Geek Primer: Wonder Woman

Can you believe this is already the fourth film in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU)? Though a Wonder Woman film has been in development at Warner Brothers on and off for more than 20 years, the most well-known iteration being developed by Joss Whedon around the time of Serenity. This is only the third solo superhero film based on a Marvel or DC property to be led by a female superhero (the others being 1984’s Supergirl and 2004’s Catwoman, both of which are terrible).

Of course, this version of Wonder Woman as played by Gal Gadot debuted in last year’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and was the one aspect of the film universally praised. So here’s your guide to being a smug fan when Wonder Woman returns to the screen this weekend.

What is Wonder Woman’s deal?

Wonder Woman debuted in the pages of All Star Comics #8 in October of 1941, created by the psychologist William Moulton Marston and the artist H. G. Peter. Marston is a fascinating figure. He is the creator of the systolic blood pressure test, and also believed there is a masculine freedom that is inherently anarchic and violent and an opposing feminine freedom based on “Love Allure” that leads to an ideal state of submission to loving authority. Yeah. Bondage and submission are frequently recurring situations in Marston’s comic work. The permanent remnant of that theme is Wonder Woman’s magic lasso, which the heroine uses to subdue villains and compel them to tell the truth.

A quote by Marston about the character in 1943:

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.

As for the character’s in-universe origins, it has changed and evolved over the last 76 years. She is an Amazon from the all-female Paradise Island, which is usually called Themyscira in any comic or adaptation from 1987 onward. In her original origin she was made from clay by Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen in the film), and raised as a princess named Diana. She was blessed with super powers by Olympian gods, and like Superman, had a wide array of abilities. In newer iterations this is simplified to her being the daughter of Hippolyta and Zeus rather than being made from clay. The new movie is using this newer origin to explain Diana’s birth.

In the comics, a plane crashes on Paradise Island. The pilot, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine in this movie), is alive, and Diana nurses him back to health and falls in love with him. Hippolyta holds a competition to decide who is the most worthy to return Trevor to the “Man’s World.” She forbids Diana from entering, but the princess dons a mask and wins anyway. She gets a sweet new outfit, and joins Trevor in punching Nazis, as well as other villains, including demigods, Cheetah, and Doctor Psycho.

What other movies do I need to see to understand what’s going on?

Since this is an origin story, none, despite this being the fourth DCEU film. The film also changes Diana’s emergence as Wonder Woman to take place during World War I instead of World War II.

Further reading/watching

A few reading recommendations for you. George Perez’ five year run as writer and artist on the first Wonder Woman comics after DC’s linewide reboot Crisis on Infinite Earths is still considered a definitive take on the character. This is the first volume. After that, Greg Rucka’s take on the character from 2002 is legendary, and finally being collected by DC. He also returned to the character last year, and did an updated origin story. I’ve also enjoyed Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman, which is a series of short stories focused on Diana. The recent Legend of Wonder Woman series also has great buzz online, and I’ll be checking that out soon.

One of my all-time favorite depictions of Wonder Woman was in Darwyn Cooke’s wonderful New Frontier, which also happens to be one of the best comics DC has published in my time reading comics. The comic depicts the emergence of the Silver Age DC heroes Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, and others, as well as Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman using actual historical events as a backdrop. This scene is one of the best, as Superman tries to confront Wonder Woman in Indochina during the Vietnam War. Diana was sent to retrieve the crew of a downed C-47, she noticed a camp with a ton of female prisoners. She frees them, and allows the women to extract vengeance against their captors, to Superman’s horror. When he confronts her:

“There’s the door, Spaceman” is an insult I would love to see more often.

Of course, all of the comics I’ve mentioned in this section, save New Frontier, are currently on sale on Comixology to tie into the film’s release.

The most famous version of Wonder Woman on screen is the TV series which ran for three seasons starting in 1974. The first season was set in World War II, with the later seasons set in contemporary times. I’ve never actually seen an episode of the show, but it introduced the concept of her spinning to change into her costume, which is as associated with the character in the public consciousness as Superman’s phone booth.

Of course, Wonder Woman has positively shined in animation, being an original member of the Superfriends, but the best iterations came later. The Bruce Timm led DC Animated Universe, which began with Batman: The Animated Series featured Wonder Woman as a regular castmember in successive series Justice League and Justice League Unlimited.

Some essential Diana episodes include “Paradise Lost,” in which Felix Faust transforms all of the Amazons into stone in order to blackmail Wonder Woman into helping him free Hades. “The Balance” in Justice League Unlimited acts as a follow up to that story. “The Savage Time” is a three-part episode that introduces Steve Trevor when the League travels back in time to World War II.

New Frontier was adapted into an animated film as well (Lucy Lawless provides her voice), but by far the best adaptation of the character to date was the 2009 Wonder Woman animated film directed by Lauren Montgomery. Loosely based on the George Perez story linked above, the film looks fantastic, and features brutal action telling a story that draws on Greek myth as much as it does superheroics. The voice cast is definitely A-list, with Keri Russell as Diana, Nathan Fillion as Steve Trevor, Alfred Molina as Ares, and Rosario Dawson as Artemis. Essential viewing for any fan of the character.

Author: Ryan Silberstein

Ryan spends his days at a company named one of the best to work for in the Philadelphia area, and his nights as a mysterious caped vigilante saving his city from the disease that is crime watching movies. He lives on a diet consisting of film, comic books, experimental beer, black coffee, and those big metal historical markers around town. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.

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