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Monday, August 12, 2013

Talking About Wonder Woman and Her "Problems"...Again

Some time back, I talked about the path I hope the studios will take for a film adaptation of the Justice.  Since such an adaptation will naturally include popular characters like Wonder Woman and Flash, I felt compelled to talk about why the studios had to approach the whole venture carefully to avoid the pitfalls of camp that continue to plague the characters.  Now, I feel compelled to talk a little bit more about Wonder Woman, and it's all Tansy Rayner Roberts' fault.

Last month, Tansy Rayner Roberts took a stab at the reasons why people think Wonder Woman won't work in film.  I agree with Roberts that most, if not all, of the reasons are pretty dumb, especially the argument that movies with female superheroes are stupid.  Nope.  Nope nope nope nope nope.  There are certainly bad movies which include female superheroes, but those movies suck because they are bad movies, not because you're being asked to root for the ladies.  Not surprisingly, people do actually go to movies involving female superheroes.  Shocking, I know.  I mean, how the frak is that even possible?  It must be witchcraft...or a Kenyan government conspiracy involving the IRS.


Roberts' rightly points out, in agreement with Shoshana Kessock on, that one of the major "problems" with Wonder Woman concerns her explicit feminist nature:

I think Shoshanna at Tor is right on the money with her article – the “problem” with Wonder Woman is that most people don’t know how to deal with an unapologetically feminist character. Writers panic. Executives panic. The way that women in particular are written in Hollywood is so vastly different to the way that superheroes tend to be written, that when the two concepts are combined, fear and cosmetics companies and ice-cream tend to get thrown at the resulting mess until it goes away.
I also agree with this premise, which is why I like the idea of Wonder Woman as a character, even though I think she frequently falls prey (in the public consciousness of her character) to a certain kind of campy optimism.  Done right, she could make for a profitable and, well, qualitatively good franchise of films.  I'd love to see some well-written Wonder Woman movies.  Watch her battle to save the Earth and for equality.

Of course, the character hasn't always had this optimistic feminist view of things.  I don't know if Roberts has read the recent Flashpoint crossover event, but I would certainly like to hear her opinion on the portrayal of Wonder Woman and the Amazons in that particular set of comics.  If any major event in the DC universe has been officially put in the studio's list of "stuff we're not going to put on the screen...ever," it would be Flashpoint.  Well, there are probably other things in there, and some sexist jackass is probably sitting in an office somewhere thinking about ways to kill (in the comic book definition of the word) Wonder Woman after turning her into a "misandrist" villain.  Maybe not...
I actually really liked her costume in Flashpoint...
For those unfamiliar with the comics, I'll briefly explain the main thrust of the Flashpoint event, though I won't tell you how the event got started, as that would ruin the reveal at the end.  Basically, something happens and the entire DC universe is rewritten, changing the entire power structure of the Earth.  From the first few comics, we learn two crucial things:  Wonder Woman and Aquaman had originally agreed to marry in order to unite their kingdoms, but an assassination plot led to the death of Wonder Woman's mother (i.e., the Queen), followed by a massive war between the two kingdoms.  Half of Europe is under water, the United Kingdom has been taken over by the Amazons, and all is chaos.  In the middle of all of this, we learn that an entire faction of the Amazons (enough that Wonder Woman's ignorance of their doings is rather difficult to believe) has been doing two things:  1) enslaving or killing men, and 2) subjecting women to genetic and psychological re-wiring to make them part of the Amazons, too.  Can you see why this wouldn't work all that well on film?

Now, I'm not one to make grand Men's Rights claims about misandry (these claims are, to put it bluntly, brainless).  I don't buy into the idea that feminism is the hatred of men.  I've never met a feminist who hates me because I have a penis; I have met men who hate women because they have vaginas.  But setting aside the motivations for the power games in Flashpoint, the simple fact remains that the Amazons are not portrayed as particularly positive feminists.  If anything, I wouldn't call them feminists at all in this alternate universe.  They actively express their hate of men, engage in activities which involve the oppression of men, and manipulate, destroy, and/or augment women in an attempt to inject new blood into the ranks.  They are, in effect, pretty much frakking evil (Wonder Woman, as I've noted, may not actually know what is going on under her nose; either that or she's naive as hell)(truthfully, there aren't that many "good people" in the Flashpoint universe).  They're kind of like a literal representation of what anti-feminists imagine actual feminists are like.  You know the narrative:  they run around trying to think about ways to oppress men, keep everything for themselves, ruin society, and so on and so forth.  Basically, they're an idiot's wet dream.

I bring all of this up because I think it's important to recognize that Wonder Woman as a character can, as Roberts points out, ruffle feathers, in no small part because she is, largely speaking, an open feminist and advocate for women's rights (in my experience, anyway).  Flashpoint, however, is a terrible deviation from her positive narrative.  And it's canon.  It's part of her development in the modern age of comics.  Studios will avoid it like the plague for what they think are good reasons.
And this costume.  Down with the impractical ones!
But we should be glad they they won't touch it either.  I've not read every Wonder Woman comic, but I can honestly say that I really disliked her character in the Flashpoint crossover.  There are so few glimpses of her apprehensions about certain actions (invasions, etc.) that I found myself actively hoping someone other Aquaman and his people would end it all.  That's not actually a good thing, and somehow I don't think the Flashpoint narrative helped alleviate the sexism embedded in the comics industry.  Then again, I suppose that's painfully obvious.

All this is an attempt to say that any comic book film adaptation is a gamble.  There are narratives in just about every franchise that don't belong on the big screen.  Can you imagine a classic X-Men comic appearing in film form?  In the first five minutes, Jean Grey would have four horny mutants reminding her that she's just there because she has breasts.  Wonder Woman is just as susceptible to bad narrative conventions.  I hope they take her seriously as an individual, but not so seriously as a superhero.  By that I mean this:  her feminist ideals should remain central to her character, but the studios have to tread lightly, as the comic industry has a history of handing the reigns for female characters over to men who couldn't write a female character out of a box without any walls; as a superhero, however, I can only hope that they update her look, drop all the ridiculous invisible airplane stuff, and go right for the meaty camp villains (the comments in Roberts' post suggest some fun Greek monsters, if I recall correctly; those would work quite nicely).

But I'm sort of rambling about all of this.  What do you all think about Wonder Woman?
I ban this forever.

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