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Has She Always Just Looked Like Xena? – A Brief Visual History of Wonder Woman on TV & Film

The first time my 6-year-old nephew saw Wonder Woman was in an episode of Justice League/Justice League Unlimited.  His first response?  “Why is she just wearing her underwear?”  That’s right – to the eyes of a little kid Wonder Woman clearly looked under-dressed.

This is a very old problem for DC.  When they have tried to modernize Wonder Woman’s look in the comics they’ve usually received considerable pushback from fans.  They even abandoned plans to have Wonder Woman look like this in the New 52 re-boot:

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We finally got over Mary Tyler Moore wearing pants on The Dick Van Dyke Show, but we still can’t accept Wonder Woman in a pair of blue tights?

Linda Carter seriously rocked the panty/boustier look in the ’70s show, and Adrianne Palicki looked embarrassingly bad in her failed David E. Kelley-produced Wonder Woman pilot.  Which way did they decide to take Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman in the upcoming Batman Vs. Superman?  Um, they pretty much just made her look like Xena the Warrior Princess.  According to the film’s costume designer Michael Wilkinson, their inspiration was Rome and Zack Snyder’s prior film 300:

“Wonder Woman really deserves to be presented on-screen in her full glory, so what I do is look at the history of the character has been presented on the big-screen, small-screen, comic books, and graphic novels; we process it all. Then we kind of put that aside and work out what it right for our film, for the cinematic universe that our director Zack Snyder is putting together. We try to create a Wonder Woman relevant for today’s audiences.  I mean, you just have to look at the gladiators from ancient Rome, they did their thing … with the shield and everything. Yes, it works for Thor and 300, so let’s see what happens.”

How have other TV shows and films handled it in the past?

Cathy Lee Crosby (1974)

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ABC’s 1974 TV movie Wonder Woman, the character’s live action debut, featured a blonde (Cathy Lee Crosby) Wonder Woman with no apparent super powers, no secret identity, and a totally re-designed costume.  That was stupid.  So, in 1975 they did a do-over with The New, Original Wonder Woman, starring Lynda Carter as a more comic book traditional Wonder Woman kicking ass alongside Steve Trevor (Lyle Waggoner) during WWII.   Plus, she looked crazy good in that costume.

Lynda Carter (1975-1979)

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The New, Original Wonder Woman TV movie hit big enough to earn a 13-episode first season, featuring Wonder Woman fighting Nazis alongside love interest Steve Trevor and working in her secret identity as petty officer Diana Prince. ABC liked Wonder Woman’s ratings; they just didn’t like how much it cost to make since it was a period piece set during WWII.  While they dragged their feet on whether or not to renew the show, Warner Bros. got tired of waiting, and sold it to CBS, who insisted they change the setting from WWII to modern day.

Rechristened The New Adventures of Wonder-Woman, the new show jumped 35 years ahead from WWII to the-then present day, Wonder Woman having not aged at all because she’s got those good Amazon genes.  Steve Trevor’s son crash lands on Paradise Island, and Wonder Woman leaves with him to prevent nuclear annihilation.  The two would work as field agents for a CIA/FBI-like agency called Inter-Agency Defense Command (IADC), receiving orders Charlie’s Angels style from a disembodied voice named Morley.  None of the characters from the first season were seen again or even mentioned, except for Diana’s mother Hippolyta,

It ran for two seasons on CBS, turning Lynda Carter into a cultural and sexual icon.  However, these were not necessarily two creatively harmonious seasons.  Multiple supporting characters were introduced only to later be dropped, Trevor went from Wonder Woman’s ever-present partner to little-seen boss, and the end of the third season they tried to set up a potential fourth season featuring the Los Angeles branch of IADC with an entirely new set of characters….including an indestructible chimpanzee.

Super Friends (1973-1974, 1977-1983, 1984-1986)

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Ah, Superfriends, Hanna-Barbara’s infamously kids-friendly Justice League with Superman, Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman along with sidekicks the Wonder Twins and Wonderdog.  The entirety of the Superfriends was never particularly concerned with characterization and faithfulness to the comic books, yet it was for many a person their first introduction to the D.C. universe.

Justice League/Justice League Unlimited (2001-2006)

The final series set in the DC Animated Universe (Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond), this was the first major adaptation of the Justice League of America since Super Friends.  It incorporated both Animated Series’ Batman and Superman, teaming them up with Wonder Woman (voiced quite admirably by Susan Eisenberg), Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, the Flash, and Hawkgirl.   For its first two seasons, the series focused on this smaller group of heroes, and was composed predominantly of two part standalone episodes that drew on many aspects of the DC Universe.

The first season of Justice League is a real mixed bag, but it got much better from that point forward, especially after being re-launched as Justice League Unlimited after its second season.

Keri Russell/Lucy Lawless/Michelle Monaghan

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Wonder Woman has thus far only been the subject of one solo outing among DC’s line of direct-to-video animated films, the company citing poor sales for this solo film with Keri Russell voicing the lead role as justification.  However, Lucy Lawless, that’s right, Xena herself, got a chance to voice Wonder Woman in the Justice League film Justice League: Final Frontier:

There have been several more appearances from Wonder Woman in DC’s on-going series of animated films, most recently with an entirely re-designed costume and Thor-like fish-out-water quality in Justice League: War, voiced by Michelle Monaghan:

Batman: The Brave & The Bold

Presented as throwback to the 1950s/60s version of Batman, Batman: The Brave and the Bold basically showed Batman as he was in the good old days before he became the Dark Knight.  In keeping with its namesake comic, The Brave and the Bold was mainly centered on the Caped Crusader teaming up with various obscure superheroes of the DC Universe to battle their sometimes equally obscure villains.  Wonder Woman’s first appearance on the show was an homage to the camp joy of the Lynda Carter TV show, even using her old theme song and penchant for saving mansel-in-distress-Steve Trevor:

Adrianne Palicki

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David E. Kelley’s 2011 pilot with Adrianne Palicki in the lead role was turned down by NBC, largely because it was astonishingly awful according to all who suffered the misfortune of watching it.  However, Kelley had a sense of humor about it, working in a plot to his show Harry’s Law in which a character played by Erica Durance (Smallville‘s Lois Lane) was mentally unstable to the point of truly believing she was Wonder Woman.  Durance wore the same exact Wonder Woman costume originally designed for Palicki:

Harry's Law

Rileah Vanderbilt

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With the help of green screen trickery, Rainfall Films made this YouTube short featuring Rileah Vanderbilt’s Wonder Woman battling battles gun-strapped men.

Kimberly Kane (2013)

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Wonder Woman (or, more specifically, her costume) has ended up in numerous adult film parodies over the years, and they usually look fairly awful.  Plus, countless number of busty glamour/nude models have posed as Wonder Woman, showing off just how astoundingly well they can fill out a boustier.  However, adult film star/director Kimberly Kane’s version of Wonder Woman from Wonder Woman XXX has received quite a bit of press over the past year because it actually looks pretty much better than any prior Wonder Woman costume to make it to TV and film, porn or otherwise.

Gal Gadot

That leads us to Gal Gadot, who both does and does not at all look like Wonder Woman.  Just going off of film and TV (not the comics), this is easily the most dour, joyless version of Wonder Woman we’ve ever seen, yet all the classic parts of the costume are there: the tiara, cufflings, boustier/skirt combo (no pants), eagle breast plate, lasso.  Of course, the coloring is totally different, and there are no stars.  Even then, she still looks like Wonder Woman to me, albeit by way of Xena the Warrior Princess:

Gal Gadot Wonder Woman

As a point of comparison:

Xena

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Well, actually, it’s not like they’re exact replicas.  It’s just that to my eyes this new version of Wonder Woman owes as much to Xena as it does to any of the Wonder Women that came before.  It makes sense.  Xena and Wonder Woman are both essentially ancient Greek women.  Heck, they’re both potentially daughters of Greek gods (Zeus for Wonder Woman, Ares for Xena).

It is what it is.  Wonder Woman’s costume has and will always present challenges to live-action adaptation.  Even the animated realm has recently joined in on questioning why she wears so little.  As a result, we should be open to some re-interpretation, and Batman Vs. Superman has gone and made her look a bit like something out of 300.  It’ll probably ultimately end up being reduced to a trendy slutty Halloween costume down the road, but that’s kind of inevitable.  The real question will be how it will look on-screen.  Well, we still have a long wait to find out.  Batman Vs. Superman is due out May 6, 2016.

What do you think?  Let us know in the comments.

Oh, as a reminder, here’s what Jamie Alexander, Sif from the Thor films, could have looked like as Wonder Woman:

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4 comments

  1. I have been a Wonder Woman fan for many years – since Lynda Carter in the 70’s.

    Of course if you know about WW’S earliest versions by her creator Marsden – you will know she originally had a skirt – sometimes shorts.

    To explain her costume is easy – the Perez story in the comic books is a great line – talks about an American WASP that crash lands on Paradise Island during WW II and dies helping the Amazon fight against a great evil. A statue of Diana Trevor is in the hall of honor – with her dressed like a Greek Warrior ala Xena – but with the traditional American Flag motiff. My personal favorite is the insignia on WW’S breastplate resembles the WASP wings . This history could be used to explain the merger of American symbolism in a Greek styled outfit. And since Wonder Woman could be inspired at any age for this story – it could be a plausible honoring an old war hero story – that would be suitable for any era.

    The sword and shield are fine. Just keep the red breastplate with the gold wings on the top, and a dark blue gladiator styled skirt with white stars.

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