Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Progressive, Controversial History of Suicide Squad’s Amanda Waller

Photo from Vulture

Interesting article about an interesting character. An excerpt:

Comics commentator Ardo Omer’s voice swells when she remembers the first time she came across Amanda Waller, the hard-ass leader of the Suicide Squad. It was in the mid-'00s, during an episode of Justice League Unlimited, a cartoon starring DC Comics characters that aired two decades after Waller debuted in DC’s Legends mini-series. “The first thing you see is Amanda Waller’s presence, the way she moves, even before she speaks,” recalls Omer, who is black. “She was this short, big, black woman — the kind of woman I’d grown up seeing in my neighborhood, calling them ‘aunties’ even though they weren’t related to me. And she was standing up to Batman!" Omer was in awe.

That moment is a decent encapsulation of what makes Waller groundbreaking in the annals of superhero fiction. When she was created in the mid-1980s by writer John Ostrander, she was explicitly supposed to be unlike any other comics persona. In a genre where women are drawn as pin-ups and black people are often either pure-hearted role models or streetwise hoodlums, she was — and is — something different: a middle-aged, heavy-set, profoundly cynical, African-American, female government apparatchik. She’s calculating, contradictory, and confrontational. She shouts down presidents and spandex-wearing crusaders. She’s had rare staying power, and that’s in no small part due to the progressive aims of her creator — aims that were, for a time, betrayed in a way that made her nearly unrecognizable.

Ostrander’s self-identified “left of center” leanings came into play. “To start off, I wanted someone who is African-American, because at the time there weren’t as many African-American characters in comics,” he says. “And I wanted the character to be female because we didn't have very many female characters, either, ones who were very strong and could basically kick ass. And I thought she should be a little bit older, because I wanted her to have a life story, something that fed into who she was.”

As the character percolated, he cooked up a name, Amanda Waller, and a nickname branched off in his mind: “The Wall.” “When you're doing comics, you need a visual shorthand in order to convey certain aspects of a character,” Ostrander says, “and if Amanda Waller's nickname was ‘The Wall,’ she had to look a little bit like a wall. She had to look formidable. By not giving her Wonder Woman's muscles, and instead some heft, it sort of suggested a power in her.”

When all those pieces were put together, the resulting picture was unlike anything in superhero comics at the time — or really, even in them now: a leading lady who was stout, black, and getting along in years. He didn't want her looks to define her, but he knew the power they held. "With her very existence and presence, she made all the points that I wanted her to make,” he says.

Check out the full article at Vulture:

Photo and text from Vulture

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