Has fear of strong women held back a Wonder Woman movie?

Ben Bussey
Yahoo Contributor Network
Has fear of strong women held back a Wonder Woman movie?

As Wonder Woman is the name on the lips of every comic book movie fan right now, we consider the history of this much-loved yet strangely underutilised DC Comics icon to address the thorny question of why it has taken this long for her to arrive on the big screen.

Given how her fellow DC figureheads Superman and Batman both made the movie debuts decades ago, and superheroes in general have been cinematic mainstays for almost fifteen years now, many fans are not unjustly grumbling that Wonder Woman deserves more for her first cinematic appearance than a supporting role in someone else's movie.

So why has the quintessential superheroine proved so problematic for filmmakers? Her rather unorthodox origins may account for some of it.

[Gal Gadot is Wonder Woman in Batman vs. Superman]

Unlike humble, jobbing comic book writers like Batman creator Bob Kane and Superman co-creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the creator of Wonder Woman was Dr William Moulton Marston, a prominent psychologist who helped invent the polygraph machine (lie detector test).

Marston was perhaps not the most typical 1940s American; he was an ardent feminist who lived in a ménage à trois with his wife and their mutual lover. Both of them aided in the conception of Wonder Woman, whom Marston later declared to be "psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world."

Of course, Wonder Woman's power over men does not simply mean her ability to best them physically. Not for nothing does she wear short-shorts, a bustier, big boots and shiny metal cuffs, and carry a whip which - like Marston's lie detector - forces the truth out of its victims.

You don't have to be a psychologist to see it - Wonder Woman is one kinky lady. And none of this is in any way an accident. Marston made her both a sexual fantasy figure for men, and at once a figure of empowerment for women to aspire to. This cross-gender appeal is surely pivotal to her enduring popularity.

However, Wonder Woman's superhuman dominatrix persona may also account for why she has been so often undermined. Following Marston's death in 1947, her empowered nature was by all accounts heavily diluted by the writers who took over.

The reasoning behind this seems painfully simple: fear of strong female characters.

[In pictures: Wonder Woman through the ages]

Arguably, it was not until the 1970s TV series that Wonder Woman's strength and self-reliance came to be re-embraced - and even then in a somewhat ironic, non-threatening sense. We might note, however, that before Lynda Carter took the role in 1975 (preceded by a somewhat different pilot starring Cathy Lee Crosby, which deviated wildly from the comic) a Wonder Woman TV series was first attempted in 1967.

The show was conceived by the team behind TV's 'Batman,' who intended to take an even more lampoonish approach with this DC icon - but with decidedly misogynistic overtones. Diana was to be portrayed not as a true superheroine, but as a deluded dimwit who imagines herself strong and beautiful when she's anything but. A five-minute unaired preview of this can be found online, which should be enough to make anyone grateful it never got off the ground.

However, as bad as a Wonder Woman spoof might have been, the aborted 2011 'Wonder Woman' TV pilot (which can also be found online) demonstrated the dangers of trying to make her too hard-edged. This painfully misconceived re-imagining presented Wonder Woman as a bizarre mix of mega-rich celebrity and ruthless vigilante, sadistically bullying her prey and dishing out death willy-nilly wherever she sees fit, yet somehow never being brought to charge for it.

Yes, we need to be in awe of Wonder Woman, but we also need to admire and respect her, which in the 2011 pilot was impossible. This, I think, was its real downfall, even more so than its feeble costume design and the miscast Adrianne Palicki.

[Wonder Woman: Lynda Carter approves of Gal Gadot]

Of course, it remains to be seen what vision director Zack Snyder and writer David Goyer have for the first live-action Wonder Woman to grace the cinema screen, or how Gal Gadot will fare with the material she is given. Snyder's 'Sucker Punch' indicated a sincere drive to portray strong female characters, but some misplaced ideas as to how to go about it; we can but hope he's learned a bit since then.

We need only look at the success of 'The Hunger Games' series to recognise that movies fronted by strong independent women and fuelled by challenging ideas are not the box office poison some suggest. As such, regardless of how much impact she has in 'Batman vs. Superman' (or whatever it ends up being called), it is quite clear the world is ready for Wonder Woman to take centre stage.

Why do you think it's taken this long to get Wonder Woman in a movie? Let us know in the comments.

Ben Bussey is a freelance writer and comic book movie enthusiast. He wishes Gal Gadot the best of luck.

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