Why Wonder Woman Deserves Better
The following article was originally posted on my blog in January of this year. I have included it in its entirety for you to read, together with a response to the (rather unsurprising) news that the Wonder Woman pilot wasn’t picked up by NBC.
I came across this article today. It concerns one of my favorite super-heroes, Wonder Woman. After much umming and erring amongst studios and executives and writers and god-alone-knows who else, it seems that a new TV show is finally going to be made. David E. Kelley (he of Ally McBeal and Boston Legal writing fame) has been charged with the task of writing a pilot episode. Now I’m a bit of a Wonder Woman fan, and reading this news filled me with much geeky fanboy joy.
Until I read the final paragraph:
However, Wonder Woman fans still may have cause for concern. Kelley’s take on the nearly 70-year-old superheroine will differ dramatically from her portrayals in the comic books or the ’70s TV series: Here she’ll be Diana Prince, a vigilante crimefighter and successful corporate executive in Los Angeles who tries to “balance all of the elements of her extraordinary life.”
Now I don’t usually get my geeky boxers in a bunch. But sometimes, there are moments when the decisions made by Hollywood bigwigs absolutely baffle me and my boxers end up bunched so tight they bring tears to my eyes.
OK, a little history first. And then a rant.
Wonder Woman has been around for a very long time. She was created by William Moulton Marston and first appeared in All Star Comics back in 1941. She was to be a “distinctly feminist role model whose mission was to bring the Amazon ideals of love, peace and sexual equality to a world torn by the hatred of men.” In 1942 she became the main character in Sensation Comics. And by the summer of that year she had her very own comic-book under DC Comics. She is the only female comic book character that has had her own book in publication for over fifty years (apart from a small hiatus in 1986). That’s pretty good going.
Originally, she was born an Amazon princess on Paradise Island, and after a tournament became a champion and won the right to deliver Steve Trevor – an intelligence agent who had crash landed on the isolated home of the Amazons – back to Man’s World. There she would fight crime and the evil of the Nazis. Over the years she underwent many revamps and changes. Towards the end of the 1960s for instance Wonder Woman gave up her powers and chose to remain on Man’s World rather than follow her Amazon sisters to another dimension. I kid you not, but for a while – and remember this was the late sixties/early seventies – she became a boutique clothes store owner that fought crime, learned martial arts and various weapon skills, and had numerous espionage and mythology-based adventures. All under the tutelage of a Chinese mentor named I Ching.
The television show of the 1970s starring the sublime Lynda Carter soon had Wonder Woman regaining her super powers in the comics, and she once more sported the traditional gold, red, white and blue outfit that is synonymous with the character. Who says that TV has no power?
And then, in 1987, George Perez took over the writing and illustrating. Considered by many – myself included – to have been the best thing that could have happened to the Amazing Amazon, Perez completely went back to basics with the character, creating a rich mythology steeped once more in Ancient Greek legend. Initially she was not a super-heroine in the traditional sense but an emissary of peace. She became an ambassador for her island home of Themyscira – a voice of hope charged with the mission of bringing peace to Patriarch’s World. The Olympian gods became major characters, and to offset this Diana had a cast of very human supporting characters. From Olympus she gained her amazing god-like abilities, but from her more Earthly companions she learned the ways of humans in a world very different from the one she came from.
Interestingly, throughout all her iterations, there has always been that link with Ancient Greek mythology. Even when she was wearing hideous jumpsuits in the seventies. Having such a rich and varied pool to draw from I guess the various writers over the years knew a good thing when they saw it. Even today, with a storyline involving an altered reality and a Wonder Woman not as we know her, one that has been revamped for the twenty-first century, there are links and connections to a mystery from her ancient heritage.
When DC unveiled her new look fans across the globe were in uproar. Even though it had been explained to them that this was not a permanent change, and that it was done for the purposes of an altered reality story-line. Fans, jumping to conclusions before knowing the facts? Surely not! Now I’m all for change if it serves the story. Comic-books are full of altered realities and alternate versions of super-heroes. Some of my most favourite stories are ones where heroes are reimagined and put into situations that are as unfamiliar to them as they are to me. But I understand the conceit and know that these stories do not alter the existing status quo of the characters in their “real-time” monthly adventures. The comic book medium lends itself very well to this style of story-telling.
Along with Superman and Batman, Wonder Woman is rightfully considered one of the ‘Big Three’ of DC Comics. It’s interesting to note that while her male counterparts have had reasonable successes up on the big screen, the adventures of Diana have yet to be seen on celluloid. The phrase “development hell” springs to mind. For some reason a Wonder Woman movie just hasn’t made it further than a half-hearted attempt at a script. The most recent that I can recall was by Joss Whedon – he of Buffy the Vampire Slayer writing fame – but that project seemingly died a death and he’s now up to his eyeballs in pre-production for The Avengers movie. I have to say, if anyone could have written a strong female warrior character, and done the character justice, it would have been Joss Whedon. It’s what he does.
What we do get however is the news that Wonder Woman will grace our television screens instead. Fair enough. There’s a wealth of material and back-story that the television writers can work from. There’s all that mythological legend that could, if handled properly, make for excellent television. There have been enough technological advances made that could make the special effects truly eye-popping – the Amazing Amazon would truly shine on our screens in the way that she so richly deserves.
Or, she could be a vigilante crime-fighter and a corporate executive. In Los Angeles.
Seriously, what the hell?!
It’s Wonder Woman for frack’s sake! She of Ancient Greek nobility. She that has been gifted by the gods of Olympus themselves to teach the world the art of peace. She of statuesque beauty and charm. She that has been around for over seventy years, fighting the good fight and inspiring generations. Don’t belittle her by brushing aside the heritage that makes her truly unique amongst all the heroes. Don’t cut costs – which, let’s face it, is what it always boils down to – and hide this behind the façade of a “re-imagining”. I don’t want Diana of Themyscira re-imagined. I want her, as all the writers and artists over the years have ensured, to be firmly grounded in the mythology that makes her who she is. I want you to do her justice.
Now I am well aware that I’m in danger of turning into one of those fanboys that cries foul even before seeing the finished product. Hell, I think I’m all ready there. But dammit, I just want to see Wonder Woman given the screen treatment she deserves, utilizing the wealth of material that all ready exists instead of re-whatever-ing the character and her history.
Is that too much to ask?
* * * * *
Clearly, it was. NBC announced that, after a less than enthusiastic audience reaction to the pilot, Wonder Woman will not be gracing our TV screens. And that’s a shame.
Yet again, in trying to re-imagine, Hollywood has stretched itself too far and fallen short of what it was trying to do. I have no doubt that David E. Kelley thought he was writing a Wonder Woman for the twenty-first century. But to have drifted so far away from the character’s origin and backstory, to the point where she becomes almost unrecognizable, was a big mistake. The words “vigilante” and “corporate executive” simply do not mesh with the character we know as Wonder Woman.
To be honest, there was a good indication things were not going to go according to plan when images of Adrianne Palicki in a revamped costume (not dissimilar to the revamped comic-book costume from earlier this year) were released, causing all kinds of consternation amongst fans. So much so that in later images it seemed that the studio had paid attention and changed certain elements. They listened to the fans on this, but it was clearly too late to do anything about the script.
I find it quite laughable that some are suggesting the reason for the show not being picked up by NBC is because of this new outfit. Do you honestly believe an audience is going to react the way it did just because of the way the lead character is dressed? And there was me thinking it had something to do with the fact they were probably not engaged in the story. How silly and naïve of me.
I don’t mind admitting I am somewhat disappointed with this outcome, but not that surprised. David E. Kelley’s premise was a bad one from the get-go. What worries me is the fact that as a result of this every studio is probably going to steer well clear of anything remotely Wonder Woman related. The brand is now tarnished because of one man’s vision. We may yet get to see her up on the big screen, but somehow I doubt it.
So for now Princess Diana of Themyscira exists solely in the pages of comic-books, and there she will remain for the foreseeable future. Maybe that’s the best place for her. She does deserve better, but until someone comes along with the balls and the brains big enough to do her justice she will continue to inspire and entertain us in the way she has done for the last seventy years.