.
Juliet: Sif is a great example of a movie superheroine costume done right, and I was looking to it in the hopes that it would translate to WWs. It didn’t.
ALB: Anyway, I’m pretty snoresville at this Wonder Woman costume. Who can say until we see more of it, in action and in non-promo shots. But for now it doesn’t do anything for me, and that’s a problem.
Juliet: To me, this sends a really dispiriting message about Wondy’s place in the movie. Like, I’ve known in my bones since the announcement that she would probably not be portrayed well. The deck is super stacked — her name isn’t in the title; Zack Snyder; Man of Steel was a mess; etc. But I still clung to hope, y’know? And I guess I sort of still am but I look at this and I feel even less interest and less hope.
Betty: I think we’re all hoping for a Wonder Woman who isn’t overlooked in a movie featuring all three members of the DC Trinity.
Kate: Yeah, that about encompasses it.
Juliet: And really, just from a pure design perspective, it’s hot garbage.
Kate: A hot summer dumpster!!!
Juliet: I want to believe her role in the movie will be good and maybe like the sheer force of THIS IS WONDER WOMAN, SHE WAS ON THE COVER OF MS. MAGAZONE TWICE, DON’T SCREW IT UP will compel Snyder? But I think really we’ll just get some determined hair-flipping and one action sequence and some dumb line like OH DID YOU THINK BECAUSE I WAS A GIRL I COULDN’T DO THIS SILLY MAN to establish ~girl power~ but when the actual plot happens she’ll step dutifully out of the way.
ALB: Girl power in the way that Sucker Punch was girl power.
Betty: In conclusion: we just need all of Wonder Woman’s scenes to be written by Kate Beaton and a better costume designed by Cliff Chiang.