With good art, nothing is truly random. Everything in the panel, every line, every color, adds to the overall message received by the reader. You can even step back and find layers of commentary on the story as a whole in a single panel. In this weekly feature I’ll try to at least touch on some of the tricks and intricacies found in a single, well-drawn piece of art. This week, I’m looking at one of the easiest to recognize and easiest to analyze types of comic book art — the Bondage Cover, most commonly associated with sex and subversive subliminal messages, particularly when it comes to Wonder Woman.
Here we see the cover to the upcoming Wonder Woman #4 as depicted by Terry and Rachel Dodson and picked to pieces by the Comic-Bloc Community Wonder Woman Forum. There was a slight argument about objectification of female characters in comics, a number of points which I personally think are valid but do not apply to this cover. That’s not to say there’s no suggestive imagery here. Yes, Bondage and sex are connected. Everybody can see sexual imagery in a picture with bondage, snakes and skimpy costumes so nobody really needs me to go too deeply into it. It’s there. What fascinates me with this cover isn’t the sexualization, it’s where the sexualization normally would be in a similar cover but isn’t here.
You have two women here — Diana and, I’m assuming by the solicit and the Egyptian motif, Osira. Osira’s pose reminds me of the figurehead of a pirate ship. Her breasts are thrust forward first and foremost, her face is turned upwards and her hair and cape billows out behind her like a sail. Her sexuality is taking her places. Diana’s pose is a bit more complicated. First, note that her breasts are completely covered by her arms. Then notice that her crotch is obscured by one of the snakes. Diana’s sexual characteristics are covered to give her a stronger posture, while Osira’s are emphasized and betray imbalance. We have the captive and the captor, with the captor the more sexualized of the two.
Pull back a bit to view the overall composition. The most obvious but still overlooked theme of such a cover is confinement and restriction. I love the swirling snakes here, and the light in the background (which, going by my earlier pirateship comparison looks like crashing waves off the bow). The largest snake curls around Diana to just above Osira’s before doubling back menacingly. Its like a border, and there’s an opening just in front of Osira. Confinement, restriction — but there’s a way out. Within the circle of the snake lies a number of vicious looking creatures, a hero, and a villain. Snakes entwine around the hero’s body, down to her ankles, and Osira holds the lasso around her neck and is pulling it tightly. The villain should have complete control over the hero at this point. Diana’s at Osira’s mercy, right?
Diana owns this situation. Check out her face. Now, these sorts of images normally emphasize pain and helplessness. There is usually a definite victim in a bondage cover, and it’s meant to grab you with concern for your favorite character. You’re supposed to buy the book to make sure they’re all right. Here, though, I’m not reading pain in Diana’s expression. Look at the arch of her eyebrows, how her eyes are wide open and glaring at the villain. Even the way her lips are shaped and her teeth are gritted. Diana is angry. She’s planning to break loose, and planning what she’s going to do once she breaks loose.
Look at Diana’s hands. They have the end of the lasso bunched up, and the rope has slack on Diana’s side. Her hands are drawn upwards into a position of strength, and angled in a way that, coincidentally, completely blocks the readers’ view of her breasts. Her spine, instead of being bent and submissive, is upright. Her legs are curled under, still in a solid stance. One of the larger snakes obscures her crotch. Nothing vulnerable is exposed in Diana’s position. Instead, even wrapped in scaly creepy creatures, there’s power in that position. She’s just barely contained.
Her gaze is turned towards Osira, focused on her. Diana’s concentrated on her enemy, while her enemy doesn’t even offer her a glance. She’s facing upwards and off-picture. Osira’s overconfident, so sure of her win that she’s lost sight of her prisoner, and her prisoner knows this.
The way out is past the villain.
Peeling back a layer from the pure characterization of the art, we can see a theme that emerges in Wonder Woman from time to time. Woman vs Woman. Particularly, Traditional Play-the-Game Manipulatively Sexual Woman vs Dignified, Honest, Healthily Sexual Woman. Diana’s not the sort to bat her eyelashes or flash cleavage to get a better table at a fancy restaurant, but as I noted before, Osira’s sexuality is leading her. She’s leading with her breasts, confining Diana with phallic minions and attempting to drag her along with her — with the Lariat of Truth.
It’s like humanity’s view of femininity. The Femme Fatale, the dangerous curved one. A construct used to slander all women. A stereotype that women have to work against. It has the slightest grasp on the truth — in the tiny glimmer of truth that stereotypes started with, the single individual who started or validated someone’s prejudice — but truth actually belongs to the honorable Amazon who doesn’t compromise to make things easier. Diana has a much better grip on the lasso, and more slack. Osira’s power overwhelms the picture, just as this negative view of womankind can seem overwhelming to the vast majority of women who don’t use their sexuality to play for an unfair advantage. The glimmer of truth in this picture outshines the dark obfuscation. See how bright the gold is to the muted purple that matches Osira’s dress. Osira’s sexuality may seem to be the way to go, but the true power lies within Diana’s solid and honest strength. In the end, when faced with these villains, Diana overthrows the negative stereotypes associated with her gender and replaces them with a bright, strong, noble positive view of the feminine.
When negative assumptions seem constrictive, the only way out is to destroy the stereotype.
I don’t normally like bondage covers. Too much superficial sensationalism, not enough simple art and beauty. I love this cover. The Dodsons should be proud of themselves.