Why Can’t We Get A Wonder Woman Movie?
By Alex Cranz
Wonder Woman debuted in All-Star Comics in 1941. Creator William Moulton Marston designed her to be a new breed of superhero. One who won battles with love rather than her fists, and he modeled her after his wife, Elizabeth Marston, and their live in lover, Olive Byrne (he was doing the whole polyamoric lifestyle sixty some odd years before Tilda Swinton).
Whereas Superman was created to entertain, and Batman was created to cash in on the superhero trend, Wonder Woman was created for a mission. Marston saw promise in comics as a medium to educate. So he created an avatar for peace and love. He also created Wonder Woman to empower woman. He felt that misogyny in the early 40s was so bad that women couldn’t be women and thus couldn’t do proper sweet womanly things…like iron his shirts or whatever.
Thanks Marston, you shouldn’t have. And lest you worry that Wonder Woman became too powerful, fear not. She was given a fatal flaw. Superman has kryptonite. Batman has uh…mortality. Wonder Woman had “Aphrodite’s law.”
Because Wonder Woman became powerless when bound by a man the comics soon took every opportunity to bind her. And from the 40s up until through the 70s Wonder Woman was constantly finding herself in a…bind.
Wonder Woman and her fellow Amazons penchant for bondage was reflective of Martson’s own sexual proclivities. The man was a fan of BDSM.
Wonder Woman, besides being an avatar for Truth and Love was also an avatar for BDSM.
The BDSM element has been toned down over the years. And Wonder Woman’s faced other changes. At the height of the second wave of feminism the most iconic superheroine was a superpowerless spy in a white catsuit. Ironically, this was the same era in which Wonder Woman appeared on the cover of Ms. Magazine‘s inaugural issue.
It wouldn’t be fair to say her powerlessness was a direct response to the growing power of the women’s movement because that would indicate that DC’s editorial staff was sexist. But it is very, very easy to infer.
Later, urged on by the television show’s popularity she got her powers back. In the 80s George Pérez gave the character another hefty reboot and further toned down the love of bondage. He also booted Wonder Woman’s perennial love interest, Steve Trevor, down to supporting cast and friend, gave her best friend, Etta Candy, a little class, and upped the presence of Greco-Roman mythology.
One thing remained constant though the depowerings and powerings and the ins and outs of love with Steve Trevor. Wonder Woman remained an icon first and a character second.
Even now, seventy years after she first appeared in comics Wonder Woman is an icon rather than a person. An icon for peace and love and truth in the stories told and an icon of feminism in American society. Superman and Batman, her contemporaries, aren’t icons. They don’t identify themselves as “avatars of truth” and they haven’t been coopted by civil rights movements and meant to represent an entire gender.
It’s telling that Superman and Batman both have a bevy of love interests whereas Wonder Woman has only ever had two. Steve Trevor, the dashing pilot, and Nemesis, a super spy and master of disguise. And both relationships have rather definitive endings verses the perennial nature of Superman’s relationship with Lois Lane and Batman’s with Vicki Vale and Selina Kyle.
But why? Why can’t Wonder Woman find love when a rich boy dressed up in some dark underthings gets all the ladies in Gotham City? Part of the problem is her status as a lady and our societies reluctance to portray avarice women as positive things. But more of the problem, I suspect, is Wonder Woman’s status as an icon.
Icons are the opposite of the everyman. Where as an everyman is meant to be someone we can empathize with an icon is meant to be the best of us. The most perfect. Wonder Woman is an icon of truth and truth can know no friends. And Wonder Woman is an icon of American women. As such she must embody all our perfections. She is clever and kind and strong and beautiful and handy in a fight. But asking her to be romantic is some sort of unspoken taboo. The idea of her being sexually active is not repulsive, but uncomfortable.
Is it because she was so fetishized in her inception? Or is it some misguided attempt to keep her womanly, as though a sexual relationship will sully perfect femininity?
Attempts have been made to explore Wonder Woman’s sexual nature. Jodi Picoult and Gail Simone handled her relationship with Nemesis, and in the 2009 animated film she shared a brief romance with Steve Trevor. Even in the popular Justice League cartoon she pursued Batman.
But it seems more a flirtation with romance rather than an actual romance. You’ll never see Wonder Woman draped over a lover like Lois Lane or Catwoman. And unlike her male counterparts there’s actually vigorous debate in fan communities (and discussions in comics) as to whether or not Wonder Woman is a virgin.
Name a superhero film in the last ten years that didn’t feature a romance as a primary storyline. Go ahead. Try. Constantine maybe and even that one had some simmering sexual tension. The romance is the bread and butter of the superhero film. It makes the film go down smooth. Even Dark Knight, haled for its gritty criminal film feel, features a will they/won’t they romance.
But there sits Wonder Woman. She can’t have a boyfriend because it might sully her virginal charm. And as the 2009 animated film suggests, she can’t appear in a solo film without addressing her status as an icon of feminism. The character has been saddled with the baggage of an entire gender.
The superhero film is not a genre intended for introspection or political statements. It’s meant to be big and loud and mentally relaxing. Poor, iconic Wonder woman has some depth to her. She asks that people evaluate or reevaluate their world view. There’s a degree of contentiousness in her very existence, because, like it or not, feminism isn’t mainstream and open dialogue concerning feminism are still loaded guns of controversy.
Would that she could bounce those particular pullets off her fabulous bracelets.