By Steve Bunche

The folks over at Warner Bros. Animation have proven time and again since the now-classic Batman: The Animated Series that they not only care about making genuinely good and entertaining superhero material, they also get it thanks to many of its bigwigs being comics fans themselves. That aspect helps immeasurably when bringing Wonder Woman back to the screen because, despite her six-decades-plus history, the Amazon princess remains something of a cipher when not in the right creative hands.

Over the years Wonder Woman’s stated purpose has been that of an ambassador between her immortal Amazonian culture and “man’s world,” and as such she’s been the mouthpiece for speeches about peace and love and understanding between all races and genders and such. But while that’s all well and good, she’s seldom been given a personality and as a result it’s been rather hard to really care much about her as a character. Sure, she looks fantastic and can kick ass better than damned near anybody else in the entire DC Universe — which she certainly should be able to do after being raised as a part of a hardcore all-female warrior culture that’s had about three millennia to absolutely master the arts of combat — but at few points in her career could the fan detect much personality in which to emotionally invest. In fact, Diana has almost always come off to me as being little more than the DCU’s equivalent to the quote-spouting animatronics in Disney World’s Hall of Presidents, and I say that as a lifelong Wonder Woman supporter. Thankfully, the recent efforts of writer Gail (Birds of Prey) Simone have made considerable progress in addressing this glaring oversight, but what the non-comics-reading world needs is a property that allows them access to a character whose potential has virtually never been lived up to and the upcoming Wonder Woman direct-to-DVD animated feature from Warner Brothers may go a long way to improve that state of affairs.

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The animated feature’s screenplay, penned by Michael Jelenic (who worked on The Batman, Legion of Superheroes and Batman: The Brave and the Bold television series) from a story by himself and Gail Simone, sees the umpteenth retelling/revamp of Wonder Woman’s origin, her first encounter with Col. Steve Trevor and her first adventure in “man’s world,” liberally flavored with lashings of mythology and surprisingly violent action with a Hellenistic flavor that’s pretty much what one would expect going in. But what sets this version apart from what came before is its rendering of the principals as people with personalities who don’t just spend time posing about on Paradise Island (aka Themiscyra) in Bob Mackie togas, uttering dialog that would have been laughable even in an old, dubbed Steve Reeves Hercules movie. For once I actually cared about Diana (voiced by Keri Russell) and the success of her mission, and I was very pleasantly surprised to find Steve Trevor (Nathan Fillion) stole the show by taking an instant and lusty interest in the Amazon princess, an all-too-understandable ardor that doesn’t exactly go over well with Diana’s “sisters.”

By now it’s fairly obvious that I enjoyed WONDER WOMAN, but before you rush out and pick it up for your kids there are a few things you need to be made aware of. The film is rated PG-13 with good reason as it’s considerably more violent than anything else thus far issued from Warner Bros. Animation and does not shy away from depictions of ancient Greek-style warfare involving much hacking with swords, penetration with literal showers of arrows and a couple of very effective beheadings, to say nothing of Diana’s balls-out and totally brutal battle against a hulking minion of Ares. That kind of carnage completely makes sense within the context of the story and how Wonder Woman has been handled since her mid-1980’s reboot and I, being a lifelong hardcore fan of Greek mythology, ate it up like a flaky biscuit dripping with red eye gravy, but I would not be surprised if many in the audience were taken aback by the savagery on display. This sure as hell is not the sweet Wonder Woman of the Lynda Carter era, but rather a highly-trained and skilled warrior who would flat-out kill her opponents if warranted and as such might be a bit much for the more sensitive children in the audience. There’s some bawdy dialog and veiled reference to Wonder Woman’s mother, Hippolyta, having been raped by the war god Ares and unwillingly bearing his son back in the days, but the majority of that content will sail right over the heads of under-tens. If it were up to me, I would let my (theoretical) children watch it as long as I knew they could handle it and I was there to field any questions they might have, but that’s just me. You may see things differently and only you can determine what’s cool for your kids to sit through, so now you’ve been forewarned and are thus forearmed.

Though I very much enjoyed the film, I have to admit being saddened that its mature handling of the material automatically renders it verboten until a good deal of the children who want to see it are deemed old enough to handle it. I’ve discussed this point with several friends who have daughters who are very eager to see Wonder Woman, but all of these parents are wary of letting their children sit through it and as a result there is certain to be much disappointment and unhappiness in the Peanut Gallery, especially among the little girls. I want to give the film to my adorable niece, Cleo, but she’s just a month or two shy of five years old and her folks tell me it’s probably not a good idea yet, and that’s a damned shame because little girls need all the female heroes they can get. Even worse is the fact that the little girl superhero geeks out there have likely seen either the Lynda Carter version or Super Friends and the recent Justice League cartoons on DVDs provided by their parents, so Wonder Woman is not unknown to them and the denial of this cool new movie just seems cruel.

But, again, only you can determine what’s best for your little ones. And if you’re an adult fan of the Amazing Amazon, trust me when I say you can’t go wrong with this DVD and will most likely be hankering for more (which won’t be happening any time soon since the next Warner Bros. Animation release will be GREEN LANTERN, due out this summer).

1 COMMENT

  1. The description of Wonder Woman shows why I’ve never thought she has much potential as a literary character. Her dominant aspect is her (and her society’s) hostility toward men. There’s nowhere to go with that, since, if one goes the “Steve Trevor” route, his pursuit of “Diana Prince” will never succeed. If he were to catch her, she’d lose her immortality/powers. There’s no point in writing a story about prejudice and having the Amazons realize that their hostility toward men is wrong, since they’re mythological figures, and the hostility is what makes them unique. What’s wrong for society generally isn’t wrong for them.

    So — the best route to go might be the Super Friends one, with the heroine inspiring girls to grow up to be self-reliant and independent thinkers.

    SRS

  2. “…inspiring girls to grow up to be self-reliant and independent thinkers.”

    And that’s not exactly a bad route, either.

  3. “Her dominant aspect is her (and her society’s) hostility toward men.”

    I really don’t think the alleged hostility ever amounted to all that much. Just occasional shots at “Man’s world” and the like.

  4. One has to hand it to William Moulton Marston (writing as Charles Moulton) for writing such an enduring origin for Wonder Woman, because 60+ years later NO ONE can let the damn thing go. Not even after George Perez wrote a thoroughly contemporary re-telling of the story that shed all the sexism and bondage and turned in into something people could respect and not giggle at.
    Now don’t get me wrong here, I have no probs with the BDSM (or however that goes) and polyamoury communities who hold Marston up as a shining example of one of their own, but seriously everyone, Wonder Woman hasn’t been written like that for over 20 years now. As for all those people who claim Diana has no personality, for crying out loud, go read the comic already! Gail Simone is doing a fabulous job with Diana’s characterisation, Greg Rucka’s run was also extraordinary when it came to getting everything right.
    I won’t be getting my copy of the movie until later this week, but from what I’ve heard it has the portrayal of Diana that her hardcore fans have been enjoying for some time now. I can’t wait to see it!

  5. Who are WW’s “hardcore fans”?

    feminists? gay men? lesbians?

    I say this as someone who really has only enjoyed two runs of the book: the Denny O’Neil “Emma Peel” years and Greg Rucka’s recent time on the title.

  6. I’m not a Wonder Woman fan, but I have to admit that I really enjoyed this movie.

    As for the “adult” content of this movie, I thought it was (like MOST of the PG-13 rated DC and Marvel animated movies) unnecessary and was only included because the film makers could get away with it. And before anyone says that this type of subject matter can’t be depicted/handled in an all ages manner, I highly recommend that you guys check out the excellent THE LEGEND OF PRINCE VALIANT animated series for proof that this could indeed be done.

  7. Wonder Woman’s hardcore fans are hardcore Wonder Woman fans, its pretty self explanitory. Yes, that include feminists, gay men and lesbians. But it also includes bisexuals, straight people, people who read comics and people who appreciate stories with strong female leads. We’re a pretty diverse bucn when you think about it.
    Why, is there something wrong with being gay, lesbian or feminist? Your post sounds just a tad venomous, Mr. Coal.

  8. Wonder Woman might not have been actively hostile towards men, but she’s just a sanitized, suitable-for-all-ages version of the mythological Amazons, who were actively hostile towards men (killing male infants wasn’t passive).

    I would also like to know what WW fans like about the character, since there really isn’t any point in transporting an Amazon society into the modern world. It doesn’t fit, and there’s no point in altering it, since the society was a product of its time. Altering it would be like criticizing medieval societies for not granting women equal rights.

    But, if Wonder Woman and her society are static, to a greater degree than even Marvel’s “illusion of change” heroes, what does one do with her, besides have her fight evildoers, look good, and inspire children?

    SRS

  9. These comments are really eye-opening. I never realized so many had a problem with strong women. And apparently if you don’t, you are gay or lesbian. (I am straight thank you.)
    I hope this film breaks down some of that asinine thinking and small people can learn to think like the larger than life cartoon character we hardcore fans enjoy.

  10. At this time I would like to take the time to point out two things:
    1) The Amazons Greek Mythology were not necessarily actual historical fact. While there is evidence of warrior women dating from that era in that part of the world, there is no archaelogical evidence to support the existance of Amazons as the myths have described them.
    2) If the “real” Amazons are boderline fictional, then the DC Amazons are definitely fictional and come with their own fictional culture as presented in DC Comics over the years.
    Again, people are far too hung up on the Gold and Silver Age depictions of Wonder Woman and the Amazons in the old comics. ‘Amazons Attack’ doesn’t count and we like to pretend it never happened.
    And what’s wrong with having Diana “fight evildoers, look good, and inspire children”? Isn’t that what the other heroes do more or less? Hey, its not like she can be a UN Ambassador, a guest lecturer at colleges or a consultant to archaeologists working in modern day Greece. Oh wait, she has done all those things. Seriously, if anyone else has any more doubts, please go read George Perez’s reboot. Its available in 5 TPBs which you can probably find at your local comic book store or even the publci library.
    In a nutshell, just enjoy the movie, already.

  11. The problem with having Wonder Woman (WW) “fight evildoers, look good, and inspire children” and do nothing more is that cartoon characters targeting children do only that. The best characters for a writer to work with are those who have the potential to be literary characters, even if writers don’t develop them to that point. The potential for WW doesn’t exist.

    Supposing that DC can present a fictionalized (bastardized) version of the mythological Amazons so that the character is easier to use doesn’t work, if the character is supposed to appeal to adults. The mythological stories of the Amazons will trump everything a writer does with WW, if not cripple the character concept.

    There‘s no question that a lesbian can be a “UN Ambassador, a guest lecturer at colleges,” etc., but if that’s the goal for a storyteller, then make the heroine a modern lesbian. The Amazonian background is unnecessary baggage.

    SRS

  12. What I’m dying to find out is whether or not this will kick the Hulk Vs. Wolverine/Thor DVD’s ass.

    I’ll be lining up at Best Buy tomorrow in the A.M for the special edition and the Watchmen motion comic. I saved up some rewards points just to commemorate this day.

    ~

    Coat

  13. Thanks for all that, Mr. Stahl, but Diana isn’t a lesbian. There are lesbians in her homeland, but to date she’s never been written as one. What that has to do with how she’s written or portrayed in comics or other media I really have no idea. Watch the movie, read the comics and try to learn something.

  14. Steven said:

    “The mythological stories of the Amazons will trump everything a writer does with WW, if not cripple the character concept.”

    Based on your reasoning one could insert any fantastic concept in place of Amazons and arbitrarily claim that it’s too static. Quests are too static, so LORD OF THE RINGS is no good. Alien planets are too static, so DUNE is no good. Etc. etc…

  15. One wouldn’t expect Wonder Woman to be a lesbian openly, but the mythological Amazons were, based on their treatment of men. The Amazons were connected to Lesbos, BTW. I don’t regard the comics’ shifting characterization of Wonder Woman as authoritative in any respect.

    SRS

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