Ambivelence, Thy Name is Etta

Look, I'm a purist about many things.  I think, most of the times, it isn't neccessary to muck around with a story that works, unless you are making a strong point about said work.  For example, if you are going to set A Midsummer Night's Dream at the beach?  Please have a real reason, a way this re-conceptualization shines a new light on the story.  Don't just fuck around with a classic in the name of modernization, or to be different.

And yet... some things need to be changed as they age, because in today's context they go against they go against the original intent of the piece.  The piece under discussion, while not Shakespeare, is certainly iconic and embedded in th current culture.  We are speaking of Wonder Woman, or to be more specific, cohort... Etta.  Etta Candy.  Yeah.  You got it.  She "etta candy".  She etta lot o' candy and got real fat.

Etta was introduced in the second issue of Wonder Woman, and was supposedly born so thin and malnourished that she nearly died.  What saved her?  Chocolate of course!  Lots and lots of chocolate.  She ate a shit ton of it and got hefty.  Health problems over!

Now, for those of you out there insisting that Etta is kick ass and awesome?  That she's some kind of pioneer for the appreciation of self and of our own bodies, however they may be shaped?  I wish I agreed with you.

There is some evidence that supports your claim.  Yes, in one issue, Etta magically gains Wonder Woman's body and decides she prefers her own.  Sweet!  How body positive!  If it were not for the fact that her choice to keep her figure is written with all the jocularity and "can you believe it" whizz bang that comics could muster back then.  Her choice was at most a bone thrown to the heavy girls out there, and at worst a joke based on the incredulity that anyone would choose to be that size.

Yes Etta saves Wonder Woman in a lot of the issues. and has plenty of opportunities to be heroic.  She loves herself, loves her body, and stands up for herself and her friends with strength and bravado.   She is the leader of The Holliday Girls, a sorority that aids Wonder Woman in her adventures and is often taking down oppressors wherever they may pop up.  They also get into a lot of freaky shit behind the scenes...

My main point here, is that, yes, it is great to see an earthly woman who is even more confident and in charge than Wonder Woman, getting things done in a more down and dirty way. I love that she is a woman who has taken her fair share of hits from society, who would love to sideline her, and she always takes center stage, and takes charge.  But unfortunately, there is no getting around the fact that Etta is a joke.  She was written as a joke.  Her family (dad named "Hard", mother named "Sugar" and brother "Mint") is a joke.  Yes, she rescued some captured children... WITH A BOX OF CANDY!  And yes, she stopped a bullet...WITH A BOX OF CANDY! One of her favorite catch phrases?  "For the love of chocolate!" She is there to provide contrast with Wonder Woman, and as a kind of side show freak.  She's shock value.  A big woman who loves herself? Who doesn't want to change?   Whaaaaaaat? As much as I want to like the character, I can't get away from the fact that she is treated as a curiosity.

Etta Candy in the Modern Age
Through the years, a lot has changed with Etta. The attitude with which she was handled changed.  A lot.  She joined the airforce, was aid to a General and to Steve Trevor, and in at least one version she eventually married him, displacing him as Wonder Woman's love interest.  She's gone from body proud, to weight concious and back, she's been black, and white, fat and thin.

Etta Candy as played by Beatrice Colen

Etta Candy in the New 52
Etta Candy in Wonder Woman #1

Grant Morrison's version from "Earth One" harkens back to the original

Etta Candy in Wonder Woman (The Animated Film)

Etta Candy, as featured in The Legend Of Wonder Woman by Renae De Liz and Ray Dillon
My favorite incarnation of Etta is from The Legend Of Wonder Woman, a digital comic soon to be released as a collection in hardcover.  It sends Princess Diana back to college.  It's an origin story of sorts, in which Diana learns how to live in the modern world (the modern world being America in the 1940's. Etta is once again the head of The Holliday Girls (now a girl group a la The Andrews Sisters), and back to being more ample.  She's beautiful, confident, and relate-able.  No longer relegated to comic relief, yet retaining the sass and moxie that made her unique.  Are there a couple digs?  Yes.  As readers we are supposed to wonder at her grand ambitions to be a Hollywood star wooed by Gable, with no thoughts that her ample proportions might be an obstacle, and we the readers are supposed to smirk a bit.  But it's progress.  Major progress.

And what's next for Etta Candy?  She's featured in the upcoming Wonder Woman film, of course, and she still has that damn name.  Etta, as played by Lucy Davis, seems to be taking on some of the comic duties, but in a way that is much more modern and respectful.  In many ways she seems to be the eyes and ears of the audience.  Our "way in" to the character.  It's definitely a fine line to tread, allowing Etta her unique appeal and power (he curvy figure being a major component of which) without turning her into a figure of fun.

But through all these incarnations, no matter how grim and gritty the tone of the book or story, no matter how slender she is, she has been saddled with that awful name.  Etta Candy.  It's not even a real name.  It's a pun, like a bad drag name.  When she's heavy it's insulting, and when she's slender it's incongruous and takes you out of the story, because it's a relic of a less accepting age when men were the sole dictators of the rule of beauty.  As long as that name is tied to the character she won't be completely freed to be the in charge positive force she could and should be.