Saturday, May 14, 2011

I Gotta Talk About "Wonder Woman"

Remember all that fuss about the new "Wonder Woman" television series, that was going to star Adrianne Palicki in the most uncomfortable-looking vinyl Wonder Woman costume ever? Well, a pilot was shot, but apparently NBC didn't like the results, so it's not going to become a series. This comes as something of a relief, since "Wonder Woman" was being helmed by David E. Kelley, best known for lawyer shows like "Harry's Law," "Ally McBeal," and "The Practice." Predictably the character would have been reimagined as a modern woman juggling a law career by day and the superhero gig by night. Yeah, it doesn't sound great to me either.

The failure of such a high-profile project has brought on a lot of speculation. Is this indicative of some bigger trends? Along with NBC's cancellation of "The Cape," does this mean that superhero shows are dead? ABC's "Bionic Woman" was a similar recent flop. Are the studios wary of female-led genre programs? Probably no on both counts. Comic books are still hot properties in Hollywood, and there are several superhero television projects in the works right now, including a new "Hulk," and adaptations of "Powers" and "Chew." There's a pilot for a revamped "Charlie's Angels" in circulation that is getting a lot of buzz, and as Deadline pointed out, this year we're getting a bumper crop of new series starring women. It's quite likely that "Wonder Woman" was just a bad pilot. These things happen.

And it wouldn't be the first time. There have been multiple attempts at new "Wonder Woman" television and film projects in the past, some involving big names, but none have gotten very far. The DC Comics character, also known as Princess Diana of Themiscyra, is fondly remembered from the 1970s television show and has a lot of cultural cachet for being the most famous female superhero, but she has been notoriously difficult to update. This isn't the first time that controversy has erupted over attempts to modernize her famous star-spangled costume. Last summer DC took some heat when they unveiled a new look for Wonder Woman that featured a jacket over the bustier and no boots. What is it about fans and Wonder Woman's boots?

But the outfit is really the least of her problems. Unlike her male counterparts in the DC universe, Wonder Woman has no well-known adversaries. The most prominent one is probably her mother Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, who she has a complicated relationship with. And then there's her origin story, which involves a secret island kingdom of Amazons where men are forbidden. And don't get me started on the magic lasso and the invisible jet. So much of Wonder Woman's mythos seems out of date, a collection of oddities that don't seem to fit together in any coherent fashion. She's a feminist icon, but in the post-Xena age, there are a lot of heroines who have done girl-power better. And I hate to say it, but the only really distinctive thing about her is that she's a woman in a really sexy costume, and I've always had a sneaking suspicion that she owes her status as one of the Big Three DC heavy-hitters almost totally to her gender.

This isn't to say that the character is hopeless and all future adaptations of "Wonder Woman" are doomed to failure. There have been a lot of different attempts to reboot and revitalize her in the comics lately. I figure one of them is bound to stick eventually. She's also been a constant presence in the animated DC universe, appearing in the various "Justice League" shows and movies. The 2009 direct-to-video "Wonder Woman" feature was very solid, especially in the way that it dealt with Diana's Amazonian heritage. Her messy background and the general public's unfamiliarity with the specifics of the character could actually be helpful. It's easier to give creators carte blanche to totally rewrite the Wonder Woman story if all people really remember is the costume.

I don't think that turning her into a lawyer was the best way to make her more relevant and appealing to modern audiences, but wouldn't she make a great private detective? Or a secret agent? Or one of those lone gunslinger types hunting down supernatural enemies? We know she's got a lot of those in the family. If Batman managed to turn away from camp, maybe it's time Wonder Woman got a little bit darker and more interesting too. And it's really in Warner Brothers' best interests to establish her presence in popular culture again, if they ever want to get a "Justice League" movie off the ground.

But yes, the new series struck out. Maybe it'll be retooled and another network will pick it up. Maybe somebody else will try again in a few years. But I have no doubts that this isn't the last we'll see of Wonder Woman. Despite all her problems, she's way too big and iconic a character to be shelved forever. And I for one still think she has a lot of potential.

No comments:

Post a Comment