Stars and Gripes

I already had mixed feelings about NBC's proposed Wonder Woman series, whose pilot is shooting under the auspices of writer and executive producer David E. Kelley. Then Adrienne Palicki was cast. Now we have a photo of her in costume.

Blam's Blog composite of (left to right) Roberto Campus painting, © 2007 the artist; 
Jim Lee sketch, © 2010 DC Comics; and Justin Lubin photo, © 2011 NBC Universal 
Media & Warner Bros Entertainment. Wonder Woman ® DC Comics.

You may assume that the outfit she's wearing is a departure for Diana, if you're not up on your superhero comics, yet as seen above it's actually a hybrid of the character's traditional uniform and one that's been featured in her DC title since early last summer. It's also hardly the first controversial change of clothes for the enduring soldier of serenity created in 1941 by psychologist William Moulton Marston, but I'll get to that in another post.

My concerns over Palicki, of Supernatural and Friday Night Lights, have less to do with her acting than with her appearance — which in one sense is superficial, yes, but only by the same yardsticks that I'd apply to casting Superman or Spider-Man. Heck, I think that Christian Bale has overall done a good job in the recent Batman films, yet he still doesn't quite look like Bruce Wayne to me; Jon Hamm, on the other hand, could have stepped right out of the comics, which is always a particular thrill for the die-hard fan, and given that he has the chops to embody Bruce (from his intensity to his playboy facade to his subtle vulnerabilities) I hold out hopes of seeing Hamm in Wayne Manor someday. Christopher Reeve was so electrifying in 1978's Superman: The Movie, of course, not just because he was dead-on tall, dark, and handsome, nor even because he believably played the Clark Kent disguise, but above all because he exuded sincerity and conviction.

The most important thing is to be true to a character's essence, no question — and these icons have essences that are multifaceted enough to withstand various embodiments on screen, just as they can withstand (if not thrive thanks to) various art styles on the page, keyed to different storytelling approaches — which is why I would cast Julianna Marguiles as Wonder Woman in a heartbeat. While she's not a perfect visual match for any of the popular print or animated depictions, she isn't simply a generic raven-haired beauty, either; crucially, she's capable of projecting both the kind of beatitude and the steely determination central to the character. Marguiles has aged out of an ongoing, action-oriented version of the role as far as Hollywood is concerned, I'm sure, but I'd love to see her in an adaptation of Kingdom Come.

I'm sorry if it sounds insincere to say that I mean no disrespect to Palicki, but you don't sign up to play Wonder Woman, especially not looking like she looks in this photo, without some understanding that you'll be judged by your image. Nearly every comment that I came across the day the shot hit the Internet mentioned that at best she looked like a model for one of those poor-taste "Hellooo, Nurse!" Halloween costumes; the implants and the overpowering makeup frankly convey less Princess of the Amazons and more Queen of Tarts. It's scant consolation (or excuse) that from what I've heard the face paint is in part to help protect her secret identity, which the pilot sets up as something of a triangle: Wonder Woman the colorful crimefighter is publicly known to be Diana Themiscyra, glamorous and no-nonsense head of Themiscyra Industries, yet she has another, unknown alter ego as mild-mannered Themiscyra employee Diana Prince, where she lays off the lipstick, dons glasses, and puts up her hair like Lynda Carter did (and like her comics counterpart has frequently done throughout the years).

Themiscyra was the capital of the Amazons' homeland in Greek myth, and when DC relaunched Wonder Woman in 1987 it became the proper name of what for 45 years had been known as Paradise Island — spelled "Themyscira" to be precise, although the name comes from Themis, one of the first Titans, elder goddess of divine justice. Plotter/artist George Pérez, who masterminded the 1987 series with the aid of wordsmiths Greg Potter and Len Wein under the supervision of editor Karen Berger, did away with Diana Prince as a secret identity entirely, making Wonder Woman a virtual ambassador for peace and a literal ambassador from Themyscira; her only corporate ties were to the promotional machine set up by publicist Myndi Mayer to market Diana's message and fund her charitable foundation. Mayer is apparently in the pilot, as are Steve Trevor and Etta Candy, longstanding members of the character's supporting cast in her myriad incarnations. Since Wonder Woman has attempted to integrate into her adopted culture in numerous ways over the years, from intelligence officer to itinerant adventurer to inspirational figurehead, establishing her as a successful businessperson is hardly some kind of sacrilege, but the more realistic the NBC series attempts to be the harder it is to stomach the tacky tailoring.

When you're a young, comics-loving kid, actual people dressed up as familiar superheroes as faithfully as possible is an overwhelmingly exciting sight. You don't mind the seams showing, the cloth being too drab or the spandex being too shiny, the cowls and capes fitting awkwardly; you just think it's awesome to see your favorite two-dimensional demigods made flesh. There's no other explanation for why anyone from my generation would feel nostalgia for Hanna-Barbera's 1979 live-action Legends of the Superheroes TV specials, for which Adam West and Burt Ward reprised their roles as Batman and Robin alongside unknowns portraying more obscure dramatis personae from the DC library (The Flash, Hawkman, Black Canary, Green Lantern, Captain Marvel, and The Huntress, plus various supervillains) — and which honestly isn't even enjoyable as kitsch. Such costumed champions were long given the camp treatment in movie and television adaptations largely because it's difficult to place them in the world we know while turning a blind eye to the absurdity of their outfits and exploits, but in recent decades filmmakers have become more savvy about situating superheroes in societies that are still relatable to the viewer yet have a generally heightened level of the fantastic to them, sidestepping direct questions about why normal folks would don masks to battle injustice or how frightening it would be to have individuals with amazing powers living among us (unless those questions are part and parcel of the plot). It's quite helpful too that special effects have become so convincing and that even the most well-established uniforms aren't being reproduced in slavishly flat fashion but rather with texture, complexity, and even some measure of practicality.

The suit and storyline might end up working well in this new Wonder Woman. I'm certainly glad to see the character out of hot pants (and even happier that the severe-cut bikini bottoms that have become uncomfortably customary in the comics weren't attempted), although the high heels are wildly impractical and the breastplate should really be, um, plating more of the breast. What ultimately will determine whether this take on Diana sinks or soars are the scripts and the actors' ability to sell them, Palicki naturally being the lynchpin. I hope for the sake of everyone from my nieces to NBC shareholders that this iteration of the Amazon icon exceeds advance impressions, but my internal oracle is feeling awfully unsettled.

[Update: New photos of Adrienne Palicki and her stunt double, in different pants and boots than those depicted above, have emerged since this post was scheduled for publication.]


El Qué said...

"Queen of Tarts"... Ha ha!

I've seen her in more serious states of undress, and she does have some pretty ripe melons. My Wonder Woman is natural, thank you very much, not all siliconed and slathered up for softcore. (See? I can do the alliteration too. Ya burnt!)

Arben said...

The painting looks more realistic than Adrienne Palicki does.

We've talked about this, but I agree that what works in comics or animation obviously doesn't translate exactly to live-action. It used to be fun when people tried -- when we were kids, like you said, and when the technology wasn't really there to do any better. Now, though, I'm thrilled to see Batman wearing armored gear, Captain America in a glorified airman's jumpsuit or some mission-appropriate variation, Superman with a suit that isn't just a body stocking.

You can't really escape the primary colors of Wonder Woman's costume, but the new darker pants look much better and if Diana's as tough on TV as she is in the comics then her right to bare arms at least isn't a vulnerability, although I'd still rather see her in something more like battle gear. Palicki herself is probably going to be the real problem.

Joan Crawford said...

If she's so tough and brave, why is it her breasts are desperately trying to reach the safety of her armpits?

Teebore said...

I have zero familiarity with Palicki, having seen nothing she's been in, other than noticing she is rather easy on the eyes.

I remain dubious about this Wonder Woman series though. I try not to judge shows before I've seen them, based on little more than industry scuttlebutt, but David E. Kelly's involvement doesn't sit right with me, as he strikes me as the kind of creator who either can't be bothered to familiarize himself with the source material or one who wants to willingly ignore/subvert/reinterpret it.

Bottom line, I'm left thinking that while there's a chance we could get a good TV show out of this, the odds of it also being a good WONDER WOMAN TV show are slim.

As for the costume, I have no major qualms with it. I certainly can't disagree with those who said it looked, from the publicity pic, like a Halloween costume, but I just chalked that up to the nature of the pic, which isn't quite the same as seeing it in action, on film.

Overall, adding the pants instead of the hot pants/star spangled underoos is a necessary change, methinks, and I certainly don't think it tarnishes the character or anything like that.