Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Charting the Amazon

Batman v Superman begins next week, but the most interesting character may not even be in the title.

Brilliant artwork by Doug Chiang showing live-action depictions
of Wonder Woman, forty years apart: Lynda Carter (left) and Gal Gadot.
I have to admit I’m going a little cold on the thought of DC's upcoming big screen spectacular. I love Henry Cavill’s Superman, (although this wasn’t the film I wanted to see him in next), and Batman is well, glowery and gravelly-voiced, and I don’t doubt Affleck could turn out to be the definitive portrayal.

But the bright spot for me is finally seeing a live action depiction of the third member of DC comic's trinity.

Gal Gadot, soon to be seen as the first big screen Wonder Woman
As usual, I don’t have any comic book fan credentials to speak of - to me and possibly most other people, Wonder Woman is still Lynda Carter.
The former Miss World USA starred in two closely related but separately produced series between 1976 and ’78 (the single, WWII-set Wonder Woman season for ABC followed by the contemporary New Adventures of Wonder Woman for CBS).

Given that superheroes on television were still equated with the campy ‘60s Batman series, and that the mid-seventies were hardly noted for progressive media representations of women, I recall that the Amazing Amazon actually fared pretty well on the tube.

Yes, she had a figure which impacted our developing libidos like a crashing invisible plane, but Carter also managed to depict a strong, sensitive, inspiring and intelligent character who still served as a role model for young women for generations afterwards; long before (the obviously derivative) warrior princess Xena.  Her sincere portrayal also gave a comic-book character 'verisimilitude' before Christopher Reeve ever took to the air.

All hail to the Princess, baby
So in a week’s time Gal Gadot (and we wish her all the luck in the world) will become the second actor ever to play Wonder Woman in a live-action production?

Actually, she will be the fifth.
Join me in the result of a long journey down an internet rabbit-hole which convinced me that the more you think you know, the less you actually do...

The first actress to play Wonder Woman in person was another Linda - Linda Harrison (Charlton Heston’s love-interest ‘Nova’ in the first two Planet of the Apes films).

Linda Harrison as the first live-action Wonder Woman
Admittedly, it was only in a 5-minute pitch for a television movie pilot by Batman producer William Dozier, and the concept deviated wildly from the established history of the character, resulting in something truly dreadful - exactly the kind of sleazy campiness which the '70s series managed to avoid. It will come as no surprise to anyone that this wasn’t picked up.

In the intersts of completism, here are 5 minutes of your life you’ll never get back again - but if I were you I really, really wouldn’t bother:

The first time Wonder Woman was successfully broadcast on the small screen, she was blonde:

Now, that's incredible - Cathy Lee Crosby as Wonder Woman (?)
Then-tennis star Cathy Lee Crosby (later to find fame on the That’s Incredible series) donned a costume completely unlike anything the character ever wore in the comics, to combat the mighty Ricardo Montalban in a 1974 ABC TV movie. No I’m not making it up - here's an image to prove it.

As obscure as this production has now become, it still generated enough interest to eventually lead to the Lynda Carter adventures which we all remember so fondly.
And perhaps because the memory of Ms Carter is held in so much affection, it took another thirty-two years for the character to (almost) reappear on television.

In the interim years nominating an actress to play the Amazing Amazon was a popular pass-time for fans. Sandra Bullock was always cited in the ‘90s, to be followed by almost every dark-haired actress in existence, from Jennifer Connolly, to Kate Beckinsale, to Megan Fox (remember her?)

However, another Megan really was a contender. Mad Max Director George Miller cast Australian actress Megan Gale as Wonder Woman in his 2008 Justice League film, but as this was aborted before filming began due to a writer’s strike, including her here would be dubious.  Except, apparently-genuine shots of Ms Gale in costume came to light recently, so here she is what we very nearly could have had...

Megan Gale was cast as the first big screen Wonder Woman in 1998
Perhaps the next closest to a live-action realisation of the character was Cobie Smulders. Joss Whedon wrote two Wonder Woman film scripts with her in mind, before eventually casting the actress in The Avengers and his Agents of Shield television series, when the project collapsed. Smulders did, however, voice Wonder Woman in The Lego Movie (2014) making her the first big screen incarnation after all!

Cobie Smulders, (looking quite a lot like Lynda Carter here),
voiced Wonder woman in The Lego Movie
And speaking of Agents of Shield, not only has it featured an actress playing one of Marvel’s closest approximations to Wonder Woman (and therefore another fan candidate): Jaimie Alexander as the Thor film's Lady Sif, but someone who actually did play her.

Not a wondrous Amazon, but a marvel-lous Valkyrie (sort of).
Jaimie Alexander as Asgard's Lady Sif

In 2010, Shield's statuesque Adrianne Palicki became the first to finally play Wonder Woman in over three decades -  in a TV Movie pilot which unfortunately was never even screened.

Adrianne Palicki was not well-served by the script of the aborted 2010 TV movie

She certainly looked the part, (the only actress invited to test for the role), but once again, the concept of the character was unnecessarily reshaped.
At least we weren’t given the by-now cliched ‘origin story’ approach, but instead a jaded, cynical and even sometimes cruel character who has lived in the ‘World of Men’ for some time, and become some kind of corporate brand and media celebrity.

My feeling is that with a far better script, (even either of Lynda Carter’s TV pilots), Palicki could still be Diana Prince now.

But instead we are finally getting Wonder Woman on the big screen: first guest-starring in an unsightly scuffle between two testosterone-over-dosed Capes who ought to know better, followed by her own feature film. Early footage can be seen here:

Wonder Woman fights the Nazis, just like old times

There’s been a little bit of thin-shaming (TM) after news of Gadot’s casting, (regardless of the fact that the actress is also a former Israeli army combat instructor who put on 17kg of muscle for this role), but she certainly looks the business from what we’ve seen in the trailers.

Despite the character's history of handing the titular male heroes their own bottoms in occasional clashes, I for one hope that we will see some of the gentleness and feminine wisdom in Batman v Superman, which Carter brought to the role all those years ago.
If Wonder Woman has to act like just another posturing male to succeed in the 'World of Men', then I think the character will lose much of her wonder.

And in the upcoming film, would a ‘power pirouette’ be out of the question?

More wonderful artwork, this time by Phil Jimenez, evoking the spirit of Lynda Carter's Wonder Woman.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Can't wait till next week even more now!I can't believe I'm saying this, but you've taught me a thing or two about WW here :)

    1. I can't believe you said that either, Joe! Maybe you'll share some of your research one day? ;)
      And yes, bring on next week!

  3. I applaud a new WW who actually looks like she might have hailed from a Mediterranean island!

  4. Good point!
    Lynda Carter's Wonder woman apparently came from Paradise Island, 'somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle' - hence her clear, Florida/Bermuda/Puerto Rican appearance.
    I have to say, though, I really like the Megan Gale look (costume by Weta, I think)...