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From Diana To Danvers: What Can We Expect From The New Female-Led Comic Movies?

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It’s the dawning of the age of the superheroine. With comics like the new Ms. Marvel, starring the kick-ass Kamala Khan, making bold and potent statements, it’s not surprising that the movie moguls are taking notice. Shortly after the Wonder Woman movie was chalked up on DC’s slate for a 2017 release, Captain Marvel was announced for the following year. Both, it seemed, had been waiting for the other to step out onto the dance floor. Whispers of a potential Captain Marvel movie had been floating around since late 2013, so there’s a whiff of DC exploiting the sudden surge of demand for a female-led superhero movie; but, politics aside, bright days are ahead for comic book heroines and their fans.

Despite being a little later than DC in announcing their first female lead since the bland Elektra, Marvel have given themselves a 1-up by taking another of their infamous risks. Right now, it’s hard to imagine even a margin of risk existed, with many converting to Captain Marvel comics in the wake of the movie announcement, her new series penned by Kelly Sue DeConnick  proving popular with fans and critics, and action figures of Carol Danvers’ alter-ego already on the shelves. There’s a feeling that, if played by the right person (ahem, Katee Sackhoff [Editor’s Note: Correct.]), the character will do just fine on her own merit. Especially since, if Danvers’ movie is given the same TLC as Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s already set to be a rollicking spectacle.

There hasn’t been a successful solo interpretation of Wonder Woman on our screens since the loveable ’70s TV show, though there have been many attempts: an unaired pilot for NBC in 2011, for one; and then Amazon, an origin show in the vein of Smallville, which was pulled from production in January. Movie mothballings include a Joss Whedon screenplay, heavy-handed hints at involving David Goyer, and even Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn, of all people, showing interest. Now, finally, Michelle MacLaren of Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad success, is in the director’s chair. But with six writers currently working on full scripts in an X-Factor knock-out situation, and MacLaren indicating that there’s no official release date yet, things are looking more than a little wobbly.

This looks like a job for brazen optimism! So, the movie is being released in 2017. How is Wonder Woman going to make her own cinematic statement alongside Captain Marvel? One rumour around her solo appearance is that it will be a distant prequel to The Justice League’s storyline, set in the roaring ’20s, just after US women have gained the right to vote. While this would pledge a return to her roots as a feminist icon, it could feel like an easy out compared to bringing the same message to the present day, where it’s still very much needed. Joss Whedon said of his screenplay that his Wonder Woman “was very powerful and very naïve about people, and the fact that she was a goddess was how I eventually found my in to her humanity and vulnerability.” A similar approach, portraying her empowerment through learning to live among us common people, could provide an interesting contrast if Marvel run with DeConnick’s gutsy portrayal of Danvers. We can only hope that, whatever the outcome, Wonder Woman will be given a distinctively powerful identity. Though the ’20s rumour fits with the supposed trilogy plan—the second movie would apparently jump ahead to World War II, with the third catching up with The Justice League—it all sounds too far-flung to build an engaging story or character, and could encourage the kind of third-movie blowout we’ve already seen in the likes of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man series and The Dark Knight Rises. No matter the number of movies, surely Wonder Woman can stand up for herself without resorting to Man of Steel-esque action sequences. Though that’s not to say we don’t want to see Diana kicking all kinds of butt.

It’s all going to be about finding the point of balance between pomposity and patronisation. This has appalling relevance to Carol Danvers’ past as Ms. Marvel, whose kidnap, rape, and impregnation by Marcus in The Avengers #200 decimated both lines. But the signs of progress are out there. The Winter Soldier was as much Black Widow’s movie as Cap’s, and treated her with complete authenticity as a main character, not just a supporting role. It was this feeling of belief in the lead role’s validity which was missing in that litter box of a Catwoman movie, resulting in a farcical shadow of the cat burglar we know and love. If DC will only have faith in Wonder Woman’s resonance as an envoy for gender equality (Hera knows they’ve a better chance with her than ‘Patience Phillips’), and Marvel can give us a lead heroine as self-assured as Tony Stark or Steve Rogers, it’ll be a huge step in the right direction.

But in all this excitement over Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel, it’s easy to forget that, months before Wonder Woman was announced, we learned about the Soskas’ Painkiller Jane movie. Promised an R rating, and that it will be “batshit crazy,” what’s much more important is that we won’t just be seeing a female comic book character, but a bisexual woman in a starring role. The Twisted Sisters being the outspoken visionaries they are, the gender and sexual politics surrounding the ex-cop with powers of regeneration are sure to come to the forefront. This would be a cinematic revolution, especially if the film gets a full theatrical release. And we can at least be sure it’ll blow Jane’s TV movie and series of 2005 and ’07 out of the water.

Even on top of that, to tide us over til Wonder Woman is top of the box office, there’s the hoard of female-led TV series on the horizon. Agent Carter debuts in January, with Supergirl in production and a 2015 release expected. The former will follow Peggy Carter’s adventures as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent after the events of Captain America: The First Avenger. “Agent Carter Gets Ready for Work,” a preview clip of the two-hour premiere, suggests that the mini-series, at least in part, will be about women being forced out of work post-war—a subject too often glossed over. DC All Access has also confirmed that Supergirl “will follow Kara Zor-El, a Kryptonian girl who’s been hiding her powers here on Earth, but decides to embrace her powers, and become the hero she was always meant to be.” We may see Elektra in Daredevil—Sin City’s Rosario Dawson was rumoured to be cast in the role of Ms. Natchios in June, although there’s been no word on this since. But Krysten Ritter has been officially cast as Jessica Jones, and her series is expected to air after Daredevil next year, as part of the Netflix exclusive Defenders run.

It’s taken a long time to get here, but now, all at once, there’s an impressive roster of heroines we can look forward to seeing in the spotlight. With Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel in the early development stages, things look set to go quiet on both for a while. So, for the time being, there’s not much left to do but clench our sparklefists and wait.

Newly minted Masters student, Elisabeth O’Neill is a comic collector, sci-fi fancier and hero for hire. Likes: Bjork, boots, pancakes and penguins. Dislikes: kobolds, cool kids, trolls and mild cheddar. You can find her on Twitter @ LittleTinMiss

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