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As the “war on women” flourishes on the campaign trail, Hollywood seems determined to make as much money as possible on the varied ideas of exactly what a woman is in 2012.
From female-driven shows like The New Girl and The Mindy Project and Girls, to big-screen Bridesmaids and now Bachelorette, the concept of woman has become the last few years’ most lucrative gimmick—so it’s only natural that we’d come back to Wonder Woman, the original Woman Who Does Have It All.
After two failed attempts to bring her back into primetime (and a third en route, just announced by the CW) it’s obvious that what’s proving to be tricky is just how to give the most famous female icon in comics a modern makeover.
“Wonder Woman’s a superhero who has gone through many different iterations since her inception, from bondage-obsessed Amazon to one of DC Comics’ highly marketable ‘trinity’ heroes—Batman and Superman being the other two,” says Cyriaque Lamar, editor of the popular sci-fi and comic website io9. “And even if her narrative trappings and rogues gallery aren’t as familiar to people as that of Batman or Superman, the character’s iconography and position as a status quo-bucking outsider have caused her to become firmly entrenched in popular culture.”
The NBC 2011 reboot of Wonder Woman by Ally McBeal creator David E. Kelley seemed about as likely to succeed as a Terminator prequel directed by, say, Nancy Meyers.
But the very idea of a “good woman” has gone through so many onscreen changes in the past year alone that any new iteration of the character is bound to be unsatisfying.
The ill-fated show, starring the very competent actress Adrianne Palicki, featured a Wonder Woman who seemed to have fallen prey to a supervillain of the mainstream rom-com variety. The Katherine Heigl-ized script followed Palicki as she cried over dudes, felt ashamed of her breast size and had an ice cream sleepover with her best friend, including the stage direction that they “scream like schoolgirls.”
This was a huge step backward from the original conception of Wonder Woman in 1941, dreamed up by a polyamorous scientist with a yen for S&M. Given the myriad revivals and incarnations of Wonder Woman this year, it won’t be too jarring to learn that the character was created by a man: William Mouton Marston, a psychologist, feminist scholar and theorist who used his wife and live-in mistress (the three were in a polyamorous relationship) for the inspiration necessary to create the “all-powerful” woman.
Marston also invented a crucial component of the polygraph, the precursor to Wonder Woman’s “Lasso of truth.”
Here’s Marston on the reason Wonder Woman was necessary in his time:
Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. Not wanting to be girls, they don’t want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.
But the very idea of a “good woman” has gone through so many onscreen changes in the past year alone that any new iteration of the character is bound to be unsatisfying. Even her original powers—magic bracelets, a boomerang tiara—are the kind of accoutrements that read as stereotyped and offensive by a modern audience.
Sadly, the most promising-sounding Wonder Woman project, written by Joss Whedon, was tossed to make way for The Avengers. Whedon has a way with strong women in a supernatural context, and it’s a shame that his Wonder vision may never be seen.
But perhaps there’s less of a need for fictional female superheroes now that real ones exist: These days, Michelle Obama’s more Wonder Woman than Wonder Woman is.
What super powers would you like to see in a female superhero? Leave your requirements in COMMENTS.