The much-discussed Wonder Woman reboot being shopped around by producer David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal, The Practice) has apparently met its end before ever really getting off the ground. There was a lot stacked against the reboot, though. Steep franchise costs eliminated the CW. ABC, which by way of Disney owns Marvel, had a conflict of interest. That left CBS and NBC, neither of which wanted to take a gamble.
Kelley had planned to keep part of the formula: the bracelets, magic lasso, and invisible plane. But he was also proposing a more serious, or some might say a less campy, version than the original television series. Exploring the darker side has been all the rage these days.
A big screen Wonder Woman story has been tossed around for years now, too. No wonder, since girl superpower has been woefully underrepresented in film and screen when compared to male counterparts. Even Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Firefly), who spent two years on a script, couldn’t flesh out a story worthy of production. Whedon proved with Buffy the Vampire Slayer that camp is cool, but he also spun his tales into dark, grim arcs of doom and character suffering. I think that’s probably part of why he struggled with Wonder Woman.
It’s essential that new audiences are introduced to her character in a way that makes them want to root for her, and a gloomier take on her story isn’t going to accomplish that. Empowered female characters simply have a tougher road to garner fan support. Still Wonder Woman’s success back in the comic Golden Age of the 1940s proves that she ought to be more than capable of pulling off the feat.
The comics have recently tried its own Wonder Woman makeover of sorts – a turn to the darker, Goth side. The gravity-defying one-piece signature outfit has been replaced with black pants, a blue half-jacket, and not a hint of white left. It’s almost as if DC Comics is afraid to invoke the pride waved by her original All-American costume. There was some talk upon the redesign’s unveiling that this new incarnation makes her attire more practical and less sexualized. Looking at the first cover with the new style, I wish I could use that line of male-cow manure to fertilize my garden.
Movies, comics, and television have been male-dominated industries. Like the age-old joke about men not understanding the fairer sex, it seems that women – even Wonder Woman – truly can be a mystery to the guys running the show. What’s compelling, truly, is the uniquely feminine way Wonder Woman addresses the obstacles set before her. Unlike Superman, who uses overwhelming strength, or Batman, who relies on technology and cunning, Wonder Woman often attempts to persuade peaceful ends before turning to more aggressive negotiating tactics. It is important also to note that she does all this while looking mighty fine.
Many comic book heroines are still a mystery to women of all generations, yet Wonder Woman is not. Her allure to male fans might be somewhat pinned to her attractiveness, but I think that’s giving her male fans too little credit. And as a woman who grew up fascinated by Wonder Woman, I know the appeal was generated by her ability to embody power in combination with beauty. Those two traits aren’t often placed side-by-side when portraying women, who are generally forced to fit into either one or the other subset.
If we do see a reboot in movies or TV, one important lesson I think can be pulled from Whedon’s achievements in other franchises is that a successful heroic female role requires a special type of actress. Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy, Gina Torres as Zoe, and Morena Baccarin as Inara all brought to their roles a sense of dignity that you certainly don’t see exhibited from many of this decade’s acting divas. Back in the ‘70s, Lynda Carter managed to project an aura of class as Wonder Woman and her alter ego, Diana Prince. Another franchise high on camp, Charlie’s Angels, in part owes its success to the actresses and actors who played their roles with seriousness and respect amid the general campiness of the show.
The recipe for success with Wonder Woman doesn’t seem to be a secret to me.
- One (1) top notch actress who can bring class and dignity to the role.
- A healthy pinch of mythic origins – including that campy invisible plane.
- Season with a portrayal as a proud immigrant fighting in the colors of the country to which she chose to give her allegiance – in other words, leave the costume and American pride intact.
- But don’t add too many ingredient: get back to basics by allowing her to battle bad guys, rather than inner demons.
- Stir in her original message of peace, love and harmony…
- … then add in a can of whup-ass, using the lasso and magic bracelets.
- For the finishing touch, top with a dash of romance.
And last but not least – enthusiasm is generally free, yet remarkably priceless when applied properly. The fact is, women tend to be more inclined toward and enthusiastic about telling stories focused on heroines. So…
- Bring some women chefs into the story creation kitchen, preferably one or two who are already big fans.
As a consumer group, women generally aren’t wandering into comic book stores, but they certainly are interested in seeing powerful characters developed in mediums which they are more familiar with. Personally, I’d recommend a movie rather than a TV show. Wonder Woman could pack a powerful action-adventure wallop to fill the seats with men and women, and strike box-office gold. I’m hoping they don’t give up on Wonder Woman, because fangirls need their superheroes too.
Tricia Barr's novel, Wynde, won the 2014 Independent Publisher Book Award Gold Medal for Best Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror Ebook. She was also part of Silence in the Library's successful all-female creator science fiction and fantasy anthology Athena's Daughters, which is available now. For excerpts and tales of her adventures in creating a fictional universe, hop over to TriciaBarr.com.
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