Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Animated Amazon

WONDER WOMAN #600 arrives in comic book stores today, as I re-present a post from last year.Anybody who knows me in my "real life" knows that I have a slight attraction to the DC Comics' character called Wonder Woman. Since first discovering the amazing amazon in the early 1970s, I've collected her comic book title (and various other appearances) non-stop, through the good, the bad and the downright ugly. And believe me - there's been u-g-l-y. I've avoided blogging about the character because frankly, there are dozens of great sites like Wonderland on the internet that focus on her and the many aspects of her popularity. But after watching the new WONDER WOMAN direct-to-dvd film, I am compelled to trace her history - as a cartoon character!
First, here's some background. Wonder Woman was created in 1941 by William Moulton Marston, who was also polygymist (long story) and also created the lie detector. Marton's basic idea was to portray a strong woman that young boys and girls alike would be drawn to. His Wonder Woman was dedicated to peace, justice and equality at a time when women were far from equal in mainstream society. Wonder Woman soon became the most recognizable super-heroine in the industry. Over the years, acclaimed creators such as H.G. Peters, Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru, Denny O'Neil, Mike Sekowsky, George Perez, William Messner-Loebs, Mike Deodato, John Byrne, Phil Jimenez, Greg Rucka (and currently Gail Simone) have put their unique stamp on her, often building on the foundation that Marston laid down.At some point in the early 1970s, an "animated" Wonder Woman appeared in one reel of a Viewmaster Good Guys gift pack. (It always bothered me that her tiara was missing its red star on the package.)Where "Peril in New York" came from has always been a mystery to me. It looks like a Filmation cartoon from the 1960s, but there was no such show.The Diana Prince looks like the contemporary version that was appearing in comics at the time, but Wonder Woman herself looked like the sandal-wearing Ross Andru version from the 1960s. The copyright on this product is ©1966. Hmmm...Thinking about my first exposure to the character of Wonder Woman, it must have been–oddly enough,–through an episode of ABC's Filmation series, THE BRADY KIDS. In the episode called "It's All Greek to Me," The Brady Kids, and guest star Diana Prince are accidentally transported to ancient Greece by Marlon (the mischievous, magical mynah bird), where the kids are forced to compete in the Olympic Games! The Bradys somehow beat the Greek athletes in a marathon, but Wonder Woman points out that, if they win the race itself, they will be changing history!!! (Notice, in the above stills, Diana's satin tights are without stars–and her tiara is mis-colored!)
This auspicious animated debut for Princess Diana of Paradise Island was soon followed by a long run as a lead character in ABC's SUPER FRIENDS series. (Notice the once again mis-colored tiara in this otherwise great Alex Toth model sheet.)Diana joined fellow Justice League members Superman, Batman and Aquaman (along with perennial sidekick Robin) in a collection of non-violent, moralistic adventures and great merchandise like this lunch box. A few other JLA members appeared in the early episodes and well as new Hanna-Barbera characters Wendy, Marvin and Wonder Dog (no relation).The series, in its various incarnations lasted 12 years from 1973 through 1986.The series was known as SUPER FRIENDS  from 1973-76. (Notice Diana's eagle emblem is suddenly a striped bustier in the ad below!)THE ALL-NEW SUPER FRIENDS HOUR introduced The Wonder Twins (also, no relation!) and ran from 1977-78.The villain-filled CHALLENGE OF THE SUPER FRIENDS aired from 1978-80.The much simpler SUPERFRIENDS HOUR  was the title from 1980-83.An bizarre episode of entitled "Planet of Oz" featured this notorious scene where Super Tin Man apparently grabs The Cowardly Diana's boob...The title changed to SUPERFRIENDS: THE LEGENDARY SUPER POWERS SHOW from 1984-85 as DC's mega villain Darkseid became their nemesis.And finally, SUPER POWERS TEAM: THE GALACTIC GUARDIANS from 1985-86! Whew!During the time SUPER FRIENDS was airing on Saturday mornings, Wonder Woman appeared in two ABC TV-movies - the second, starring the perfectly-cast Lynda Carter lead to a wonderfully kitchy prime-time series that aired first on ABC, and then on CBS. The opening credits to the WWII-set ABC version of the show are among the finest ever created, and featured an elegant animated version of the Golden Age Wonder Woman.In 1988, Wonder Woman made a guest appearance on the CBS series SUPERMAN, which was developed by comic superstar Marv Wolfman. The episode "Superman and Wonder Woman Vs. The Sorceress Of Time," features the two icons as they battle against Serena, an evil sorceress who's menacing Paradise Island. Serena has enslaved Queen Hippolyta, Diana's mother, and she's determined to get Wonder Woman next! Diana visits Metropolis to get Superman's help, much to Lois Lane's chagrin. (What's up with her tiara now?)
This show, produced by Ruby-Spears was a vast improvement over the various SUPER FRIENDS shows, but it was the launching of BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES that heralded in an era of greatness for DC characters in animation. This was followed shortly by a new SUPERMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES show. Sadly, Wonder Woman never appeared on either of these critically acclaimed and popular shows.
Though in 1993, Wonder Woman almost had a series of her own with something called WONDER WOMAN AND THE STAR RIDERS, a proposed half-hour animated series by Warner Bros. Animation which was to launch a line of Mattel toys not unlike the popular She-Ra collection. The concept re-imagined Wonder Woman as fantasy heroine teamed with four other characters: Dolphin (water). Ice (cold), Solara (heat and light) and Starlily (plants). Also was produced a feline villain named Purrsa. (Yow!) This project never made it past a promotional comic book that came inside Kellogg's cereals. You can read all about WONDER WOMAN AND THE STAR RIDERS here.
JUSTICE LEAGUE: THE ANIMATED series came next, and as with SUPER FRIENDS, Wonder Woman was included in the line-up. The excellent Cartoon Network series kicked-off with a three-parter and Wonder Woman initially was portrayed as a young and innocent Princess, fresh from Themyscira. Several episodes featured Diana maturing into a more adult role, as well as memorable appearances by Hippolyta, the Greek gods, and the Amazons. This series ran from 2001 through 2004 - to be followed by JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED, which ran from 2004 to 2006.
These two series may prove to be the best animated Wonder Woman ever.
In 2008, Wonder Woman stole the show in JUSTICE LEAGUE: THE NEW FRONTIER - a direct-to video which was a faithfull adaptation of the acclaimed Darwyn Cooke graphic novel. While this Elseworlds version of Diana may not have been to everybody's liking, it certainly works in the alternate universe in which this story took place.
This brings us to 2009 and WONDER WOMAN, the eagerly awaited original animated film. I watched this film with high hopes, but found it very disappointing - and downright depressing. The film retells Diana's origin with a few minor changes, which I was fine with. The popular character Artemis (introduced in the 1990s) is successfully woven into the backstory - but the new character Alexa seems redundant - and takes camera time away from Diana. Loyal supporting characters, Steve Trevor and Etta Candy have had unflattering remakes, as has Diana's double W symbol. It now barely reads as one W. These problems I could have lived with. It is the changes made to Diana's core character that I have the most issues with.Diana is at first rightly portrayed as rebellious and headstrong, but soon she is shown in action, lacking the wonder and grace that has been instilled in the character in almost every version since her creation. Wonder Woman was specifically designed by Marston to express pacifist, nurturing, anti-war, anti-fascist messages and this film entirely ignores that aspect of her being - instead relying on endlessly brutal battle scenes where Diana is shown to be nothing but a ruthless warrior. Nowhere does Diana learn the compassion and civility that have been a mainstay in the her adventures for nearly 70 years. This film portrays Diana as XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS - which she is not. To me it seems that in this story, Ares (the God of War) has won - creating NOT a Wonder Woman that can inspire greatness, but one that only knows triumph through violence, and that is very sad to this lifelong Wonder Woman fan. Strangely, the great Gail Simone who currently writes the wonderfully compelling monthly Wonder Woman comic book is credited as one of the writers. I have a feeling that many of her ideas were not used. The 2-disc DVD does feature two well-made documentaries on the character and her history, I would reccommend watching those and not the actual feature.

So there you have it, the history of Princess Diana of Themyscira in cartoons. The good, the bad and the ugly.

5 comments:

timmy! said...

I couldn't agree with you more. That WW movie was miserable.

james drew said...

thanks for the overview, doug. i had never heard about star riders before. looks like it would have been fun. i also disliked the new cartoon movie - i thought it was way too violent.

Brian Klotz said...

Doug: loved the compact, animated history of Wondy. She's my favorite superheroine (along with Supergirl and Batgirl). Outside of comics, I'm a fan of all strong female heroes: Ellen Ripley, Jamie Sommers, Leia Organa and Isis. Guess you can tell I grew up in the 70s!

I didn't entirely hate the new WW animated movie. It showed promise, even if it wasn't the Wondy we all know and love. I thought the animation was beautiful and it was a refinement (less ruff around the edges) over the JL/JLU animated series.

My two gripes: One was the invisible jet which could have easily explained by one line of dialog - anything! Just tell us how they came about having it! And B) was Wondy kind of looks like Pocahontas when shown in profile.

Brian
(friend of Micah's)

p.s. been generally pleased with DCU Premiere offerings thus far (Doomsday, New Frontier) except for that awful Batman Gothic Knight which was just dreck.

EduardO said...

Great post, Doug!

Ookie said...

I love the animated Justice League episode in which Circe turns Diana into a pig. Batman has to do something unthinkable to save her.