The adapting of comics to television and motion pictures has more pitfalls than expected. While all three are visual media, the artwork in comics allows for a greater range of imagery that budget and physical restrictions disallow in movies and on TV. A laser beam is easily drawn, inked, and coloured on the page; on screen, that same blast takes longer to add, with multiple frames drawn on and edited. Something along the lines of Jack Kirby’s dots are prohibitive without the advents of modern CGI.
Adding to just the difficulty of adapting the visuals of powers is the sheer mass of continuity, some of it conflicting with itself. Marvel has fifty years of Spider-Man stories establishing the character and the setting. DC Comics, the older of the Big Two, has over seventy-five years of Superman* stories, with the added bonus of continuity being an afterthought during the Golden Age. Adapting a character may mean sifting through the years of issues to find the hero’s essence.
With Wonder Woman, there are other elements that come into play. Her creator, William Moulton Marston, had ideas he wanted to present in the title. Working under the penname Charles Moulton, Marston created Wonder Woman to offset the more violent titles featuring male heroes like Superman and Batman. Instead of pummeling a miscreant into submission, Wonder Woman would use love to put the villain back on the path of good. To emphasize the different approach, Wonder Woman came from Paradise Island, populated by just women, where they were able to advance technology and philosophy because the the threat of violence was non-existent. The early run of the title explored bondage and submission; defeated villains would be bound by the golden Lasso of Truth and submit to Wonder Woman, only to be released reformed. Comics Bulletin has more about Moulton in a review of The Secret History of Wonder Woman.
With the first appearance in late 1941 and the first issue of the title released in 1942, Nazis appeared often as the villain. Wartime comics were used as propaganda, keeping American morale up while warning of the dangers of the Axis. The war intruded on Paradise Island when a plane piloted by Steve Trevor, an American intelligence officer, crashed on it. While the women on the island were not keen on getting involved in the man’s war, Wonder Woman, then just Princess Diana of Paradise Island, fell in love with Trevor. She earned the right to take him back to the US, competing against other athletes in disguise. Diana received the Lasso of Truth and magic bracelets that would let her deflect bullets. In the US, Diana took on two new identities, the first being the superheroine Wonder Woman, the other being Diana Prince, assistant to Steve Trevor.
As time passed, Wonder Woman stopped fighting Nazis and started dealing with criminals and other would-be world conquerors, always using love instead of fists as her weapon of choice. In the Sixties, the title ran into sagging sales. To bolster readership, the character lost her powers, becoming secret agent Diana Prince, who used her head and heart to investigate. By the end of the decade, though, feminists were demanding that Wonder Woman get her powers back. Wonder Woman had become a feminist icon.
In the Seventies, ABC was looking for a new series. The network ordered a pilot for Wonder Woman, a ninety minute movie starring Lynda Carter as the heroine and Lyle Waggoner as Major Steve Trevor. The creators went back to the early years of the comic and set the movie during World War II. Maj. Trevor was assigned to a mission to stop a new Nazi bomber from destroying a secret base. Ultimately, Maj. Trevor rammed his fighter into the Nazi craft. Both pilots bailed out before the collision, leading to a gunfight while parachuting that left Maj. Trevor critically wounded and the Nazi pilot landing amidst sharks.
Maj. Trevor was more fortunate where he landed, an uncharted island in the Bermuda Triangle known by its inhabitants as Paradise Island. Two women spot the parachute and run to investigate. One of the women, Princess Diana, picks up the wounded pilot and rushes him to the island’s hospital where he is nursed back to health. While Maj. Trevor is never allowed to see his surroundings, Diana does what she can to spend time with him. As the Major heals, the Queen announces a competition to see who accompanies the American back to Washington. Diana is forbidden to enter the contest, but she does so using a disguise. The final event, Bullets and Bracelets, is down to two women, one being the disguised princess. Diana wins after she wounds her opponent without being touched by any of her shots. She reveals herself to her mother, who reluctantly lets her go.
Diana receives her costumes, her Lasso of Truth, her bracelets, and a belt that allows her to keep her strength and speed in the man’s world away from Paradise Island. She takes Maj. Trevor back to Washington in her invisible plane, leaving him at a hospital before disappearing. As she walks around the city, Diana and her costume attracts attention from both men and women. Diana is unfamiliar with the customs outside Paradise Island but is unfazed. During her exploration of Washington, she stops a bank robbery, through deflecting bullets, tossing the robbers, then picking up the back of the getaway car, all insight of a promoter, played by Red Buttons. The promoter makes Diana an offer, she performs on stage and she gets half the ticket sales. Not knowing better, Diana agrees.
The show is very much vaudeville. Diana is billed as Wonder Woman, capable of stopping any bullet. A number of people line up to take shots, from a revolver to a rifle to an old woman with a Tommy gun. Diana blocks every shot. Having earned enough money to get clothes and her own apartment in the one show, Diana leaves showbiz and returns to helping Maj. Trevor. The Nazi plot to destroy the secret base is still going. A second bomber has been sent, and there are Nazi agents even at the offices of Air Force intelligence. Diana also infiltrates the offices, posing as Petty Officer First Class Diana Prince, all the better to keep an eye on Maj. Trevor.
For Steve Trevor, his return to the US was a shock. He had been declared missing, presumed dead, after the collision in the Bermuda Triangle. No wreckage of his plane was recovered. His return meant that the defense of the base was still possible. The Nazi agent is also surprised by his return, having mourned him with the general. The Nazis kidnap Maj. Trevor, forcing Wonder Woman to rescue him. She is unsurprised to see the promoter; Diana had suspected something was out of place when an older woman with a machine gun showed up at the show. A shoot out starts, but the promoter is well aware of how effective shooting Wonder Woman is. Diana frees Steve and gets the identity of the Nazi infiltrator after using the Lasso of Truth. Back at the OSS offices, the Nazi tries fighting Wonder Woman, but loses. The second bomber is stopped by Maj. Trevor and the secret base is saved.
The pilot did well enough in the ratings for ABC to pick up the series. Etta Candy, one of the comic’s supporting cast, is introduced as a corporal, subordinate to Diana. Etta, played by Beatrice Colen, was a contrast to Diana and was a more representative woman of the era. Wonder Woman still faced Nazis, but also some domestic threats. The cost of keeping the series in the Forties led ABC to drop the show at the end of the season. CBS, though, was willing to pick it up, with changes. The second season brought Wonder Woman to the today of 1977. The first episode of the season starts with Diana back on Paradise Island after the end of WWII. Overhead, a private jet with Inter-Agency Defense Command agents has been infiltrated, with the hijacker unable to keep his gas mask on during a fight with Steve Trevor, Jr, played by Lyle Waggoner. The plane starts to crash in the Bermuda Triangle, but women operating a magnetic field bring the craft down safely. Diana is again the first to board the craft, where she sees Steve. After the war, Maj. Trevor found someone else and had a son who grew up to look just like him. Everyone is healed up, and Diana earns the right to follow the plane in her invisible jet after another Bullets and Bracelets contest.
Diana again must adjust to life in Washington. Fashion has again changed, as have prices. This time, though, she’s prepared. Her mother, the Queen, gave her some vintage, undamaged drachmas, which Diana is able to sell for a good price. Diana is quick to learn computer programming and adds new data to I.R.A.C., the Information Retrieval Associative Computer, that creates a background for Diana Prince. Most of the opponents Wonder Woman faces come from Diana’s job at the IADC, though she also has to deal with aliens and telepaths. Through it, Wonder Woman still tries to turn people around from their wrong-doing ways, but will fight if she must.
Season one of Wonder Woman took its lead from the early comics. Season two and three took some ideas from when Diana lost her powers and became a spy, but let her keep her powers, with some Seventies-specific ideas, like ESP, added. At the time, concerns about television violence and repeatable stunts were making the rounds, forcing Wonder Woman to find a way to stop an opponent without throwing a punch. That requirement worked out well, though. Wonder Woman went from punching to throwing, using a judo-like maneuver. Martial arts like judo and aikido are known as soft arts, using the opponent’s energy against him, fitting in with Wonder Woman’s original concept as envisioned by Marston.
Casting was key. Lynda Carter was ideal to play Wonder Woman. Beyond just looking like the character, Carter had the poise and confidence in the costume to be Wonder Woman. She performed feats of strength while looking like she wasn’t making an effort, but when effort was needed, she showed it. Wonder Woman wasn’t confident because she was sexy; she was sexy because of her confidence, and Carter portrayed that aspect well. For Maj. Steve Trevor, Lyle Waggoner may not have looked like him, but he was comfortable enough with his masculinity to be the damsel in distress of the series. Waggoner had been on The Carol Burnett Show and, prior to that, appeared as the first nude centerfold for Playgirl. Sex appeal and a sense of humour, both needed for the role.
As mentioned above, the key to a good adaptation of a comic is the ability to find the essence of the character or characters and bring them out on screen. With Wonder Woman, the TV series did that. Casting, as mentioned above, helped. Gender-flipping the hero/damsel dynamic emphasized Wonder Woman as the superheroine. Lynda Carter’s poise and confidence mirrored that of the character in the comic. The creators went out of their way to make sure that the source was honoured. Many of Wonder Woman’s opponents in the TV series were also women; if they weren’t in charge, they were the mastermind. The introduction of Wonder Girl, played by Debra Winger**, in the first season let the series show how well Diana adjusted to living in the man’s world. Even after the time and network jump, Diana kept her confidence and was allowed to do more investigating in her secret identity, only changing to Wonder Woman when needed.
The TV series became influential on the comic. Before the show aired, Wonder Woman changed clothes in two different ways. Originally, she just took off the top layer, revealing the costume underneath, much like Clark Kent changed into Superman in a phone booth. As the title continued, Diana would twirl her lasso, which would change her clothes for her. That method, though, would require a level of special effects not available yet in the Seventies. Instead, the creators came up with the idea of Diana twirling, using a platform. Carter suggested that she just twirl herself, taking advantage of her dance training. At first the twirling showed her clothes coming off, but to save time and money, an explosion of light marked the change from Diana to Wonder Woman. This twirl was then adapted by the comic.
The other influence was on artists such as Phil Jimenez and Alex Ross, who had watched the show when it was ion the air. Jimenez, in his last issue on the title in 2003, managed to get permission to use Lynda Carter’s likeness as Wonder Woman and as Diana. DC Comics has also released Wonder Woman 77, a continuation of the TV series. The Wonder Woman series caught the core essence of the comic and of the character.
Next week, the Adaptation Fix-It Shop looks at Battleship. Can the movie be salvaged?
* Action Comics #1 was released July 1938.
** The same Debra Winger who would go on to be nominated for an Oscar for An Officer and a Gentleman, Terms of Endearment, and Shadowlands, among other awards. Her version of Wonder Girl was Diana’s younger sister, Druscilla, created by Dru to hide her identity from the Nazis. The Nazis, though, confused her with Wonder Woman. In the comics, Wonder Girl was, first, just a teenaged version of Diana, and later a mantle taken up by Donna Troy and Cassie Sandsmark.
Thunderbirds are go! Again!
A new Thunderbirds TV series is set to launch. The show will forego Supermarionation for a mix of CGI and live-action models. The debut is on the 50th anniversary of the original airdate of Thunderbirds.
Next Terminator movie a reboot.
According to Jay Courtney, who will play Kyle Reese, Terminator: Genisys is more of a reset than a reboot. Other than Arnold Schwarzengger, an all-new cast will play the familiar roles. Two sequels have already been scheduled.
Warner announces DC Comics movie line up.
Batman versus Superman: Dawn of Justice leads off the ten, but has been moved to avoid competing with Captain America 3 in 2016. The other movies announced are Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman, Justice League: Part One, The Flash, Aquaman, Shazam, Justice League: Part Two, Cyborg, and Green Lantern. All should be released over the next six years. Warner also announced a trilogy of films based on JK Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a text originally found at Hogwart’s.
Knights of the Dinner Table in post-production.
Knights of the Dinner Table, a comic about tabletop gamers, will have a live-action movie based on the strip. The adaptation is in post-production and is looking for backers to help get the movie done.
Transporter: The Series started October 18.
Slipped past the radar here, but the new TV series based on the Jason Statham movies has aired on TNT. François Berléand returns as Inspector Tarconi, while Statham’s character Frank Martin is now played by Chris Vance. The series hopes to dig into why Frank got into his profession.
My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic movie confirmed.
Hasbro’s Allspark Pictures has the green light for an animated Friendship Is Magic movie. Release date is expected to be in 2017. Allspark is also producing the live-action Jem and the Holograms film, due out in 2015.
Dredd webseries has animated trailer.
Adi Shankar, producer of Dredd, has released a trailer for his “bootleg” animated series continuing where the movie left off. The series will look at the Dark Judges arc of the comic.
John Carter of Mars rights return to Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.
The rights, formerly held by Disney, have returned to Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. The Disney film, John Carter, foundered in theatres with most problems traceable back to the studio, from a bland name to poor timing. The rights are now available to anyone willing to pay.
Fox developing Archie series.
Riverdale will be a drama featuring the Archie Comics characters. Greg Berlanti, of Arrow and The Flash, is on as producer while Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, the creative mind behind such series as AfterLife with Archie, is writing for the series. The series will look at the weirdnesses surrounding small towns and may not resemble the Riverdale you grew up with. However, current readers may be familiar with the setting. Archie Comics have taken risks in the past decade, including the horror series AfterLife with Archie, having Archie and Valerie becoming a couple, and not only introducing an openly gay character, Kevin Keller, but giving him his own title.
Riverdale may get weirder.
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, creative director of Archie Comics and writer of the new series, has compared Riverdale to a teen version of Twin Peaks. He has hinted at an Afterlife with Archie episode as well. Current continuity will be part of the series, too. If the series survives the, “But this isn’t *my* Archie!” fallout, it’ll pull an audience just through sheer audacity.
Clerks 3 confirmed.
Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes will be back as Jay and Silent Bob in the sequel. Shooting for the film will start June 2015.
The Six Million Dollar Man being remade.
To account for inflation, the name is being changed to The Six Billion Dollar Man. Mark Wahlberg and Peter Berg, the pair behind Lone Survivor, are taking on the project for Dimension Films. The original Six Million Dollar Man was itself an adaptation of the book, Cyborg, by Martin Caidan, and ran from 1973, with several made-for-TV movies before becoming a regular series in 1974, until 1978.
Latest rumour in the Spider-verse has Aunt May getting a movie.
Sony is apparently mining out the Spider-Man license if this rumour is true. Other rumours include a Venom movie, a Sinister Six movie, and Glass Ceiling, which involves the female characters from the Spider-verse coming together. Of these, Venom seems more likely to gather an audience. Then again, I’m not at Sony.
In more solid news, Evil Dead greenlit as a TV series.
Starz will air the Evil Dead TV series starting in 2015. Sam Raimi will be the executive producer and will also write and direct the first give episodes. Rob Tapert is on board as well as an executive producer. Bruce Campbell will return as Ash, older but not necessarily wiser. Groovy.
Jonathan Nolan adapting Foundation for HBO.
Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series is being adapted as a TV series on HBO. The epic series covers centuries over the course of the books, with the cast of characters changing over time.
Fifth Tremors movie in production.
The movie, expected out direct-to-video in 2016, will star Michael Gross, recreating his Burt Gummer character. The original Tremors, starring Kevin Bacon, became a cult hit and has spawned three direct-to-video movies and a short-lived TV series. The movie in production will see Graboids appearing in South Africa.
Movies cannot contain the Guardians of the Galaxy.
Thanks to the popularity of the film, Marvel will be adding an animated series and a new comic aimed at kids to the announced sequel. How the animated series fits in with the cinematic Marvel universe is in dispute with the production staff of the sequel, but the series may just go with the team already together.
The Empire Strikes Back getting the Shakespeare treatment.
William Shakespeare’s Star Wars did well enough to get the next movie adapted the same way. An educator’s guide is also available.
Neil Gaiman updates on American Gods TV series.
HBO is out. Freemantle Media is in. No network has been announced. From the same journal post, Anansi Boys will be made into a TV miniseries for the BBC.
Help put clues together with Sherlock LEGO.
LEGO is still reviewing the idea, but a set of Sherlock minifigs are making their way through the review process. Other sets being considered are the Macross VF-1 Valkyrie and a Back to the Future DeLorean.
Barbarella TV series sets up at Amazon Studios.
A pilot script has been written and is now waiting for a showrunner. Amazon Studios is run by the online bookseller. Gaumont International Television, the producing company, is also involved with NBC’s Hannibal and Netflix’s Hemlock Grove.
Gal Gadot to play Wonder Woman in three films.
Besides appearing in Batman Vs Superman, Wonder Woman will appear in two other movies, so far unnamed. Ideally, one of the other two movies will be a Wonder Woman movie, but this is Warner, who can shoot their own foot at a hundred paces.
Transporter: The Series to air in US in fall.
This slipped right by me. Season two of the series, based on the Transporter movies, begins filming in February.
The Astronaut Wives Club gets ten episode summer run.
Based on the book of the same name by Lily Koppel, ABC will be airing the drama over the summer. Both the book and the series follows the lives of the women who were suddenly elevated after their astronaut husbands on Project Mercury made history as the first Americans in space.
Redshirts to become a limited TV series.
John Scalzi’s Redshirts is being adapted by FX as a limited series. Casting has not started yet. It’ll be interesting to see how the novel is adapted.
Black Widow solo movie in the works.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe keeps going. The Black Widow will be played, again, by Scarlett Johansson. The movie will delve into the background of the character.
Speaking of Marvel… Which studio can use which Marvel character? An infographic.
The surprising one was Namor over at Universal. He started as a Fantastic Four villain, has fought the Avengers, has been an Avenger, and has had his own series. The overlap is Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, who are tied heavily to both Avengers and X-Men continuity. Fox could easily commit to a Cable & Deadpool movie, while Power Pack falls under Marvel Studios.
Raving Rabbids to invade silver screen.
Ubisoft has been busy, getting deals to have Assassin’s Creed and Ghost Recon adapted to film. The latest of the efforts is Raving Rabbids, who already have a TV series.
And an update! A month ago, I reviewed the Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight animated movie and the problems it had at adapting the original novel. Over at io9 this past week, Lauren Davis posted an argument on why Dragonlance should be the next fantasy franchise to be filmed. She has strong arguments. The only thing that could hold back a new adaptation is the failure of the animated movie. However, if ninety minutes was only enough for a shallow adaptation, two hours isn’t going to be enough time, either. Will people go for a six-movie fantasy series based on three books? Going back, I argued that TV may be better for some works than movies; Dragonlance is definitely one of those works. The television format allows for the development of longer arcs, such as Laurana’s growth from elf lass to military leader.
It’s been about a week since DC Comics called a meteor swarm upon itself, and things are starting to quiet down. What happened is easy to find; over at Jessica Banks schools you, Jessica and her husband Cam detail the latest problems quite nicely. Why it happened is another question. (more…)
Board game cafés opening up across nation.
No wi-fi here. Snakes and Lattes in Toronto was the first, but more board game cafés are opening across Canada, including Monopolatte in Ottawa and Krowns in Calgary.
DC Comics launching Justice League Canada.
Canadian writer Jeff Lemire slated to helm the series. The title is due out in 2014, with the team roster still unrevealed.
Bureaucracy becomes a nail-biting video game.
Processing as an immigration border officer adds in complex situations and requires the player to make difficult decisions. Not the usual approach to a video game, but compelling.
Toronto Fan Expo becoming cosplay highlight.
Half of Fan Expo’s attendance will be in costume. Last year’s attendance reached 91 000. That’s a lot of costumes and hours to create them.
Project for Gamercamp turns video game heroines into fashion statements.
The Double Flawless project brings together video games and fashion as five iconic heroines – Princess Zelda, Commander Shepard, Lara Croft, Chun-Li, and Mileena – get makeovers. See the initial designs here.