“You’ll never believe this, but the Dredd movie is fantastic!” my brother Brian informed me.
“Oh?” I didn’t want to say that all I really cared about was the portrayal of Psi-Judge Anderson, but … all I really cared about was the portrayal of Psi-Judge Anderson. “Isn’t the whole movie just a siege in a tenement building? Does Anderson get to do anything useful with her psychic powers? Does she spare anybody’s life that Dredd wants her to kill? Does she ever prove him wrong or teach him to mellow out a bit? Because if I don’t get all of the above, then I’m not going to consider it a real Judge Dredd movie with a real Judge Anderson in it.”
My brother chuckled. “You’re going to like this movie a lot.”
I did. The whole film is about Cassandra Anderson – her unlikely friendship with Dredd and the conflict she experiences between her personal values and the strict laws enforced by the judges in a post-apocalyptic urban jungle. As a lifelong fan of the character, I couldn’t ask for more. Significantly, her central importance to the film does not, in any way, compromise the film or the title character. In fact, it is just the opposite – since she is a stronger character, Dredd is a stronger character, and the movie itself is the better for it.
I’d like to see Wonder Woman get similar respect from her upcoming film roles. The Amazon princess is slated to appear in two Zack Snyder-directed ensemble superhero films, Batman Vs. Superman and The Justice League. Since I have even more affection for Wonder Woman than I do for Anderson, I will not consider either film successful unless the filmmakers get Wonder Woman right. If she’s mischaracterized, given a miniscule part, or treated like a sex object or damsel in distress by the filmmakers, then all the joy of seeing her standing side-by-side with Superman and Batman on screen will vanish.
When comics fans reacted skeptically to the casting of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman in these upcoming films, it seemed to be, first and foremost, a negative reaction to her seemingly slight physical build. Some wanted her more muscular, some more zaftig. The focus on her physicality is understandable, because fans want actors to look like their characters, but the criticism has been shallow and cruelly expressed. It is also important to consider that Gadot needs to look and act like Wonder Woman. The actress has an exotic beauty, and – in the YouTube scenes I’ve seen of her Fast and the Furious work – she has played sly, assertive characters, and seems to be a well-cast, up-and-coming actress. She seems well cast to me.
The Internet is also frequently abuzz with questions over what Gadot’s costume should look like. Should she wear the Lynda Carter costumes, the new 52 version, or blue Han Solo pants? While I would prefer that she sports the classic, instantly recognizable José Luis García-López-rendered outfit we still see, to this day, on mugs, clocks, and calendars, I’m expecting it to be Xena’s costume with the top retouched to match Superman’s newly wine-colored cape and the gladiator skirt colored like his midnight blue tights. I can accept that. Since I bet she gets cold sometimes, I can also accept Gadot wearing blue tights instead of running around bare legged. But I would rather see Wonder Woman dressed in jeans and a cowboy hat and portrayed correctly than see her in her classic outfit miswritten as she has been of late.
Some writers who have crafted Wonder Woman stories in recent years have made attempts to make her “likeable” and “strong” and “decisive,” but their idea of achieving this is to give her Jack Bauer’s personality. When Batman and Superman are too wussy and principled to be effective defenders of our homeland, she’ll be there to torture and kill the enemy and get the job done. But that’s not Wonder Woman. I’m tired of seeing a Wonder Woman who acts like Dick Cheney and looks sexier than cheesecake characters Vampirella and Red Sonja. That’s not Wonder Woman. If writers insist on using a male template for her personality instead of writing her as a woman, they should make her behave like a Star Trek captain. Give her Captain Picard’s intellectualism and reluctance to initiate conflict, and Captain Kirk’s good-humor, tactical brilliance and his uncanny ability to spare a fallen foe and look heroic and strong while doing it. (As opposed to Batman, who always looks the fool when he spares the Joker.)
I get the feeling that writers who are assigned to write stories for Wonder Woman research feminism by listening to Rush Limbaugh or asking their old fraternity brothers what makes feminists tick instead of talking to actual women in the real world, watching Elizabeth Warren’s speeches, or reading up on their Jeanette Winterson, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Simone de Beauvoir. Some recent scenes in comics and cartoons are designed to make Wonder Woman look impressive, but they are the dramatic equivalents of left-handed compliments because she acts in a stereotypically Feminazi way. Here are some cases in point:
- A man who looks like a refugee from Duck Dynasty offers to buy her a drink so she breaks his wrist.
- She intimidates a prisoner by straddling him and whispering in his ear that she’d like to castrate him.
She’s not a Pierce Brosnan Bond villainess. She shouldn’t straddle men menacingly. And she shouldn’t threaten castration. She’s not Lorena Bobbitt or Karl Hungus.
-She drinks a toast to victory after a hard fought battle and sings of the glory of combat.
This would be a great scene!
She’s also nothing like any of the women one would find in Frank Miller’s 300 or his Sin City or, God forbid, his all-time-worst portrayal of Wonder Woman in his Dark Knight Strikes Again series.
As a heroine, not an anti-hero, Wonder Woman shouldn’t be depicted in this manner. She’s supposed to be a role model for young women, not the repository of all men’s fears, castration anxieties, and resentments about the feminist movement.
So what should Wonder Woman be like?
She’s a figure of contradictions, trained for combat, but an advocate of peace. She uses only defensive weapons – bracelets to deflect bullets and a lasso to subdue her opponents. She does not kill. She shows mercy to her enemies, tries to understand what motivates them, offers to negotiate with them, and suggests that they defect to her side. Sometimes, villains like Fausta the Nazi Wonder Woman take her up on her suggestion and join the side of angels. When she is in a fight, she wins and she’s more of a force of nature than a person, but she would rather dismantle her enemies’ weapons – bend the muzzles of their guns, rip off their tank’s treads, and defuse their missiles – than dismantle her enemies’ faces. She’s a thinker, a healer, a reader, and an animal lover. She is a builder of community and friendship among women, someone who discourages women from competing with one another for the love of men, and who urges women to strive to reach their potential in all walks of life. She is sexy, but she is self-confident and not sexy merely to “get a man” or lure him in with her feminine wiles. She finds most clothing designed by men for women to wear binding and oppressive, so she doesn’t wear much – for comfort reasons. And she would never want to see women get breast implants or go on starvation diets to try to attain an impossible, Maxim-style beauty.
I realize that many of the stories told in comics and films fly in the face of this description of the character, including famous and respected adventures like Justice League: War, New Frontier, Kingdom Come, Odyssey, and the New 52 series by Brian Azzarello, where she wields a sword and acts like Lady Conan. None of these stories get her right, which suggests that it isn’t likely Zack Snyder and his scriptwriters will accurately portray her on film. And that depresses me. But there is some hope that the vision I have of the character might make it to the screen because it is the vision most widely held by the general public, which knows her primarily through the Lynda Carter TV series.
Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines (2012) directed by Kristy Guevara-Flanagan is a documentary on the subject that should be required viewing for anyone who is given creative control of the character. It is a magnificent film that should remind everyone in the comics industry how important a feminist icon and role model Wonder Woman is, no matter how disparaged she is by male comic book readers who claim she’s too camp or too preachy. Writers, scholars, activists, and fans that appear in the documentary to extol the virtues of the character and the importance of solid female role models include Gloria Steinem, Jane Espenson, and Trina Robbins. All of those women should be creative consultants on any Wonder Woman project and should, ideally, be allowed a chance to (re)write the script. (And Diablo Cody, too.)
But some male writers have done, and could continue to do, a very good job crafting stories for Wonder Woman. As I write this, Grant Morrison is working on a Wonder Woman comic book that reportedly distills the essences of the classic 1940s comics by William Moulton Marston, the Lynda Carter television show, and Morrison’s full-on immersion in generations of social and political writings by feminists. He’s certainly reading all the right books. The long-rumored project has had the working titles Wonder Woman: Earth One and The Trial of Diana Prince, and represents Morrison’s attempt to rescue the character from being what he calls a boring blend of the Virgin Mary and Mary Tyler Moore. While Morrison objects to the 1980s era, George Perez version of the character, I actually like that Wonder Woman (found in Gods and Mortals). The Wonder Woman I have the biggest problem with is the one that has replaced Perez’s Wonder Woman, the Artemis-like, humorless, misguided, frigid warrior we’ve seen starring in comics and cartoons ever since Kingdom Come. Only two writers have successfully finessed this version of Wonder Woman enough to make her likeable – Phil Jimenez and Dwayne McDuffie. Otherwise, she’s just as tiresome as the Virgin Mary WW, if not more so.
I’m now going to suggest some dos and don’ts for all Wonder Woman storytellers to consult from now on:
Wonder Woman Writers, Please DO have Wonder Woman:
- treat the wounded after a battle and comfort them in their despair
- use the lasso of truth to save a prisoner from Batman’s harsh questioning tactics
- mentor young women and befriend other women
- be nice to the hungry and impoverished – and help them
- win arguments with the men on her team and tease them affectionately
- convince some of the main villain’s henchmen to switch sides at a key moment (recall that amazing scene in Braveheart when the Irish defect from the British side and join the Scottish? Have her orchestrate something like that behind-the-scenes)
- outsmart a combat opponent tactically
- be given instant respect by at least one patriarchal male figure who doesn’t ever leer at her
- comment intelligently on the state of modern society, expressing disappointment with urban blight, poverty, decaying infrastructure, endless war, surveillance, efforts to ban birth control and voter suppress, scary anti-immigrant sentiment, etc.
- adopt a relatable civilian identity like humanities professor at the Holliday School for Girls or U.N. translator (this is preferable to placing her in special forces or making her a clerk at LexCorp where she can spy on Luthor because both those roles would make her seem like a Black Widow clone)
- distract the guards while her friends escape or steal a Maguffin NOT with her short shorts a la Daisy Duke, but by playing poker with them, drinking them under the table, or engaging in a deep discussion of continental philosophy
- bake goodies for her teammates when they are relaxing and Batman finds one so tasty that he demands she give Alfred the recipe (swiped from Gail Simone’s comic The Hypothetical Woman)
Please DON’T have Wonder Woman:
- be a grump, huffing and puffing around all the time at each of the Flash’s new incorrigible hijinks and double entendres
- Humiliated and tortured, beaten within an inch of her life (thereby reenacting scenes from True Romance or New Frontier)
- photographed like Megan Fox in Transformers. Instead, the camera should both love and respect her, the way it loves and respects Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games films
- told to dress more conservatively by Superman (as in Spirit of Truth)
- admonished for advocating imperfect feminism because it was born in a bizarre context on an isle of women with no men around. (Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. We know. Enough with that complaint.)
- sidelined during the final confrontation by being ordered to close an inter-dimensional rift. Black Widow, Lois Lane, Willow, and most female Doctor Who companions are perennially stuck frantically hitting computer keyboard keys or playing with some sort of magic stick in front of a fluctuating dimensional rift that has the potential to neatly, bloodlessly vacuum up an entire army of villains … if only she can … get the … tech … to … work! Boring. Stop placing women in charge of closing inter-dimensional rifts while the men have all the interesting scenes.
Skeptical as I may be, there’s some room for hope that Wonder Woman will be granted a measure of respect in these upcoming Warner Brothers films. For one thing, despite the average comic book fans’ disdain for Diana, the non-comic-book-reading public loves her, and most people who watched the Lynda Carter series and The Super Friends remember those shows fondly. Also, I would hope that the filmmakers would want to one-up Marvel by giving Wonder Woman even more to do in their films than Black Widow does in the Marvel films. Snyder and company are, after all, the same folks who made Man of Steel, which gave us an amazing Lois Lane and a not-entirely-convincing Superman, so maybe they’ll do a better job with Diana than Clark Kent.
We’ve seen plenty of screen incarnations of Superman and Batman, Green Lantern had his chance, and Flash has been represented well in live-action TV in recent years, so I’m most hungry for a solid, live-action Wonder Woman on the big screen. Wouldn’t it be nice if Wonder Woman is given a larger, meatier part to play in both Batman vs. Superman and The Justice League than she had in The LEGO Movie? A good role for her is especially important since every third-rate Marvel property seems to be getting its own franchise, while the iconic Wonder Woman still doesn’t have a single solo film yet (as this funny / sad comic points out).
I want to see a new incarnation of Wonder Woman worthy of the one I grew up with on television. For nostalgia reasons, I want to see her realized on screen for me, and I want to see a new, solid, female role model for my daughter, Keira, because there are precious few of those to go around in our current, pop culture wasteland.
Is that so much to ask?