The home page for author Eric J. Juneau

Eating My Words on Wonder Woman

eat words

Oh, look at all these words. Oh… yum… gulp… so delicious… so meaty. So good… so good to eat… so scrumptious… I’ve never eaten words as good as this before. This is delicious. Scrumpf… glomp… chew… oh so good… so satisfying… filling…can’t get enough…

So in 2012, I wrote a blog about how we’d never see a Wonder Woman movie, or at least a good one. Let’s take a look at some of the points I made and why I was wrong.

“…to make Wonder Woman translate to today’s audiences, you would have to alter her so radically that she wouldn’t resemble Wonder Woman anymore. … Someone’s going to leave unhappy — either the fanboys or the casuals.” 

Well, what I didn’t count on was that the movie was going to make someone else happy — women. Not just geek women or romcom women or intellectual women. Just… women. They kept the character… mm, I hate to say it but “generic” enough so that everyone could project on to her. One tweet said “Is this why men watch superhero movies? Because I feel like taking on an army after seeing Wonder Woman.”

And why wouldn’t you be excited? How nice would it be to not be afraid of men? Someone who didn’t have to hold her keys in her fist walking through the parking lot, who doesn’t have some bald man staring at her on the subway, who can sit in a bar without some drunk stranger telling her to “smile more”. Wonder Woman doesn’t let anyone shut her down or interrupt her.

This is the flaw in DC movies — they try too hard to please everyone and rely too much on focus groups. Hence the movies are bland and messy and deviate too much from source characters (e.g. Suicide Squad, Man of Steel, Superman v. Batman). As a result, the movies have no flavor. They’re bland. As colorless as… as… well, as a DC movie (come on guys, you gotta do color correction!) Wonder Woman is not an exception. It’s as gray as a warfare first-person shooter. But it did the best it could. And one hopes that the Justice League, which has some characters who aren’t so grimdark (Aquaman, Flash), will pick up that slack too.

But my point is, they didn’t radically change Wonder Woman. In fact, they didn’t make much of her at all. Didn’t take any risks. Didn’t add any flavor. They didn’t change a McDonald’s hamburger recipe. She was built for a
task, she goes out to fulfill that task. No dead cancer mother or
alcoholism or past life as a criminal. She doesn’t have any flaws (being naive doesn’t count) that make her broken. In fact, her role is to nurture the broken — the Irish guy with PTSD and the Blackfoot exiled from his tribe. If Captain America is the father-figure of the Avengers, Wonder Woman is the mama lion of the Justice League.

“Wonder Woman is intrinsically bonded to its creators predilections towards bondage and female dominance. Wonder Woman is frequently shown either tying up criminals or being tied up.”

I had trouble separating the comic book from the character. For one thing, I think I wrote this around peak “but the comics were better” fanboyism. This was when The Dark Knight Rises, and The Amazing Spider-Man came out. Everyone else (I’m looking at you DC and Sony) screwed it up because they deviated too much from the source material. Batman couldn’t live up to The Dark Knight, and Spider-Man was receiving a too-soon reboot. Marvel planted its flag with The Avengers, but it still failed the Bechdel Test.

See up to this point, comic book movies always keeping women as sidekicks — Captain America: The Winter Soldier had Black Widow, Guardians of the Galaxy has Gamora, Thor has Jane, Iron Man has Pepper Potts. And being sidekicks, these women had little definition. Black Widow is “the spy”. Gamora is the “warrior-princess”. Pepper Potts is the sassy secretary. These are not characters, they’re archetypes. When you make a main character that character has to be “broken” in some way. And if you make a woman broken, you get flak saying “how dare you represent all women as [this condition]”.

Wonder Woman fights no criminals, pursues no bad guys. The movie is about World War I and takes a few pages from Apocalypse Now, traveling from the bureaucratic offices to the front lines. But where that storyline became darker and darker, Wonder Woman gives hope. Hope that, with courage and friends, you can take on anyone.

The concept of binding or being bound within the film is removed completely. There are no games and no rope play. Wonder Woman herself is never bound (in the comics, that’s her one weakness, so it’s surprising that doesn’t make it in). Moulston might not approve of the film, but he’s not here. And the world’s moved past that kind of Wonder Woman. Yes, it does stray from her original spirit, but it changes her character for the better.

“How would you even start the story?”

They did it the best way — simply. They left only the basics. Not too many characters get shoved into foreground because once Diana leaves the island, we never see them again. We stay on Wonder Woman the whole time. Even when we have to deviate with some backstory narration, it takes the form of her bedtime story.

“The problem is there’s a stigma around Amazons.”

wonder woman movie supporting cast
The right way
woman bodybuilder muscles
The wrong way

I worried that characters would become “entitled, bitchy woman with more masculinity than femininity who can’t form social relationships”. The concept is that this secret island holds Zeus’s ripping cool army just in case he ever needs it again. This avoids turning into a land of man-haters (because they’ve worked with men in the past). It also helps that the set and costume design comes from women. They knew how to make feminine warriors without being booblicious.

As far as Diana’s concerned, there’s a little of the “born sexy yesterday” trope. But her character’s development is more about the transition from classic-style honor-fighting to modern warfare. But she still likes babies and ice cream. She doesn’t have the mind of a child so she can hold a conversation without sounding like Sally from Third Rock From the Sun (not that I don’t hold respect for that character, but she was played for laughs). I saw a bit of Bones in her, but not in a disdainful way.

“The first thing you’d have to do is totally revamp the costume.” 

They did, but not very much. For one thing, you don’t see the costume until her iconic charge out of the trench. Until then, it’s cloaks and robes. After the big reveal, you can see they kept the color scheme, but made it grayed out metal.

There’s no explanation for WHY she’s wearing it, and that bothers me. In the plot, she stole some armor from the Themyscira vaults, but it has no context, nor explanation why it looks different from everyone else’s. But this movie’s made me pay more attention to the beauty of the outfits than all movies I’ve seen in the past thirty-six years (I’m 36) combined. They even manage to have a costume montage in the middle. But its more about where she can store her sword, not what’s tantalizing.

Still the best dressing montage there is.

“The biggest problem with Wonder Woman is that her weapons and tools just don’t make sense. … First, [the lasso of truth is] not a very exciting power. Second, it becomes a deus ex machina.”

There is actually surprisingly little of Wonder Woman wielding her signature weapon. She uses the sword, shield, and bracelets more. The few times she does use it is either for interrogation (and he is barely tied up) or as a whip. The plot doesn’t demand that she use it either. At the time, I was thinking of plots like The Winter Soldier or Iron Man 3 that are full of deception and intrigue. But more to the point, she IS the weapon. She’s personified defense and offense, not strategy or intelligence (in the spy sense) or moral relativism or power through any means other than selflessness. Also, no silly invisible plane.

“[G]olden bracelets that can stop bullets. … The only things they could block are tiny cocktail swords. … [Y]our wrist bones would shatter as soon as a bullet hit.”

The bracelets are glossed over in the plot. I believe in the comics they’re formed of the shield of Aegis, which is like DC-adamantium. But she does use them and somehow has the reflexes to stop an incoming bullet. Is that explained? No. Her powers are kept ambiguous, which is a disadvantage because it makes her overpowered. They don’t even explain why she doesn’t age. I wouldn’t be surprised if some audience members thought her “god killer” power was the bracelets instead of within herself.

“[F]our words: aim for the legs. The well-exposed legs.”

This still stands, but it’s a problem among many movies. It happens several times to Captain America and no one bats an eye, so I guess we’re all agreeing to ignore it? Rule of cool?

“Steve Trevor and Wonder Woman had the screwed-up relationship of “I Dream of Jeannie”. Wonder Woman’s got all this power and ability, yet she feels incomplete without him.”

In this movie, Wonder Woman absolutely does not NEED Steve Trevor. Well, she does NEED him, in the sense that he’s her liaison into the world of men. But if she got a map to the front or some notes on how British government works, she’d be fine on her own. This is probably the biggest deviation from the comics, but also the most welcome. And it would have been the easiest pit to fall into.

Diana does not have a romance with Steve and Steve doesn’t treat Diana as anything but a peer. A fellow soldier and a means to an end. They both want to end the war. Steve doesn’t necessarily believe in this Ares nonsense, but he’s seen her take on a boat full of Nazis, so he’s got the proof and the pudding.

“Etta Candy? Who is she supposed to be? Comic relief? Is she like the Theodore of this triumvirate?”

Etta Candy is a pleasant cameo, but little more. She’s really the only other woman in the cast who’s not a Themysciran action figure. And they give her dignity. She’s not food-obsessed or man-obsessed. They did her right by not giving her a stereotype or archetype. She doesn’t have a “thing”, unless you count being delightfully British.

“[T]he biggest problem with the supporting characters is that Wonder Woman has no memorable villains.”

I think this still stands. I could see the Ares thing a mile a way and General Thunderbolt is just another Red Skull/Bane/Popeye pastiche taking Super Serum (don’t you know you never get high off your own stash?) The same thing happens in the first Thor, the first Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, and the first Spider-Man. But it does avoid the “designated girl fight” and doesn’t go on too long. Dr. Poison was the most interesting (I imagined her like Dr. Tenenbaum from Bioshock) and it’s a shame she got such an uninteresting ending. But we got thrown cars and explosions, so how much can you complain about it?

Final thoughts: Yes, thumbs-up. I am bullish on Wonder Woman stock. I really hope this gets directors and producers to realize that yes, women-led movies, both in front and behind the camera, can make money. And even better, they make good art.

Games Someone Should Make: Wonder Woman

Wonder woman

This could be a free-roaming action-adventure, much like Spider-Man 2, or a game like Batman: Arkham Whatever, but more linear.  Wonder Woman has an interesting collection of powers, not the least of which is her lasso of truth.

This is a fascinating gameplay element that could be used many different ways.  Maybe like Deus Ex‘s conversation threads.  You could use it for triggering quests, swinging around the city quickly (Or can she already fly? I never know these things), finding hints or clues or storyline elements.  It’d be more interesting than just “talking to everyone”.

Plus you’ve got her invisible jet, defensive bracelets, a tiara, a sword, and hand-to-hand combat.  Those all sound like good video game elements.  And there’s no reason to think a female-led video game couldn’t do well — Bayonetta, Final Fantasy 13, Tomb Raider.  If she’s not a lead character, maybe she could be a partner, like in Bioshock Infinite or The Last of Us.

In fact, you could probably make a decent game if you took a few of the non-top tier DC heroes (i.e., not Superman and/or Batman).  Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Hawkman, etc.  Just rotate them around, maybe a few levels where you can switch off between them.  Or like Lego Marvel Super Heroes — a game where you can rotate between them all, doing quests a myriad of different ways.

Thoughts About Wonder Woman

wonder woman

These days I’ve been thinking about Wonder Woman. One of my daughter’s friends had a Wonder Woman cake for her birthday (four years old) so I know her fanbase isn’t dead. She represents something important to women. Someone who can hold their own with the other super-people. Someone strong enough to stand with the G.I. Joes and He-Men. Independent, strong-willed, powerful.

And unfortunately, we’ll never see her again.

Barry Lyga recently wrote an article regarding why we won’t see a Wonder Woman movie. He argued that Wonder Woman’s portrayal is too inconsistent for a proper story. I agree, but I take it to the next level — even the consistencies prevent creators from updating her in some medium. Not a movie, not a TV series, not a cartoon show, not a video game, comic book, or even a crappy, actor-injuring musical. And they’ve tried. Oh, how they’ve tried. (shudder)

Don’t get me wrong, this news does not please me. I would love to see a Wonder Woman adaptation. I would love to see more any movies with female superheroines who aren’t relegated to “token girl”. I’ve already talked about how Supergirl is a great character. Wonder Woman is not that far removed. Some of the same principles apply — god-given powers, secret identity, struggle for selfdom in a different world. But unlike Supergirl, Wonder Woman’s fundamental concepts — her “spirit” (see bullet point 4) — are intrinsic to a bygone era.

Like Superman (and we all know how I hate Superman), the only reason she’s persisted is because she was the first female superhero. And to make Wonder Woman translate to today’s audiences, you would have to alter her so radically that she wouldn’t resemble Wonder Woman anymore. Someone’s going to leave unhappy — either the fanboys or the casuals.

I don’t want to say it’s impossible to make a Wonder Woman adaptation. There’s no concept so impossible that it can’t be executed well. Just look at the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Batman. They’ve had dozens of incarnations from gritty mature to comically camp to nostalgic overload to bizarrely commercial. Not all of them were good, but the best stayed true to the spirit of the material. Superman is about might for right. Batman is about fighting for justice within a corrupt world. Wonder Woman is about… uh, well.

Oh, let’s just talk about the elephant in the room. The one that’s all trussed up.

There’s no delicate way to put this. (Well, there is, but I don’t care.) Charles Moulton, the creator of Wonder Woman, was into bondage and BDSM. He was in a polyamorous relationship with two women, both of which were co-creators. He was a psychologist who proposed that dominance and submission come from combinations of passive/active personalities in an antagonistic/favorable environment. But the author isn’t the work. You cannot say one is the other.

Except that Wonder Woman is frequently shown either tying up criminals or being tied up. The golden lasso is a clear tool to that end — restraining criminals, forcing them to submit to her will and tell the truth. At one time, it even forced people to obey commands. You might say superheroes often got tied up and restrained in those days.

wonder woman bound up
Images credit to Suffering Sappho

Not like this. Whether it’s body control or mind control, Wonder Woman got popular through exploiting sexual fetishes. Moulton never denied the comparisons. “Give [men] an alluring woman stronger than themselves to submit to, and they’ll be proud to become her willing slaves!” (“Why 100,000,000 Americans Read Comics.” The American Scholar 13.1, 1943-44, page 43) How are you supposed to write a story in 2012 around that?

How would you even start the story? This is one superhero movie I wouldn’t mind seeing the origin story for (I say that because it seems like every superhero movie is an origin story, and the genre is starting to suffer from it). The problem is there’s a stigma around Amazons.

futurama amazonians
“Oh! You mean Snu-Snu.”

And if you follow that to it’s logical conclusion, then you end up with an unlikeable character — an entitled, bitchy woman with more masculinity than femininity who can’t form social relationships. It’s a cliche and it’s no one I want to spend time with. If they took a page from “3rd Rock from the Sun” or “Bones” to make her transition to normal society a little comical, that would be something. But then you’re changing the character.

The first thing you’d have to do is totally revamp the costume. You can’t have this all hanging out there. For one thing, her entire lower body is unprotected. For another, her entire upper body is unprotected. This is not a costume that invokes power, it invokes a male sex fantasy. Just like Power Girl and the new Starfire. I would hate for my kids to see that and think it’s what strong women wear. But if you change the costume, you change the character.

The biggest problem with Wonder Woman is that her weapons and tools just don’t make sense. Forget about the bondage for a second, let’s talk about the lasso. Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with such a weapon — it’s reminiscent of Indiana Jones’s whip (or Catwoman’s whip, if you want to go there). But you need an edge if you’re going to rub shoulders with Superman’s laser eyes, Green Lantern’s ring, or Aquaman’s… aqua. So it gets the power to force anyone to tell the truth. Aaaaaaaaand you’ve effectively written yourself into a corner.

First, it’s not a very exciting power. Second, it becomes a deus ex machina. This guy knows where the bombs are, but he won’t tell us. Here you go, use this lasso. Robin’s in a slowly-filling water tank? Lasso. This guy knows where Buffalo Bill is hiding the bodies. Lasso. How short would “The Dark Knight” have been if Wonder Woman was in that interrogation cell instead?

Next, golden bracelets that can stop bullets. First, those things are, like, three by three inches. They only things they could block are tiny cocktail swords (unless you’re one of those anime samurai that can deflect bullets with your sword). Second, your wrist bones would shatter as soon as a bullet hit. Wonder Woman does not have super strength, just agility and martial arts training. Finally, four words: aim for the legs. The well-exposed legs.

Finally, we have the invisible airplane, probably one of the most WTF vehicles in superhero history. Why does it need to be invisible? How does that help you fight crime? The military can already make vehicles undetectable by radar. It’s not even really invisible, you can still see her in the sky, sitting on air, which is just visually bizarre. And it has nothing to do with the Wonder Woman character — what is so Amazonian about an airplane?

Even if it wasn’t invisible, airplanes are just cumbersome. You gotta have enough room to take off, land, and then store them when you’re not doing the first two. The only superhero planes I remember are the X-Jet (from X-Men) and the Batwing (which I haven’t seen since 1989). All the rest of them either fly naturally or stay close to home. Airplanes are a throwback to an era when you weren’t crammed in like sardines, porno-scanned, and spending eight hours on the tarmac. It’s an old concept that just wouldn’t fly today (YOU LAUGH NOW).

How about companions? Now I’m speaking as someone who’s never read the comics, but familiar with the character, i.e. the target audience. The only companions I know of are Steve Trevor and Etta Candy. Steve Trevor and Wonder Woman had the screwed-up relationship of “I Dream of Jeannie”. Wonder Woman’s got all this power and ability, yet she feels incomplete without him. She’s not happy unless he acknowledges her mousy alter-ego, making her almost sorry for her abilities. Meanwhile, he’s either disciplining her for being so brash or not paying attention. She should have just slipped him a “Do you like me? Circle yes or no” note. Not someone I’d want my girls to look up to.

Etta Candy? Who is she supposed to be? Comic relief? Is she like the Theodore of this triumvirate? Always looking for something to eat? She’s just a novelty character. Did anyone check if she has an eating disorder?

And the biggest problem with the supporting characters is that Wonder Woman has no memorable villains. That is a must. That is the thing that makes Batman, X-Men, and Spider-Man continue to thrive and draw in audiences. (Superman has good villains too, and I wish movie-makers would realize that. There’s more than Lex Luthor out there.) A hero is only as good as its villain. And I’m afraid any villain of Wonder Woman would devolve into a designated girl fight.

So we’ve got weapons that don’t work, an origin story with questionable origins, and supporting characters that we don’t like. We might have to relegate ourselves to Wonder Woman as the Smurfette of the Justice League. I hate to admit it, but I don’t see how to make Wonder Woman a headliner without unmaking her.

Pants to be darkened!