The Wonder Woman TV show got canned, and comics fans of various stripes are rushing to explain why it should or shouldn’t have. The Beat has a roundup. They link to dcwomenkickingass, who has a heartfelt rant saying in part:
Why is Thor so easy to get to screen, but Wonder Woman is reduced to a television drama by David E. Kelley where she’s a superhero but also a female who worries about her body and pines for her boyfriend? Why when that treatment fails do the stories focus not on the execution but on the character?
Why is it when it comes to a male character like the Hulk, we don’t see that reaction. “Oh gee, it couldn’t possibly be the character of the Hulk that is the problem. We’ll just make three movies until we get the execution right.” Three takes. Not one.
And we have seen treatments that have worked. For all its gender issues the animated movie showed that Wonder Woman can be badass and compelling.
DCU Online has Wonder Woman as a core character and anyone who has seen the cinematic trailer can see how bad ass she would look on screen.
And the original TV show, despite being 30 years ago, worked.
The problem with adapting Wonder Woman to the screen, either big or small, has nothing to do with the character other than her gender. The recent television show felt they needed to turn her into something she’s not. She’s not Ally McBeal. She’s Wonder Woman….
How fucking sad is it that we as a gender are forced to prove ourselves worthy as a film audience once again? Every time there is a hit or success outside the narrow little lens that Hollywood views us it is an aberration or a fluke.
Hollywood is certainly sexist. But…is it really the case that Hollywood and television are uninterested in promoting shows about kick-ass women? La Femme Nikita just got renewed. The terrible movie Priest features Maggie Q as a superninja kicking ass. Bones’ main character is a female physical anthropologist/best-selling novelist martial arts expert. There’s multiple killer female assassin movies just released or coming out. There’s Salt from last year. Is there really a reluctance on the part of entertainment media to show women in tight clothes kicking ass?
I think much more of a problem is that large numbers of viewers just don’t necessarily share dcwomenkickingass’ enthusiasm for Wonder Woman, whether she’s kicking ass or not. The cancellation of wonder woman isn’t a blow to women everywhere. It’s a blow to women who like Wonder Woman maybe…but that’s not all that many women.
I thought I’d reprint my comment from the Beat thread here.
I don’t think it’s a problem of growing expectations exactly. It’s a problem that the character is really, really weird. The costume is bizarre even by super-hero standards (yes, even by superhero standards); she’s all about bondage; she’s got nutjob accessories like the invisible plane; she’s supposed to be a pacifist who runs around hitting people. She’s goofy. Which I love, love, love about her — those early Marston/Peter comics are basically the best super-hero comics ever, damn it. But the fact that she’s so idiosyncratically weird it makes her much harder to sell than, say, a secret agent with a tragic backstory who shoots people like Salt.
WW was very popular 70 years ago in comics and for a few years on television back in the 70s. Outside of that, people have really had trouble figuring out what to do with her, even as female action heroes have become really really popular (Buffy, Xena, Angelina Jolie in everything, Kill Bill, La Femme Nikita (recently re-jiggered), there’s like three more female assassin movies just come out or coming out whose titles I can’t remember…there’s just no shortage of examples.)
I don’t exactly understand the logic of wanting new WW product anyway. The TV show looked like it was going to be dreadful. If you like WW, why not just go reread the old stuff? What’s so validating about having some corporation make some stupid show that uses the character you love in insulting and moronic ways? Why is Thor validated by some stupid movie? Why is Batman validated by being put in a ridiculous styrofoam suit and having a bunch of mediocre to bad films made about him? Why do you need your art to be a pop cultural phenomena for it to matter? Like I said, I don’t get it.
I make similar points in this essay here.
Just to expand a little…I agree with dcwomenkickingass that female superhero pop culture efforts can work. Twilight is a female superhero film in a lot of ways; Bella certainly gets superpowers at the end. Buffy was a female superhero project. Sailor Moon is a female superhero story which was crazy popular. And, again, women with ninja powers kicking butt are all over the pop culture landscape. Temperance Brennan from Bones (the anthropologist/novelist/martial artist mentioned above) even dresses up as Wonder Woman on occasion. As a joke.
So the issue isn’t whether female’s kicking ass or even female superheroes can be popular. The issue is whether female superheroes toeing the very narrow genre constraints of mainstream comics can be especially popular. The issue is whether most women really want their superheoines with secret identities and dressed in swimsuits and coming out of an industry that has been male-dominated for decades — an industry that has shown over and over again that it has only the vaguest idea how to appeal to a female audience. The answer in general to that question has been that no, they don’t, they’d rather get their kick-ass women fix elsewhere.
I can see where that’s really frustrating for fans like dcwomenkickingass, who are in the minority that really like the superhero women on offer by the big two. And I can see arguing that media is sexist. But I think it’s worth pointing out that less sexism in Hollywood really, really would not have to go along with more Wonder Woman in Hollywood. Because, like I said, WW just isn’t that popular and is very weird and has that costume that doesn’t exactly scream “independent woman” and doesn’t have a clear romantic interest with angst and tension, which is what you generally look for in female genre product, and…well the list goes on. But the upshot is that if you wanted to create a woman kicking ass, even if you were really committed to feminism, you might think twice before going with Wonder Woman.
I’ll end with another comment I left on the Beat, where DF said that WW had become boring except for maybe Darwyn Cooke’s version of her. I replied:
I like Darwyn Cooke’s version, including his satirical take. I’d agree that his version is probably as good as it gets after Marston…unless you go to once-removed versions like Alan Moore’s Glory or Promethea or Adam Warren’s Empowered.
I think the boredom is part of not knowing how to deal with the original concept. And the original concept is not going to be redone; you’re not going to see WW in a gimp mask or Amazons hunting each other in deer costumes or entire races of seal men subjugating themselves to women or even giant space-faring kangaroos. It’s just not going to happen. Which is a shame, and I strongly believe that all girls and boys and adults should read the original Marston/Peter run, which is one of the most ridiculously sublime pieces of work the comics medium has to offer. But I don’t need new stories with WW anymore than I especially need some random Hollywood development team to do the brand new adventures of Elizabeth Bennett.
Update: Aha! I was wondering why we were getting commenters all of a sudden. dcwomenkickinass has a response to this post here.