Wonder Woman: All That and an Invisible Jet

Tuesday night my family sat down together to watch the new Wonder Woman animated movie (aptly titled Wonder Woman). When I told my daughters this plan I got two wildly different reactions. Aeris, my rambunctious child who will be four next month, who wants to be Iron Man when she grows up and thinks she already is Batgirl (honestly, I can see Barbara Gordon growing up to be Iron Man), said: “Yay! I love Wonder Woman! She’s my favorite Barbie!” Kiki, my studious tween who gets upset if she doesn’t accomplish something every day, said: “Who?” Then she thought about it for a moment and added, “Oh, wait, that’s who everybody thought I was when I dressed as Sailor Moon for Halloween.”

I admit to being crushed by this response. I felt like a failure as a Comic Book Parent. I write for a blog about comic book characters, my pet project is discussing the pros and cons of superheroines, and my own child doesn’t know who Wonder Woman — arguably the most iconic female in comics — even is? My childhood memories are full of Super Friends. I watched it religiously and not for Superman or the Wonder Twins (though, possibly for Batman). I watched it for Wonder Woman because, as Jennifer alluded to in her brilliant article about the new Marvel Heroes cartoon, I was a little girl and I wanted to watch stories about a girl hero. And the truth is by the time enacting Super Friends became my favorite pastime I had already been spoiled by a little show actually titled Wonder Woman. When I was Aeris’s age I wanted to be Lynda Carter when I grew up. And sometimes, I still do.

Lest you think I am making this up to make my article more poignant, here is a polaroid from January of 1982. That makes me just barely six years old — and dressed unabashedly as Wonder Woman, bulletproof bracelets and all. You’ll note my little brother is portraying Superman, further proof that affection for comic books is an inherited trait. The woman on the right is my mother and the woman on the left family friend and actress Jaffrey, who was “secretly a lesbian.” Since no one bothered to explain what that meant to the six year old I came to the logical conclusion that Lesbian was her superhero identity and for a good two years was under the impression that Amazon and Lesbian were synonymous.

Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman debuted in 1975, the year I was born, and ran only three seasons (Super Friends ran from 1973-1986). But way back then there weren’t 500 channels competing for our attention and the series was shown past its cancellation in the afternoons. I remember playing out my own Wonder Woman scenarios during recess in first grade. I was Diana and my best friend, Mark, was Steve. And since I was brought up by a pureblood-hippy mother who refused to allow toy guns or army men in the house, this meant I, as the superpowered Amazon (lesbian!) princess, always saved him — because guns are bad, so even though he was in the army he wasn’t ever allowed to have any. Yes, I was a bossy little child, but I did let him choose the game sometimes and those days I was stuck playing Daisy Duke who had no super powers and even fewer brains. But it is safe to say that my formative years were full of the tiara-throwing, super-strong, super-fast, indestructible, strong-willed Princess Diana of Themyscira. To the point where I found the real Princess Diana to be horribly disappointing; she never once flung her tiara.

Unlike Sue Storm or Beverly Crusher, Wonder Woman comes off as a strong female role model at first blush. With abilities that rival Superman’s she is the definition of a strong female and as a consummate career woman with a distinct moral compass and a willingness to stand up to anyone she is a strong role model. So it is a bit like saying Superman is a Superhero — we are then met with a chorus of Obviously!. But that she is clearly a strong role model for the little girl I was and the little girls I am raising does not mean we should dismiss it and move on. That she is clearly a strong role model makes Diana more special, not less.

But I will start with her flaws as a role model. First, Wonder Woman is hardly a representation of an average woman; she is an Amazon, a princess, and built like a supermodel. But if we are applying realism — she can fly. Superheroes, male or female, are not average citizens. They are the best and brightest and boldest and they are inevitably the most beautiful. Second, she runs around in her underwear. This fact is very well illustrated in the new animated film when Diana is interrupted in her not-date and fights off a gang in her purple dress until the dress falls apart and off revealing the star-spangled panties and golden eagle bustier we all know so well. I suppose the purpose there is to show that clothing off the rack from Filene’s can’t stand up to a fight the way patriotic underwear can. But again, it is not Wonder Woman’s fault comic book readers expect superheroes to be in costumes and superheroines to be in skimpy costumes. It is a flaw, but it is a flaw of the medium. Third, the story goes that Wonder Woman is so strong-willed “for a woman” because she was raised outside of society. Which says a lot about society; mainly that women raised within it (i.e. the readers) are expected to be meeker and weaker than Wonder Woman. And related to that, fourth, it is often pointed out that Diana “acts like a man.” Meaning her strength, her confidence, her commanding presence — these are anomalies. It’s a troubling message to send.

However, none of this takes away from her place as an iconic female superhero. And where Wonder Woman is truly unique is her status as part of the Big Three of DC Comics. She stands tall and proud beside Superman and Batman. She is more than their ally, she is their equal; at the same time she is more than their peer, she is their friend. And while Superman is magnanimous, Batman holds things close to the chest. There are very few people he considers friends and the number of friends he trusts can be counted on one hand — but Diana is one of them. Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are considered a trinity representing the top tier of superheroism. They are what every superhero strives to be and the fact that Diana is a woman is inconsequential to her placement. But extraordinarily significant to her cause.

Especially when we realize it crosses over to her parent company. Not only is Wonder Woman respected as a parallel to Superman and Batman by the characters within the pages of their story, she is respected as a parallel to Superman and Batman by DC Comics. Superman and Batman dominate DC marketing, but Wonder Woman is second only to those two and more often than not the three appear all together. Wonder Woman and her logo show up on t-shirts, pillow cases, and underwear — she has books and coloring books and action figures — and she is my daughter’s favorite Barbie. And unlike Supergirl, DC’s other prominent female and female brand, she is not tied irrevocably to a more powerful man. Nor is her red and gold refashioned in pink.

Back to Tuesday night, we all enjoyed the film. It’s Wonder Woman’s origin story and thus steeped in Greek mythology and mysticism. Diana (voiced by Keri Russell) leaves her isolated island paradise to accompany a lost American soldier (Steve Trevor, voiced with amusement by Nathan Fillion) home and while doing so lets slip the idea that it has always been her personal dream to rejoin Themyscira with the outside world. Familiar characters abound with Hippolyta, Ares, and even a brief appearance by Etta Candy, but where the film excels is in giving the more minor characters, Diana’s Amazonian sisters Artemis, Alexa and Persephone, a way to express their (and thus the storytellers’) differing viewpoints — all of which, even villainous Persephone’s, have something to offer the young girls watching. Artemis is Diana’s trainer and only real rival for the title of best warrior; Alexa is a bookworm whose knowledge is able to save the day when brute strength fails; and Persephone makes poor choices but in the end she takes a quiet stand for women who want a family as well as a career. It is just over an hour long and rated PG-13 for “continuous violence” and “some suggestive material” — bathing Amazons (lesbians!) and quite a lot of “nice rack” jokes. My nearly-four year old didn’t notice these, focusing instead on the squadron of flying horses. And her older sister’s comments after the show were summed up in “I now have an appreciation for Wonder Woman. And I definitely love her bracelets.” Which is at the least an improvement over “Who?”

When I was six years old, dressed up in my sparkly underwear, spinning in place and crossing my arms to fend off whatever the villain wanted to fling my way — I wasn’t a six year old girl in my underwear. I was all powerful. I was Wonder Woman. And I will always appreciate that.

Posted by Anika
email: anika@fantasticfangirls.org
twitter: magnetgirl

  • They never played Wonder Woman in syndication when I was little, I had Batman, but I tell you, your story about playing Wonder Woman, is essentially how I was with Batgirl. And Eartha Kitt’s Catwoman.

  • I have to say, the first thing I thought of is ‘clearly, Sailor Moon needs to teach Wonder Woman how to throw her tiara.’ I think I have issues.

    But yes. This. This exactly. You’ve totally nailed the things about Diana that make her so essential to the DCU. And all of her contradictions and I just… Diana is awesome.

    That said, my favorite version of her is JLU Wonder Woman. But I haven’t seen the new movie yet, and I am sadly lacking in episodes of the tv show.

    Excellent job on this.

    (Also, Barbara should totally be Iron Man.)

  • Caroline

    I didn’t get around to commenting on this before — I love this article and the way you tie Wonder Woman into stories from your own life. Nicely done, and I’m glad your girls enjoyed the movie.

  • A friend of ours rented a copy of Wonder Woman and then brought it over we could watch it together.

    We spent most of the film talking back to the screen, rewinding so we could watch parts again (like Diana’s fight in the alley) and generally acting a fool because we liked it so much.

    I thought all the Amazons were at least Happy Without Boyfriends when I was a kid which made sense to me at the time because I went to an all-girls Catholic school in the 70s when the show was on the air. We currently own season 1 on DVD.

    What I like most about Diana in all her various permutations – she’s not perfect, she is not without flaw. She gets cranky, she’s defiant and she’s good friend. Plus, she’ll beat people’s asses if needed. I like that in a woman.

    See if you can get a copy of the Cathy Lee Crosby version of Wonder Woman (circa 1974). It’s a thoroughly different animal from Linda Carter’s portrayal.

  • Anonymous

    I love you

  • Sandra

    I also liked that WW and Bats were together but these days I’ve been looking at comics, both Batman and WW, he has had mucxhas women and does not deserve someone like Wondy. I always thought that was the Wolverine Batman DC but I was wrong, Wolverine despite everything that Weapon X and what they did do and a life tragic love never give up despite losing his greatest love, Mariko and Jaen but Batman in this sense is a coward comfortable, not risk, because it keeps Selina always have the excuse of lack of confidence to not make your partner for life. WW deserves a real man, someone who plays for it.
    As Kara said in the movie “Superman / Batman: Apocalypse”: “You have no heart.” Hero is as big as a man is worthless. Whose work leave behind her love life? For Favooooor! Superman Does not tene one? Even the green arrow womanizing married.

    Wolverine has a girlfriend now (one that certainly is in danger and which I teach to protect), he has worked alone, with the X-Men, with The Avangers, with the X-Force, with his own demons and that I prevent you never want to give and receive love despite their aggressive nature and never would let tipas Thalia level or Catwoman “fenmmes Fatals” were important to him, always look strong as women Buana and Jaen, Mariko and his girlfriend as well, quein was always known for bed and quein for the heart like a real man should know.

    Batman as a hero is great as a disappointed man, death is going to reach everyone, no excuse to hide, he deserves to Selina (although I think it not to him) but on second thought the “daughter of the devil’s good” but not quiera.Diana his son’s heart is too, too human for him.

  • Kerin

    I have always found Wonder Woman to be the purfect roll model, and I hope your daughters will also.

    She treats everyone fairly, is guided by the principles of Peace and Truth and Love.

    While Batman is often dark and brooding, and nutrusting of others, Wonder Woman looks at the bright side of people and their accomplishments. She is alwaqys ready to forgive a wrong, so long as the violator is repentive.