HOLY GUACAMOLE! LOOK WHO IS BACK!!!!
Unless Rachel Winkerbean has taken to wearing a hat and hanging around with Crazy and Donna…Maddie Klingorn has finally returned from The Phantom Zone! She hasn’t been seen since 2012, when she graduated in the same class as Summer, Keisha, and Jinx Bushka. Her last appearance is hard to confirm. The Sunday colorist having a longstanding religious refusal to color any characters as soulless gingers, and invariably blondwashing. But panel juxtaposition implies this is Maddie hugging Jinx on 6/3/12.
Unfortunately, it looks like Maddie’s return heralds a week of ‘Did U Kno Dona Wuz Eliminater Bak n da Day?’ A storyline I expressed my thoughts on a couple years ago during the Salad Dressing Arc of 2020.
As the SOSF writer’s room’s current Smurfette, I always find myself wrestling with Batiuk’s contradictory portrayal of women. I don’t want to claim he’s a malicious sexist, because I don’t believe that’s true for a moment. He is able to give women positions of authority, give them careers, give them interests and concerns that go beyond pleasing a man. He is capable of writing them well, (even if he often doesn’t.) And it’s obvious that he builds several characters with Positive-Strong-Woman in mind.
I don’t want to get to the point where we can’t have an individual woman character being weak in a story. Where we can’t have men who comfort, who rescue, and who care for. As long as we’re not setting up a world were women are objects that NEED to be comforted, rescued, and cared for by men due to their chromosomes.
I also don’t want to be a stick in the mud and complain that gendered humor is ‘harmful’. Or that a man shouldn’t be able to make gendered jokes because ‘he’s punching down’. No. Nobody punches down on me. I’m just an individual, and I don’t speak for all women, of course, because all women are individuals. But this individual woman enjoys a joke about women-be-shopping and men-be-stubborn-and-holding-on-to-broken-farm-machinery-for-way-too-long-dad-really-let-it-go!
I’m really rather moderate, and always wary of those seeking to violently or rapidly tear down ‘the establishment’ without understanding it first. If someone asks me to be offended, my first question is always, “What do you stand to gain by my anger?”
And yet. I can’t tell you how many times Batiuk has written something, and I’ve gone, “Hey now, mister! This Nerdy Girl is offended!”
I don’t think of myself as a progressive. Batiuk does. And I think that’s his problem.
As the grandson of union men and living in a home where as a child the Weavers could be heard on the record player, I came by my progressive leanings honestly.From The Complete Funky Winkerbean Volume Five
Batiuk has always thought of himself as ‘one of the good ones.’ He’s written Livinia, so it’s okay to write ‘Wicked’ Wanda in all her permutations.
Wanda was the women’s lib activist that liked to smash people with her sign. And really, that was the least problematic of her portrayals.
I think it’s fair to show a character so wrapped up in her social cause that she’s become a bully, a distaff counterpart to Roland. Livinia exists in strip to provide a #notallwomen’slibbers.
After the early sign gag seemed to have run it course, Wanda disappears for a while. When she comes back, it’s without her sign. Consistent with Batiuk stepping away from edgy activism and into teen-age tropes, she’s now just a big strong girl in overalls.
And she immediately falls in love with Les Moore in an awful storyline.
I get that part of the joke is that Wanda is treating Les in the same way that he has been shown treating girls throughout the strip, being creepy and insistent despite their obvious feelings. I’ve seen this plot done before, in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012) Seriously.
In that version of the show Donatello has a hopeless crush on April, and it leads to him acting like a clingy jealous jerk on occasion. In a season 3 plot, a female sasquatch falls in love with HIM.
Donatello complains to Raphael, “Bigfoot follows me around everywhere like a love struck puppy.”
To which Raph replies, “Now you know how April feels.”
THEN, Donnie realizes he’s been a big jerk, apologizes to Bigfoot, apologizes to April, and becomes a BETTER PERSON. Les’ plot with Wanda lacks both the sympathy for Wanda and any self-realization on Les’ part. Les might be despicable at times, purposefully flawed, but he is also a complete character with range and a voice. Wanda is only allowed ONE WORD.
But at least Les lets her down easy, and Wanda doesn’t seem too hurt by the end.
Believe it or not, the last arc with Wanda is, by far, the worst. In it, Wanda decides she wants to be a majorette, and all the humor comes from her ‘unfeminine’ body. Unlike the sign gag, or even the Les arc, this is making fun of her for something out of her control.
Her last appearance so far has been a single panel on 1/14/76.
Is this the last time I’ll see her in Vintage Funky Winkerbean? I don’t know. But if she does show up again I’m sure she’ll be the punchline.
To his credit, Batiuk seemed to realize in retrospect that he went too far here. In the 1998 reunion he brings Wanda up.
Of course, Batiuk being Batiuk, and Act II being Act II, it’s God’s Perfect Man Les Moore who calls them all out on their treatment of Wanda, and pretends like he was just too scared to stick up for her. Then he goes on a self-righteous speech. As if he weren’t one of the worst offenders.
Wanda finally shows up at the 2008 Reunion.
Of course, she is now thin and glamourous and looks like a Roman nosed Marianne Winters. As if a later life attractiveness somehow proves that she has grown beyond the ‘bullying’ she received as a child. As if coming to her reunion as plump and aged as anyone else would have lessened her ‘victory’ over her past. And is the white haired lady with her supposed to be her spouse? Maybe not, maybe just another classmate. But if so, double reductive on you Batiuk, deciding that the strong football-playing tomboy in high school must have been a lesbian all along, in spite of her longest arc spent mooning after boys.
Batiuk, so progressive he can’t properly look back. Failing his female characters once again. Wanda deserved better.
NOTE: I am currently on a vacation to visit family and was on the road all day. But thanks all of you for enjoying the 50th Anniversary strips. For those wondering, I did it in a combo of old and new paint, and the dialogue was done with a combo of preexisting speech bubbles, complete lines/paragraphs/phrases cut from a few strips, and a few things spelled out.
I’m probably proudest of the last strip, where I edited out an entire person from both panels used.