Wonder Woman: She’s Always A Woman To Me

Who Is Wonder Woman?

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This is another in my series taking about superhero characters. In my kickoff post I explained how in some ways they are the modern Gods – created in our image to put into stories to help us understand ourselves better. This time I’m looking at Wonder Woman, the Amazon princess who was crafted from clay to become a symbol of freedom and female strength.

The Hero

Wonder Woman has had a wide range of backstories, but what has remained consistent is her status as a princess of the Amazons, a group of warrior women with little or no need of Men.  Diana is endowed with incredible strength, breathtaking beauty, and a deep compassion. She ventures into the world of Men to help them and further the cause of peace and equality.  Her weapons are indestructible bracelets which she can use to deflect bullets, a lasso of Truth that no human can resist, and sometimes a quite silly invisible jet. Her sheer strength puts her on par with Superman, but she would much rather find a peaceful solution to a battle than resort to blows.

Why we love her

She’s a woman, she’s unapologetic, and she holds her own with the most testosterone laden of males in the world. She is dead sexy and supremely competent. She stands out in a crowd, and underestimate her (especially as a Her) at your own peril.

Yet she doesn’t work the same way as her contemporaries. Wonder Woman is more of a defender than an aggressor as she deflects bullets and subdues people with her lasso. She’s here to protect us, and keep us safe even in the face of our own stupidity.

Part of her different approach is because Wonder Woman fights for more than Justice. She fights for Truth. We love to see the villains wail as their plans collapse in on their heads, but having them face their own demons and hidden truths is a defeat even more basic. It’s a blow in support of the feeling we all have (or want to have) that there is an underlying Truth to the world that we can find if we just scratch deep enough.

As A Character

DC Comics' Wonder Woman

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Wonder Woman is a woman, and unfortunately that aspect of her character overshadows everything else.  William Moulton Marston was only considering a new hero that fought not with fists, but with love. The idea to make the hero a woman was tacked on the end of the process. As if being female was one of her super powers. An afterthought.

Unfortunately, the result was that Wonder Woman’s gender became not just a part of who she was, but her defining trait. It is easy for even casual fans to picture Superman’s or Batman’s personalities, but Wonder Woman?  Sometime she is portrayed as curious and helpful, trying to learn about the world of mortals. Other times she is angry and scornful of males everywhere. There is little consistency, and what is there isn’t very crisp. Many young girls who cite Wonder Woman as a role model couldn’t tell you what she stood for, or know that this feminist icon’s original role in the Justice League of America was as its Secretary.

This is one of my key issues in discussions of equality – if people are truly equal should the traits in question really matter?  If you point out someone’s race in trying to ensure they are treated equally, doesn’t the very discussion create a distinction that now dominates the conversation?  If Wonder Woman is really “just as good” as a male super hero in ever respect, why does her gender ever get held up as a defining trait?  She is just good at what she does, end of story.

Couple her over-emphasized gender with her history of not-so-subtle bondage references and her staggeringly patriotic bathing suit outfit and you have a legacy of issues that only super strength could shoulder. None of the other popular female heroes over the past 70 years have had anything even close.  The superhero genre is still dominated by white, heterosexual, muscular males, but thanks to Wonder Woman that ultimate Boy’s Club was cracked open. The price she paid is that she will always be known, defined, and limited, but what – rather than who – she is.

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Batman: Pinnacle of human perfection with a splash of the crazy

Image by kevindooley via Flickr

This is the second in my series taking about superhero characters. In my kickoff post I explained how in some ways they are the modern Gods – created in our image to put into stories to help us understand ourselves better. This time I’m looking at Batman, the broody anti-hero without any powers.

The Hero

The only son of wealthy parents, young Bruce Wayne is scarred forever when he witnesses his parents gunned down in front of his eyes. He dedicates his life to perfecting himself physically and mentally, forging himself into a foe who will stand in the way of criminals and keep them from devouring society. Searching for something to help him inspire fear in the cowardly and the unjust, Bruce takes inspiration from the dark image of a bat. Now the World’s Greatest Detective, the Batman prowls the streets of Gotham City with his mind, his muscle, and his endless array of gadgets, defending the innocent from the evil forces of the night.

Why We Love Him

Batman is a normal human being who has mastered himself and walks with the Gods. A regular person who through discipline, focus, and patience became someone all the other heroes admire and respect.

Batman is the ultimate in physical human perfection. He never gets exhausted scaling the tallest of buildings, and has muscle definition that would send Spartans back to the gym feeling flabby. If a martial art ever comes up, he’s mastered it. Swimming? Fencing? Gymnastics? Olympic level skills across the board.

Not content to by the ultra-jock, Batman is also a genius level scientist and engineer. One of his original titles was “World’s Greatest Detective“, and one story has him studying from Sherlock Holmes himself. He is always three steps ahead of not just his foes but also his fellow heroes, and the devices in his magical bag of holding utility belt are rarely not up to correcting the task at hand.  In spite of all the training, time, and effort needed to be the Batman, he also manages to maintain himself as a multi-Billionare in his spare time. Both mentally and physically, Batman is everything we imagine we could be if we just started working hard rather than sitting around on the internet all day.

Yet it is the emotional aspect of Batman that cements him as an icon. His obsession over his parent’s death turned him dark, relentless, and more than a little crazy.  Yet he doesn’t kill. In most versions, he refuses to use a gun at all. He inflicts terror and fear on the cowardly underbelly of society, yet does it through some of the highest moral avenues. In some ways he has mastered the most dangerous of human emotions and turned them into a powerful tool.

As A Character

Whereas I think Superman is somewhat limited in his storytelling options, Batman’s humanity and challenges make him an incredible character. We’ve already seen him mentor several Robins, struggle with loneliness, and grapple with the deep paranoia that fuels his world. He’s been everything from campy to psychotic, and from Miller’s classic Dark Knight Returns about an aged and broken Batman, to Nolan’s brilliant The Dark Knight about Batman facing his own moral impact upon the world, there is no shortage of new ways to explore his facets.

Joker (comics)

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I’d even argue that it is the richness of the Batman character that gave rise to one of the greatest comic book villains: the Joker. Comic villains are often defined in opposition to the heroes they face, like the intellectual Lex Luthor to the mighty Superman, and the Joker was born out of funhouse mirror reflection of Batman’s own psychosis and obsessions.  Like Batman, the Joker has been endlessly redefined. He’s grown from a goofy clown, to a drowning psychopath in The Killing Joke, to Heath Ledger’s raging anarchist. In the DC Universe it is said that when the other super-Villains want to scare each other they tell Joker stories. Only the greatest of characters could give birth to one of the greatest of villains.

Little kids reading comics can never hope to grow up to fly like Superman, or climb walls like Spider-Man, but there is a little voice in the back of their head that tells them that if they really worked hard enough they could be Batman.

Now if I only had a cave…

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Superman: Our Ideals in a Cape


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This is the first in my odd little series taking about superhero characters. In my kickoff post I explained how in some ways they are the modern Gods – created in our image to put into stories to help us understand ourselves better. How does Superman, probably the most famous of this clan, fit?

The Hero

The last survivor of the planet Krypton, Kal-El was sent to Earth by his loving parents as his planet exploded. Found by a loving Kansas farm couple, the Kents, he was raised as Clark Kent and taught to believe in solid American, midwestern, values.  As his powers began to develop, fueled by our yellow sun, he discovered he was faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. To protect his identity he took up the mantle of Superman and became a defender of Truth, Justice, and the American Way.

Why We Love Him

Superman is our ultimate, idealized version of ourselves and humanity. All the things we believe we can accomplish, and all the best we see in ourselves.

Superman making his debut in Action Comics #1 ...

His name applying originally to a telepathic villain, but over time writers took the tough character that appeared in Action Comics and turned him nearly into a God. At one point he was so overpowered, with crazy things like super-ventriloquism and super disguises and the power to move the moon from its orbit, that it became difficult to even tell new stories. When you can time travel and have your own super-horse, what else is left to do. The multi-dimensional comic event Crisis On Infinite Earths was needed to clean up this silliness and just make Superman “really, really tough”, but again his powers began to grow. He is our domination over the forces of the world, the power we like to imagine within ourselves as a species, and that’s projected in the near invincibility Superman inherits.

While his powers reflect our interpretation of our own might, Superman’s human side also reflects our ideal view of what it means to be human. He is just, uncorruptable, kind, merciful, tolerant, and resolute. Take the best traits of man, assemble them together, and you’ll have Superman’s psychological profile.  It’s admittedly an American take on values, but since Superman is an American creation that isn’t much of a surprise. Many of Superman’s greatest battles take place within the sphere of his character – pursuing Lois Lane, refusing to kill, accepting his role as a leader and inspiration. Yet these are always struggles of his better nature, and you never see Superman struggling to pay the bills or grappling with insecurity. He is a “Big Blue Boy Scout”, carrying our ideal moral code.

So great is our idealization of ourselves in Superman, that some argue he has become a Christ figure: the son coming to earth with his incredible power and wisdom to protect and guide us. Others argue that he is so idealized that he has a reverse-identity: that Superman is his normal self, and Clark Kent is the being he dresses up and pretends to be.  I think both of these carry it too far, but are good examples of how much has been poured into this character so that he even stretches the boundaries of normal superheroes.

As A Character

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MAY 23:  The Superman c...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

As much as I’ve loved Superman since I was a kid, he is a poor character for storytelling. He has few flaws, and few challenges left to face. He has no story arc. He is enduring. Death holds no fear for him, and neither do horrible movies. He will always return to being the shining example, the icon we created to carry all our hopes and dreams for what we think makes humanity great.

It’s a good thing he has strong shoulders.

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Superheroes: The Character of the Gods

The Legion of Super-Heroes during the 1970s. A...

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I’ve been a fan of comics and superheroes most of my life, but it wasn’t until I was an adult (or ‘adultish’) that I began to appreciate their roots are much deeper than just fueling the imaginings of geek kids. In some ways, the superhero is the reincarnation of the classical Gods – powerful yet flawed beings that populated incredible tales to show what it means to be human.

Gods as Humans

The Greek Gods were fallible beings created by the people of the time to help explain their world. They had incredible power, but also had human weakness exaggerated to the extreme. Hera was majestic but insanely jealous, Zeus was powerful but insatiably lustful, and Poseidon was both protector and tempestuous earth-shaker. They contained everything it meant to be human, yet rose above it in epic battles and tales that helped people understand their own lives and gave them an escape.

Superheroes as Gods

Comic book superheroes, with their own ability to hurl thunderbolts and shake the earth, are the modern equivalent. Batman struggles with internal rage and frustration, while Spider-Man fights his own insecurities and guilt. Their biggest difference to the Gods of old may only be their colorful costumes and masks. The best of them are more than just shallow cartoons, but have traits that embeds them deeply in our minds and resonant with parts of our own lives. You can see their connection beautifully and amusingly captured in the blog Growing Up Heroes.

I’m going to crack open some of these modern pulp heroes (and in some cases movie-stars) and look at what makes them work as characters and archetypes. What do their origin stories say about them? How have they changed over time? And what do the most enduring of these heroes say about us and our values?

My first hero-focused post in this series will cover the nearly archetypal Superman, but I plan to cross the Marvel and DC Universes to visit some of my favorite heroes and some of the ones I’ve struggled to understand. If you have a favorite, let me know and I’ll share my thoughts.

These imaginary characters have captured our imaginations for decades now, and I think they are worth stopping to pay homage.

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How we’ll watch the Watchmen – making the comics fit on screen

I’ve been a deep fan of Alan Moore’s graphic novel for twenty years now, but I’m torn on the upcoming film version.  It was written to be a comic, and it works brilliantly in that format.  It doesn’t need to be a movie. Yet part of me would love to see these images move and breathe.  I looped the spectacular trailer that came out a dozen times, both amazed and terrified.  It looks great as the music video that trailer is, but can it work as a film narrative?  If anything it would seem to make a better mini-series than a movie, but a movie is what we are getting.  So I decided to break out my well-worn copy of the Watchmen and take a look.

WARNING – I suppose there are spoilers below, but this is a 20 year old comic.  I think the statute of limitations has run out, but if you want to be surprised, then go away.

Let’s start with the length… twelve issues in a two hour movie would average out to 10 minutes an issue.  In traditional 2 minute scenes, that’s 5 scenes out of every issue.  Ouch.  Not a good start.

We know some time will be saved across the whole story by the removal of the Black Freighter Pirate comic subplot/story. Zack Snyder has confirmed this may appear on a simultaneous release on DVD but will not be on the big screen.

Issue One – Death of the Comedian and character introductions.  Not a lot to shave out of this one – we have a bunch of very interesting people to meet and the inciting incident of the story to cover – Rorschach’s investigation.  I think we may see less of the Minutemen in the movie, including Hollis Mason and Dan’s relationship. I also think we’ll see much of Rorschach’s extraneous violence as he extorts the underworld left out. It’s character material, but eats up those precious minutes.  I’d say we would need all 10 minutes for this issue.

Issue Two – Comedian’s funeral and recollection of his mourners. Packed with seemingly casual recollections that turn out to be major issues later. Blake’s relationship with Sally is one aspect of the Crimebusters that can’t be left out. Manhattan in Vietnam with Blake was in the trailer, but could be shrunk. Same with Dan and Blake’s Keene riot patrols.  But he can’t leave out Blake’s visit to Moloch. I also hope they keep the Pagliacci joke – personal favorite.  Again, going to need a full 10 mins for this one.

Issue Three – Manhattan leaves Earth, Dan and Laurie reconnect.  Finally we have an issue where material can be cut out. Doc still has to flee to Mars, but there’s a lot of side story with the street vendor and that crazy doomsday sign carrier that can shrink way down.  Should be able to make up time here.

Issue Four – Doc’s reminiscence on Mars. I love this issue, the texture, the ideas of how Doc views time, and the insight into this fascinating character. But really this would be very hard to convey on the screen in depth, and doesn’t move the story forward. It’s mostly backstory. I think this issue will get cut heavily.

Issue Five – Rorschach captured, Dan is frustrated, Veidt’s assassination attempt. A few major plot points, but I think they can compress in a bit.  I think this issue will show a number of factual plot points and spare the depth.  Again with the street vendor – I think his story will also be greatly reduced in the movie, along with the Pirate ship story and the comic-reading kid.  This will probably clock in around the full 10 mins.

Issue Six – What kind of dork does every issue like this?  Me.  Now this issue, while backstory, is to me the heart of the series.  Not only is Rorschach scrawling his own design on the morally blank face of Armageddon, but so is the entire rest of the cast. Every one of them had their own conception of the world broken, and reformed it in their own image. Moral choice in the face of anarchy.  This is also a black, bleak issue, and the kidnapping details are going to really turn people away of not done well.  This issue will likely eat up more than it’s 10 minutes, and claim some of the ground given up by a few previous issues.

Issue Seven – Dan and Laurie, and some info on the Institute. Dan and Laurie are the emotional heart to this tale, so I expect their relationship to get some coverage.  Just not sure how much.  I think Snyder will have to forsake some character work for plot, and this is where we may see that hit.  Easily take the full 10 mins, and maybe more.

Issue Eight – Jailbreak. I think the jailbreak will get time, as will Rorschach’s escapade’s inside the jail. We will need to see the people working on the island, too.  Again, I expect Hollis to get sidelined, and his death seems like a likely item to cut.  Lots of action here, and since we’ve already seen Nightowl doing a Spartan slow-mo kick in the trailer, I think this will get the full treatment.  Full 10 minutes on this one, plus some.

Issue Nine – Revelations on Mars. This would be gorgeous on the screen, and has Laurie big character revelation.  This one will eat up time, especially if we get the full tour of Mars. I wonder if Snyder will try to keep all the bloodstained-smiley logo references, including the crash on the Argyre Planitia.  I also wonder if we’ll see a lot of voiceover from Laurie to tie her story together.  This issue just can’t shrink that much.  Going to be more than 10 minutes.

Issue Ten – Rorschach and Nightowl close in on Veidt. Lots of small bits of information here, like the delivery of the journal and more Pirate story. I think this will be compressed to mainly show the investigation and the fate of the people working on the island.  Can make up some time here.

Issue Eleven – A button is pushed, Veidt’s backstory and the big reveal.  I think we’ll see reference back to the Crimebuster’s meeting and tidbits on Veidt, but not all the details.  His own decision to scrawl his morality on the world.  But the pacing here I think can be cut down to the 10 minutes.

Issue Twelve – Downtown Exposition City.  One worry I have with this adaptation overall is the need for voiceover.  In a movie you normally want to Show, not Tell. With the crazy way Moore plays with time and intercut threads, I think a voiceover will almost be necessary.  Then the wrap up, hopefully with Seymour and his fateful selection.  This will be the bulk of the third act and push well more than 10 minutes – maybe 15+.

Could this clock in as a 2 1/2 hour movie like Dark Knight?  May not be a choice to preserve both the story and the characters.  But even giving another 2-3 mins per issue may not be enough.  I think we’re looking at a very long movie (which studios and theaters hate) or the cutting knife will go deep.

All of this said, I’m still going to see it the day it opens. As a fan I like to ponder topics like this, but am also willing to let movies prove themselves. For fun Google up fan rants about Lord of the Rings before it opened, or Daniel Craig as James Bond.  I have my concerns, but wish Snyder and Co. nothing but the best in making this work.