Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Problem With Wonder Woman

Given my fondness on this site for covering the media lives of various comic book heroes, one question I've gotten fairly often is why I don't spend any time on Wonder Woman. Indeed, looking back through my archives, the last time I focused on the character was in this post from exactly six years ago discussing the then-new signing of Joss Whedon for the then-impending WW feature -- both of which fell through subsequently. And that really sums up the state of Wonder here: it's not for lack of interest, but rather lack of anything substantive to cover. Unlike her more popular DC stablemates Superman and Batman, who bound from franchise to franchise with ease, Wonder Woman's extra curricular career until now has mostly been confined to a three season TV show in the '70s, and her role as reliable Super Friends/Justice League seat-filler.

It's possible that may change now with NBC having commissioned a now-filming TV pilot produced by the legendary David E. Kelley and starring Adrianne Palicki as Princess Diana/Wonder Woman (alongside villain Elizabeth Hurley and love interest Cary Elwes), but NBC's track record lately coupled with the failure rate for female superhero properties and the general "blah" reaction to the script makes me think this one doesn't have great odds in its favor. Not helping matters is yesterday's release of the first still of Palicki all duded up in her WW finest, which you can check out in hi-res here. Now, as I tweeted yesterday afternoon, it's really not that bad. But as I immediately follow-up tweeted, I couch that "not bad" in terms of its relative faithfulness to the Wonder Woman costume as it's existed for (most of) the last seventy-some years.

And therein lies the problem.

I'll probably take some grief for this, but I'll just come out with it: Wonder Woman looks ridiculous. That's it. Granted, that ridiculousness isn't as pronounced in print form, but what works fine in comic books and/or animation doesn't necessarily translate to film, and any actress who dons the star spangled getup is being asked to look dignified while running around and kicking ass in high heeled boots and a glorified bathing suit -- all while holding up the flag for female empowerment. Good luck with that. Aesthetically speaking, the problem with Wonder Woman is the same one that plagues Superman, but to an even greater degree. Both have looks that are rooted in the times that birthed them (thus Superman and the dreaded "underwear on the outside" problem) but to try and update them or change them risks losing what makes them uniquely "them."

Indeed, unlike with Superman, who's pretty much kept the same look since his inception, DC has tried retooling the Wonder Woman costume several times over the character's history (including just last year via superstar artist Jim Lee -- whose take clearly influenced this new version) but it seems like there's just no way to reconcile the omnipresent T&A factor with the "Rah! Rah! Go sister!" thing. The fact that '70s Wonder Woman Lynda Carter was able to pull the role off with her dignity largely intact speaks volumes about Carter's abilities as a performer. Much like Chris Reeve and Superman, she was able to make you forget the inherent goofiness of the suit through the sheer power of her charisma. I'm completely unfamiliar with Palicki as a performer, so I haven't the slightest whether or not she'll be able to pull it off, but it seems to me she's got a hard road ahead of her.


Amanda Quraishi said...

I could not agree more with you, Zaki. And to your point, I can now see why it is virtually impossible for me to accept any other actor except Christopher Reeve as Superman and any other actress than Linda Carter as Wonder Woman. Whereas, I have no problem with the various Batmans (except, of course, Val Kilmer) or any other changes in the performers who have taken on various superhero roles.

I watched Superman II with my twins last week and despite the crappy special effects, and the ridiculous costume--you just have to believe that THAT is Superman. Likewise, I grew up idolizing Linda Carter as Wonder Woman.

Sure, younger audiences might not know Carter and won't care--but frankly, the superhero demographic is Gen X. We're the ones who are eating this whole genre up and wallowing in our collective childhood--AND paying big bucks for the merchandise. So I think we're the ones who will make or break this.

And like you, I'm not feeling too optimistic about this one.

Zaki said...

I read a comment from someone once that Chris Reeve and Lynda Carter basically "used up" the casting magic for those characters for all time. I kinda think that's true.

J.R. LeMar said...

I liked Val Kilmer as Batman.

Hana said...

Zaki, I have to admit that most female characters in both Marvel and DC look pretty ridiculous. Everytime I look at any collectible items for my favorite characters I just sigh seeing all the outfits. Especially since most of the women are drawn by men who seem to love to keep them quite clotheless and running around in leathery boots or heels *cough* Zatanna *cough* :P