First off, let me point out a huge, glaring error.
On page 251 of my netgalley edition, Hanley says that Emma Watson plays the role of Gwen Stacy in the revamped Spiderman movie series. BEH! Wrong! It's Emma Stone. You got the wrong Emma, dude. Oopsie-daisy.
Apart from that pretty big oops, I really enjoyed WONDER WOMAN UNBOUND. I'll be honest, at first I was a little skeptical. They were having a dude write about feminism, and the misrepresentation of a female character? Call me sexist, but my first thought was immediately of all the ways that this could go horribly, horribly wrong.
WONDER WOMAN UNBOUND starts off with the Golden Age of comic books (during WWII). There's a lot of discussion about the series' debut because of the dude who did a lot of the writing, William Marston. Talk about a weird dude. He's responsible for the stereotype of Wonder Woman being into bondage because, um, when he was in charge of the series, she pretty much was. It had the highest incidence of rope bondage of any comic book, and on Paradise Island, where the Amazons lived in peace away from the evils of men, they played many a game of bondage, that involved frolicking around and tying each other up. Marston was also in a polyamorous relationship between his wife, Elizabeth Marston and his girlfriend, Olive Bryne. Apparently the three of them had an "understanding" and William and Elizabeth were the breadwinners while Olive stayed home with the kids (he had two with each wife). Marston apparently also wrote a titillating book about Julius Caesar that has many of the same tropes that appear in Wonder Woman, only presented in a more sexualized form. I'm on it!
What made Wonder Woman so special was that she was a virtuous heroine who tried to set things right nonviolently. She didn't need a man to bail her ass out of trouble, like Lois Lane, and she was really quite self-possessed. Unfortunately, in the Silver Age of comics (post-WWII), Wonder Woman suffered many setbacks that caused her to become more outmoded as women's rights flourished. Even when Ms. tried to adopt Wonder Woman as a mascot, she failed miserably in the hands of the new writers, who started the series with an assassination of an editor of a woman's magazine. Um...
Way to flip the bird to your cheerleaders.
WONDER WOMAN UNBOUND doesn't just cover the history of Wonder Woman. It also traces the development of Batman and Robin, Superman, and The Fantastic Four, and their female superheroes/romantic leads, such as Batgirl, Supergirl, The Black Widow, Mary Jane Watson, and various others. It's interesting how cruel Batman and Superman were to their female sidekicks, and also quite sad. I also really appreciated how Hanley touched upon the use of sexual and physical abuse against women in the Bronze Age of comics to garner sympathy for the heroes and to spur them into action. He covered the crippling and naked photographs of Barbara Gordon, but failed to mention the similar tropes in Watchmen (mother of the female character is brutally raped), and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Mina Harker is raped and sodomized by the Invisible Man). It's one of the reasons I've sworn off the superhero genre -- they are so incredibly misogynistic.
Hanley also covers the sexualization of Wonder Woman (Lynda Carter was hired for her cup size and pretty face, in addition for her acting abilities), mentioning the infamous photo shoot with Tiffany Fallon on the cover of Playboy, where she's wearing only boots and a painted-on Wonder Woman costume where you can quite clearly see her nipples. I looked into this, and there's a similar one for Megan Fox as Supergirl, wearing a painted-on Supergirl shirt and a super short skirt (we're talking anime short) where you can see her panties. I'm not sure if this latter is legit though; it looks photoshopped. But then again, most things are. (Right, Target?)
I know a nonfiction book is good when it has me opening numerous Google tabs to look things up, which WONDER WOMAN UNBOUND did. I learned so much about the development of our culture, and how its driven the content of our pop culture, and also about superhero comics in general. It makes me sad, too, how one of the most iconic female superheroes in history seems to be doomed to relative obscurity in the face of such successes as Bruce Wayne or Clark Kent. Nobody knows Diana Prince's name, or her origin story.
One thing that did surprise me, though, was the fact that Tim Hanley didn't mention Lucy Lawless or Xena: Warrior Princess. I know she's not a comic book character, but L.L. really resembles Lynda Carter, and there are many things about Xena (and her Amazon friend, Gabrielle) that resemble the Wonder Woman universe. I mean, it's even got ties to Greek mythology.
HIPSTER FASHION tries so hard, and fails so bad. I was trying to think of the best way to go about discussing my problems with this book. I thought a list might be the best way.
1. HIPSTER FASHION calls Miley Cyrus a hipster style icon.
2. It throws around the words "kicks", "flowy", and "ironic", like bywords.
3. The information in this book is about several seasons out of date. Day-glo orange jeans? Fedoras? Um, no.
4. Fannypacks aren't trendy. They weren't trendy in the 90s, and they sure as heck-fire aren't trendy now.
5. It talks about "chalking" as temporary hair-dye, which means wetting the hair and using pastels, then using a haircurler to set the color. I don't think oil pastels were meant to be used that way, and I'm pretty sure that they're also...flammable.
6. It touts The Cosby Show as a potential fashion source. For sweaters.
7. The pictures are inconsistent. Sometimes they look hipster, and sometimes they look scene, prep, or even just really, really dorky.
8. HIPSTER FASHION does not seem to really understand hipster fashion in the slightest.
9. Tumblr is used more by fangirls than hipsters. Hipsters tend to prefer Instagram because of the vintage filters.
10. It suggests that girls have asymmetrical hairstyles. One half, long; one half, shaved. Ummm. No.