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Thursday, August 14, 2014

What’s Wrong With Wonder Woman And How to FIX IT





Wonder Woman is the first female superheroine in comics. And over the last 75 years Princess Diana has become an American icon. Unfortunately, the third most popular character at DC Comics has had an identity crisis over the past 40 years. And it’s that identity crisis that makes it hard for anyone to write comics for her or adapt her for other media such as the silver screen.

Working with Wonder Woman has become a challenge for most writers. Yeah, she’s an icon. And externally she’s got these amazing powers and an fascinating backstory. But internally there’s nothing tangible for readers to relate to. Unlike Superman or Batman no one has given us much of a reason to CARE about Princess Diana or her supporting cast in decades.

If one looks at modern interpretations of Diana such as the New 52 she’s an afterthought in her own comic book. In TV shows like Justice League, Hawkgirl stole the show right out from under her because she had a stronger “voice” and personality. Hawkgirl was rough and tumble; one of the guys. But Diana…Well….She was just there in the background not saying or doing anything to make us see what’s special about her.

And every Wonder Woman centered episode was just BORING. Even with top talents like Dwayne McDuffie, Bruce Timm, and Paul Dini working with her, there was no way to make Wonder Woman really stand out like Flash or John Stewart or even the Martian Manhunter. Her villains and her supporting cast were background fodder at best. Sure she had chemistry with Batman in Justice League Unlimited but I believe people were more interested in the build of the implied romance, not because they liked her character as a person.

I believe the big problem with Wonder Woman is that she hasn’t been defined for the 21st Century. Back when Wonder Woman was created in the 1940s she was special. In a world where men did all the heavy lifting in society, she was the only woman with super powers. One of a few women doing incredible things.

But today in a postfeminist America she’s struggled to stand out in a world filled with superheroines with powers like hers. In comic book world filled with Batgirl, Supergirl, Harley Quinn, Rogue, Storm, Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk and the Invisible Woman, a TV world filled with Xena and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and a movie world with Ripley, Lara Croft, Selene, and Black Widow, what’s so special about Wonder Woman?

Over the last 75 years we can still define who Superman and Batman are by their missions. Superman is a friend who helps everyone. Batman is The Dark Knight who watches over Gotham. But who is Wonder Woman? What’s her mission? And why should we care? These are the questions that haven’t been answered in four decades by any comic book writer since Gloria Steinem demanded she be brought back to comics.

Being the first superheroine has cemented Wonder Woman as an American icon. Unfortunately over the last 40 years she’s gotten lost in a larger crowd of powerful women. And the challenge for any comic book or screenwriter today is to find a way to make her stand out in a crowded 21st Century World filled with equally powerful superwomen and real women such as Hilary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Carly Fiorina, and Gina Carano.

I believe in order for a Wonder Woman to remain relevant in a postfeminist world she has to show the public how she’s our friend. She has to have those feet of clay that show her humanity to a new generation of fans.

The way I see it the whole Ambassador of peace and goodwill concept George Perez came up with back in the 1986 is outdated, too complicated and hard for regular people to follow today. It’s a great concept but it needs to be simplified to make it accessible to new readers.

When I began the  Isis series back in 2012, the slogan I used to sell her books to readers was “The goddess next door”. It’s a way to tell to everyone how she’s a friend to those she serves. Someone who is always there when you need her. Like Superman, a friend.

In my proposed Wonder Woman run, I wanted to turn Diana into “The Princess next door”. Someone who is there for the world. A friend just like Superman.

The girl next door is a part of American Pop Culture. An integral part of American culture just like Wonder Woman. She’s someone we all can count on. A best friend to women and someone every guy wants to date and marry. Someone who we know will help out in a time of trouble. Again, A friend.

While the girl next door is someone we all can relate to and touch, Diana today is always shown mostly as a super warrior who is often on these missions to faraway and exotic places. Someone most people can’t see as being part of their lives. When it comes to Wonder Woman, I believe in any form of media, whether it be comic book or movie, there needs to be a focus on showing how she’s available and accessible to the community she serves. How there’s a possibility for her to connect with real people. Readers need to see her being a friend. Someone like Superman they can count on to help them out in time of need.

Someone who is possibly a phone call away or a knock on the door like Isis was in Isis: All About the Goddess. In that story, Isis poses nude in a college art studio to help catch a campus stalker harassing one of the students. While I know the idea of Diana posing nude in an art studio is kind of crazy to some comic fans, I believe it’d make a strong statement about her character. It’d show readers how like Batman, what length Wonder Woman would go to put herself on the line to protect others from danger.

I think this overfocus on the superwoman and almost masculinization of the character is why so many people today can’t relate to Wonder Woman. Today’s comic fans need to get to know the Diana the woman and learn what she believes in, what stands for, and why she’s willing to fight for it. It’s Clark Kent and Bruce Waynes’ personal values that make Superman and Batman the heroes they are. But there hasn’t been much effort to define Diana’s personal values over the last 40 years. What motivates her internally to do fight that good fight. And that’s what makes making movies and other media so hard for writers and screenwriters like myself.

The way I see it Diana being made from clay that symbolizes how she’s not perfect. Even though she lives in paradise and has been given powers by the gods, it’s being made from that soft clay that comes from the earth that I believe makes her imperfect. It’s what connects her to the world. In some ways it’s a great contrast to the hardness of all the amazon warriors around her.

If one looks at a sculpture closely it’s not entirely perfect, it’s those small imperfections and rough edges that makes it stand out, just like those personality imperfections and flaws make characters interesting. When it comes to Wonder Woman, there needs to be more of a focus on those soft feet of clay and how they connect her to the people in her life.

When I write the Isis series I put all of Isis flaws up front for readers to see. I show how she struggles with her feelings of awkwardness and inadequacy in the presence of goddesses like her stepmother Queen Isis and her sister E’steem and even other women. How she struggles with her role as a goddess and a princess in New Heliopolis and how she tries to balance it with her life as a human being. And how she has reservations and fears regarding her life. Isis is a skinny little woman who screws up fails, but what makes her a heroine is the fact that she always perseveres and fights to stands up for what she believes in and makes every effort to help those in need.

The way I see it, Wonder Woman’s origin needs to be updated to show how no one on Paradise Island believes in her. Her peers like Artemis should see her as a runt, and a screwup not fit for their military. Intellectuals like Nubia should see her as not smart enough to grasp science and Amazon tech. Others could believe she’s a spoiled princess coddled by her mother. A few like Aresia should think she has no direction and is not fit to be the future Queen of the Amazons. She doesn’t fit in the Amazon world, and struggles there and sees Man’s world as a way out of her misery in paradise. Before she becomes Themiscyra’s Wonder Woman she’s just a regular woman.

And over the course of the story it’s shown how she works to become the Island’s greatest champion BEFORE she gets her powers from the gods. How it’s her internal character that shows us why she was given those powers by the gods over the other Amazons.

And Paradise Island needs to be re-defined to fit in a 21st Century world. I believe the whole Amazon warrior concept has been taken WAY too seriously by too many writers over the last 30 years. Back when William Moulton Marston created Paradise Island, it was a peaceful place with a focus on advanced technology and science. Yeah, they had a military, but aren’t these women supposed to be the best of the best? Where are the Amazon scientists, engineers, chemists, and IT people on par with today’s men?

In a world filled with iPads and smartphones, Themiscyran women spend most of their time fighting with swords and spears and arrows. And they spend every day doing military drills. That always sounded like sloppy writing to me. What happened to the Amazon tech such as the Purple Ray and the Invisible Jet? Why don’t they have armor, energy shields, and cloaks?

Iron Man has all that stuff for close to 30 years. So does Batman. Black Panther out in the plains of Wakanda has had all sorts of high-tech stuff since his creation. Steel and Mr. Terrific have all sorts of kickass tech at their disposal. Even a fish-talking LAME like Aquaman has had all sorts of tech in Atlantis. But Amazons who live in an advanced society filled with BOTH SCIENCE and MAGIC that’s supposed to be on par with Atlantis are still fighting with arrows and spears. WTF?

The way I see it we need to get to know the Amazons on the island. We need to see how they have a distinct culture all their own. Build a true supporting cast. Showcase Amazon tech. Showcase Amazon magic. If I were writing Wonder Woman, there’d be room for Artemis, Nubia, and Aresia. (Yeah, I know she sucks, but I know from experience writing both E’steem and Nemesis there’s a way to write a female rogue and make her interesting.) We need to see the world of Paradise Island and how it stands out like Aquaman’s Atlantis.

On the rogues gallery front Diana has a lot of strong villains, but there’s never been that big defining feud to showcase Wonder Woman’s internal character strengths. Her villains challenge her physically, but never make that challenge to who she is and what she stands for. Barbara Minerva’s Cheetah has a great look but her motivations for feuding with Diana aren’t strong. She wants her lasso? Meh. Circe has great powers, but again no serious motivation that grabs me. Giganta? What’s her beef with Diana? And why should I care that a 50-foot woman wants to kick her ass? Ares? What’s he done in the last 30 years to make me pay attention to him? Aresia? Everyone hates her. But not because of her track record, it’s because she’s LAME.

And when I read Diana Prince: Wonder Woman trades last year I saw Dr. Cyber’s potential absolutely WASTED. This narcissistic over-the-top diva could have been cemented on DC’s A-list with Lex Luthor and the Joker by now if writers back in the 1970’s built her up into an egotistical BITCH we love to hate instead of copping out and making her a lame female Dr. Doom Knock-off. From what I saw she could have been that bitch, the iconic Wonder Woman baddie we all associate with her. But due to poor execution, she got lost and forgotten in the shuffle of DC’s catalog of villains.

Today Wonder Woman needs her Green Goblin. Her Joker. Her Lex Luthor. The one bad guy we associate with her without thinking about it. In a character driven model like comics, villains drive stories. They create the conflict the heroes have to overcome. They are who get butts into seats for movies and people buying comics.

From what I’ve read there’s never been that one Wonder Woman story that had that right mix of chemistry to make it spark. Most times in her comics there was always some element missing to keep it from becoming her definitive story. Character development is often off. Plots aren’t strong and Storylines are flat. Then there are the weak villains and the poorly defined relationship between Diana and her arch-enemies. That’s primarily what makes it so hard for screenwriters like myself to adapt her to the screen today.

I believe the only to get to a true Wonder Woman movie way is to completely rebuild her character in the comics from the ground up. It had to be done with Iron Man and the X-Men in the 1970s and with Daredevil, Teen Titans, and Superman in the 1980s; it’s the rebuilt concepts that redefined those characters and turned them from midlist characters with no direction into iconic fan favorites. Many of Wonder Woman’s concepts are obsolete in today’s post feminist world, and the savage currently slaughtering her way through the pages of DC’ Comics’ New 52 is only exacerbating the problem with the character.

To rebuild Wonder Woman’s character onscreen in a film adaptation would be too jarring a transition for comic fans and moviegoers; the heavy lifting has to be done in a run of comics before a movie can be made. From the structure established by those comics screenwriters can have something to work with and audiences can have a foundation to give them background knowledge of the character.


There are so many great concepts to be explored in Wonder Woman’s part of the DC Universe. Unfortunately, most writers and screenwriters today are so intimidated and confused by Wonder Woman’s past they can’t figure out how to make her an icon for future generations of comic fans. As a writer who has written strong intelligent heroines novels like The Thetas, A Recipe For $ucce$$ and The Temptation of John Haynes, screenplays like All About Marilyn and All About Nikki, and Young adult fiction like the Isis series, I know that there’s a way to contemporize Wonder Woman for the 21st Century and make her relatable and accessible to a new generation of fans. It’s just going to require a writer to come out of the box and show the world the character in a different light. 

3 comments:

  1. I kind of read there in someone's blog (I think it's Sunday Comics Debt) that there's this character called Sailor Moon and from my experience watching her adventures on TV, she had more of a personality than Wonder Woman does or at least is more flawed. She's a crybaby, clumsy, not good at anything else from the start but she becomes a better character. Wonder Woman didn't get that that's why she seemed like she was lacking a personality to me or at the very least any discernible flaws she has (or struggles with).

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  2. That's always been my issue with Diana Ad. She just seems kind of...there. No flaws, no struggles, no issues and sadly...no reason to care. She lives in paradise, has great powers, but never really struggles. We saw that struggle with Hawkgirl and that's why viewers loved her, but with Diana we saw...nothing.

    Sailor Moon had a great personality, that's why she's so endearing. Flaws from my experience help people connect with characters and see what's great about them. It also gives a writer a point to where they can grow them on.

    I always make a point to give my female characters flaws. And audience most times connect with them due to those flaws. With Wonder Woman I feel she needs some kind of struggle to relate us to her and her mission.

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  3. Yes, that's part of it. Another, and this is the big one that's pretty much ignored by everyone: Her costume and background do not go together. Her costume: Loyal patriotic American. Her background: Ancient Greek Warrior/Diplomat. How those two facets were EVER expected to mesh for as long as they have is baffling.

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