by D.W. Lundberg

Friday, April 8, 2011


I don't usually bother writing about these things, but sometimes an idea is just so patently ridiculous it's hard to pass up.

Case in point: A couple of comic book properties have been getting some major press over the past month, looking to grace our TV screens as a live- action drama and an animated kids' show (respectively) in the near future, and if this is indeed a sign of our times, I want out. It's one thing to turn a comic book into a viable franchise; it's another thing entirely to treat that same property with the respect it deserves, and then to pass that along to audiences. Do it right, and you get The Dark Knight. Do it badly and you get, well, Batman & Robin.

After the runaway success of Christopher Nolan's Batman reboots - with Martin Campbell's Green Lantern poised next for blockbuster status this June - you'd think DC Comics, who owns the rights to both characters, would be aching to get their next big-screen superhero franchise off the ground. Nope, turns out they're scaling back a bit, with a new Wonder Woman TV series that's being shot as a pilot for NBC as we speak. That's right: Wonder Woman. As a prime time television drama. Which, of course, has been done before. So, score them points for originality. David E. Kelley, of Ally McBeal and The Practice fame, penned the script, and while this isn't a horrible idea in concept (the man, I admit, has a gift for dialogue), the early reviews of what Kelley's actually written have me scratching my head.

Supposedly, the plot goes something like this: Wonder Woman, in her current incarnation, is already an established presence in our world. A celebrity, even - seen at regular intervals chasing criminals up and down Hollywood Boulevard. By day, she is Diana Themyscira, billionaire and CEO of her own company selling Wonder Woman merchandise. For a secret identity, she also moonlights as Diana Prince, a dowdy secretary with glasses, so she can feel "normal" - less like an other-worldly Amazonian princess and more down to earth, along with the rest of us mortals. (For those keeping score, that's three separate identities - which, if you ask me, is two identities too many.)

Okay, so that seems like a fairly modern twist on the superhero myth – it's about celebrity status, and how you deal with the kind of fame that comes with the territory. That's fine. What worries me are the constant attempts at hip-ness that reportedly pepper the script – the catchphrases ("You go, girl"), Kelley's choice of pop songs to accompany the action (including shout-outs to Lady Gaga, Kanye West and Christina Aguilera), Diana's team of snarky, irascible lab geeks (who call themselves "The Animals") helping her solve crimes. Oh, and there's also a run-in with old boyfriend Steve Rogers, whose sole purpose, apparently, is to get our superheroine all weepy-eyed and exasperated – you know, to help show off her human side. (Look! She cries over her ex and eats ice-cream in her pajamas! She's just like us!)

Keep in mind, screenplays are works in progress – always have been, always will be – and they're changing all the time. So who's to say this will translate, intact, to the small screen? Also, it's hard to tell whether these internet critics have actually gotten their hands on a real script or an elaborate hoax – we do live in an age of misdirection and mistrust, after all. But the fact remains, you have to handle these superhero properties with kid gloves. The very idea of a costumed crime fighter already teeters on the brink of absurdity as it is; one push in the wrong direction and audiences will reject it outright. I wonder if this tongue-in-cheek, self-aware approach is the right way to tackle the character.

Then, starting on March 18th, we got this:

That's star Adrianne Palicki in full Wonder Woman regalia. The photo on the left is the first official photo from Warner Bros. The photo on the right, showing Palicki in, um, action, was released the week after, presumably after folks started whining about those blue stiletto boots. (It is extremely difficult, or so I've been told, to run in heels, so maybe those are Palicki's "running boots" or whatever. I remember a single tracking camera shot from Batman Returns where Catwoman goes cartwheeling through a department store, and her stilettos have been magically removed from the costume, so maybe this is just an example of that. If so, then it appears people simply objected to the color of the boots themselves. My, how fans love their canon.)

I'm sorry, but it's hard for me to take either variation of that costume seriously. She looks, frankly, like the surprise guest at a weekend bachelor party. DC signed off on this?

Come to think of it, I wonder if any outfit would fit in with today's grim and gritty times.  Created by William Moulton Marston in 1941 as a response to the feminist movement of the time, Wonder Woman has always seemed to invite the kind of catcalling and fetishism she fought so hard to suppress. With her golden bustier, star-spangled booty shorts, and fire-engine red go-go boots (plus that magic, truth-spilling lasso, guaranteed to force even the most unwilling slave to do her bidding), she'd be a star at any gentleman's club, yet she's devoted her life to fighting for the American Way. (I doubt any criminal would seriously be that disappointed to find himself cornered by her.) If you saw a grown woman dressed like that, running down the street, would your initial reaction be one of awe, or wonder? I doubt it.

Last week, Entertainment Weekly also treated us to a first look at Arnold Schwarzenegger's post- political comeback, an "action-comedy" comic book/ cartoon called – no joke – The Governator. It's the autobiographical story, apparently, of a one-time California governor who steps out of the limelight to fight crime as a high-tech superhero, with a super-secret lair beneath his Brentwood home as his home base. Again, this isn't a terrible idea in retrospect; comic books, after all, are meant for the improbable and the fantastic. Then, like a hard kick to the shins, this was thrust upon us:

So let me get this straight: Arnold Schwarzenegger, one of our most recognizable and beloved (former) movie stars, after stepping down from one of the most high-profile jobs in the country, tells his adoring public he intends to become a "private citizen" again. Then, like Batman (he wishes), he builds himself a larger-than-life alternate persona in a crusade against the world's larger problems, namely bank-robbing transforming robots. (Here's hoping this Governator never speaks, because that accent would be a dead giveaway.) On top of this, he's got a trio of tech-geek teenagers as backup, who assist him from said underground lair and outfit him with super-powered costumes and heavy artillery. Much action and explosions ensue, accompanied by cover tunes from the Black Eyed Peas. Am I missing anything?

Ugh. There's only one way to greet something like this, and that's with full-blown laughter – only not the intentional kind. How else am I expected to react? Watching that trailer is a mind-boggling experience, like hearing a joke you don't quite understand. You wonder whether Schwarzenegger's just biding his time, so he can recover from this and return to big screen action, or if he seriously considers this his revival shot. Either way, I sure hope this thing's meant as a comedy, because despite everyone's best intentions, it's absolutely the furthest thing from awesome.

Such is the state of our current comic book climate - people, it seems, will do anything for a quick buck.

UPDATE 5/13/11: According to Entertainment Weekly, NBC has officially passed on David Kelley's Wonder Woman pilot. No telling whether Warner Bros. plans on shopping it around to other networks. Now that Smallville's ending its run on the CW, that's probably not a bad idea.

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