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November 04, 2011

Wonder Woman at 70: DC’s icon gets new origin (but still no film)

Posted in: Comics

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Wonder Woman #1 cover (DC Comics)

Hollywood is working on new movies featuring Superman and Batman and they will give the iconic DC heroes 16 theatrically released feature films between them.

But Wonder Woman, the third most famous name in the DC vault, will celebrate her 70th anniversary this December with exactly zero feature films as well as the lingering ignominy of the live-action television pilot that NBC and Warner Bros financed but then deemed too awful to air.

What’s the problem? That’s one question our Geoff Boucher asked writer Brian Azzarello and artist Cliff Chiang, the new creative team chronicling the adventures of the Amazon princess in the pages of DC Comics.

The pair, who took over the title under The New 52 initiative to revamp or revitalize their entire DC line,  caused a stir right away by changing the heroine’s classic origins story  and giving her something that she’s never had in any of her adventures in any medium — a father (who, it turns out, just happens to be the Greek god-king Zeus).

GB: There are some interesting things to balance with Wonder Woman; her heritage makes her a sort of hero of antiquity, but she needs to appeal to today’s young readers. There’s also the balance between the portrayal of her femininity and her warrior spirit, which seems to trip up some creators.

BA: It’s a challenge but it’s not insurmountable. When you look at antiquity that’s shiny, it gets boring.  Look, antiquity has been around a long time there’s a lot of dents and bruises in it and a lot of dirt. I think the whole white toga thing — yi-yuh-yi.

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Wonder Woman #2 cover (DC Comics)

CC: We’re striving for something that speaks to a certain timelessness but at the same time doesn’t get bogged down with older notions of the Greek gods. We’ve done away with togas and sandals and stuff like that in order to make you look at them with new eyes. We want the characters to look and sound different, we want them to act different than you would expect if you were watching “Clash of the Titans” or something like that. The fact that all of the Greek myths are really rooted in human behavior is great. Universal themes get played over and over again and Brian is so great at writing that kind of story. It makes it easier to keep it as timeless stories as opposed to stories that are dressed up to be ancient … sometimes we go for the real fantastic too and sometimes it’s more mundane and the fun is in having that huge swing.

GB: This is a character that dates back to the Roosevelt administration and all the history can be a vast resource to draw from but, I suspect, it could also be somewhat paralyzing when you’re trying to decide on your tone and responsibility to the heritage. What was your view coming in — and did you do a lot of research?

CC: I looked back at some of it but I didn’t go through it obsessively. I wanted to see some of what had been done before but with the mandate of this [company initiative] and its need to feel new, it was less of a priority. We knew we were going in a different direction with things. The fact that Jim Lee had already designed the new costume [last summer], that part of the problem was solved for me and more of it was trying to figure out how to design the gods and the rest of her supporting cast so they would fit the tone of the book.

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Wonder Woman #3 cover (DC Comics)

BA: I steered clear of a lot of it. We wanted to do something new. We didn’t really want to bring too much of the old stuff. There are certainly nods to it but I’m sure there will people who will disagree when I say that we’ve been respectful. We’re kind of forging our own trail right now. We’ve cleaned her up. You can describe who she is now. She’s got the specific description now just like Batman or Superman.  She’s the daughter of a god. It’s weird, through the years people don’t have a strong grasp of her. In the general popular culture, she’s huge, not that anybody really knows anything about her. I’ve asked people –what do you know about Wonder Woman and they say, ‘The Amazon, right?’ And that’s about as far as it goes. They don’t know what her origin is. The idea of the character is bigger than the character herself. She’s recognizable but not known. And when that happens they go to the side stuff, they talk about [the accessories] like the lasso and the bracelets.

GB: That’s a big change. The classic version of the Wonder Woman origin was that the Queen Hippolyta longed for a daughter and shaped a youngster out of clay and the goddess Aphrodite then brought that statue to life. You guys are going in a very different direction by making her the daughter of Zeus, which means she’s the half-sister of Heracles, Perseus and Helen of Troy.

CC: If you went to the average person on the street and showed them a picture of Wonder Woman they would recognize her immediately. Ask those people her origin story and some of them might know the clay story but many, many others would not know that at all. That’s not a problem you have with Superman or Batman; everyone knows their origin. By making her the daughter of Zeus, we’ve gotten a big driving force behind our story. It gives her a motivation and it’s a key to character that we now feel is very important. She’s a child of the gods who defends us from them, in the same way that Superman is from another planet trying to save humanity and Batman is the orphan who is protecting us from the criminals who killed his parents.

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Wonder Woman #4 cover (DC Comics)

BA: It’s going to be key to a lot of things. We can’t just make this change and leave it hanging. It’s going to inform the first year of stories. She’s got a whole family she’s got to meet. Some are looking forward to meeting her and others aren’t. We’re heading toward the family reunion. Ever been to one of those? At the same time she is protecting this young woman Zola, who happens to be carrying a baby — we don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl yet — who is another one of the children of Zeus. So she’s protecting her half-brother or half-sister who is on the way.

GB: Wonder Woman has been pretty stiff at times in the comics. Some writers and artists don’t seem to know what to do with her and they treat her like a museum piece they’re afraid  they might break. 

CC: I agree and it goes to what you mentioned before about classic femininity versus Amazonian femininity and that crosses some people up. A lot of people have these ideas about Wonder Woman and that she would act in a certain way– very prim and proper, almost Victorian notion of femininity — and we’re trying to bring to something that brings it closer to an older warrior culture. Wonder Woman is extremely self-confident.  When we introduce her in the first issue and she’s in her bedroom and she’s sleeping in the nude, that’s not a sex appeal thing, it’s a character thing. She’s so confident in herself of course she’s going to sleep in the nude and the wardrobe she has across the room isn’t going to be full of clothes, it’s going to be full of weapons.

BA: She has a really dry sense of humor. A lot of these characters in comics, if they’re funny it’s because they’re wiseguys. That’s the way people write them. I wanted to write it right a little more seriously. She’s very confident so she makes jokes and they kind of go over other people’s heads.

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Circa 1976: Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman in “The New Adventures of Wonder Woman.” (CBS/Los Angeles Times archives)

GB: Superman and Batman are taking flight again on the big screen but Wonder Woman is still waiting her turn. It sort of boggles the mind especially when you consider the fact that Ghost Rider, Swamp Thing, the Punisher and Hellboy each have made it to the screen two or more times. Do you think that speaks to something in the audience or in the creative world? In other words, is it the fact that we don’t want to see a movie bad enough or is it the fact that Hollywood can’t make it good enough?

CC: Wow, that’s a big one. I would say that the audience has wanted different things out of a Wonder Woman movie over the years and that the creative side hasn’t quite figured out the way go. Wonder Woman presents a thorny question: How are you going to show the premier female superhero to the audience in a way that will satisfy that audience? I think now is the time for a Wonder Woman movie. I think it would be great. I think people’s ideas of what a woman can do and the way women heroes can be presented is much broader. You think back to the old TV show, it was pretty campy, but it was the ’70s. The thing is Lynda Carter never made fun of Wonder Woman, which was great and it’s one of the reasons the show really inspired a lot of people to fall in love with Wonder Woman. She did it with a straight face and one of the things we want to do is sort of present this no-nonsense woman warrior. That’s not to say she isn’t compassionate, she’s just ready to get down to business.

BA: I don’t know, they like her on TV. At the theater? I don’t know the answer. I think when people go to comic-book movies they’re going with a preconceived notion of the characters, although I guess “Iron Man” broke that mold. But you go to a Superman movie or a Batman movie and you know who they are. What sold the first Superman movie was the fact that he could fly and the special effects were so great — ‘You’ll believe a man can fly,’ that was the tagline. They are kind of these clear niches where they work, Batman in Gotham City and has seriously creepy villains, Superman is in Metropolis and he fights with the smartest man on Earth. With Wonder Woman, I don’t think people know what they would get out of that right now. Lyle Waggoner as Steve Trevor?

— Geoff Boucher


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