Thursday, June 1, 2017

Celebrate Wonder Woman Day!

This Saturday June 3rd is Wonder Woman Day. It was announced by DC Comics last month, in conjunction with the first ever Wonder Woman live action film, coming out June 2nd. I have a few thoughts on how to celebrate Wonder Woman Day, and the character herself. There are some classroom tips at the end of this article for those of you who are teachers, and some other tips for everyone else. 

I'm excited for the new movie for a lot of reasons. The World War I setting is one of my favorite time periods as a history teacher, and even though I don't necessarily like war, I don't specialize in military history...understanding World War I helps us understand the rest of the twentieth century. And well into the twenty-first. Gal Gadot was one of the highlights of the Batman v Superman movie last year, so I'm excited to see her again. Chris Pine is always good, so him as Steve Trevor? Sure. The bits of sidekick/comic relief Etta Candy we got in the trailer made me laugh. I'm down with all of it. A few days ago in Target I saw a display that had current DC Comics DVDs/Blu-rays with "8.00 off Wonder Woman tickets with purchase" on if you're looking at buying Supergirl, Batman v Superman, the original Batman or Superman movies, Suicide Squad, can basically get a free Wonder Woman ticket. So yeah. The best way to celebrate Wonder Woman Day -- go to the movie. I will be.

Beyond the excitement over the new movie, I simply love the character Wonder Woman. Part of it is that I'm a child of the 70s, and Lynda Carter's Wonder Woman wasn't just beautiful, she was brave and smart and strong and did not put up with your crap. Plus the jet. Plus the spinning. Plus sometimes when she needed a different Wonder Suit, she got one. Even a special skateboarding suit. For reals. And that's awesome. I "met" Lynda Carter's Wonder Woman about the same time I discovered Adam West's Batman and Christopher Reeve's Superman, and the three of them still have a special place in my heart. Upper ventricle. Over...over...there. That's it.

After Lynda Carter, and Wonder Woman in Super Friends, I finally discovered her in the comic books. I found out more about her origins, which were a mixture of mythology and personal heroism and risking everything from her old life to become a hero in our world. I learned about why her magic lasso was magic, why sometimes she had a secret identity and sometimes not, and that unlike her television appearances, she can fly. No Invisible Jet required. Although she still had one in the garage anyway. Just in case. She's been in comic books consistently since 1941 -- the only female superhero to make that accomplishment. I like her alongside the Justice League, but her solo stories have a different quality to them. A power that's larger than life, and a different feel than other heroes. Comixology has an incredible sale on digital Wonder Woman comics right now -- if you've got a tablet, this might be the way to go. My primary recommendation would be Wonder Woman: A Celebration of 75 Years for $9.99 instead of $29.99. Most of the books on that site are in the $5.00 range, and most of them are very well done. It's a curated collection of the best of the best, and it's hard to go wrong. I prefer print comic books that I can put on a shelf, but man. These prices are hard to pass up.

I like that Wonder Woman is her own hero -- not a sidekick or female analogue to a male hero. I like that she's not "_____girl." Don't get me wrong. I love Supergirl and Batgirl and Hawkgirl. Even though each began as a simple knockoff to a better-known male hero, over the years they've become complex heroes in their own right. But decades later, each of them is still tied to their male counterpart. Wonder Woman doesn't have that baggage. She has tons of other baggage, believe me. But not that.

The real world backstory behind Wonder Woman is as crazy as any comic book origin -- her creator, William Moulton Marston was also the inventor of the lie detector. Thus, her lasso compels people to tell the truth. (complete truth be told, he was one of several inventors of the polygraph, and was really a more successful promoter of the device than the "inventor.") Marston's relationship with women was complex. He was a bigamist, he was the nephew-in-law of suffragist and women's health pioneer Margaret Sanger, and his stories were a combination of empowerment for women and kinky bondage and mythology and feminism and -- there was some bonkers stuff in there. And I love it. Learning about the creators of our favorite characters always sheds light on the characters themselves -- and learning about Marston made me appreciate the complexities in Wonder Woman's early stories. More than a straight-on masked-and-caped superhero, more than a damsel, although she was both of those things sometimes. She was nearly a goddess (and in later stories, was).

A character born in time of war to bring peace. To bring peace through love if possible, with bullet-deflecting bracelets if not.

About a year ago I hosted a Twitter chat where we talked about superheroes, and one of the questions was just taking a survey -- who was your favorite superhero? The 56 heroes listed weren't a comprehensive sample, but I was happy to see Wonder Woman come out on top.

Three ways to celebrate Wonder Woman in the classroom:

First -- there was a program that came out in 2013. Wonder Women: The Untold Story of American Superheroines looks at female heroes in pop culture. Wonder Woman, the Bionic Woman, Buffy the Vampire Slayer -- it was before the current Supergirl series on CW (which is great and you should watch it and season two just got added to Netflix), but she'd be included now too. Possibly better for our purposes: there's a fantastic curriculum guide that goes with the program. 39 pages, middle school level, but easy fixes to bring it up or down to high school or elementary. In 2015, Junior Scholastic had an issue about Wonder Woman and superheroes, and it's still available online in a handy PDF, so if you're looking for something more elementary-ey, this could be for you.

Second -- seemingly more than any other superhero, we care about Wonder Woman's costume. How revealing it is, how many stars are on those shorts, is it an eagle or a W on her chest...okay, mostly how revealing it is. Check out the changes from 1941 until now in this infographic. I'm a big fan of having students design their own superheroes to represent different core concepts. You can read all about that in my book. And you totally should. Why not have students redesign Wonder Woman's costume? Brainstorm the qualities about Wonder Woman that make her a hero, and then have students design a new costume for her based on those qualities. I've got free superhero templates here; go nuts. As inspiration, look at some fan art and choose some that could be shared with students (as a middle school teacher, there are definitely some of those costumes I wouldn't share with my kids...because have you MET middle school kids??)...there are some great alternative looks for Wonder Woman that still manage to bring home her strength and symbolism.

Third -- have students research how their own favorite hero was created. Learn more about who creates the media they consume. It could be superheroes or video game characters or cartoon characters -- there's a story somewhere behind every character. The story behind Wonder Woman is very "grown up," what with bigamy and bondage and all -- but there are more kid-friendly stories behind Batman and Superman and picture books that tell those stories. It might be an interesting exercise to retell Wonder Woman's origin in a kid-friendly manner that would still pass the lasso of truth test.

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