DC Comics has its triumvirate – Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. Superman has had many adaptations on radio, television, and film, the latter two both live action and animated. Batman hasn’t had as many over the character’s existence, but has picked up on the number of film adaptations over the past two decades. Wonder Woman, not so much. The character had her own TV series in the Seventies and has appeared in the various DC-based cartoons featuring a full team of heroes, but her solo appearances are lacking compared to the other two in the Big Three.
Created by William Moulton Marston, who also developed the lie detector, Wonder Woman was to offset the more violent titles. Instead of beating her opponents into defeat, she’d use the power of love to change their ways, using her version of the lie detector, the Lasso of Truth, to rehabilitate them. Since her debut in 1941, her approach has changed, becoming an Amazon warrior, willing to take the steps that Superman and Batman would not.
Over the past ten years, DC’s domination of superhero moves have waned as Marvel Studios finally figured out how to make interesting movies. Marvel’s approach to The Avengers movies forced DC to accelerate their Justice League titles. The problem that Warner has right now, though, is that all of the DC-based movies look like the Batman films. While that approach works for the character*, it didn’t with Man of Steel or Batman vs Superman, turning both into colourless messes.
After a few fits and starts, Warner finally had a Wonder Woman movie released in 2017. Directed by Patty Jenkins, the film was the top grossing superhero film for the year and finished behind Star Wars: The Last Jedi and the live-action Beauty and the Beast overall. Even Justice League only wound up tenth. Turns out, representation is key. Wonder Woman is a feminist icon; the character is the best known superheroine, able to bring in an audience that normally wouldn’t consider a capes-and-spandex movie.
The movie opens briefly in the present with a voice over narration by Diana (Gal Gadot) about the problems of the world. A Wayne Foundation armoured truck delivers a briefcase to her. Inside are a photo of Wonder Woman standing with several men in a wartorn town and a note, triggering a flashback to Diana’s days as a child on Themiscyra. Diana is the only child (played by Lilly Aspell) among the Amazons, having been fashioned by clay by her mother, Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), and has no mind for studies, instead wanting to watch the Amazons train. While the Amazons are hidden, they are prepared for the day when Ares tries to destroy mankind and the world again. To prevent that end, Zeus left a weapon capable of killing a god on the island.
As Diana grows older (now played by Emily Carey), she convinces her mother to let her train. Diana’s aunt, Antiope (Robin Wright) pushes her past her limits, working the girl to be the best she can. As a full grown woman, Diana is capable of standing her own against several Amazons at once, but when Antiope pushes to far, something inside Diana pushes back, sending Antiope flying. Diana walks away to brood over what happened. As she does so, a German plane crashes off the coast.
Diana rescues the young pilot, unaware that a German warship has sent several boats to retrieve him. The Germans pierce through the veil that surrounds Themiscyra and land on the beaches. The Amazons fight the invasion, but swords, spears, and arrows can only do so much against trained soldiers with rifles. The Amazons win, but at a cost.
The young pilot is interrogated with the Lasso of Hestia, compelling him to give his name, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), and his mission, an American officer working for British intelligence as a spy. He discovered German General Ludendorf (Danny Huston) and Dr. Isabella Maru (Elena Anaya) in the Ottoman Empire creating new weapons, including poison gas, to fight the Allies in the Great War. Diana insists on going off to fight, suspecting Ares behind the war, but her mother denies her. Undaunted, Diana breaks into the tower holding the god-killer sword. She takes it, the Lasso of Hestia, a shield, and the costume. Dressed and armed, she takes Steve to a small harbour. Her mother arrives, not to stop her, but to say goodbye, giving Diana Entiope’s circlet to wear. The parting is bittersweet.
London is a confusing whirlwind for Diana. So many new sights, sounds, and smells. Steve takes her to get appropriate clothes, with the help of his secretary, Etta Candy (Lucy Davis). After a few hours and many outfits tried, Diana gets an outfit that’s slightly less conspicuous. Leaving the store, Steve and Diana are followed by German spies. They confront the Germans in an alley, where Diana shows how effective she can be.
At Allied HQ, Steve gives over Dr. Maru’s notebook. Diana is able to decrypt it, understanding the languages used. However, she’s learning that in man’s world, women aren’t listened to. Diana goes off on the assembled generals, who have denied Steve’s request to track the General to Belgium. Steve pulls her out, explaining that he is going anyway, only convincing her after using the Lasso on himself. He makes a stop to pick up reinforcements, con man Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui), marksman Charlie (Ewen Bremner), and smuggler The Chief (Eugene Brave Rock).
On the way to find Ludendorf, Diana leads an impromtu charge through No Man’s Land, clearing a path for the British troops to follow while reducing the German defences. She continues through to liberate the village of Veld, with assistance from Steve and his men. Diana is getting a harsh lesson in modern warfare, seeing the damage wrought to people and their lives.
The team tracks Ludendorf to German High Command. The General, opposed to the Armistice, had killed the rest of the Command with his new gas. The gathering at High Command is a show, one put on to demonstrate the new weapon by using Veld. Angered, Diana finds her own way into the aerodrome where Ludendorf is stockpiling the gas and begins her attack. The final battle of the film is one for Diana’s heart.
There were changes made to the character as created in 1941. The biggest is moving the date of Diana’s first appearance in the setting. When Wonder Woman was first published, World War II was an ongoing war, appearing in newspaper headlines daily. The US hadn’t yet formally joined the war, but was supplying the Allies supplies while trying to appear neutral. Comics of the time gained a secondary purpose, propaganda, so naturally, Wonder Woman fought Nazis. With the war now part of history and using Ares as the film’s villain, moving the setting to World War I made sense. World War I, also known as the Great War and the War to End All Wars, saw casualties in the millions, saw technological advancements that outstripped defenses, and saw an entire generation reduced in four years. Showing Ares having a hand in creating that War works in the context of the film. The movie didn’t show all the horrors of the war, but did show enough to give the audience an idea of the nature of warfare.
Gal Gadot as Diana worked well. She looks like the character, which is critical when adapting from a comic book. Appearances are everything. There were a few times in the film where Gadot’s appearance called back to Lynda Carter’s turn as Wonder Woman in the Seventies. While the movie was far more serious than the show, the portrayals aren’t that much different. Both find that they are fighting with the Power of Love. Chris Pine isn’t necessarily Lyle Waggoner, but he does bring charm to the role of Steve Trevor. Lucy Davis’ Etta Candy also harkens back to the comic and the first season of the TV series. Etta is there as contrast to Diana, but even she has her moments of heroism. Moving the time didn’t change the characters; they adapted well.
Wonder Woman is an origins story. Unlike Batman and Superman, Diana’s origins don’t leave her passive. She defies her mother and trains then leaves Themiscyra. Diana explores the world of men and carves out her piece of it. She is a warrior, but one who fights for love. The movie explores how she came to that decision.
The movie managed to add something that, until then, was missing from the DC adaptations – humour. The levity came from character moments, usually between Diana and Steve, typically centering around the different cultural attitudes about sex. Diana is well read about the subject and the Amazons are open and honest with each other. Steve, though, is coming from an American upbringing that has far more hangups than today.
Wonder Woman despite the changes, does keep to the nature of the character and the comics. Changes that were made help with the story without really taking away from the character. Diana is still Diana, warrior and defender of mankind. She is still recognizable on the screen in costume or regular clothes.
* To quote Batman from The LEGO Movie, “I only use black. And sometimes very, very dark gray.“
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.
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.
The new year brings new news.
Death Note: The Musical, coming to South Korea in 2015.
The anime /Death Note/ is being turned into a musical with music by Frank Wildhorn (Broadway play Jekyll and Hyde, Whitney Houston’s “Where Do Broken Hearts Go?”) and Jack Murphy. This isn’t the first musical about a serial killer. Sweeney Todd was at one point a ballet.
Warner Bros, Joseph Gordon-Levitt in negotiations for Sandman.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt may star and co-produce the adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. Gordon-Levitt may even direct the feature. David S. Goyer will also be on board as co-producer.
Sweetpea Entertainment moves for partial dismissal of D&D rights case.
Hasbro has been trying to regain the movie rights to Dungeons & Dragons from Sweetpea Entertainment. Sweetpea was responsible for the 2000 movie plus the far better direct-to-DVD sequel and was working on a script based on Chainmail, D&D‘s progenitor game. At issue is who currently holds the movie rights. The original contract required Sweetpea to release a sequel within five years of the original movie, but Hasbro does not count the direct-to-DVD works while Sweetpea does.
Ghost writing and spin-offs; what happens after an author has died.
It’s not a new phenomenon. Now, though, with best sellers and adaptation rights bringing in money to publishers, the desire to continue an author’s series is growing.
Star Wars comic license being given to Marvel
Not that unexpected, considering that Disney owns both Marvel and Lucasfilm. Dark Horse had a great twenty-year run, though, and set a standard that will be difficult to match.
With the changeover, comes the fun of working out continuity.
Lucasfilm’s Leland Chee (@HolocronKeeper on Twitter) heads the group tasked with getting the canon straight. The story group will have to work out how the movies, TV series, comics, books, role-playing games, video games, and toys all work together. Interestingly, West End Games’ Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game is still an influence on Star Wars despite WEG’s bankruptcy in 1998.
Magic: The Gathering being adapted as a movie.
This isn’t as dire as it sounds. As a collectable card game, Magic: The Gathering has a setting that has been developed since 1993, and storylines in each expansion set. As long as Fox, the studio making the movie, can keep the familiar elements and introduce them to people who haven’t played while still keeping fans of the game not-annoyed, the adaptation stands a chance.
The Wonder Woman prequel TV series has been cancelled by the CW. The network left the possibility of a future Wonder Woman series open. It looks more that the CW doesn’t want to botch the series and is being cautious.
Batman finally to be released on DVD.
The Adam West TV series will, at long last, see a DVD release. Warner and Fox have worked out the legal differences over rights. No specific date has been set.
Batman/Superman movie delayed until 2016.
Warner delayed the release of the movie, still untitled, until May 2016. Start of production won’t start until second quarter of this year.