Producers at the CW recently announced that they were shelving plans for a long-in-development live-action Wonder Woman series in order to concentrate on a small screen debut for The Flash.  Reactions to this news has been somewhat mixed, with many people weighing in on why this, in the parlance, “sucks” while others have wondered what is so tricky about DC’s #3 character…

Lurking about the internet since the announcement was made, I’ve read a LOT of opinions about Wonder Woman as a live-action property, and a lot of reasons/excuses as to why producers haven’t been able to pull anything together since Lynda Carter packed up her satin tights.  From what I’ve gleaned, the various arguments boil down to four basic premises…

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1. She’s Too “Complicated.”

The Argument: The character of Wonder Woman has been around since 1941, just a few years less than Batman and Superman, and over the years she has been through a lot of different incarnations.  For a while in the early 1970s, she gave up her powers and Amazon heritage and became a catsuit-clad super-spy, followed by a period of World War II era period adventures, and is notable for being one of the first heroes to get a full-scale ground-up reboot after the Crisis On Infinite Earths.  Since then, her book has been up and down the charts, and while it’s seldom been a heavy-seller for long, there are enough different takes on Wonder Woman that it’s going to be impossible to say “Here’s what a Wonder Woman story is about!”

Why It’s Crap:

While it is true that there have been multiple takes on the character, the same is true of The Flash, who has taken her place on the front burner of television production.  In fact, Flash’s history is considerably more complex, given that there have been several different characters with a lightning-bolt on their chest over the years.  As many, including the very thoughtful Christopher Bird, have pointed out, there has not been a single definitive Wonder Woman presented the comics.  But all it would take to correct that issue would be a story that chose even ONE of the various iterations of Wonder Woman and told a compelling story.  When the first Iron Man movie was made, its wise-cracking jerkass genius protagonist was nowhere in evidence in the comics, which instead focused on an older campaigner Iron Man who had just gone to war with the other heroes of the Marvel Universe, and was considered by many to be the villain of the ‘Civil War’ miniseries.  The Robert Downey, Jr version of the character is now the iconic Iron Man to moviegoers and comics fans alike, which leads us to the second argument against a Wonder Woman movie…

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2. She’s Not “Iconic.”

The Argument: In the general spectrum of super-heroes, Wonder Woman doesn’t carry the cache of a Superman, a Batman, or even a Spider-Man.  Her last solo TV adventures were aired during the Jimmy Carter administration, and while she’s been part of various Justice League cartoons since, Wonder Woman simply doesn’t carry the metaphorical weight of her fellow Trinity members or Spidey…

Why It’s Crap:

The old cliché is true here:  My late GRANDMOTHER knew who Wonder Woman is.  Having never read a Wonder Woman comic book, at the age of three, my daughter informed me that she wanted to be Wonder Woman for Halloween, and upon donning the costume, struck the traditional Wonder Woman hands-on-hips pose without any prompting.  The character of Wonder Woman may not be as instantly recognizable as Batman, but there are VERY few heroes who rank above her in notability.  People who have no interest in comic books, such as my fiftyish co-workers, remember her fondly, having seen the television shows, worn the Underoos, even spun in circles to emulate her transformation sequence.  To say that Wonder Woman isn’t recognizable enough to support her own movie is utterly ludicrous, especially given the successful outings by the much more obscure (to the general public) likes of Thor and even Captain America.  The character of Wonder Woman was on Saturday morning television for a decade-and-a-half straight, my friends, which in itself negates any arguments for her obscurity.  Of course, there is another issue raised in relation to the character’s iconic look…

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3. Casting Would Be “Impossible.”

The Argument: Wonder Woman is an unnaturally beautiful and regal woman, who fights crime in a bustier and knee boots.  No actress will ever capture her “reality”, and the fact that so much of her skin is exposed would make stunt-work even more dangerous and expensive than usual.  There is no way to do live-action Wonder Woman right.

Why It’s Crap:

Recently, I watched the movie ‘Blade Runner,’ featuring an extended sequence where Joanna Cassidy and/or her stunt double, clad only in a breastplate, bikini bottoms and knee boots,executed a lengthy chase sequence which ended with her collapsing through a plate-glass window.  This effect was achieved with circa 1982 technology, and still looks convincing and brutal 30 years later.  Given the advent of digital technology, it seems more than possible to create the illusion of Wonder Woman’s powerset, possibly even easier than The Flash’s super-speed powers.  I’d also like to call your attention to the image directly above, adult-film actress Kimberly Kane in costume for the Wonder Woman XXX parody movie.  Miss Kane and the producers have captured a very comic-accurate Wonder Woman look on an adult-film budget, which should take the air out of the sails of anyone who worries that Wonder Woman’s costume is impossible to replicate and/or too expensive.  None of the superhero movie translations to date, from ‘Blade’ to this year’s ‘Man of Steel’ have faithfully reproduced the costumes seen on the comics page, proving that the characters can be successfully altered to fit their new medium without alienating consumers.  If Christian Bale can put on 25 pounds of muscle to fit in the Bat-suit, there’s nothing to keep the likes of Cobie Smulders or Eliza Dushku from fitting into a version of the star-spangled costume, even one that has been redesigned for the realities of an actual female body and the stunt-work of a feature film.  Of course, choosing our star leads directly into the fourth argument I keep encountering…

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4. Female Leads Don’t “Sell.”

The Argument: From a movie perspective, the target young adult male audience is put off by a female protagonist.  Movies about girls are seen as chick-flicks, and there won’t be any fighty-fighty punchy hero goodness like we got with Thor.  The merchandising becomes difficult, because female action figures are traditionally poor sellers, while secondary merchandising such as Halloween costumes or logo t-shirts are inherently stunted because only the female half of the audience would want them.

Why It’s Crap:

My complete and utter disdain for the conventional wisdom of the movie industry may be known to those of you who listen to our Zach On Film podcast, but if you’re not a listener, I’ll boil it down: Movie conventional wisdom is bunk.  The end.  That’s not to say that there wouldn’t be issues with a female protagonist, as the David E. Kelley ‘Wonder Woman’ pilot proved, with its Diana focused on romance and career, as well as dialogue about her “super-boobs,” but that was a clear misapprehension of the kick-ass nature of the character.  Movies with female protagonists have proven to be successful when done well (Milla Jovavich’s ‘Resident Evil’ franchise is a world-wide juggernaut, while ‘Hunger Games’ gave us a strong female protagonist bordering on super-hero turf), and there’s no reason why we can’t have the same super-hero action and battle sequences of ‘Man Of Steel’ or ‘Avengers’ with a female protagonist.  The statement that Wonder Woman won’t make for a successful film because she’s a woman will always be a self-fulfilling prophecy as long as it is used as an excuse NOT TO MAKE THE FILM.

In short, if any solo female superhero movie is going to be successful, the adventures of superhuman Amazon Princess Diana and her trek to the world of man should have the best chance of success.  While it will require a quality script, an appropriate actress in both age and stature, and special effects that do the character justice, a live-action Wonder Woman is rates very high on the risk vs. reward scale, and disappointed fan response to the announcement of the delay should prove that the audience is already interested in a Wonder Woman project.  CW’s Mark Pedowitz has been quoted regarding the property that Wonder Woman is NOT a dead issue, but that they “have to get it right,” a sentiment that gives me some hope that I might soon see the adventures of the world’s 4th most-recognizable superhero.  Take the time, Warner Brothers/CW/DC/whomever.  Put some thought and some elbow grease into it, and give Wonder Woman the triumphant return she deserves, because, honestly?

There’s no good reason not to.

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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23 Comments

  1. August 2, 2013 at 12:00 pm — Reply

    I think the problem is the backstory. There’s just not much there that the average person can relate to. This is a fully adult woman 1) with only one parent, 2) with a job that’s nebulously defined, 3) no strong love interest, 4) not typically involved in a family story. And, oh by the way, her origin is Greek Mythology.

    It’s like trying to make a heroine out of Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State, but without even her daughter to anchor her to the world that most people understand. I’m just saying, it’s not necessarily a that easy to tease it into something people can connect with.

    • Dennis
      August 2, 2013 at 2:21 pm — Reply

      I’m honestly not sure if you’re trolling/being sarcastic or not. Pretty much all of your above arguments can be applied to various male superheroes. 1) Spiderman. 2, 3, 4) Batman. And Thor’s origin is in Norse mythology, which arguably has far less mainstream awareness than Greek mythology. None of those factors have seemed to hurt the success of any of those movies. Batman, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Wolverine… none of these characters are particularly “relatable” to the average person, yet the audience seems to have no problem connecting with the characters and making their movies ridiculously profitable.

  2. August 2, 2013 at 12:18 pm — Reply

    Awesome Matthew, you nailed it. Great article.

  3. Charles
    August 2, 2013 at 12:21 pm — Reply

    I agree with you 100% Matthew, but you left out one argument: What would the feminist say about her costume? Her costume is so iconic! If you change it, the comicbook fans will loose there minds! Look what happened at the beginning of the New 52, with the pants vs. the bikini bottoms! Her costume makes the guys horney and women angry! We as comic book fans, don’t see any problem with it, it’s what she always wore, no big deal. The feminist who ARE NOT comic book fans would cause such an uproar about her costume, that I believe the studios would not want to be bothered with all of the “negative” press and attention to take away from such an iconic character.

    It’s the costume. Look at all of the super hero movies that had women in them. Do you think Storms original costume (Giant Size X-Men #1) would have made it to the big screen? Even the Black Widows costume was militarized in the Avengers franchise to “tone it down”. The same thing can be said for Catwoman also in the Dark Knight movie.

    Wonder Woman is part of the DC Trinity, Batman and Superman being the other two parts, she deserves a movie or TV show to bring her into the minds of the “uncomicbooked” so when she shows up in the Justice League movie, people won’t say “Who it that?”

    I’m not a fan of “chick” comics, that’s my right. But I do know that there have been some great Wonder Woman stories done, and I know she should have a big screen treatment.

    • August 2, 2013 at 5:33 pm — Reply

      Simple answer: Change the costume. Hell, put her in that basketball fabric that all the heroes are wearing these days, but take a shot at it! :)

  4. Dino
    August 2, 2013 at 12:24 pm — Reply

    I remember this story of back when Nickelodeon was doing market testing for “The Legend of Korra”. The execs were concerned over the notion that the presumed natural audience for an action based cartoon, preteen boys, would not be accepting of a female lead. After several screenings they found their concerns were unfounded as the boys in attendance liked the character of Korra because she was “awesome”. It confuses me to this day why people seem to think Wonder Woman is an unworkable idea. Maybe Warner Bros. has some baggage from that godawful pilot they produced for that TV series that was never made where Wonder Woman was a dangerous sociopath.

  5. August 2, 2013 at 12:38 pm — Reply

    If the Studio want to make it happen they can make it happen. That is always been the reality. Everything else as you say is crap. Actress, cost of stunt work, back story is all an issue of packaging and money which if a studio wants to do it enough they can. Granted a show with 3-5 million dollar an episode budget better bring in people because if it doesn’t its going to be canceled in a hurry.

    That said not every show is a hit. Why did the creative team behind Xena have so much trouble with the Bionic Woman? I don’t know and I’m not foolish enough to say I have any answers on how to make a tv show a commercial suggest because clearly men and women with more experience than I fail at that over and over each year.

    Maybe this is a Doctor Who problem. When Russel T Davis took over the show he had had headed up many successful shows, so much so the BBC said he had his pick of what to do. He choice the black sheep property Doctor who having been a long time fan but also had the experience in TV to update Doctor Who for the 2000’s. It wasn’t just about bring it back to TV it was about bring it back on TV and keeping it on TV.

    Now who that person would be for Wonder Woman in 2013 I don’t know but if you have someone with that kind of heart and experience as Davis that is what Wonder Woman from a production point of view is missing more than anything. If the networks want to make a good, long lasting Wonder Woman TV show I think the most important choice they make is who they pick as executive producer/producers. Everything else comes from that.

  6. August 2, 2013 at 12:48 pm — Reply

    If that porn star can act they should just hire her. Her history will attract publicity. Then if they actually put good writers to the project they will have a popular long lasting show. The way I see it, they should get female writers, give the show a good budget, and don’t downplay the super powers.

  7. Ryan 'Halite' King
    August 2, 2013 at 1:28 pm — Reply

    The difficulty is not in Wonder Woman herself or her background, but in the industry and how they deal with adaptation. It’s also apparent in the many authors who have been unable to deal with her properly in the comics.

    I think too often the false preconception that female superheroes are not as marketable or relatable leads people to feel that they need to change some aspect or deconstruct the character. We see the same issue in many video games with female leads. I also think, in the opposite manner, many people want to spend time trying to play up her female aspects either in hopes of pulling in a female audience or in an attempt to circumvent a perceived feminist backlash.

    Lastly, Warner Brothers really only understands two things, Batman and Superman punching things. Really, they have been unable to successfully market anything beyond that, and if they do its pure accident and then the mess with it just as it’s growing.

    WW already had a successful TV show, and sells plenty of products to people who don’t read comics, it’s flat dumb to throw the proper effort into making her a big screen movie equal in status to Superman and Batman.

  8. August 2, 2013 at 1:37 pm — Reply

    Well put!

  9. aerohalen1
    August 2, 2013 at 4:52 pm — Reply

    it is only hard because they dont want to do it.like Matthew said,Marvel did it….it was called Thor.

  10. August 2, 2013 at 8:03 pm — Reply

    Good article. Good writing will take care of a lot of the issues, and the outfit? Erica Durance wore a Wonder-Woman-by-way-of-Xena outfit that I think would work for the Amazon princess. But I think any outfit can be made to work if they find a woman with the right look.

    What do I mean by that?

    Before I continue, let me be clear: I love Lynda Carter. But take an unsentimental look at the picture of her in this article. Does she really look like an Amazon princess? No, she’s a beanpole. A very lovely beanpole, but a beanpole nonetheless. You couldn’t cast a woman who looked like Lynda Carter for a Wonder Woman movie because she wouldn’t be believable.

    And before anyone jumps on me for saying that, compare George Reeves and Henry Cavill or Adam West and Christian Bale. By the way, those comparisons also help shoot down the “it’s the outfit” argument — put Henry Cavill in George Reeves’ outfit, or Christian Bale in Adam West’s outfit, and they’d still be believable. Likewise, find the right woman, and the outfit won’t matter.

    So, find a good writer (why not someone like Gail Simone?), find a good, statuesque actress (because Wonder Woman can’t be short — sorry, Eliza Dushku) who’s got some physical assets (sorry to be a sexist pig, but let’s face facts: Wonder Woman isn’t built like Olive Oyl) and who is willing to work out intensely with a good trainer for, say, six months, and guess what? A Wonder Woman movie or series will no longer be “tricky.”

  11. Dan
    August 2, 2013 at 8:12 pm — Reply

    This is possibly one of the best articles i’ve read in my short time frequenting this site. Princess Diana should and could easily be a great film or tv franchise if they simply eschewed the fact that she’s a girl, and just focused on the warrior/teacher/leader of a freakin’ nation of superpowered demigod women aspect. Hell, buffy and xena have shown that you can have strong female leads on successful tv shows. And for there to be a Justice League movie, you NEED the trinity…superman, wonder woman and batman. The misconception that “girls don’t sell, because herp derp girls” is total bs.

    Shame that lucy lawless is 50 now, she basically WAS wonder woman in the 90’s. I think if any actress could credibly lift a car and use it to fend off a sneak attack by Artemis, it’d be Gina Carano. Somebody get her some acting lessons post haste!

    • August 3, 2013 at 12:37 am — Reply

      I agree on Lucy Lawless. I would have two qualms about Gina Carano: a) the big one is acting ability — does she have any? I haven’t seen her in anything, but I get the sense from what I’ve read that she needs some work on her craft; and b) a really minor one is her height — she’s 5’8″. For comparison, Carter is 5’9″ and Lawless is 5’10”, and I know an inch or two might not seem a lot, but depending on who they cast with her, would it do for Wonder Woman to be clearly shorter than many of her costars?

      • August 5, 2013 at 12:01 am — Reply

        This Lucy Lawless vs Gina Carano argument displays a certain lack of understanding about … current reality. Lucy Lawless is nearly 50. Does Gina Carano have the acting chops? Well, she’s a rising star, still, but she recently starred in a Steven Soderberg Movie opposite … like everyone in Hollywood. I thought she held her own. The “sense” I get is that Lucy Lawless is a TV actor and has done pretty much nothing on the big screen. And her acting in Xena (though I loved her) was campy.

  12. DrNobody
    August 2, 2013 at 10:37 pm — Reply

    I still think they’re waiting to see how The Flash performs as a possible tie-in for the movie franchise… I would imagine if they feel The Flash from the tv series works well for the movies, they’ll put him in and probably follow with a regular Wonder Woman series (probably ditching the Amazon series). I still hope they can use Adrianne Palicki as she looked the part and did the best with what she was given.

  13. August 2, 2013 at 10:56 pm — Reply

    Thor played down the mythology angle by saying magic is just advanced science. This could work with WW, especially since the Amazons have some things that are more sf-looking than magical: robot plane, purple healing ray. Leave out actual interactions with Greek gods and make the Amazons a lost race with their own brand of superscience. They could have based their society and religion on Greek myth without being a part of it.

  14. August 2, 2013 at 10:58 pm — Reply

    Just keep her as an ambassador of peace, not a sword-wielding killer.

  15. Oldcomicfan
    August 3, 2013 at 11:06 am — Reply

    I think that Wonder Woman would be difficult to write for. I mean, even the comic writers often can’t get the character right, so television writers and movie script writers have even less of a chance. The WW comics had her swinging between the Amazing Amazon dealing with mythological monstrocities to a love-sick school girl following Steve Trevor around with her tongue dragging in the dirt – sometimes in the same bloody issue – and then there’s all the bondage references and submissive women issues raised by the comic over the years. And lets please pretend the invisible plane never existed… (I always wondered how many people walked into the prop of the invisible plane before they turned it into a jet.) I actually liked the comic stories where she renounced her powers and turned into a feminist crusader, but you had to admit, the powerless Wonder Woman wasn’t really Wonder Woman. You will note that, in spite of all the Superman family titles that DC spewed out over the years, some of them pretty darned silly and cringe inducing, DC never did a “Superman’s Alter Ego Clark Kent” series featuring Superman’s depowered adventures as Clark Kent.

    The Linda Carter TV show got the costume more or less right but after you got done admiring Linda Carter’s assets there wasn’t much else to admire about it. You have to admit that aside from inspiring a lot of wet dreams, the Wonder Woman costume is pretty darned ridiculous when draped over a real human form. There were a lot of comments when the TV show was on the air about how easy it was for Linda Carter to catch the bad guys because they were all too busy trying to look down her top to put up any sort of a struggle. In fact, it’s always been a problem in my mind to square the Wonder Woman costume, which caters to the basest fantasies of men, with the Amazonian attitude that men are wicked, puny creatures who the world must be protected from.

    In the comics, Wonder Woman has worked best, in my opinion, as part of the Trinity of Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman. It would probably work best in a TV show or movie to focus on the Trinity as well. Not because she needs the two gents as a backstop, but mostly because it’s always awesome when Supes and Bats get in over their heads and Diana joins the fray and kicks the living crap out of whatever it is that was giving Supes a hard time.

    Therein lies one of the problems. If a TV show or movie focuses too much on the mythological origins of Wonder Woman, you might as just do a remake of Xena. If you make it into a crime-fighter Diana show, then the costume and powers don’t make sense, and the first time she used her magic lasso on some thug, the case would be thrown out of court because his rights of not being forced to incriminate himself would have been violated. Then you get the barefoot and pregnant crackers who would protest about her independence, and the feminazi crowd who protest about how much skin she was showing, and the hairy-handed fanboy crowd who raise howls of protest if you put her in jeans and a jacket. I just don’t see how the producers of a Wonder Woman TV show or a movie could win. But who am I to judge? I had thought that Lord of the Rings was virtually unfilmable until Peter Jackson actually did it, and did such a good job of it, too.

  16. August 5, 2013 at 7:25 am — Reply

    I think Gina Garano would be fantastic. She’s got martial arts training, she’s got a great shape, and did well in Haywire and Fast 6. I don’t think she needs to be super tall. 5’8″ isn’t short in the first place but I think it would work well if Wonder Woman was smaller than her foes and still kicking ass.

  17. Damascus
    August 6, 2013 at 2:37 am — Reply

    I’m not hugely convinced on Gina Carano, but I’d like to see it either way. I think her look is fine (if height is an issue add an inch to her boots), she is believable in the action role but I just didn’t care for her particular acting in Fast and Furious 6 or in Haywire. I really just found a ton of weird holes in Haywire that took me out of the movie. But she could be great, I reserve all judgment until I see it because I’ve been way wrong in the past.

    I really do like the direction that Wonder Woman’s comics have taken since the New 52, I like that it’s more of a Xena kind of thing mixed with the current world as well. Finding out she’s actually Zeus’s daughter and the turbulence that causes as the other petty gods try to manipulate her or plot against her due to jealousy and things. Not to say that Xena worked, so WW will too. But cast Lucy Lawless to play Hippolyta and give me a Wonder Woman show already.

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