The (Super)Hero’s Journey: Wonder Woman

Amazons have fascinated patriarchal culture for millennia.  The Greeks, of course, lent the name they gave the horsewomen of Asia Minor to the whole phenomenon of female warrior culture, but it wasn’t limited to the lost city of Themiscyra on the Thermodon.  The many cultures of Africa, untouched by Greek and Roman colonisation, have Amazon traditions of their own; the Celts have stories of female warriors held as paragons and teachers of male heroes, and have the actual history of Buddug (Boudicca, Boadicea) who burned earliest London so fiercely you can still dig down and find the scorch marks.

And yet, modern culture still considers the female warrior as an exception, which is how Wonder Woman became an icon of strength, self-assurance and love for, now, generations of women.  Because she’s seen as an ‘exception’ might explain why her equals in superheroism have been darlings of recorded media almost since the first year they saw print, but the first among heroines has received short shrift.

Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman

Unlike ‘the boys’, Princess Diana of Themiscyra didn’t even get a radio show during that medium’s Golden Age, having to wait two and a half decades from her print debut for television to become the medium of choice for creators for a failed comedy pilot (so ‘failed’ it never even got to air); and then another decade for a very odd TV series pilot that did not get picked up.

A more canonical Wonder Woman emerged the next year, the one whom the Baby Boomers remember so fondly – Lynda Carter and her production staff, trying their collective best despite edicts from the network executives.  This Diana matched Dr. Marston’s vision of a warrior of love and justice much better, with her story starting in during WWII — just like in the comics — and a jump to ‘modern day’ mid-1970s when CBS coaxed the production away from its original network, ABC.  Where the series failed, however, was in its flailing attempt to appeal to teenagers rather than taking the subject a little more seriously.  After all… comic books are just for kids, right?

Kids grow up, though.

The Amazon Princess continued to appear regularly in cartoon form, from Super Friends roughly concurrent with the live-action series, to the Timmverse ‘DCAU’ full-time starting in 2001, and the whole panoply of direct-to-video movies.  There was even another erratic attempt at a live-action series in 2011, another unseen pilot where Diana has more CEO problems than superhero problems.

Adrienne Palicki as a versino of Wonder Woman that never made it to the screen.

Although DC had been the first out of the gate with the Reeves/Salkind Superman films, and the Keaton/Burton Batmans, it was the success of Raimi’s Spider-Man and the Marvel Cinematic Universe that finally allowed all these adult comic-book geeks some of the financial freedom to bring their heroes to the screen.  Finally, comic book movies were a near-guaranteed moneymaker.  And the shouts of ‘Where’s the Wonder Woman movie?!’ were getting louder and louder with every release of a new superhero feature, no matter from which universe it originated.

Which brings us to… the Wonder Woman movie.  Finally.

A photoshopped pastiche released by Warner Bros. PR department. Presumably there is a battle training scene on a beach. Gal Gadot is pictured here in her fighting togs and Greek footware that is more or less historically accurate to the period. The woman immediately to Gadot’s right is presumably Hera, Wonder Woman’s mother.

2 June 2017 should bring us the first really serious treatment of Diana, Princess of the Amazons (and from a female director, thankfully).  After the excellent reception of Wonder Woman’s surprisingly significant role in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, unfolding the mystery of her century-old photograph can only be spoiled by complete disaster now.

Warner is doing a good job of keeping matters under wraps.  We know, primarily from the trailer, two significant things:

One, they’ve disrespectfully ignored the brilliant, flawless Pérez origin of the Amazons in favour of the godsawful 52 version.  The difference is that one story is strongly feminist and female-positive — goddesses saved the souls of murdered women, and gave them a sanctuary of love, positivity and purpose.  They would even teach orphaned girls these ways and send them back out to their home countries, memories buried but lessons learned.

The other has Zeus in charge (you know, the adulterer?) and rape as a means of reproduction.  Hm, what would Elizabeth Holloway Marston, Olive Byrne and their husband think of that?  I don’t think the movie will go that far into it, but it’s an inherent, niggling flaw.

Two, Diana meets Steve Trevor in the classical manner but goes to Patriarchs’ World with him during World War I, not II.  This to be a very clever move.  It gives an escape from some of the overused Nazi material (and avoids a Captain America thematic overlap); it uses a source of imagery that has rarely been tapped for superhero stories, as well as some wonderful civilian costuming; and it helps reinforce Diana’s immortality.

Kevin Smith, Our Man on the Front Lines, was quoted by Canoe.com in a phone interview as saying, in reaction to the WW SDCC trailer (above):

‘…Then they show us a trailer of World War I, and suddenly you get the distinct impression they know what they’re doing.

‘Suddenly, they’ve got a shot of no man’s land. The literal no man’s land. Dude’s covered in head to toe soldiers and a woman, bare legs, climbing a ladder and holding a shield against artillery fire. It was absolutely breathtaking….’

It was a much less remote war than any major conflicts subsequently.  Fast aeroplanes, longer-range artillery, atomic bombs, everything since then — those all changed the face of warfare to one of buttons and indicators.  WWI had trenches and bayonets.  This is a form of combat Diana would be familiar with, yet escalated in danger and scale to a true challenge to face.

Rumour suggests Ares appears to be the antagonist – good choice.  There seems to be disguised villains, classic early-print Wonder Woman style (the woman in the broken mask).  Etta Candy is not a joke, although she is funny.  Philippus is not listed in the film’s IMDb page, nor is she in the one Amazon group photo released so far.

Will this be the ‘mess’ that angry former WB staffer ‘Gracie Law’ suggests?  Athena is in charge of wisdom, Hermes in charge of communication, and the Muses in charge of the arts.  Let’s all don the blue rings of Hope and use them to send messages to the gods that ‘Gracie’ is merely a pessimist.

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