Sep 19, 2013

What's Wrong With Wonder Woman?

So, DC and Warner Bros. recently announced that Batman will be in the sequel to Man of Steel (I'm fairly certain that regardless of the quality of the movie or his performance, Ben Affleck is going to be my favorite live-action Batman ever) and that Flash will show up on Arrow and get his own movie. Conspicuous by her absence in any of DC's mainstream media plans is the First Lady of superhero comics, Wonder Woman. This prompted me to ask...

What's Wrong With Wonder Woman?
by Duy

Seriously, what's wrong with Diana? I like Diana. Mrs. Cube and I have been marathoning Justice League and Diana's her favorite character in it. She's a badass! But she's also earnest and sincere. She's also one of DC's most recognizable icons, and — let's face it — the most recognizable female superhero in the world. No superheroine from any company's got anything on Diana as an icon. She's on so many lunchboxes, bookbags, T-shirts... why, two years ago, she got her own makeup package from MAC. I was walking in the mall and passed the MAC store and there were these huge standees of her drawn by Mike Allred!

So how is it that, with the exception of two failed pilots, some guest appearances on other show, one animated movie, and sharing the spotlight with many other characters in team cartoons like Super Friends and Justice League (Unlimited), Wonder Woman has headlined all of one TV show? The Flash is about to get his second.

How is it that she's had no movie appearances at all, while her male compatriots in DC's "Trinity," Superman and Batman have had, between them, 13 since 1978? How come she never has more than one comic at any given time while the other two regularly have two or more? How come she whenever she headlines a big event, it seems like it's one of those "small" big events while someone like Green Lantern gets the bigger ones? If DC Comics is going to keep saying Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman as a trio, then shouldn't they be promoted as such?

So what's wrong with Diana? Well, I've scoured the Internet for what various people thought about it and I saw some common themes emerge, and I also had some thoughts of my own. Let's check out some of them and see what can be done about it. By the very nature of the topic, I'm going to end up talking about a possible Wonder Woman movie more than anything, but I think these could be extrapolated into all media.

Common Reason #1: Wonder Woman does not have an iconic origin.

I see this one quite a bit, and I don't get it. Okay, sure, Diana has a pretty long origin that involves being sculpted by her mom from clay (Grant Morrison is getting rid of this in his upcoming Wonder Woman: Earth One graphic novel, stating that it's too creepy and makes her too remote, but I like it since it heightens the mythological atmosphere), growing up in Themyscira/Paradise Island among other Amazons, then winning a tournament of various skills for the right to bear the mantle of Wonder Woman and go to "Man's World," but at most I would say that the problem there is that it's long. In a movie, it would take a significant amount of time, perhaps too long. When George Perez and Greg Potter rebooted the character in 1987, the first issue focused on Wonder Woman before she has the impetus to leave Paradise Island. It's got 32 pages — 10 more than a regular comic issue — and it still feels too cramped. There's too much text used to bypass whole developments. In fact, Perez stated in his Modern Masters volume that that origin issue only ended up being 2/3 of what was planned. It was just too long.

What can be done about this? I actually am not sure, short of not starting with an origin. Man of Steel had many flaws, but one thing I did think it got right was that the story was told in a nonlinear fashion. See, unlike Batman's, Spider-Man's, or really, even Iron Man's, Superman's origin is pretty long. You have to show Krypton exploding, him landing in Smallville, and then being raised by the Kents to be the best possible person he can be. In a linear narrative, that's a long time. Think about the first Superman movie and how long before you even saw Christopher Reeve.

So one solution for Diana is to intersperse her pre–Wonder Woman life with the main story, but I've got another: let's just skip the origin altogether. As Travis has mentioned before, origin stories seem to be valued more by comic book fans than anyone else, and cited that Die Hard's John McClane didn't have an origin in the movies until they decided to do a comic about it. One of the most loved superhero movies of the last decade, The Incredibles, didn't have origins. And one of the most common complaints of any superhero movie is when they spend too much time on the origin. There is such a thing as starting a story in the middle. In literary terminology, it's called in medias res. It means "In the middle of things." We continually, in life, walk in the middle of a story. We can pick up the pieces as we go along. It's okay.

One more thing, if we really need an origin story: Wonder Woman may not have an "iconic" origin, but I don't think anything can truly be iconic unless it has a chance to get out there in the public consciousness and, preferably, be repeated. Spider-Man's origin has been shown in many a cartoon and two movies; Batman's is ingrained into the public consciousness at this point; we all know what we think of when we see a rocket flying away from an exploding planet. Wonder Woman doesn't have that, and she deserves a chance to have that. What's more, since her origin isn't ingrained in the public consciousness, creators have a chance to take some liberties with it.

So in short, no, I don't buy it.

Now, let's go to one thing where taking liberties is going to lead to public outcry.

Common Reason #2: Her costume is too sexy.


I've often seen people mention that Diana dresses too provocatively, with someone I know even saying she dresses like a stripper. These complaints are often accompanied by statements that it's hard to take such a character seriously because she's wearing a bathing suit.

Personally, I think if you put the right actress in the suit, you will get the desired effect. With these iconic, inspiring characters, you're looking for someone with presence, someone who can command a room just by walking in. One of these people is Christopher Reeve, who commanded the room more easily than anyone who ever wore the Superman suit — and he wore his underwear outside of his pants. Another example is Terrence Stamp, who played General Zod in the first two Superman movies, and still had a regal way about him that that dude from Man of Steel screaming "I! WILL! FIND HIM!" never had, even when Terrence Stamp was wearing a bedsheet and Michael Shannon was decked out in full battle armor.

Of course, the perfect example is Lynda Carter, who played the character in the mid-70s TV show and is still associated with the character to this day. In spite of the camp and the obviously very outdated standard of the series, Carter is still praised for her rendition of Princess Diana. There's nothing about her that looks "silly" or inherently not serious. Said former Wonder Woman writer and artist Phil Jimenez:
Also, she wore an outfit that shouldn’t have worked but did—and without shame. She made the “bullets and bracelets” and “magic lasso” iconography instantly recognizable to millions, and she played it seriously, making us take Wonder Woman seriously (if not some of her lame 70’s villains and situations). Lynda Carter WAS Wonder Woman, and with this version of her, I’m not sure the character would have meant as much to me.
 
If Hollywood can find someone with half the presence of Lynda Carter, I would consider it a victory. Jimenez said recently, "You put the right actress in the costume and you get this generation's Wonder Woman (physically, at least). Screw either up and it won't matter regardless."


This also applies to animation and the comics. Any artist can sexualize Diana, and in fact, I've read before on some message boards (this was a long time ago, so apocryphal) that when Mike Deodato was drawing Wonder Woman, her sales would go up whenever her shorts got smaller. And that might be true, but I think that's a route that's kinda cheap and that DC and Warners don't need to go in. I think George Perez drew a Wonder Woman that was clearly respectful and respectable. I think the animated version of Wonder Woman in Justice League was just as inspiring a presence as Superman (she was a more inspiring presence in season one, really, but a lot of that is by virtue of Superman getting knocked down every 3 seconds).

I do understand the desire to put pants on her — more, really, than I understand the ridiculous uproar that comes whenever someone puts pants on her — but personally, something about the pants just doesn't sit well with me. It certainly isn't aesthetic, since I think that for all the flaws of the failed TV pilot she appeared in, you can't really say Adrienne Palicki didn't look good. But there's just something about the original suit (maybe that's it; just by virtue of being the original suit) and those arrangements that more say "Wonder Woman."


I've thought about what it is, and one thing I thought of is just this: There are no pants where she's from. Everyone's in a toga or some battle armor, or something. Themyscira is an island where the women are comfortable with their bodies, and Wonder Woman is a character who, at least at first, is a little naive (but not stupid, as Jimenez differentiates in the previously linked interview). There's a sequence in the Justice League episode, "Eclipsed," where G. Gordon Godfrey is criticizing her for her lack of modesty, and she just says "What's wrong with the way I dress?!?" But also, it does feel a bit like the pants are a little too "generic superhero." For a character who has roots to ancient history, it feels too contemporary, in much the same way that putting Thor in spandex instead of... whatever it is he wears... feels like it grounds them too much.


Diana in civvies.
This is not to say that Wonder Woman should never wear pants, and in fact, one thing I liked about the character in the Perez run (and to some extent, beyond that) is that she had a variety of clothing that still retained her iconography. She had her regular costume, a ceremonial garb, a battle armor, and some civilian wear, but in all those various ensembles, she was still, recognizably, Wonder Woman. Her symbol was on all of them and it retained her red-and-gold color scheme. So maybe that's a solution that the Palicki pilot was on to: having her change costumes in the same story. Because why not? People wear different clothes.

(As an aside, why is this such a remote idea? When I started reading comics, Spider-Man was switching back and forth between his regular blue-and-red costume and his black costume. People change clothes. Sometimes more than once in a single day.)

Ultimately though, when it comes to the movies, with the exception of Christopher Reeve and, uh, the people who have played the Hulk, no mainstream American superhero has ever had a direct one-to-one movie adaptation of their costume. Hollywood has always taken its liberties with superhero costumes, and Wonder Woman won't be any exception. There have been photo shoots with Wonder Woman cosplayers that have often been used by fans to show that such variations of her costume could work in live action. Most of the time, as in this case by Sarah Scott, they tend to be some variation of battle armor, but harkening to her original costume, with a skirt.


So there are a lot of options. I don't think the aesthetics of Diana's costume is a hindrance. It's an iconic concept that could stand to be remixed over and over, and she'd still be Wonder Woman. Just pick one (or several), put it on the right actress, and give it a chance. In her article addressing this issue, Sonia Harris states that "there is a certain kind of woman who could never be perceived as a merely ornamentation, no matter how she dresses." Cast the right woman as Wonder Woman, and no one will see her as "merely ornamentation."

Common Reason #3: Her costume makes no sense.

I see this bit of criticism slightly less than the "sexy costume" one, but, frankly, I think it holds more weight. The issue here basically comes down to "If she's from a mythical island that's based on Greek mythology, why is she wearing the American flag?" It's a valid question and is one of those things that, if not explained, could easily take people out of the story. I know there are some purists who think of superhero costumes as being convention and that any story needs to just go with it, but that stopped being a thing in the Silver Age. Even at the start of superhero comics, costumes usually had some semblance of explanation — Superman resembled circus strongmen, Batman wears a bat costume because a bat flew through his window once and he wanted to scare criminals, Captain America wore it to inspire Americans — but come the Silver Age, explanations and rationales for costumes were more and more becoming the norm, especially once Marvel took off (the Fantastic Four started wearing costumes because Sue wanted them to be recognizable as a team; Spider-Man wears red and blue because he was going to be an entertainer; Thor... well, those are just Asgardian clothes).

Almost every incarnation of Diana has either had some explanation as to why she's clad in American iconography, or she's wearing something else (like a leather jacket, or an Emma Peel–type costume). Her original version, created during World War II, was specifically because she was going to America to help with the war effort. In the Perez incarnation that defined Diana for the better part of the last 25 years, it's because an American pilot named Diana Trevor landed on Themyscira and helped out the Amazons, so Hippolyta named her daughter after her and the Amazons created gear to honor Diana Trevor. Yanick Paquette, artist on the upcoming Trial of Wonder Woman (formerly Wonder Woman: Earth One) recently said:

My first thought when Wonder Woman with Grant was mentioned was ‘I don’t want her to be dressed as an American flag.’ Not because an American flag is wrong but it made no sense. She’s coming from such a rich, wonderful culture with so much iconography (Greek culture), so why does she not use that, and why would she dress up as a flag? She’s not Captain America. But at the same time, I understood that this kind of iconic colour/texture is something that’s recognizable, so in that aspect it does have value. If I could reach the same design with a few differences, but make it so it’s not coming from the flag, it’s coming from a natural extension of her culture, I could live with this. The retro-engineering of her costume into something that makes sense is already embedded into the story... The animal associated to Aphrodite is a dove so instead of an eagle on [Wonder Woman’s] breastplate, it will be more of a dove. It’s not the American eagle, it’s the Aphrodite dove. Stuff that creates [the letter] W is by accident, so it’s not like she already has a letter of the alphabet on her [costume]. In the end I’ve created a structure so it feels inevitable for Wonder Woman to look the way she does.
So there are ways to explain it, and ways to tweak it.  Diana's costume doesn't conform to one specific design, just a basic concept that broadly describes its elements. When John Byrne took over the character in the 90s, he removed all but two stars from the shorts. Maybe that's enough if you want to distance it from the American iconography.  And, for my money, that picture of Sarah Scott up there doesn't really scream "American" to me. Something as simple as changing the stars to gold instead of white was enough to put that distance for me.

Again, there are a variety of options. It doesn't make sense? Then make it make sense. Creators continually have.

Common Reason #4: Mythology is a hard sell.

I've read before that there's a correlation between how much of a Wonder Woman story is steeped in myth and how much of it is just basic superhero fare, and that correlation doesn't bode well for the former. So if mythology is a hard sell, then maybe I can get it... except...

Thor exists. Thor has a movie. Thor is in the third highest-grossing movie of all time. Thor's movie has a sequel coming out soon.

I'm not saying Wonder Woman is a female, Greek version of Thor, because she's not. But if anything, Thor is even more steeped in mythology than Diana is. If they can do Thor, they can do Wonder Woman.

Also, to add to this discussion, here's something Travis told me before: "I know Perez and everyone since has really amped up and focused on the Greek Gods stuff, but if we're going 'faithful' I want them riding kangaroos and playing bullets and bracelets or who ties up who games."

Wonder Woman is great in terms of exploring the mythological side of the DC Universe, and she's obviously the specialist on it, but to relegate her to just that is a disservice to her versatility as a character. She gets into wacky adventures, and she's also a Themysciran ambassador to Man's World. This would be her first time seeing anything of the world. Some of the most captivating stories in Perez's run involved Diana dealing with Myndi Mayer, her publicist and agent, who was there to help her get her message out. Phil Jimenez's most beloved story in his run is #170, "A Day in the Life," where Lois Lane hangs out with Diana to see what she does all day. And it's a doozy: speaking at universities, making TV appearances to promote the Wonder Woman Foundation, meeting with the President as part of her ambassador duties, playing basketball with some kids, teaching some women self-defense, speaking at the United Nations, and playing pool with Lois.

There is so much to work with. So much in the way of possibility. It doesn't have to be just "myth."

Common Reason #5: She doesn't have an arch-enemy.

Another thing I've seen people say is that Diana doesn't have a good rogues gallery, and specifically, no arch-enemy, so people don't know who they'd use in a movie. In one (admittedly very horrible) pitch I've seen, they use Dr. Psycho, the tiny man with the mental powers.

But I'd argue that Diana does have an arch-enemy. Diana stands for peace and tolerance, and she's a creature granted powers by the Greek gods. In the Perez run, her first true enemy — and the one who should be her arch-enemy — is Ares, the god of war.

Even more than a renegade Kryptonian, a sadistic clown, or... uh... Loki, Ares is an incredibly imposing threat. He is the actual embodiment of everything Diana stands against. You want big blockbuster scope? Hell, if you want the kind of symbolic representation that Warner Brothers keeps trying to give their movies in the most heavyhanded manner with absolutely no subtlety, here it is on a silver platter, and for once it wouldn't come off as unbearably forced. Ares, the god of war.



There's the idea that you should save the deadliest for last, though, so assuming that they plan a Wonder Woman trilogy and want Ares last, here are a couple of other options. The Cheetah would be great in a first movie to establish Wonder Woman and her capabilities.


And Circe, who is supposed to be the same Circe/Sersi from The Odyssey, would be a compelling villain to fight because she's so powerful. She's a sorceress, she can turn men into animals, and Wonder Woman can't beat her just by punching her out.


You can tell me that Wonder Woman's rogues gallery doesn't have a lot of depth, and I'll agree with you. But you can't tell me there isn't enough to do three movies.

Common Reason #6: Her personality traits contradict each other.

If her culture is from ancient Greece, why is she wearing the American flag? If she preaches peace, how come she's so good at fighting?

Wonder Woman is a study in contradictions, and even Mark Waid, who I consider to be the best pure superhero writer to have ever existed, has said he found it difficult to tackle the character in the evergreen Kingdom Come book. As a result of his inability to really reconcile Wonder Woman's contradictions, she more took on the role of a plot device than an actual character in the story, he admits.

Wonder Woman stands apart from the rest of the comic book superhero icons, because you can't sum her up in one sentence. There's consensus as to what Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, the Hulk, Iron Man, and even Captain America stand for, and you can sum it all up in a few words. "Superpowered protector of earth." "Symbol of an ideal America." "Rage." "Using technology for the best possible uses." "The superhero whose superpowers make it worse for him." "Dark vengeance." With Diana, it's more complex. She's more complex.

Kurt Busiek has a convincing take on the issue:
I don’t think it was the “ambassador of peace” part I sad I didn’t like — it was the part where, for a while there, Wonder Woman was presented as a pacifist, and specifically as someone who was trying to be non-violent, to shy away from violence as a way of addressing problems. I thought it made her seem whiny and preachy and wimpy — she’s an Amazon, for Pete’s sake. She’s not a pacifist, she’s a warrior, a champion, one of a culture of women who train in combat all the time and shoot guns at each other as a freakin’ game! She believes in peace through strength, in offering the hand of friendship to any who’ll take it, because she’s tough enough to back up that open hand with the strength, skill and grit to make sure that she won’t get trampled. Non-violence is the goal, in that she wants a world that’s peaceful, but until the world is like that, she’s willing to knock heads together as much as they need knocking. She’s an Amazon, not Ghandi.

In that specific sense, there's more to explore. Maybe it's harder to figure her out. How many people can you accurately sum up in a few words? Not many, right? And those that you can are probably not very interesting. But you want to get to know the complex people if they're interesting enough to begin with. Diana, certainly, is. That she's a complex character would only make her journey more enlightening. Perhaps it would even be more involving than the character arcs of any of the other icons, because we would come to the same realizations that she would at the same time she does. Nothing would be set in stone, we wouldn't know the answers ahead of time as we would the others.

If anything, that Wonder Woman is a study in contradictions is more of a reason to put her in a movie, not a reason against it.

Common Reason #7: What to do for a romance?

I know there are those who say that a good story doesn't necessarily need a romantic angle. Let's assume that Hollywood won't greenlight a Wonder Woman movie with no romance. I think that's a safe assumption, because, you know, Hollywood.

For most of her existence, Diana's romantic life has been tied to one man: Steve Trevor. He was the pilot (this is consistent in most versions) who lands on Themyscira and introduces Diana to the idea of Man's World. And for the most part, it's a typical superhero/civilian relationship. Steve gets in trouble, Diana saves him. Diana even had a secret identity of "Diana Prince," who wore glasses. Tried and true, right?


Well, not really. Under the pen of original writer William Moulton Marston, whose stories were drawn with a whimsical flair by HG Peter, this pairing was treated as typical, an inverse of the Superman/Lois Lane combination. But once Marston left/died, subsequent treatments had more friction. According to Wikipedia, Steve became more and more threatened by Diana's power, and Diana was apologetic about it. Steve was even written out of the series several times. Since the Perez-written 1980s revamp, Steve and Diana haven't been a couple in the comics, although Steve has shown up in the 2009 animated movie (voiced by Nathan Fillion), Justice League's "The Savage Time," and one teaser in The Brave and the Bold.

So what's at the bottom of this? Well, to be honest, I think the problem is partly societal. We live in a society that generally frowns upon a woman being stronger than her male significant other. But there's also a problem with the character's basic construction. The Diana/Steve pairing was a reversal of conventions and Marston knew that, hoping to prove a point with it. In Les Daniels' DC Comics: Sixty Years of the World's Favorite Comic Book Heroes, Marston is quoted, "Give (men) an alluring woman stronger than themselves to submit to, and they'll be proud to become her willing slaves!" In fact, Marston was an early feminist, but more than that, he was a proponent of female domination, believing that women should be in charge of everything, as Grant Morrison said recently, to the point where men should just "get collars on, and get down on all fours, and just admit that's where you belong, guys." CBR went in-depth in it here. But as an addition to all that, Marston was really into bondage — tying people up, chains, spanking, the works — and even lived with his wife and a mutual lover, the latter of whom always wore bracelets, not unlike the type Wonder Woman would wear.

Marston played this kind of thing straight, and I would say that the whimsical style of Harry Peter as well as the generally younger age of the audience (not to mention that it was a different time, in general) back then made it a bit more subversive (can you imagine if that came out today? How much would netizens and protest groups be all over that?).

When Marston left the title, the whole pairing of Diana and Steve became trickier, because, again, we're a society that doesn't by and large look kindly upon males who are physically weaker than their significant others. There have been other attempts to pair her up romantically, however. Phil Jimenez tried to build up a black character named Trevor Barnes, whom he says received "negative and often racist" reactions. Justice League Unlimited teased pairing her up with Batman, but nothing concrete came of it (Mrs. Cube loves this, by the way.). And both times she's been rebooted in the comics, in 1987 and in 2011, she's been paired up with Superman. I don't know what the reaction was like to the 80s storyline.  It didn't last long anyway, and seemed to serve as a vehicle to explain why they didn't date (a shame, really, as I thought there was a bit more mileage in that plotline to have it end so quickly).

But the recent pairing has been met with a lot of disdain among vocal fans (though it was successful enough that the pair got their own series). Some fans believe that it devalues Diana, and has had her take a backseat to a character more powerful than she is. This is the flipside to the Steve problem.

So there's our general pickle. A contingent of fans will complain when Diana is stronger than her boyfriend, and another contingent will complain when Diana is less powerful. And then there's the entire spectrum of problems that fall in between those two sides.

I don't even really think this problem is exclusive to our Amazing Amazon. When you look at something like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you realize that Buffy Summers' two main love interests, Angel and Spike, are both vampires — and they're both bad for her. Angel loses his soul and turns evil when experiencing a moment of pure happiness, and Spike has issues of his own. Did I mention that they're both vampires and can't ever age or take her out in the daytime? She had one boyfriend in the entire series that tried treating her right, right from the start (Riley Finn), and fandom hated him. (I did, too.) But that was an easy way to build up tension and drama in Buffy, by pairing a vampire slayer up with a vampire. That option doesn't really work for Wonder Woman, who we're supposed to hold to the highest possible standard, and we assume that she's the best judge of character possible.

Fortunately, we already have a blueprint. Steve Trevor is clearly the one to use since that bypasses a lot of potential problems (fans accusing the movie of unfaithfulness, to name the biggest). And in the Wonder Woman animated movie in 2009, they managed to portray Steve as competent enough to win Wonder Woman's affection (he holds his own against the Amazons), without ever making it so that Wonder Woman has to take a backseat to him. This in effect makes him her sidekick, but hey, if she's gonna be fighting the God of War, then I'd say she could use some help. Also, Steve in this one was played by Nathan Fillion, so there. Cast Nathan Fillion as Steve Trevor. It would work and he'd portray Steve with just enough levity.

Yes, I know, I just used the word "levity" in connection with a prospective DC movie. Work with me, okay?

Lack of options for a love interest angle isn't the reason you haven't seen a Wonder Woman movie made.

Common Reason #8: She's preachy.

I don't see this one as often as the others, but common parodies and hamfisted portrayals of Diana have her as being very preachy and given to lecturing. This is a problem that's built into the character. She was sent to Man's World to teach and inspire, and there's always the danger of that.



This is partly because Wonder Woman is such a powerful icon and symbol that her words and actions are more potent. Perez admits that his "Wonder Woman ended up being sometimes preachy, which I think was my own fault, but I wanted to take advantage of the fact that this was the iconic female super-hero."

I reread Perez's run recently and while I think the book itself got a little heavyhanded at times, Diana never did. There are ways to spread a message without coming off as evangelical. Here's Diana meeting the parents of her Boston mentor, Julia Kapatelis.


In short, like most of the others mentioned so far, I don't think this is a good reason to pass on a movie.

Common Reason #9: She's a female protagonist.

This one, unfortunately, has little to do with storytelling (aside from the problem with the romance that I mentioned earlier) and everything to do with marketing and getting butts in seats. The basic argument is this: Women have no problem watching a movie, tuning into a TV show, or reading a story with a male protagonist, but males have a problem with female protagonists. This is certainly true in my limited, localized experience, but I have no idea if it's true on a global, societal level.

When looking at some numbers for recent Disney movies (we're going to go with Disney movies because that "standardizes" the rest of the criteria as much as possible; it's still a completely very general model. Pixar complicates things because of their sequels and franchises.), we can see via BoxOfficeMojo.com that The Princess and the Frog, which came out in December 2009, had a wide opening weekend of $24,208,916, for a worldwide total of $267,045,765. Tangled, which came out a year later, had an opening weekend of $48,767,052, and totaled $590,721,936. Now there were many differences between the two movies — the races of the main characters, the animation styles (Frog looked beautiful; I'm never going to give up on 2D) — but one of the big differences is that Tangled was renamed from its original title of Rapunzel, because of the fear of alienating boys. The prince was also played up in the trailers more. So maybe there's something to that.

But if there's something to that, then Wreck-It Ralph should have slaughtered Tangled in the box office, right? After all, it's advertised as having a male main character, and the female co-star, Vanellope, is barely even seen (is she even seen in any?) in the trailers and promotional materials. Not really; it opened domestically to $49,038,712, and grossed $471,222,889 worldwide. You can't pull the "ticket prices are different" card, because they came out within two years of each other, so it wouldn't be that big a difference. And Ralph was in theaters a whole nine days more than Tangled. In the States, Ralph grossed $11,000 dollars less.

It goes without saying that there are a whole lot of other differences between the movies, and that statements like the one I just made assume that all other things are equal. That's never true in practice of any creative endeavor, and that's why you can't use this one thing — "She's a girl" — to decide not to pursue a project. It's ridiculous. Don't do it.

But of course, that's apparently what Warner Brothers did. In his essay espousing sincerity and criticizing the idea that gritty equals sophistication, Greg Rucka mentions that the box office failure of Halle Berry's Catwoman made WB conclude that female protagonists don't sell, instead of concluding that it was a bad movie.

The numbers argument is a bit more reflective in the comics. In 1991, DC Comics was supposed to have a Wonder Woman–centric event, War of the Gods, conceived by Perez. It involved the gods of various pantheons (Greek, Roman, Norse, New) going to battle against each other. But DC decided to focus on another event, Armageddon 2001, as their big event of the summer, relegating War to a four-issue miniseries with a female lead, which, in George Perez: Storyteller, author Christopher Lawrence called a hard sell, even in a bullish market.

If this attitude is in fact true, it will never change unless movie studios actually do something to change it. One day, Marvel is going to come out with a movie headlined by the Black Widow, Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk, or some other superheroine from their pantheon. When that day comes, and Wonder Woman still doesn't have a movie, isn't it going to undeniably be seen by fans of DC Comics and Wonder Woman as a wasted opportunity?

Common Reason #10: She's an icon.

Yanick Paquette has mentioned that for The Trial of Wonder Woman, he and Grant Morrison are running the story through Morrison's wife Kristan, noting that "this is a slippery project because I’m a guy." George Perez felt the need for a female editor — first Janice Race, then Karen Berger — while working on Diana. Hell, I'm running this column by a number of female friends just to make sure I'm not miscommunicating anything as much as possible.

Wonder Woman is an icon. And she's a very, very powerful, very potent icon. It can be said that the most enduring superheroes embody an idea. Superman is the ideal of all of us — honest, earnest, and a doer of good deeds without any motivation other than doing the right thing. Batman is human achievement, the kind you're capable of when you're driven. The Flash is speed; Green Lantern is imagination; the Hulk is rage; Spider-Man is the everyman; the X-Men are about being outsiders. Captain America is the American dream — the basics of which most people agree with, even if the specifics of it are complicated and vary from person to person.

Wonder Woman is an icon of female empowerment and feminism, and that gets complicated because it's not easily defined, and different people have different ideas about what it means. In 1968, Denny O'Neil and Mike Sekowsky tried to make her more "relevant" by removing her powers and having her master karate and putting her in mod outfits. These stories are collected in the Diana Prince: Wonder Woman books.



The attempt was meant in earnest, but no less than Gloria Steinem, one of the leaders of the Women's Lib movement, protested the move, reasoning that they took away the power of the only true powerful woman in comics. To reach a wider audience, Steinem launched Ms. magazine, and put Wonder Woman on the cover.


Forty years later, Diana would be on the cover of the magazine again.



Everyone's got a different view of what Diana's supposed to stand for, and as a result, everyone's got a different view of what Diana's supposed to be like. Her iconic status makes the argument more volatile. Even without a movie and the fact that she doesn't move comics like she used to, Wonder Woman means so much to people. Scouring the Internet, I can categorically say she has one of the most dedicated and vocal fanbases I've ever seen.

So you need to be careful with a Wonder Woman movie. Diane Nelson, head of DC Entertainment, has called the character "tricky," and has said that they "have to get the character right."

All I know is, as potent a symbol as Diana is, I think they'll be closer to getting the character right when they actually have a timetable for getting the character to work at all. Maybe they're overthinking it. Maybe they're already working on it and we don't know. But Diana is a character who deserves to not be held back. I think we can safely say that there will be a contingent of fans complaining about the final product no matter what — that's just the way of the world these days and it's one of the big effects of social media — and the only thing I can really say is suck it up, deal with it, and make the movie.

And in conclusion...

There seems to be a lot of talking about what's limiting Wonder Woman. Hell, I just spent over 6,000 words engaging in the same argument. These 10 reasons are the ones I see most often when looking around the Internet, and for all of them, my method of dealing with it is simply "Suck it up and deal with it." (There was an 11th reason — that DC and Warner Bros. just don't care — but I left that out because I don't want to assume that's true of everyone in the companies, and also if it's true, there's not much that can be done about it.)

Maybe there's way too much talking about what's wrong with Wonder Woman. There seems to be a lot of talk about her inconsistency, but to me that's a half-glass-empty approach. What I see are a lot of options. Will a Wonder Woman movie, TV show, cartoon, or comics big event be a hit? Who knows? How can anyone know unless they put it out there? What's wrong with Wonder Woman? Nothing, really. Maybe the problem is us.

Phil Jimenez said recently:
Use what's there and make it film-worthy and iconic. Give the material a chance as opposed to constantly second guessing it. And I would argue that Wonder Woman's "biggest problem" is that people keep assigning her "big problems" that they wouldn't heap on other characters in the same way. Therefore, people should start talking about what's AWESOME about Wonder Woman, her villains, and supporting cast, as opposed to what's so problematic about them (if, of course, they actually believe WW and her world are awesome).
I think she's awesome.  I think there are a lot of options, and plenty of opportunity. I think Princess Diana of Themyscira deserves a movie, a TV show, a solo cartoon, maybe even a second comic book. Her stature and symbol still mean a lot to people — just do an Amazon search for her and see how many products she appears on — and it's a shame that we're not seeing more stories featuring her on a grander scale.

Wonder Woman, all the world's waiting for you.

Some Wonder Woman stories for your enjoyment:

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I hace said to friends that I think putting Serena Williams in Wonder Woman's costume would work. She is muscular but not too much, and has won major tennis tournaments wearing similar clothes. If she can act with gravity, because WW has to stand next to Batman and Superman and belong there, weather in action or dialogue, and look like that is where she belongs. Great read!

Observator Will said...

Between "Thor" and "Frozen", we have absolute proof that a Wonder Woman movie could work. I'm tired of them refusing to try. (And I'm a guy.)

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