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What's with the name?

Allow us to explain.

Agent of S.T.Y.L.E.

Agent of S.T.Y.L.E.: Wonder Woman in Television


Greetings, people of Earth. This is the beginning of a regular column wherein I will discuss the history/evolution behind various costumes and designs in superhero comics and other fun media. I’ll also be throwing in my own opinions, which you can take or leave since we all have different tastes. To kick things off, I thought it would be fun to talk about a lady first introduced in 1941: Wonder Woman AKA Diana Prince AKA Princess Diana of Themyscira, the Paradise Island. We now know for sure that Gal Gadot will be playing her in the as-yet-untitled sequel to Man of Steel that really seems like it should be titled Hey, We’re Almost the Justice League.

There’s a lot of debate going on about how Wonder Woman should be portrayed. So to add food for thought, this column looks at how the amazing Amazon has been portrayed in live-action shows, with a couple of honorable mentions from comics and animation.

And before you ask, I will be focusing on officially licensed stories.

EARLY ATTEMPTS

In 1967, a pilot was partially filmed called “Who’s Afraid of Diana Prince?” The idea was to mimic the success of the Batman TV show starring Adam West. But while Batman was the hero of his funny series, this pilot made Diana the joke.

Played by Ellie Wood Walker, Diana Prince was blessed with powers from the Greek gods. However, as the pilot’s narrator pointed out, she was also under the delusion that she became beautiful when she donned her Wonder Woman costume, seeing Linda Harrison (Planet of the Apes) in the mirror. Not kidding. The costume was faithful but a bad fit, apparently intended to further how awkward and silly she seemed.

In 1974, Cathy Lee Crosby starred as the title hero of a made-for-TV Wonder Woman movie for ABC. The costume designer was Jerry Herrin, also known for work on The Bionic Woman, the Dr. Strange TV-movie and Blade Runner). From 1968-1973, the comics had depicted Diana as a powerless martial artist who had no secret identity and acted as an international troubleshooter. This TV-movie followed a similar model, making Diana Prince personal assistant to government agent Steve Trevor, who in turn sometimes sent her into the field as an operative (as often happens with personal assistants).

Though apparently born an Amazon, she was an athletic woman who relied on tech rather than magic or powers. She owned a collection of bracelets that all had different functions (homing devices, time bombs, etc.). Rather than a lasso, her belt buckle held a rope that could hook onto one of her bracelets and become a grapple line. The outfit looks like a USO performer rather than a government operative, but it’s not bad and reflects the TV-movie version of Diana pretty well.

THE NEW, ORIGINAL WONDER WOMAN

In 1975, ABC decided to make a Wonder Woman TV show that adapted the original comics by creator William Moulton Marston. To celebrate this adaptation and distinguish the series pilot from the TV-movie starring Cathy Lee Crosby, it was hilariously entitled The New, Original Wonder Woman.

The series starred 24-year-old Lynda Carter, a Miss World USA winner who was facing eviction almost ready to call it quits on acting when she was hired to play the amazing Amazon. The TV program had Donfeld as the costume designer, with Jerry Herrin later joining. Donfeld later worked on films such as Spaceballs.

This is a pretty straightforward adaptation of the Golden Age Wonder Woman outfit but with the Silver Age style shorts. If you’re not familiar, the Golden Age of comics generally refers to the period of the mid 1930s to the early 1950s, while the Silver Age began in 1956.

The Golden Age version of Wonder Woman wore a skort initially (sometimes drawn as a skirt) and then had athletic shorts that covered her thighs a bit. In the 1950s, her shorts got much shorter, freeing her legs entirely. Staring in the 1990s, her shorts occasionally resembled Brazilian cut bikini bottoms or a straight up thong, depending on the artist.

Along with this, Carter is rocking out the classic version of Diana’s eagle crest. Wonder Woman wore many versions of a golden eagle crest on her top until 1982. At that point, her mom decided it would be better for marketing if she had a stylized WW that only looked like an eagle if you squinted at it and had a drink or two in you. Ok, that’s not exactly what happened, but it’s still basically the truth.

It’s a fun costume and absolutely fits the atmosphere of the program. This was a Wonder Woman who fought Nazis in the 1940s with a smile, whose scenes embraced a level of absurdity and were introduced with comic book style captions appearing on the screen. Lynda Carter also added a lot by making the decision to act as natural as possible while in costume, believing that Wonder Woman would not act overly dramatic or feel self-conscious about the uniform she wore.

Because of the budget concerns that come with producing a period piece, ABC hesitated on picking up Wonder Woman for a second season. Seeing the show’s good ratings, CBS made an offer and took over the show starting with season 2. CBS continued the continuity of the ABC season but made a few changes. Season 2 jumped ahead in time to the present day. Diana had gone back to her island for decades after the events of World War II, her aging process slowed by its magic.

The New Adventures of Wonder Woman (as it was retitled) changed the costume’s eagle design and switched the classic silver bracelets for golden ones. The cut of the outfit was altered for a tighter fit that now revealed more skin. Likewise, Wonder Woman’s alter ego Diana Prince no longer dressed down to disguise her beauty.

CBS ran the series to two seasons before canceling it. During this time, Wonder Woman occasionally sported specialty outfits, such as a motorcycle bodysuit and a skateboard look for that one time she had to use a skateboard. Years later, the Lynda Carter outfits made their ways into comics thanks to writer/artist Phil Jimenez.

Lynda Carter’s performance was a huge influence on fans and creators. She is also responsible for the idea that Wonder Woman can magically change outfits by spinning (previously, comics had her sometimes use her lasso to alter her garments). I don’t care what any of you say, I love that spin.

THOUGHTS ON DESIGN

In several interviews, Lynda Carter has said she was somewhat uncomfortable with altering the Wonder Woman costume in the second season and with the show producing certain posters of her simply to increase sex appeal. In a 1979 interview with US Magazine, she said: “I never meant to be a sexual object for anyone but my husband. I never thought a picture of my body would be tacked up in men’s bathrooms.”

Next to Lynda Carter, the most influential person to play Wonder Woman for TV viewers has been Susan Eisenberg, who voiced the role for five years in the cartoon Justice League, which became Justice League Unlimited. She’s also voiced it for other animated features, DC Nation shorts, and video games such as Injustice: Gods Among Us and DC Universe Online.

Concerning the Diana’s costume, Eisenberg told me: “I was always written as a Princess – a Lady, if you will – and that made all the difference! Like with Wonder Woman portrayed by Linda Carter, the sexiness was draped in an elegance . . . Our Wonder Women were never driven strictly by their sex appeal or toughness . . . they were also courageous, empathic, strong, virtuous women.”

On another topic, there has been criticism about Wonder Woman’s outfit still being such an obvious patriotic product of the 1940s. The 1987 reboot of Wonder Woman said that her costume honored the uniform and insignia of a US pilot who saved the Amazons. Gail Simone‘s Wonder Woman comics indicated that Amazon culture always had eagles, red and white stripes, and star-spangled banners, and that these designs inspired Betsy Ross rather than vice versa.

Personally, I say it would be fun to borrow a page from Carter’s second season. Just say that yes, Wonder Woman fought in World War II, a hero who some believed was an urban myth. Then decades later, she comes back after the debut of Superman. Let her be proud of her costume rather than trying to convince us it isn’t based on an American flag. It worked for Captain America and many other characters. Just my two cents.

LIVE-ACTION TELEVISION

Erica Durance played Lois Lane in the CW show Smallville, based on the early adventures of Clark Kent before he became Superman. In the 2010 episode “Warrior,” Lois sported a very familiar outfit while attending Metropolis WonderCon.

I don’t think Wonder Woman should look too much like a throwback to ancient Greek or Roman times because she’s the one Amazon (traditionally) who wasn’t born and raised in the past. She has roots in the past, but she’s a modern hero who wants to help her people and the world find a brighter future. That said, this is a great outfit and Erica Durance pulled it off well.

In 2011, David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal) spearheaded a pilot for a new Wonder Woman series starring Adrianne Palicki. It was a great choice, as Palicki has the height, look and presence for the role, plus she’s someone who can do stunt work. Along with Palicki, the pilot had an impressive cast that included Tracie Thoms, Cary Elwes and Elizabeth Hurley. But despite initial plans and promotional materials indicating it was already going to series, production for a series was cancelled at the last minute and the pilot wasn’t completed. Some have claimed this was due to internal politics.

I think the design for Palicki’s main uniform isn’t bad and works with the pilot’s idea that Diana had marketing design outfits to garner good will and support from the public. This look is in keeping with the aesthetic of the current live-action films and TV programming featuring DC Comics characters. But I’d definitely alter things such as the size/shape of the tiara, so it could be partly protective. Maybe lose the star on the eagle crest while also tweaking the shape and fit (superheroes should be comfortable).

I don’t think the material of the top and the boots is the best. If this show intended to have the atmosphere of Lynda Carter’s series, it would be fine. But for a more serious take, something akin to red leather would have a better visual impact. The one thing I definitely don’t like at all is the distracting belt buckle.

For the climatic battle scene, Palicki’s Wonder Woman exchanged the trousers for more traditional Wonder Woman shorts. Again, the design isn’t bad, I just think the choice of materials isn’t great, not for the atmosphere of the show.

In 2012, Erica Durance wore Palicki’s Wonder Woman costume on an episode of David E. Kelley’s show Harry’s Law, entitled “Gorilla of My Dreams.” She wasn’t a superhero, just a normal woman inspired by the heroic comic book character.

POST NEW 52

Now, we’ve been focusing on what’s appeared on television, but we should mention how the comics have changed recently and how that’s likely to influence upcoming adaptations. Following the crossover story Flashpoint in 2011, DC rebooted its superhero universe and released 52 new comic titles. In the “New 52″ universe, Diana wears silver rather than gold. For Wonder Woman, I prefer gold. Not only because it’s what’s familiar (though there is that bias), but because I think she looks a little too cold when she’s got so much silver on her.

Coming in February, we’ll see another animated Diana in the DVD-movie Justice League: War (and you can find me in the special features). This is an adaptation of the Justice League “Origin” story that introduced the New 52 version of the superhero team. But this version of Diana, played by Michelle Monaghan, wears her own version of the costume.

I’m not entirely sure about this outfit. Having the top reach up to Diana’s neck is a nice change from what we usually expect, but the eagle doesn’t look particularly proud or impressive to me. Maybe it were larger. It’s also odd to me that Diana would wear arm warmers beneath her bracelets.

COSTUMES TO NOTICE

Before we go, I want to mention two outfits recently seen that I think could look great if translated to live-action media. That “Warrior” episode of Smallville was written by Bryan Q. Miller, who now writes the Smallville Season 11 comics. In the recent storyline “Olympus,” a new version of Wonder Woman debuted, designed by Miller and artist Jorge Jimenez. The story was colored by Carrie Strachan.

This design is a great balance between superhero costume and warrior armor. Protecting the arm that isn’t carrying the shield is a nice touch. I generally think it’s questionable for characters that fly to also wear skirts, but having shorts underneath solves that potentially awkward situation. Great boots, too.

Of course, I still prefer Diana in gold as opposed to so much silver. So for fun, I did some photoshop alteration just to see how the outfit would look otherwise. You’re free to disagree, but I definitely dig this. It just pops more to my eyes. Diana’s a very warm character and I think gold reflects that better. In any event, I recommend “Olympus” to readers, especially if you have an urge to see adorable 6-year-old Diana. You don’t need to know the Smallville show to enjoy.

Another recent take on Wonder Woman was drawn by Javier Pina in a flashback scene in Forever Evil: Argus, written by Sterling Gates. The scene reveals how Diana and pilot Steve Trevor met in the New 52 universe, before she came to the outside world and helped found the Justice League.

This flashback costume is great. I love the skirt mixing stylized superhero cloth and warrior leather. Making the boots match the silver bracelets is a really cool touch, the design harkening back to the laces she wore in the 50s.

Yet I still prefer gold on Wonder Woman, so just for fun, here’s another photoshop manipulation (though I left the boots silvers because I really do dig how they balance out the bracelets). I prefer this coloring, but even in silver this is a great design and I wouldn’t mind if it became Diana’s mainstream outfit. I think it would also translate well to a fun live-action film.

Folks, that wraps it all up for now. Comment with suggestions on who else you want to see tackled in this column! This is Alan Kistler, signing off.

Alan Sizzler Kistler (@SizzlerKistler) is an actor and freelance writer. He is the author of Doctor Who: A History.

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  • https://twitter.com/adamhowardcross Adam Cross

    my vote will always go to the Odyssey outfit http://talkingcomicbooks.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Odyssey.jpg

  • http://runt.org/ Adrian

    Thank you for using the screencap from Justice League where WW is macking on Batman.

  • Jeyl

    I remember when issue #600 came out and it debuted her pants and jacket attire. While I personally had no problem with the pants, the jacket was way out of place. As the series went on, she would wind up losing the jacket and bear a color scheme that I thought was pretty catchy. Red, gold and black. If they had just gotten rid of the arm straps, it would have been perfect.

  • Anonymous

    Great piece covering the many iterations. Thanks!

  • Ardo the O-some

    I agree. Odyssey is great for live action.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with your preference for gold. Though it always bugged me when the gold and silver was mismatched. I prefer one or the other. Though I also totes love that one that covers up her chest. I know some women are more comfortable with that than others, but as an owner of large boobs, I cringe every time I see her in action with out more support.

  • Anonymous

    I liked the animated Wonder Woman movie origin of her armor.

  • Anonymous

    You forgot Adrianne Palicki’s original WW costume before the backlash from fans

    http://929nin.com/the-wonder-woman-costume-got-better/adrianne_palicki_as_wonder_woman_1-422×1000/

  • Anonymous

    Great new column! I’d make suggestions, but I think it’s more fun to be surprised.

  • Alan Kistler

    I didn’t forget. I chose not to include it because it’s not what she actually wore for the pilot. This was looking at designs that were actually used.

  • Alan Kistler

    BAH! You’ve foiled my cunning plan of having people suggest things. Good thing I’m already working on the next three pieces. Thanks for the kind words.

  • Charlie

    I actually massively prefer silver to gold but on wonder woman the gold definitely works better. That said I’m liking the Justice League: War outfit a lot. I always think Diana should be olive skinned rather than white though, I think I imagine her as very Greek in my head canon (I actually love the art in the New 52 shame about the changes they made to her origin ><)

  • Charlie

    I’m a big fan of this cosplay, I think it’s perfect. http://ironmovies.com/gorgeous-battle-ready-wonder-woman-cosplay-from-meagan-marie/

  • Anonymous

    I LOVE THIS COSPLAY!!!

  • Lady Commentariat

    Thank you. Even granted that this is a comic book character in a magical universe, I cannot imagine any woman ever choosing to fight in a strapless outfit. Or without pants. I don’t get that either.

  • MeatyStakes

    I too prefer gold in WW as a general rule, but talking specifically about New 52 WW, silver is a better fit, cause this Diana isn’t as warm; I would even call her more detached, keeping her distance in her role as a warrior, and carrying the grief of all the other amazons being gone.

    I haven’t read the last issues, but I kinda liked the characterization in her series; it worked as the character was presented with the context, but I do hope she ends up turning more like her previous incarnation; sweeter and kinder, but no less of an honorable warrior.

  • MeatyStakes

    I wasn’t really digging the mythology changes, but they really pull the story together. And when they end up rebooting this universe, we will be left with an actually pretty cool Alt-take on WW.

  • Jo Perrett

    Hell yeah! This is how I would like her to look. I totally dig the full face tiara/helmet. However I have to say: NO CAPES! haha

  • MeatyStakes

    I really hated the 2011 Reboot’s costume, it just looked cheap; I don’t use the world hate lightly, but that costume was a disgrace. I even read in another site that the costume on the porn parody was better, and it definitely was.

    Even the 70′s costume was miles better, and I’m not really a fan of it.

    And I think that the problem with the live action representations is that they don’t understand is not a costume, but more akin to a stylized, modernized armor. It’s not supposed to look like a plastic wrap.

    The WW costume is my favorite of all superheroes, and I would really love to see someone make justice to it; I agree that the Erica Durance comic is too much of a throwback, but a modern looking outfit with the same craftsmanship would be everything I have wanted (with the New 52 design emulated with leather strapping)

  • Jo Perrett

    ugh I think we all tried to forget that monstrosity tbh (‘: The full shine looked so tacky. Even with just the shiny top, I still think it doesn’t fit the more serious nature they intended for the show.

  • Anonymous

    lol, you know, I don’t know if I would mind being pantsless. It seems a lot of athletic women prefer it (runners, gymnasts, etc), so I’m willing to give the booty shorts a pass, though I always preferred a Roman battle skirt on her.

  • Jo Perrett

    I hate the Adrianna costume, but I really dig the pants look in Oddessy and Injustice. TV COSTUME DESIGNERS TAKE NOTE.

  • MeatyStakes

    Eh, it’s a nice outfit, but it doesn’t fit her origin mythos. I quite liked it on the Odyssey, but because it made sense in the context.

    I just can’t see the Princes of Themyscira wearing a biker leather jacket

  • Rob Payne

    Excellent work, Alan! Very reminiscent of your video series with Tim Gunn, National Treasure. I agree with you and others that gold is the better choice over silver, but I really dig the Greek warrior-inspried costumes more than the bikini/one-pieces. Just change the rivets to stars and keep the eagle, and I think we’ve got a pretty good compromise.

  • https://twitter.com/adamhowardcross Adam Cross

    straps of some kind just make sense, though, right? or something like the JL:War top going all the way up to her neck.

  • J Ritchey

    Durance’s costume from Smallville is too much, but it makes me cringe far less then the rest of the examples in the article (a few good ones in the comments, though). It’s on the right track, just overdone. I would think Diana would look very archaic Greek early on, and adapt more modern elements as she is exposed to them and finds them appropriate and practical.

    I would not want to see Wonder Woman wearing gold or silver. Bronze, on the other hand, that I can see.

    Why does Wonder Woman have Nightwing’s logo in War?

  • Charlie

    I like to think one would dramatically let the cape drop to the floor going into combat!

  • Anonymous

    There was also an episode in “Bones” where the main character dressed up in a fitting Wonder Woman costume!

  • Amourah

    I’ll just leave this clip from Justice League here:

    http://youtu.be/k4Vfzoueslw

  • Katy

    I so agree! That’s why I think WW has to wear pants if they ever make a movie. It’s easy to suspend disbelief in comics about pantless heroines, but in live actions movies I just don’t buy it!

  • Katy

    Cheap is the right word for it. My first thought was “is that pleather?” However, having seen the pilot the whole thing looked cheap and great actors were delivering cringe inducing dialogue.

    I think the best look for live action is the Odyssey look without the leather jacket.

  • Anonymous

    Great job MarySue to get Alan Kistler to contribute!
    I love his (way too few) videos and everytime he’s on Grace Randolph’s show Think About The Ink!

  • Anonymous

    Gina Torres actually does the voice of Wonder Woman in DC Universe Online, not Susan Eisenberg.

  • Mandy

    OMG yes!! I can suspend my disbelief for space aliens or sentient time traveling robots or whatever, but when artists insist on drawing super ladies with DD+ boobs kicking ass/jumping/flying ect…and then have them in tub tops or show them with uniforms unzipped down to their navel with no bra visible? It BOTHERS me so much! I mean my 34B boobs cringe at not wearing a sports bra while playing softball. I mean if it was a rare site done for occasional cheesecake value it might not be so bad. But when it’s 98% of super ladies with big boobs and no bra? Nah. That bothers me. I’m all for a mass costume redesign here. How come male heroes are the only ones enjoying full coverage here? Give me practical costumes over bathing suits with fishnets any day.

  • Alan Kistler

    The only times I’m ok with more sexual outfits is if it suits the characters. Emma Frost’s outfits suit her (although some of those still strain common sense and are just absurd). Diana isn’t one who flirts with her enemies or baits with seduction. I’m cool with her showing her legs, but thong bottoms on her annoy me. Same if her top looks dangerously low-cut. I don’t think straps would diminish the design at all. Especially in live action.

  • Alan Kistler

    Very much in agreement with much of this, particularly your final comments. Thanks for reading!

  • Alan Kistler

    Yes, but that wasn’t licensed and what’s more the costume they used deliberately got some details wrong so they wouldn’t be in violation of any copyright or trademark.

  • Alan Kistler

    Thank YOU.

  • Alan Kistler

    Thanks for the kind words.

  • Alan Kistler

    Straps would certainly make sense. If you extend them from the eagle design, they could also look quite cool.

  • Alexa

    I am torn with how WW should look since I really don’t mind it when she dresses in a pantsless or strapless outfit, either one is fine for me. I think it depends on how the outfit conforms to her body, like how the top shouldn’t look like a bra which in many cases it does, as seen especially in the Kelly show. But yeah pants are okay but so are shorts. What I don’t like, is when she is wearing heels, now that is just goes beyond stupid and impractical. But if I had to choose my favorite interpretation it would be this: http://www.flickr.com/photos/17367794@N08/2150706887/

    Classic but still very bad ass, especially with the metal in front :)

  • Elias Algorithm

    It just occured to me how drunk I must have been by the time I got to the end of that Wonder Woman pilot (two lines of dialogue and I needed something if I was gonna do this). I’d completely forgotten the costume switch.

  • MeatyStakes

    No problem! It was a great article, and an interesting read ;)

  • Alan Kistler

    She did it originally, but recent segments and DLCs were voiced by Susan Eisenberg.

  • Alan Kistler

    That was the original origin for her armor too, basically.

  • Alan Kistler

    They didn’t have to do a lot to get me to contribute. I love The Mary Sue, how it’s done and its talented writers. Hence why Jill Pantozzi and I rock out on podcasts together. :-) Thanks for the kind words.

  • Lady Commentariat

    I feel like “pantless heroines” should either be a band name or a satirical web comic.

  • Katy

    Hmm… It has more of a satirical web comic ring to it. Maybe “Hark a Vagrant” will use it?

  • Katy

    Maybe it’s an unwritten rule of the comic book universe(s)? All super heroines also have the magic power, gift, ability, mutation, etc. to defy gravity on only one part of their body? I agree about the male costumes! Why isn’t superman running around in just the red underwear? You should check out the Hawkeye Initiative if you haven’t already.

  • KA

    I LUUUUUUUUV the Justice League: War costume. It’s perfect!

  • Mark Boyes

    And all her existing lines (except cut scenes) were revoiced. She is heavily featured in the Sons of Trigon expansion so it was either bring Torres back under contract, clash, or redo. Sony spun it as being like a long running musical that gets occasionally recast.

  • alice

    Shoulder straps would have a lot of practical benefits but I’ve never seen a version of her costume with them that I’ve liked. Guess a lot of time they’re just thrown on willy nilly. Maybe is someone made a strapped costume with a more fashionable eye.

  • alice

    I love the forever evil one. I think it’s the perfect take on a skirt for Wonder Woman. It’s influenced by Greek battle skirts but puts a more modern feminine twist one it. Just needs some different boots.