Thursday, September 15, 2011

Waller Redux

So in my previous post about Amanda Waller, the Second Most Powerful Human in the World, I mentioned nothing about her, er, size. See, in previous incarnations, Waller had always been presented as a stocky figure at best. Like many people who were introduced to her via Justice League's DCAU, I've sort of assumed that CCH Pounder is not only the voice of Waller, but a good representation of her physical appearance.

I guess DC thought differently as they rebooted Waller's figure from Pounder straight on through Angela Bassett (who played a version of Waller in Green Lantern) to a figure more in line with comicbook stereotypes: svelte-yet-curvey-with-a-bit-of-cleavage.

I'm not a fan of the change. Not because of what it means about sizism or whatever (I'm a white dude, so my backpack is pretty full I guess), but because what it means for the character. My Waller is someone who has worked for everything she has, who has played the system and won. SexyWaller is a different creature than that. Not because she wouldn't have worked hard or anything, but because instead of playing the system, it's much easier for her to play the individual. In my reboot, Waller totally manipulated the institutional mandate to have more people of color in middle management positions. That's how she got her start - she saw a need, filled the need, entrenched her position, then found another need ("Checkmate") and repeated the process.

New Waller could do all that too, I guess, but if she retains the same ambition as the Classic version, wouldn't she resort to using all her assets to obtain her goals? A top button undone could get you an extra five minutes with a department head. Accepting an invitation to an afterwork drink could get you even more. That definitely adds a sexual aspect to the character, one that wasn't really needed before.

I am reminded about the changes to the artwork in Greg Rucka's Queen & Country. The Tara Chace that started the series had this sort of tired strength to her, something that came through pretty clearly in Steve Rolston's art, something that was lost when Leandro Fernandez took over later and she became this exaggerated sexual caricature of a female. Big Tits Chace was not an agent who would have to slink through a checkpoint hoping for the best, or if she did slink, it would be in a form-fitting little black dress. It just killed the character (and the series!) for me.

Will this change to Amanda Waller do the same? It's too early to tell. I've read some wishful comments where people hope that she regains her stature throughout the course of Suicide Squad, but I don't think that would be in line with the character. Waller is not a person who lets go of what she has - if she has a good figure, she'll be on the exercise bike three hours a day to keep it. If DC chooses to address this, I bet we'll see a soliloquy along the lines of Power Girl's boob window defense ("I never found a symbol that fit me, so I left it blank!") where Waller talks about how she was a fat kid and worked every day yadda yadda yadda. Of course, this means that Waller actually gives a crap about what other people think of her, something that seems weird in a person who is totally okay with torturing captives, performing live human experimentation, and writing off thousands of people as "acceptable losses." I hope they don't do this as it means Waller would be admitting weakness to another person, something she just doesn't do.

As Classic Waller worked her way up the ranks, her figure probably didn't help much, but I think that once she got to the top, it certainly does. The resolute, matronly bearing of Amanda Waller would be a comfort to panicky presidents and a warning to other department heads who think they could cross her. In my mind's eye, Waller isn't obese or anything, she's strong, resolute, stubborn and her art should reflect such.

One of the strengths about the comics medium is how art can define characters in a way text never could. Changing the depiction of a character, even if nothing about that character's background is changed, changes who that person is. Care must be taken and artistic details have to be thought through just as much as backstories. "Shaking up the character" is just not enough reason to re-do the art. It's not like there's a shortage of only theoretically anatomically correct attractive women in comics, so recasting a character to join their ranks actually makes her stand out less.