by Randall Allen Dunn
Most people just don’t get Wonder Woman.
Wonder Woman is a heroine, in the truest sense of the word. Not just for her powers, but for her ideals. Since she was first introduced to comics in 1941, Wonder Woman has strived for peace in the midst of wars, something that many people find hard to grasp, let alone support. As an Amazon warrior, she stands ready to fight, but prefers to lead even her enemies to seek peaceful solutions.
Since 2001, a Wonder Woman movie has been in the works, but it never seems to get off the ground. An early script was rumored to feature Sandra Bullock, but as Wonder Girl, who gradually discovers that she has inherited the powers and duties of a heroine from a previous age, namely Wonder Woman. Can you imagine promoting a Batman movie to moviegoers, who discover when they see the film that it’s really all about Robin?
Later, film producers hired screenwriter Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and Dollhouse, to revise the concept. But they insisted that it not be set during World War II, as the original Wonder Woman television series was. Whedon’s suggestions were ultimately rejected. In a recent article, Whedon cited the problems of creating a film around Wonder Woman, noting that people can’t relate to an Amazon who seems so high above them, and that, unlike other superheroes, she’s not tied to any particular city.
More recently, when Megan Fox was told that fans considered her a good choice to play the heroine, she criticized Wonder Woman as “a lame superhero”.
Even the comic book creators have re-designed her costume and powers every decade or two. They often seem to forget whether Wonder Woman has the power to fly, what actually happens if she loses her bracelets, and whether her costume should look American.
And yet, despite these attempts to shift focus away from Wonder Woman in her own movie, despite beliefs that audiences can’t relate to her ideals, and despite the snubbing of her costume and identity that some find “lame”, Wonder Woman continues to draw readers and viewers after nearly seventy years.
We’re not really supposed to “get” Wonder Woman. That is, we don’t need to bring her down to our level so that we can relate to her. Wonder Woman has always represented hopes and ideals that are, in fact, high above us. Rather than bring heroes down to our level, we should continue to let them inspire us to live better. What better example of heroism can you find than Wonder Woman, who stands ready to fight but continually seeks peace between people, communities, and even nations? In the foreword to the graphic novel The Circle, science fiction novelist Mercedes Lackey, referring to its author Gail Simone, regarding Wonder Woman’s purpose:
I believe it is Gail herself who said, “When you need to stop an asteroid, you get Superman. When you need to solve a mystery, you call in Batman. But when you need to end a war, you get Wonder Woman.”
Wonder Woman actually does have a city, Washington, D.C., from which she gathers information to help protect the world from its own wars. The setting for her adventures is war itself, whether it takes place in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, or during World War II, when the Nazi regime clearly threatened worldwide freedom. She also has another home, Paradise Island, where she was raised with ideals of peace and hope.
These points were clearly presented in the 1970’s television series responsible for much of Wonder Woman’s modern fame, and for making the names Lynda Carter and Wonder Woman nearly synonymous. The series began as a TV movie called, “The New, Original Wonder Woman”, a strange title intended to distinguish it from the recent “Wonder Woman” movie starring Cathy Lee Crosby (another clear example of people not getting Wonder Woman).
Stanley Ralph Ross, renowned for bringing Batman to television in the 1960’s, was hired to make Wonder Woman work for television. Ross returned to the roots of her story, setting her adventures in World War II. Like Batman, the initial movie was very campy, with comic portrayals of Nazis, American soldiers, and the Amazons.
But Wonder Woman remained true to form, full of justice and compassion, coming to the United States like a nurse treating a wounded society. I think this is what appeals to my four-year old, Abby, when she requests to watch this pilot episode, saying, “Can we watch the one where Steve is sick?” Though she loves pretending to deflect bullets with imaginary bracelets and fighting me as an “evil Nazi bad guy”, she sees Wonder Woman as someone who heals people.
When an injured American pilot, Steve Trevor (Lyle Waggoner), parachutes onto Paradise Island, the secret home of the Amazons, Princess Diana (Lynda Carter) carries him to their city to receive medical treatment. The Amazons then learn that Steve is fighting against “Nazis”, a group of evil men trying to control the entire world.
Diana’s mother, Queen Hippolyte (Cloris Leachman), wants to rid their island haven of Steve Trevor as quickly as possible. She insists that men are dangerous, having experienced their violence and treachery in centuries past. But Diana insists on believing that some men can be trusted.
Even Wonder Woman’s own mother doesn’t get her.
Hippolyte holds an athletic contest to select the strongest and bravest Amazon to return Trevor to his people. Forbidden to compete, Diana disguises herself with a wig and joins the other masked Amazons. She ultimately wins the challenges and reveals her true identity to her stunned mother. Despite her misgivings, Hippolyte sends Diana away with her blessing. She provides her with a costume that represents the markings on Trevor’s plane, as an emissary to his people, and encourages Diana, “in the world of ordinary mortals, you will be a ‘Wonder Woman’.”
And so she is. She’s not one of us, and she doesn’t think or act the way we do. Instead, she persists in believing that people can find ways to live peacefully, even in the midst of war.
She brings Steve to the United States and rushes him to a hospital, where her strange (and very revealing) costume draws confused stares from nurses, orderlies, and a long trailing line of intrigued sailors. When she spots two armed robbers fleeing from a bank, she tosses the men to the ground and deflects their bullets with her wrist bracelets at lightning speed. Before the driver can escape, she lifts the back end of his getaway car with her superhuman strength, holding them at bay as the police arrive to take over.
Her amazing feats are noticed by theatrical agent Ashley Norman (Red Buttons), who convinces her to perform her bullets-and-bracelets act for his theatre to earn money. Having realized that she needs money to survive, Wonder Woman agrees. Meanwhile, she continues to keep tabs on Steve’s progress in the hospital, even disguising herself as a nurse to visit him.
Wonder Woman soon uncovers the deceit of her new employer, Mr. Norman, as well as Trevor’s secretary, Marcia (Stella Stevens), both of whom are working for the Nazis. She foils their plans and rescues a kidnapped Steve. When Norman sees that Wonder Woman has him at her mercy, he begs her not to hurt him. Wonder Woman smiles at the suggestion. “Where I come from, we try never to hurt anyone.”
Of course, the Nazi agent doesn’t get her, either.
True heroes aren’t like us. They represent the noble attributes that we wish to possess, and act the way we know we should, so we seek to follow their examples. Not by fighting criminal masterminds who try to freeze cities or shrink the president, but by going out of our way to help others in whatever way we can. To heal people.
Wonder Woman is someone whose compassion and spirit we can pattern our lives after. Bringing her down to our level by making her less assured in her mission of peace, less confident in her moral ideals, less sure of her identity as an American and as an Amazon, is to render her powerless, and to render ourselves powerless with her.
In the world of ordinary mortals, she is a Wonder Woman. If we learn from her ways, we can become heroes who heal the people around us by standing for peace.
And it’s okay if other people don’t get us.
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