Monday, March 21, 2011

What Should a Television Wonder Woman Look Like?

With the news that David E. Kelley is planning a new Wonder Woman series for NBC, and the fact that the internet geek subculture is abuzz with chatter about the first look of the costume in this series, it seems time to ask just what exactly the costume should look like in a weekly television program.


A generation of television viewers grew up with the Silver Age comic book inspired costume worn by Lynda Carter. If those same viewers are honest with themselves, they'll admit that while Lynda Carter looks fantastic -- the outfit itself is a tad campy. It adheres honestly to the Silver Age costume, it isn't intentionally overly campy, but its mere adherence to the comic book imagery means that Lynda Carter looks good, but she doesn't look like she can "kick ass." The focus on the outfit is on the "Princess" and not on the "Power" to borrow a few terms from Marvel's analogue to Wonder Woman.

This points to what I think should be the central component of the equation. Whatever costume Wonder Woman wears, sexploitation or classy fashionable, it should look like the woman in the suit is a Warrior -- a badass Amazonian combat machine from a warrior culture who has come to fight injustice!


There are certain elements of the Adrianne Palicki that seem to be aimed at increasing how "asskicking" David Kelley's new Wonder Woman looks. Wonder Woman's "bracelets" have been transformed into more proper bracers, and her "Golden Lasso" looks like it can serve as more than mere window dressing. But there is something incongruous about the outfit. Its glossy neoprene look makes it look more like a cosplay outfit than proper fighting gear. My good friend Bill Cunningham describes his frustration with the outfit in the following way:

I often think that it's a matter of people thinking they must make something more" important" or "sophisticated with a message" when often it's a matter of keeping it si...mple and pure and allowing the drama to come out of that. case in point: Buffy. Simple concept (girl slays vampires) that opened up the whole metaphor about "growing up."

I made my cosplay joke because that's how these TV guys seem to see Wonder Woman. It's sickening because when you look at WW and what legends and myths and strengths she represents (not only to women, but to men) then you see the possibilities of what sort of stories you can tell.

But you can't do that when your lead is dressed in rubber and has scarlet lipstick on that matches her bustier. Then she's reduced to NERD STRIPPER or even more appalling, WHORE CLOWN.

Again, the character and the actress deserve better.

His contention -- in stronger language than I am using -- is that by ignoring the "mythic" origins of Wonder Woman, the producers are limiting the narrative and visual power of the character. He would have us not forget that the character's origins are in the Greek legends of the Amazon warriors who fought alongside/against the greatest of the Greek heroes. They were a force with which to be reckoned. This glossy new outfit manages to simultaneously make Adrianne Palicki look less sexy than normal, and like she is completely lacking in physical prowess.

But how would one create a costume that harnessed classical mythology to create a costume that looks both appealing and functional. It seems that the internet has already provided an answer, back when Joss Whedon was thinking about making a WW movie.


Notice how the image, which uses photoshop to present a "Cobie Smulders as Wonder Woman" depiction, has bracers, greaves, and pteruges that all add to a sense that the person wearing them is actually a combatant and that the suit is for more than show. It still manages to adhere to the comic book depictions, but also manages to avoid camp. It bears some small resemblance to the Amazon Warrior depictions by George Perez during the "War of the Gods" storyline in the 80s.


Even if one wanted to do a more "modern" Wonder Woman character design, one could still look at older comic book designs for the character -- rather than the recent Jim Lee costume that the Kelley production seems to be using as its starting point. In the late 60s, Wonder Woman abandoned her traditional costume entirely and transformed from a "bathing suit" wearing character into one whose style more resembled the classic Diana Rigg character Emma Peel -- who was both sexy and looked like she could kick ass (if only The Avengers had legitimate martial arts choreography how magnificent the show would have been).





In this case television popular culture helped to shape the comic book representation of the character. The Wonder Woman of that era lost her "mythic" appeal, but she still had an espionage lethality appeal.

I'm not advocating that Kelley adopt the Diana Rigg version of the character, but I am wondering if he and the audience would be better served by his production looking beyond modern comics -- and the much criticized Jim Lee costume for the character -- for inspiration. I point out the Diana Rigg influenced Wonder Woman only to say that one can create images of powerful women that become so ingrained in popular culture that the comics themselves adopt the newer image. David Kelley has a chance to redefine Wonder Woman as a powerful woman of the 21st century. I'd like to see him do that and television is the perfect medium for him to achieve that goal. Kelley is a talented show creator and I have hopes for what he will be able to do with this character.

Let's home that the leaked costume gets changed soon.
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