How I would reboot Wonder Woman

NBC's Wonder Woman
The latest Wonder Woman

As more details emerge about DC Comics’ renumbering this coming autumn, there has been a lot of discussion about what fans want to keep or change in that publisher’s continuity. So far, the costume redesigns and making the major characters younger don’t bother me much, even though I like how Batgirl, the Birds of Prey, Green Arrow, Nightwing, and Oracle have evolved to date. The proof will be in the writing and art.

Batman and Superman have been subject to numerous successful interpretations, Wonder Woman has lagged behind the other members of the “big three” in terms of popularity or steady depiction. Here’s how I’d approach DC’s iconic superheroine, in print comics, animation, or live-action television or movies:

Diana Prince, an athletic and poised woman in her early 20s, arrives in Washington, D.C., to study international relations (or history with a focus on ancient warfare, if that’s easier). She’s obviously of Mediterranean descent, but she’s estranged from her mother and looking for her father. This is similar to Smallville in showing a younger, somewhat less confident heroine unaware of her full origin and powers, but it doesn’t quite drag us back to a high school soap opera.

Her roommate is Etta Candy, an African-American blogger who helps her get an internship at the U.S. Department of Defense. There, Diana meets Air Force Col. Steve Trevor and Titus Martin, head of contractor Ares Industries (actually an avatar of Ares, god of war, himself). Could either of these men be her father? In general, the casting of supporting characters should be diverse and color-blind.

Another classmate of Diana’s is potential love interest Billy Barnes, who volunteers at a women’s shelter in a neighborhood beset by poverty and crime (where she can occasionally fight street-level villains). Diana’s professors include secretly fascist psychologist Edgar Cizko (Dr. Psycho), spymistress Anita Maru (Dr. Cyber/Poison), archaeologist Julia Kapatelis, and historian Helena Sandsmark.

At the Pentagon, martial arts classes, or Capitol Hill, Diana would also meet Tom Tresser, a con man turned secret agent and another potential romantic interest. Diana could eventually mention that she has a younger sister, Donna, for a later cameo or supporting role. Rival Artemis could be another classmate and rival whom Diana struggles to win over.

When she’s not spending time with her friends, studying, or fighting crime, Diana would get mysterious missives from Athens (Athena) through Hermes Delivery, but they’re not from her mother. They’d tip her off to bigger problems to fight, such as the abuse of women overseas, diplomatic attempts to avert wars (sometimes putting her at odds with Col. Trevor or Tom), and even mythical monsters and alien invasions — within the limitations of budgets and computer imagery, of course.

If possible, it would be great to get Lynda Carter as Diana’s mother Hippolyta, queen of Themyscira, which the producers of the failed NBC pilot had hoped to do. The historical Themiscyra was on the Black Sea in what’s now Turkey. I’d like to see a mix of regular thugs, villainous masterminds, and magical opponents for Wonder Woman to fight with her wits and fists. Cameos by other DC heroes and heroines could also eventually occur.

Diana should be a feminist and seek peace when possible, but she should also eventually be unafraid of sexuality or conflict. I don’t want Wonder Woman to fret over shoes, boys, or toy sponsorships, but she should have a sense of humor and be an optimist (brooding is for other characters such as Bruce Wayne). She should grapple with modern controversies, including religious fundamentalism of any kind, ethnic rivalries, sexism, abortion, and militarism.

As for props and costumes, I think that DC Comics and NBC have been headed in the right direction. Wonder Woman should have multiple outfits for different occasions. The classic shorts and bustier could be worn under her clothing or when going somewhere warm (like Washington in the summer).

In fact, Wonder Woman’s costume should reflect modern athletic wear rather than mid-20th century circus outfits. The tiara, bracers, and lasso are must-haves, while the stars, red-and-blue color scheme, and eagle can reflect her (and her mother’s) admiration for American ideals.

The longer pants and a top with shoulder straps would be more practical for regular crime fighting, and Greek-style armor would be appropriate for wading into high-powered battles. I’d also give her good fashion sense (without dwelling on it too much, see above) and casual and formal wear as needed. Creator William Moulton Marston‘s interest in polygamy, lie detection, and bondage could come up in villains’ plots rather than Diana’s outlook or costume.

While JMS and Jim Lee‘s recent reboot of Wonder Woman by stripping her of her memory and traditional costume was a better-than-average attempt, it’s not as good as George Perez’s in the mid-1980s. I think that Wonder Woman, who is still widely recognized and could be a role model for girls, deserves better. (DC, feel free to use my ideas!) What do you think?

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Wonder Woman!

New WW togs
New and classic TV Wonder Women

Warner Brothers recently released a photograph of Adrianne Palicki in costume as the lead character in the upcoming television revival of Wonder Woman. Predictably, message boards were full of nerd rage at the changes to the superheroine’s look, but I agree with original actress Lynda Carter, who said that viewers should give the new show a chance.

Palicki’s costume is similar to the redesign found in current DC Comics issues, which I’ve been reading. Jim Lee and JMS’s alterations were also controversial when unveiled, but they may be only temporary. I think that leggings are more modern than a bikini bottom, and I’m surprised that the TV version doesn’t have shoulder straps rather than a probably uncomfortable corset.

The blue and red color scheme is mostly unchanged, although I would have gone with a darker blue for the pants and red or black for the boots. The bullet-deflecting bracelets, tiara, stars and eagle motif, and Lasso of Truth are still present.

Fox News wags promptly declared the Princess of Themiscyra‘s new togs as “unpatriotic,” but that’s an overreaction. If Dick Grayson can wear Batman’s cape and cowl alongside Bruce Wayne or Bucky Barnes can fill in for Steve Rogers in a modified Captain America uniform, why can’t Wonder Woman tweak her wardrobe after 70 years?

I’m more concerned with the writing and direction of the new TV show. Ally McBeal‘s David E. Kelly and the leaked script excerpts and auditions haven’t inspired confidence, and NBC’s track record isn’t much better. I didn’t mind camp in the 1960s Batman or 1970s Wonder Woman, and not every metahuman series should be an angst fest like the X-Men or Spider-Man, but a balance of tones, villains, and action would be nice.

To be fair, the network has at least tried to launch superhero shows, such as Heroes and The Cape, but weak writing and weaker ratings did them in (ABC’s No Ordinary Family might be next). For each surprise hit like Smallville, there have been short-lived shows like The Flash, M.A.N.T.I.S., and Birds of Prey.

As I’ve noted before, DC Comics has been more successful than Marvel lately with adaptations from print to animation. Despite their cinematic blockbusters, neither has been lucky with live-action TV. Let’s hope that Wonder Woman and The Incredible Hulk not only bring back fond memories from 30+ years ago, but also earn a new generation of fans!

Entry for March 31, 2009: Wonder Woman!

On Saturday, 21 March 2009, Janice and I picked up my subscription at New England Comics in Norwood, Massachusetts. In addition, we watched the new direct-to-DVD release of Wonder Woman. As with the retro Justice League: New Frontier and anime-style Batman: Gotham Knight, Wonder Woman is intended for an older audience than recent television cartoons based on DC Comics, such as the charmingly campy Batman and the Brave and the Bold.

As one of the oldest and best-known costumed superheroes, Wonder Woman is considered one of the DC Universe‘s “big three,” along with Superman and Batman, but hasn’t been adapted into other media as often. I do remember her role in the Super Friends cartoon and the Lynda Carter television series back in the late 1970s, but even George Perez’s reboot after Crisis on Infinite Earths didn’t help Wonder Woman much in terms of popularity.

Fortunately, the recent Timm/Dini Justice League (now in reruns on Boomerang) helped revive interest in DC’s characters beyond print. While related big-budget movies have stalled — again, with the notable exceptions of Batman and Superman — at least the new video does justice to Princess Diana of Themyscira. On a side note, the actor who might have played Batman in George Miller’s Justice League had a cameo in this week’s episode of supernatural slacker comedy Reaper.

Wonder Woman retells the first superheroine’s mythic origin, from her creation from clay by Queen Hippolyta to her Amazon training to her departure for “man’s world” with U.S. pilot Steve Trevor. Her main opponents are petty Greek gods and the all-to-human vices of dishonesty, sexism, and war. The animation is solid, and the fight scenes earn the PG-13 rating for violence.

Wonder Woman!
Wonder Woman animated movie

The voice talent, picked by DC animation veteran Andrea Romano, is very good: Kerri Russell of Felicity and Waitress is the young princess, Virginia Madsen of Sideways is stern Hippolyta, and Firefly/Serenity and Castle‘s Nathan Fillion is a man in need of rescuing as Steve Trevor. Fans of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Spider-Man 2 will recognize Alfred Molina as the evil Ares, and Sin City‘s Rosario Dawson is the tough Artemis.

The writers, Michael Jelenic and Gail Simone, not only respect William Moulton Marston’s creation but also incorporate elements from more recent comic book storylines, having major battle scenes erupt in modern-day Washington D.C. I’d give Wonder Woman a 9 out of 10, or an A-.

The DVD’s extras include some insights into the production of the movie, episodes from Justice League Unlimited, documentaries about the history of Wonder Woman, and a preview of a promising direct-to-video Green Lantern. The documentaries were a bit repetitive, and I would have liked to see more about the television show’s effect on popular culture and comic book storylines since the Perez run. I do hope that the ambassador of Paradise Island will return to prominence in both print and live-action.

In other animation, I enjoyed the first season finale of Star Wars: the Clone Wars on the Cartoon Network. Speaking of DC heroines, Zatanna, the mistress of magic, made a guest appearance on Smallville last week. Janice and I also started watching our DVDs of the Kirk Alyn Superman serials from the late 1940s/early ’50s. This past weekend, we screened Monsters vs. Aliens, which I’ll review in my next blog post.