amanda waller

I watched Young Justice Episode 11 last night, and it reminded me how much I love Amanda Waller. For those of you who don’t read DC, Amanda “the Wall” Waller is an antiheroine, most infamous for her role as the government agent in command of Suicide Squad (a team of incarcerated super-villains who take on high-risk black-ops missions in exchange for commuted sentences.) She is morally complex, fierce in her own convictions and she doesn’t take shit from anyone. She is undeniably one of the most bad-ass characters ever created. As Rachel Edidin of girl-wonder.org puts it:

She is smarter than Batman. She is tougher than Darkseid. And she is one of the most morally and humanly complex characters in fiction. She embodies a combination of deep compassion, profound ideals, and utter ruthlessness that female characters rarely get to touch–and she will fuck up your binaries and paradigms better than any other character in mainstream comics.

Her characterization in Young Justice was completely true to this; she was tough, uncompromising and not even mildly intimidated by the threats of posturing super-villains. You can tell that Amanda Waller would literally go head-to-head with the entire Justice League if she didn’t like their agenda; and even though she’s a non-powered human woman, I would hedge my bets just in case she took them all out with sheer scorn and grit determination.

Here she is, telling Batman where he can stuff it. BATMAN. Even Superman is a little bit scared of Batman, but not Amanda Waller.
Here she is, telling Batman where he can stuff it. BATMAN. Even Superman is a little bit scared of Batman, but not Amanda Waller.

Rachel Edidin also correctly predicted that DC would “thin” Amanda Waller after Angela Basset was cast in the role for the Green Lantern movie.

I haven’t read Suicide Squad #1, but the redesign of Amanda Waller has been one of the more controversial aspects of the reboot. This image has been floating around on my dashboard for quite a while.

"Your mission is boobies."
“Your mission is boobies.”

I’ve read plenty of arguments about why the “thinning” of Amanda Waller should not be a big deal. Being fat is not part of her personality, apparently, so it should not matter.

Firstly, this is bullshit.

The bodies we are born into have a profound and palpable effect on how we grow and develop as people. The way we look is a significant factor in how the world views and defines us, and so inevitably how we view and define ourselves. I am not saying it is the ultimate or deciding factor, but it is ridiculous to deny that it has an impact.

This is particularly true if your body type does not conform with what society deems beautiful, or even acceptable. Being too fat (or too lanky, or too spotty, or too anything) makes you a target for ostracism and abuse, and that’s bound to effect the kind of person you grow up to be. Anyone who has had any kind of struggle with their weight can tell you that.

A question for the panel: Would Superman be the same character if he was fat? (Assuming that, as a Kryptonian, he would retain the exact same set of powers.)

Secondly, who the hell is this woman? This is not simply a skinny version of Amanda Waller. I could swallow the point I just made (with only a brief grimace) if I was looking at a skinny, but still severe and hard-as-nails Amanda Waller with a tight bun and a fuck-all-of-you expression. If we are only allowed lament a change in personality and not appearance, then I can safely lament because this woman is not Amanda Waller. What is this pouty come-to-bed expression? What is this heavy make-up and trendy haircut? What is this cleavage? Does anyone else feel like she’s getting off on giving orders, like this expression is more appropriate for lewd phone-sex than running an operation to kill sixty thousand people?

Amanda Waller is not supposed to be sexy or sexual. Historically, everything about the way her character has dressed and acted has stated, very clearly, that she does not consider herself a sexual object and does not want be treated or viewed in that way. That was an important aspect of her personality, one which this portrayal completely disregards.

I regularly read comics full of sexy women (and men) having sexy times, ergo it can be safely assumed that I am not a prude and I have nothing against sexy women. Most super-heroines are sexy as hell, and that is a highly enjoyable trope of comics. There are also plenty of women in comics who knowingly use their sex appeal as a form of power: Black Canary, Huntress, Catwoman, Zatanna and the fact that I could keep going illustrates my point. This is an established way of wielding power in the DC Universe and, while it creates some great dynamics and storylines, it is also an undeniably common device.

Amanda Waller was unique, because her power did not come from an even remotely sexual place. The new redesign negates this key characteristic. Like I said, I haven’t read Suicide Squad. Maybe this new sexy Amanda Waller is well-rounded, cleverly written and enjoyable to read. I don’t really care. She’s not the same character. She has joined the bloated ranks of strong-sexy-badass-sexy-sexy women in comics. Those ranks did not need a new addition. The camp of one, previously occupied by Amanda Waller, has been decimated. By changing her appearance and her demeanor, DC have successfully diluted and compromised one of the best female comic book characters of all time. I don’t know what the reason behind this decision possibly could have been, except for the obvious one, which is that DC don’t want any more fat women in their comics.

And apart from all that, fuck it, it’s nice to see a woman who challenges idealised notions of perfection every now and then. I don’t demand that all comics are full of them, but it’s heartening to see them occasionally and it’s especially heartening when they don’t give a shit about what you or Batman or anyone else thinks.

To quote the aforementioned article:

Most fat characters in mainstream comic books are villains (The Kingpin, The Blob) or jokes (Bouncing Boy) or at best sidekicks of the protagonist (Franklin in Daredevil). There are very few positive fat characters in mainstream comics, and none I can think of who are as positive, as complex, as powerful, and as central to multiple storylines as Amanda Waller.

Alas, no more. I’m just glad that the real Amanda Waller is alive and well in the DC Animated Universe, and that the kids encountering her for the first time will see her as she was always intended to be:

That is, in a permanent state of Being An Absolute Boss
That is, in a permanent state of Being An Absolute Boss

This post originally ran on my old blog, deathofthenewgods.tumblr.com, and has been backdated to reflect this.

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