DeFlip Side #180: Tiara Triumphant

DeFlip Side #180: Tiara Triumphant.mp3

Welcome everyone. I’m Christopher DeFilippis and this is DeFlip Side.

Wonder Woman finally hit theaters today, riding a wave of critical praise that has been nearly universal. The consensus seems to be that D.C. finally got it right with the Amazon Princess.

And this gives me an overwhelming feeling of relief. I don’t know why, but I’ve been feeling inordinately invested in Wonder Woman’s cinematic success — even though I never read her comic book and don’t have more than cursory knowledge of the character.

Like everyone else, most of what I know about Wonder Woman comes from television. The iconic Lynda Carter series still remains the character’s primary cultural touchstone. My sister loved it, but I watched only grudgingly, bugging her every few minutes to change the channel and see what else was on. Obviously puberty had yet to kick in. Wonder Woman was also on Super Friends on Saturday morning, where I remember her just kind of being there. But in her defense, all the heroes on that show were just kind of going through the motions.

In any event, I’d say that for the majority of people, Wonder Woman begins and ends with lasso, bracelets and invisible jet.

Which is just mind-blowing when you think about it, because Wonder Woman is an icon among icons. Ask anyone who doesn’t know comic books or comic book movies to name three superheroes, and she’ll come in third every time — right behind Superman and Batman. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that she’s the only female superhero most people can name who’s not derived from an established male hero. Unlike Batgirl and Supergirl, Wonder Woman stands alone.

But for all that, she remains an oddly blank symbol of female empowerment — an empty tiara tumbling on the winds of gender politics and an evolving sexual zeitgeist.

My personal evolution with the character began while I was reading Grant Morrison’s run of JLA in the early 2000’s. That’s where I learned about Dianna’s heavy mythic origins, and was surprised to find out that she could fly. I actually really got to like her in that book because she was strong and smart and played well off the other characters, especially Superman and Plastic Man.

But I still never got to know her in any kind of individual context. And as a long-lapsed comic book reader I find I still know next to nothing substantive about her. I couldn’t even tell you any of her villains.

I’m attempting to rectify that. Just this week I began reading George Perez’s and Len Wein’s classic Wonder Woman run from the 80s. And I’m shocked at how interesting it is. It’s like some Joseph Campbell / H.P. Lovecraft fever dream, filled with war and blood sacrifices and rapey gods and male chauvinism — and an earnest, optimistic Diana at the center of it all.

And by all accounts, it’s those earnest, optimistic characteristics that define Gal Gadot’s take on the character. People have been invoking the memory of Christopher Reeve and Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie by way of comparison. High praise indeed — and I couldn’t be happier.

Which brings me back to my initial quandary: Why did I feel so much riding on the success of this film?

When I really stop and think about it, it’s because I’ve been treating Wonder Woman like everyone else does — as a symbol rather than a character.

In my case, I’ve been filling that empty tiara with all of my hopes and fears for D.C.’s flailing cinematic universe. They’ve already screwed up Superman and Batman, grimdarkly twisting them almost beyond recognition. The character aesthetics for Cyborg, Flash and Aquaman in Justice League don’t inspire much confidence either.

So Dianna has become my Obi-Wan – my only hope that I wouldn’t just give up on the whole mess.

And to hear that she’s the bright beating heart of a film that’s hopeful and fun and well-written — a film that not only embraces, but doubles down on the best aspects of the DCU — I’m suddenly feeling the same surge of optimism I did when I saw that fantastic Man of Steel trailer with the Jor-El narration and the Lord of the Rings music. Remember that? How it felt?

Well by all accounts, Wonder Woman is that promise, finally kept. And I don’t want to jinx it, but I hope Diana proves a beacon, lighting the way to the future of the rest of D.C.’s Extended Universe films.

Maybe that’s a tall order. But then again, we’re talking about a character who started out as an outlet for William Moulton Marston’s bondage fetish and transcended that to become an enduring symbol of feminism and strength.

I’d say the smart money is on the Amazon, every time.