What’s So “Tricky” About Wonder Woman?

As you may have noticed, Warner Bros and DC Comics have announced their new lineup of movies. They announced that there would be a Superman/Batman movie, a Flash movie, and finally the long-expected Justice League movie.

Well, that’s interesting, right? I mean the Justice League movie has been greatly anticipated. We already had an, admittedly terrible, Green Lantern movie. The recent Superman movie was excellent. And the next two will take care of Batman and the Flash. So this is great! We are well on our way to a Justice League movie. That’s just awesome. But you know, it feels like something might be missing. Something big, yeah—something important. What could it be?

Oh yeah, Wonder Woman!

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Let me tell you right now, if Wonder Woman is not included in the Justice League movie I will rain down hellfire on DC Comics and Warner Bros so fast the angel of death will be jealous of my work ethic.

The reason that the most popular and most well-known female superhero has yet to have her movie or even be included in the new line of team-ups is because she is accused of being “tricky”. She’s a tricky character to write and explain, with a tricky background. Let’s be clear, the problem is not Wonder Woman. Either the writers and directors are stupid and can’t think of a decent plotline, or it’s a very simple answer of sexism.

Diane Nelson, president of DC Comics, had this to say on Wonder Woman being “tricky”:

We have to get her right, we have to. She is such an icon for both genders and all ages and for people who love the original TV show and people who read the comics now. I think one of the biggest challenges at the company is getting that right on any size screen. The reasons why are probably pretty subjective: She doesn’t have the single, clear, compelling story that everyone knows and recognizes. There are lots of facets to Wonder Woman, and I think the key is, how do you get the right facet for that right medium? What you do in TV has to be different than what you do in features. She has been, since I started, one of the top three priorities for DC and for Warner Bros. We are still trying right now, but she’s tricky.

WonderWoman1In the same breath Nelson claimed that DC Comics was pushing for a Sandman movie, which has dense concepts and mythology, is very far from the traditional superhero movie, and certainly does not have a clear story that everyone already knows. The problem really is that Wonder Woman poses a threat to how we think of the female character in a superhero movie.

Susan Polo, a writer at The Mary Sue, had this to say on the issue:

So yeah, I sympathize with the people trying to repackage Wonder Woman to a room of studio execs who purposefully bought DC Comics in so that they’d have a better chance of grabbing the young male demographic, and are horrified of the idea of presenting something with even the slightest whiff of any version of the feminist action hero except the Strong Female Character (link contains enough context to understand which kind of SFC I’m talking about) lest the apparently very fragile masculinity of that demographic be so threatened by the presence of a well known cultural icon that they decide not show up for the show. But, ladies and gentlemen, it is not Wonder Woman, or Amazons, or Themyscira that’s tricky. It’s Man’s World.

Let’s look at some of the “tricky” aspects of Wonder Woman. What could complicate a Wonder Woman movie, and how could we fix it? And to DC Comics and Warner Bros.: you can use this. I give you my permission. Anything to get a Wonder Woman movie.

tumblr_lsuj6v44Md1qbujoxSo let’s think about how Wonder Woman doesn’t have a clear origin story. To be fair, a lot of superheroes have confused origin stories, so this argument is pretty bogus. Wonder Woman has two origin stories that I know of: the first is where her mother prays to the gods for a child and fashions a baby out of clay. The gods take pity on her, bring the clay baby to life, and each of the gods grant her a gift (like wisdom, strength, etc), which is why Wonder Woman is more powerful than the normal Amazons. The second origin story incorporates the first one, but dismisses it as a lie, claiming instead that Wonder Woman is actually a demi-god. Her mother slept with one of the gods and gave birth to Wonder Woman. In the Justice League animated series her father was Hades, but in the recent New 52 Wonder Woman her father is Zeus.

While either origin story could work (I really don’t see what’s so hard about either of them), I would go with the second one. Some people get nervous about incorporating the Greek mythology heavily into Wonder Woman, but that is a core part of who Wonder Woman is, and incorporating Norse mythology certainly didn’t hurt Thor at all. Furthermore, with the success of stories like Percy Jackson and the Olympians, it seems like audiences both enjoy and already have some basic knowledge of Greek mythology.

Another “tricky” issue is how do we get Wonder Woman to leave her homeland oflynda-carter-wonder-woman-20256Themyscira? The Amazonians are notoriously closed off and distrustful of what they call Man’s World. This both describes a world that men inhabit (since there are no men in Themyscira) and a world where men are in power (as opposed to the female-run Themyscira). In the original story, Steve Trevor, an American WWII pilot, crash lands on Themyscira. Despite her mother’s wishes, Wonder Woman dons her well-known costume and takes it upon herself to return Steve Trevor to Man’s World and fight against the Axis powers during WWII. While this is a cool story, all I can say about this is: Sorry, DC, too little too late. With Captain America: The First Avenger already beating Wonder Woman to theaters, I’m afraid now that audiences who don’t know anything about Wonder Woman will assume that DC is ripping off Captain America. Writers could still potentially go this route, but it would have to all be updated. Steve Trevor can still crash on Themyscria, which prompts Wonder Woman to leave, but all of the WWII storyline should be cut.

Another way that Wonder Woman becomes involved in the superhero business is through some great catastrophe. In the Justice League animated series, an alien threat begins to destroy Earth. Though the other heroes are trying to stop it, it’s clear that they need all the help they can get. So again Wonder Woman leaves Themyscira, against her mother’s wishes, to help save Man’s World. This, I’m going to assume, is the route most writers and directors would go, because this way Wonder Woman could easily be incorporated into another hero’s movie first, which would basically provide DC Comics and Warner Bros. with a Wonder Woman test run before attempting to give her her own movie.

However, I don’t like the idea of not giving Wonder Woman her own movie right off the bat. So here’s my suggestion: go with the Steve Trevor storyline, but say he crashed there purposefully because the the government knows something about Themyscira and is suspicious of the Amazonians so that you immediately have conflict between the world of the Amazons and Man’s World. On top of this, there could be the greater threat of one of the gods or maybe Circe threatening the safety of everyone both in Man’s World and Themyscira. This combines both plotlines and allows Wonder Woman her own featured movie, instead shoving her into another superhero’s movie or risking her being considered a Captain America rip off.

2903163-01Another “problem” with Wonder Woman is her costume. The red, white, and blue with the star-spangled undies are not going to make sense if we cut out the WWII storyline. Then there is the ever-present debate of should Wonder Woman have pants or should she not have pants? Well, let me respond by saying: if we are going to play up the Greek mythology aspect, then Wonder Woman should reflect that. Wonder Woman has been given a variety of fun redesigns in the comics, in video games, and of course in fan art. It really wouldn’t be hard to do a gorgeous redesign for Wonder Woman. (And if you want to see more awesome Wonder Woman costumes just search Wonder Woman redesign in Google.)

Before I get into more ways to solve the supposed “tricky” issues of Wonder Woman, let me give a bit of background to explain some of the things I’m going to discuss a bit later in this. Wonder Woman was written during the 1940s, which is why, as I mentioned earlier, her original origin story involved her fighting in WWII. Her creator, William Moulton Marston, wanted to create a new type of superhero, and his wife Elizabeth told him that his new superhero should be a woman. Marston began to develop the character with the help of his wife. He viewed his wife as an example of the current era’s liberated woman and drew much of Wonder Woman from her as well as from a woman named Olive Byrne, who lived in a polyamorous relationship with him and his wife. (source)

So from the very beginning, Marston was influenced by women’s liberation and created a character that he felt would be as strong as Superman, but still feminine. Now, we could discuss whether or not Marston’s views of what is “feminine” would now be archaic or inaccurate, but that’s not the point of this post. What I do want to stress is that Wonder 191246_640486463262_1052359807_oWoman was always meant to be a feminist character. She was always used to critique patriarchal power. And despite mostly men writing Wonder Woman over the years, she has always kept that feminist leaning to her character—even if the writers didn’t write those issues as well.

One of the issues not written as well is the Amazons. I cannot tell you how many times issues of gender in Wonder Woman and Justice League comics/cartoons are more about how women shouldn’t hate men and less about Wonder Woman’s shock over the treatment of women in Man’s World. Basically, you can tell that these stories are being written by men who don’t understand feminism, and the biggest victims of this misunderstanding are the Amazons.

Because of this, the Amazons are the only real problem I have had with the Wonder Woman mythology. Now, I know that seems like a big deal, as they are core to Wonder Woman’s character, but my problem isn’t so much the Amazons themselves as their societal structure. Writers of Wonder Woman, especially in recent years, seem to have assumed that a society entirely comprised of strong women must of course be hostile to men.

Wonder-Woman-7-page-475x473Despite the recent New 52 Wonder Woman comics being excellent, the biggest problem in the current comics is how the Amazons were written. The comics tried to answer the question: how does a society of just women reproduce? The extremely disappointing answer was that the Amazons seduced and then killed men in order to become pregnant. They then kept the female babies and traded the male babies to Hephaetus to be his workers in exchange for weapons and armor… yeah. This one is an easy fix though. The Amazons have already been hinted at being semi-immortal, so why do they need to reproduce then if they have a very low chance of dying on their secluded island? I would say the Amazons are women granted power by Hera, which is why the Amazonians are particularly devoted to her. These women have lived since the time of ancient Greece and have something of a conditional immortality, much like the elves in the Lord of the Rings, meaning that they will live forever unless they are severely injured. This would mean that Wonder Woman’s birth would be the first in centuries, again showing how special she is compared to the other Amazons. This would also easily fix the cliché and horrible trope of the Amazons being women that seduce and kill men, and who even kill babies if they are boys.

Another problem with the Amazons is their distrust of men. The Amazons don’t allow men on the island, though in some versions they have made exceptions for noble heroes like Superman or Batman. Furthermore, in some versions of Wonder Woman, the Amazons seem to have an oppressive matriarchal society. They distrust and even hate men, despising them above all others. On the one hand, this story has always pissed me off because, as I mentioned earlier, a society of strong independent women must be evil man haters, right? Blah! On the other hand, I don’t think there is anything wrong with saying that both a heavily patriarchal society and a heavily matriarchal society can be dangerous and oppressive. The sexes should coexist, not oppress each other or cut themselves off from each other.

ww41But the issue I take with this is, as I mentioned earlier, Wonder Woman’s character has, at her core, functioned as a critique of our own patriarchal society. She can’t do that if she herself comes from a similar but different type of oppressive society. But I think I have finally figured out a solution. The Greek goddess Hera, who the Amazons worship, is known for being a rather wrathful goddess that hates men because of her cheating husband, Zeus. She also has a problem with internalized misogyny, often blaming and hurting the women her husband has slept with instead of going after her husband. In many ways Hera could represent the problems in both Man’s World and in the Amazon’s world, making her an ideal villain—especially if Wonder Woman is Zeus’s daughter as she is in the current comics. Hera could further act as the oppressive force to the Amazons, promising them youth, protection, and immortality—but only if they follow her strict rules against men and don’t leave the island. This would eliminate the hatred of men that so many writers have wrongly written into the Amazon society. It would show that the Amazons don’t actually hate men at all, and the only reason that men aren’t allowed on the island and that the Amazons are forbidden to leave the island is because of Hera herself, not any misandry on the part of the Amazons.

All it takes is a little bit of thought to make the so-called “tricky” aspects of Wonder Woman more than workable. The problem really is, as Susana Polo suggested, that Wonder Woman is a feminist hero. Her story calls our world Man’s World not just because men exist in it, but because men are the ones in power. The story directly states that we live in a patriarchal society, and Wonder Woman travels to our world to point out and fight against the injustices in it. She recognizes how unfairly women are treated and actively fights against the patriarchal organization of Man’s World. Wonder Woman being a feminist character doesn’t make her tricky. It just makes the writers and directors who are scared of her feminist themes sexist.

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9 thoughts on “What’s So “Tricky” About Wonder Woman?

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  8. You forgot to mention perhaps the strongest piece of evidence in favour of your arguments: Xena, feminist and Greek pantheon-themed.

    The fixes you suggest to WW’s thematic problems are excellent, but they don’t address the two real problems Marvel have with making a movie even though they’re not talking about them:

    1. The thought that a feminist female action lead might not attract male audience members. This can be argued against very strongly based on the success of other female action franchises, but it will probably still be a factor

    2. (And I suspect this one may be the real problem) A belief that they can make, in any given year, a WW film *or* a male action hero film (Sandman is something else) and that the male action film will sell more toys and snack foods – probably a lot more, because so far no one has convinced girls to spend their birthday and allowance money on action figures and accessories.

    Fans tend to think of franchises thematically, but the people making the decisions for Marvel don’t – to them WW is just a way of selling pieces of plastic at a very high mark-up.

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