How to Handle a New WONDER WOMAN TV Show

As was noted here at this very website, the network that cancelled “Life Unexpected,” the CW, is developing a sort-of Wonder Woman TV series, tentatively entitled “Amazon,” which seems to be coming pre-loaded with disinterest:

The plan this time: origin story, all the way.

Our sources say the new take on the comic book crime fighter is being written by Allan Heinberg (Grey’s Anatomy, The O.C.) under the working title Amazon. Unlike past TV incarnations, it will focus on Wonder Woman as a young, budding superhero, rather than a fully formed defender of liberty. (Think Smallville, but instead of a “no tights, no flights” rule, this show might have a “no bracelets, no crown” mandate.) Heinberg seems a logical candidate for the job: His resume includes work on the kinds of soapy dramas the CW favors as well as comic-geek street cred (he wrote the Young Avengers comic book series back in 2005).

It’s another reboot! Or a prequel!

Is there any other piece of intellectual property that has been as abused and misunderstood by its corporate owners than Wonder Woman? That was a rhetorical question, so I’ll answer it myself: Maybe. But if there is, I can’t think of it, and for the purposes of this post, No.

The original Wonder Woman, as conceived by William Moulton Marston and Harry Peter, is one of the greatest superheroes of all time. She was conceived as a symbol of loving femininity that would dominate the more base male instincts toward war and destruction. She did this through female empowerment. And bondage.

Oh, yeah, the comics from the 1940s had lots of rah-rah patriotism and Axis-bashing, but there was also lots of tying people up. Don’t believe me? Here are some images from the third Wonder Woman DC Archives edition:

Yes, that last panel actually features bound women eating from bowls placed on the ground.

Look at Wonder Woman comics today. DC has been doing everything in its power to destroy and neuter her, to make her into the exact opposite of what she was intended. Many people believe that the disastrous “bold new look” that DC forced upon her in the summer 2010 was the worst thing that listless DC creators had done with the character. Those people were wrong!

For awhile in the late 1960s-early 1970s, she had her powers taken away and was given normal (“mod”) clothes to wear:

The intention of this “new” Wonder Woman was to, um, empower women, or something.

“At the time, I thought I was serving a feminist agenda. I’m from a blue collar, St. Louis background.” Comparing a human Diana Prince to Bruce Wayne, who perfected himself to become the Batman, O’Neil says, “I thought if she did something to earn her power, it would make her more admirable.”

Scaling down Wonder Woman’s powers was something [Editor and Writer Dennis] O’Neil thought would serve the story better. “The essence of melodrama is conflict. If you have a god-like being — and that includes Superman, the Flash, Green Lantern — it’s very hard to put him in an interesting situation, even if the audience isn’t conscious of [the power differential]. I like characters that are humanized. They give better storytelling tools, so I’m sure that when they asked me to do Wonder Woman, that’s what was in my mind.”

So Wonder Woman lost her powers and her amazing suit because the editor thought that would somehow be empowering.

It didn’t take. Gloria Steinem, in the first issue of Ms. Magazine, put the “old” version of Wonder Woman on the cover of that magazine’s first issue, which included an essay about the feminist qualities of the character.

Pretty soon Wonder Woman was back in the costume that DC took away in 2010. And why did DC again take away her suit? Well, the reasons seem awfully similar to those Dennis O’Neil had for depowering her in the 1970s:

“It’s a look designed to be taken seriously as a warrior, in partial answer to the many female fans over the years who’ve asked, ‘how does she fight in that thing without all her parts falling out?'” said incoming series writer J. Michael Straczynski.

Well, I can answer the question about how she fights “without all her parts coming out.” She is an Amazon princess. Her clothes don’t act in the same manner as a standard human being. Human rules don’t apply to her.

Why would she worry about what some repressed comic book fans think about her outfit? She plays by her own rules. But Wonder Woman’s rules scare modern creators. More than that, they scare the marketing and promotions and legal departments, who seem to be just as important in the creation of comics stories.

DC’s been trying to get Wonder Woman into other media. Joss Whedon worked on a project for awhile. David E. Kelley worked on a TV project for which a pilot was actually produced. And yet, for some reason, two of the most successful and talented creators in film and television couldn’t get a handle on this:


Creating stories for Wonder Woman should be a rare gift. Yet, there’s been a push to turn Wonder Woman into one of the “Big Three,” a part of the joyless, sexless, noncontroversial triumvirate:

Look at how the creators who have handled her since Marston treat her. In the Denny O’Neil quote above, he specifically compares Wonder Woman to Batman. Greg Rucka created the villain Veronica Cale to be a “Lex Luthor for Wonder Woman.” The new TV show idea is a riff on “Smallville.” These creators are thinking of her in terms of other, male superhero characters. They do not have the empathy to put themselves in the mind of an Amazon princess. They cannot process the admittedly idiosyncratic worldview of her original creators.

But a Kryptonian sun god? A wealthy business man who puts on a tights and goes around solving crimes? Those are characters they can accept on their own terms.

Would you like to watch a show about a beautiful, empowered female superhero, a woman with perfect “modern venus” measurements! Amazing!, who gets tied up and ties up her foes, all in the name of controlling the masculine urge toward destruction and war?

And don’t tell me they couldn’t do it today. Have you seen what they air on Showtime (this new bondage-embracing Wonder Woman would be a perfect companion to “Californication“) and Starz (are you telling me that people wouldn’t be interested in this show, after the success of “Spartacus“) and HBO (what, the audience for “Game of Thrones” and “True Blood” wouldn’t be interested in a Wonder Woman that remained true to her roots, a show that encapsulated Marston’s own take on the character:  “Give them an alluring woman stronger than themselves to submit to, and they’ll be proud to become her willing slaves!“)?

You are talking a cult hit. 5 million viewers a week, at least.

And no, the sanitized, dull, “modern” version that DC has been pushing since about 1965 has never caught on, and it isn’t going to. They might be able to get it on a network, but Wonder Woman is never going to get mainstream numbers high enough to justify its staying on a network.

And since you’re going to do better on cable anyway, why not make it interesting and fun, with an epic Amazon-size scope, and plenty of action, suspense, and, yes, bondage?

And if Sasha Grey can go mainstream (even appearing on some episodes of HBO’s series “Entourage“), then why not cast her as Wonder Woman’s primary foe/female love interest The Cheetah?

I think I know what you’re thinking, at this point. “Ricky, you’re taking this whole sex-in-Wonder-Woman-comics thing too far. Sure, there was a lot of tying people up and what have you, but the creators didn’t mean anything sexual by it. I mean, it’s not like the creator of Wonder Woman lived in a polyamorous relationship with two women or anything.”

First of all, yes he did live in a polyamorous relationship. Second of all, what has that got to do with the comics, anyway?

Third of all, I leave you with another scan from those original 1940s Wonder Woman comics:

“When a man’s unreasonable, feed him candy!” she says. And the name of the character making that statement?

Etta Candy. Wonder Woman’s sidekick and the leader of the Beeta Lambda sorority. Ladies and gentlemen, a mainstream superhero comic book from 1943 did in fact feature an oral sex pun. Would the marketing and editorial people in charge of the character allow such a thing to happen today?

Should the modern incarnation of Wonder Woman make it to the tv screen –or should we go back and celebrate the humor, fun, and sexuality of the original character? That was a rhetorical question.