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The Hidden S ponders the long, twisted and uh, kinky, history of Wonder Woman...

Warner Home Video has just released the animated film Wonder Woman, produced by Bruce Timm. The vocal talent includes Keri Russell as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman as well as Nathan Fillion, Alfred Molina, Rosario Dawson and Virginia Madsen.

The narrative is a relatively straightforward re-telling of Wonder Woman’s origin/back-story and mirrors some of George Perez’ work in the “Gods and Mortals” arc from the late 80s. The key elements of the Wonder Woman mythos are in place with Diana/Wonder Woman winning a tournament for the right to transport pilot Steve Trevor back to civilization as the Amazonian envoy. Ares is the adversary here as he raises his ugly head in the 21st century.

The feature itself is just OK. It doesn't seem that original in its animation and it has a heavy 300 influence that seems slightly played out. Keri Russell is too much like a co-ed at NYU (Dawson who plays the amazon Warrior Artemis might have been a better choice for the Amazing Amazon).

The real films of interest in this release are on a second disc with some very interesting documentaries included in the mix: "Wonder Woman: A Subversive Dream" and "Wonder Woman: Daughter of Myth." Both documentaries trace the odd backstory of not only Wonder Woman, but also her influences and the odd resume and life of her creator Dr. William Marston.

It would be hard to find a more eccentric originator of Wonder Woman than Harvard educated comic creator Dr. William Marston. Marston was fairly well known as a psychologist, early feminist and inventor of the lie detector. Marston also notoriously lived openly with both his wife and mistress in the same household. Marston was an early advocate of the educational positives of comic books in a series of articles he contributed to the magazine Family Circle. These articles caught the attention of the comics industry, in particular Max Gaines, publisher of the DC predecessor All-American Publications, who hired Marston as a consultant.

In time, Marston developed the idea for the creation of a superhero with a unique twist. Wonder Woman is possibly the oddest and most idiosyncratic of major comic characters. First of all, she is rooted in classical mythology; the first such hero dreamed up in this manner (Marvel has a whole universe of characters with ties to classical mythology-DC less so). Second, and of course most crucial, was the fact that she was the first female superhero. The very early superheroes were male and grew out of the pulp heroes of the thirties like The Shadow, Doc Savage and The Spider. These characters helped influence Superman, Batman and lesser lights like The Sandman.

There were no female pulp heroines and probably no one thought that there was any need to create one (Doc Savage, a kind of mortal version of Superman had a sister named Pat who was a kind of early version of Emma Peel, but she was just a minor character in Doc Savage’s universe).

Wonder Woman was something completely different. Superhero comics were thought to be the exclusive domain of young boys. There was a whole separate category of comics for girls which were some of the florid, melodramatic romance comics that catered to the tastes of young girls. It took a guy like Marston, an early feminist, helped break this stereotype. The origin story of Wonder Woman is rooted in classical mythology and is therefore in a different vein than Batman/Superman’s pulp and science fiction origins.

This nod to classical culture was no doubt a reflection on Marston’s liberal arts education. In addition, the early issues made much of Wonder Women’s tendency to bind up men and women with her golden lasso of truth (in turn, she was often bound as well). The lasso of truth mimicked some of Marston’s interest and innovation in lie detection, but also seemed to betray more than a hint of sexual kink. No doubt, this kind of thing sailed easily over the heads of young reader, but to look back at some of the stories today is to see some of the first examples of bondage in popular culture.

Wonder Woman has a surprisingly convoluted history. She actually morphed into a Emma Peel like character after deciding to live in the “man’s world” for a significant time in the 60s and worked with a wizened Oriental mentor named I Ching (not very original) as a kind of super spy/mercenary. ** This was not a popular phase for Wonder Woman and comic fans, typically sensitive to even slight changes, did not embrace this evolution/reboot of the Amazing Amazon.

Eventually, she returned to her star spangled glory in the 70s in part as a result of the popularity of the Linda Carter Wonder Woman show that premiered in the mid-70s.** **An oddity that connects with this interpretation was a television film that was likely some sort of pilot called "Wonder Woman" that was on ABC in 1974 that featured a "C" level actress and model Cathy Lee Crosby as Wonder Woman/Diana Prince-This interpretation was closer to the comic interpretation of the late 60s and early 70s where Wonder Woman was a kind of Martial Artist/Girl From Uncle Type with a catsuit-Check it out in full on YouTube-very weird...

What the Adam West Batman series of the 60s was to young boys the Linda Carter Wonder Woman series was to young girls: a groovy role model with a flamboyant outfit and an out-of- this-world mode of transportation (Wonder Woman’s invisible plane). The documentary interviews authors and journalists and they recount how they spun around and around in imitation of Linda Carter’s transformation into Wonder Woman until they got nauseous.

So then what is the legacy of Wonder Woman? The documentaries (especially the subversive dream doc) make a case that she was equal or even more influential as a symbol of female empowerment (famously appearing on the cover of Ms. Magazine at the height of the women’s movement in 1972) than she ever was as a comic character.

Indeed, she is the rare first rank superhero with no great adversaries; she doesn’t have a Lex Luthor, a Joker, a Brainiac, a Green Goblin, etc. She is the starting point for all female superheroes, however. There would be no Supergirl, no Black Canary, no Elektra, and no Hawkwoman if not for Wonder Woman. No Buffy, no Xena, no Alias, no Matrix, no Aeon Flux, etc. etc if not for the Amazing Amazon.

The other legacy of Wonder Woman is the sexual fetish and eroticism that is part of the subtext of her image. This has been tapped into a couple of times by Frank Miller (notably in both Dark Knight series), but most writers are afraid to go there for the most part; however, the character’s sexiness is part of her appeal in the way that say Supergirl is not a sexy super heroine (at least in my book). If you google Wonder Woman it doesn’t take long for a bunch of fetish sights to (ahem) pop up. This is not a total surprise as her outfit and accessories have bondage overtones and role-play connotations.

Which brings us to the fate of the live action Wonder Woman. One of the interviewees in the documentaries included said that Linda Carter as Wonder Woman is the most perfect casting in the history of live action superhero TV or film. This is a tough thing to argue against as Carter combined a pinup's carriage, physical grace, poise and decent acting skills to imbue Wonder Woman with an unbeatable combination of regalness and humanity.

It has been no secret that this film has been in one stage of development of another for several years. The difficulty in proceeding with a WW film no doubt has been that there aren’t a lot of actresses who can fill out Wonder Woman’s red, white and blue maillot. In the last decade, actresses as dissimilar as Megan Fox, Jennifer Lopez. Charisma Carpenter, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Sandra Bullock and Jessica Biel have all been rumored to be on the casting short list for the Amazing Amazon. Actually, all of these actresses are alarmingly wrong for the role and honestly it is hard to think who might be “right” in the role (a decade ago Uma Thurman might have been a good choice as would Lucy Lawless).

The actress Rebecca Hall, who was in the Woody Allen’s Vicky Christina Barcelona and Frost/Nixon, seems close to what I would imagine Wonder Woman to be like: statuesque and aristocratic, vaguely foreign with a warm voice and a sensual quality. In any event, it is hoped that the producers of the film won't rush the process and stick a "hot" but miscast actress in the role. I guess we will see...