Thanks to Megan Fox making the proclamation that she has no interest in playing the title role in the project that Warner Brothers has been trying to get off of the ground for the last 10 years, there has been a lot of discussion about the 3rd member of the DC Comics Universe Trinity – as well as her strengths and weaknesses. I had a post about why Wonder Woman as a movie was not a good idea ready to go, but with the latest discussion about her, I realized that the reasons I had originally stated in the post boiled down to two of the most basic requirements for creating a working superhero, especially one for public consumption.
Understanding Heroism through the Lens of Tragedy:
Captain James Kirk in Star Trek: The Motion Picture summed it up thusly:
I think we’ve given it [The Machine Being V’Ger] the ability to create its own sense of purpose out of our own human weaknesses – and the drive which compels us to overcome them.
Your prototypical hero, especially on the silver screen, will deal with this concept during the course of the film. In the movies, the main expression of the human weakness is usually by tragedy. Successful iterations of heroic struggles usually involve the hero having a tragic beginning. In the case of superheroes, the tragic beginning is something that defines the hero’s background. Some of the tragic beginnings are directly related to the hero or heroine receiving their powers, but the tragic beginning often relates more to an underpinning part of the hero/heroine’s character – and sometimes, their approach to heroism as well.
Some Examples of Heroic Tragedy as Part of the Origin:
Looking at most of DC and Marvel’s most well-known heroes, this is the one of the two things that they have in common: The tragic beginning. The tragic beginning is either something that has happened to the character or something that affected the character in the beginning stages of either their personal life or life as a super-powered person.
For Superman, it is the loss of his home planet and growing up as a stranger in a strange world.
For Batman, it would be the loss of his Parents to a petty thief.
For Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), it would be witnessing the death of Abin-Sur, who passed on the powers of Green Lantern to him.
For any member of the X-Men, it would be the ostracizing of their human families upon the discovery of their mutant powers. For some of them, this discovery would also lead to family and friends being hurt or killed by these powers.
For Bruce Banner, it would be his attempt at saving Rick Jones from the gamma explosion – and his near death experience while becoming the Hulk.
For Billy and Mary Batson, their parents died during an expedition – and they would never know that the other even existed until they would come into the power of Shazam in their teen years.
What is Wonder Woman’s Tragic Beginning?
If you look at Wonder Woman’s beginning, whether from the 70’s TV show, any of the comic book origins, or the cartoons in which she has graced, there is no comparative origin for Wonder Woman. While this does not necessarily mean that Wonder Woman is a poor superhero because of it (there are always exceptions to this rule), it does mean that the origin that is created for Wonder Woman for the movie is going to have to work that much harder to be able to relate to the movie-going audience.
Heroism – At the Moment of Truth:
The other important aspect of a superhero’s origin is the moment when a decision is made to become a hero. This is the moment that not only separates the hero from the villain, but also versus a vigilante or mercenary-for-hire; none of whom will have much inclination to perform good deeds for very long, if at all.
Thus, this is the second concept that the more popular heroes share: The moment. In many cases, it is usually tied into the Tragic Beginning; the moment where the character decides to become a hero either acts as a finishing point – overcoming the tragic origin – or as a starting vector to change the personal fortunes of themselves and/or others.
For Superman, his moment comes from his upbringing in a very humble environment despite his near-infinite power. He operates under the belief that he can and should set the example of how to live life using one’s gifts (powered or not) to better oneself and others. In the 1979 motion picture, the moment would come with the death of his foster father, Jonathan Kent – and his birth father would show him what would be in store for him in the future on this planet. In the later comics, it would be when he would adventure just before he goes to Metropolis.
Batman’s moment is shaped from the murder of his parents as a young child. His assuming the mantle of Batman stems from the want of not willing to have another child like him go through the grief and pain of watching their loved ones die at the hands of a random criminal.
Spiderman’s moment comes with the murder of his uncle – which he feels he could have prevented had he acted as the hero he would be “destined” to become afterward.
What was the moment that shaped Wonder Woman into becoming a Hero?
For Wonder Woman, however, few of her origin stories ever give us that moment. Instead, much like G-Girl in My Super-Ex Girlfriend, the mantle of heroism is assumed simply because she has super-powers. Now, in many of the comics, Wonder Woman was chosen from a contest of skills and strength, given extra powers thanks to the accessories of the costume, and sent out into “Man’s World” to teach a new (and ostensibly, better) way of thinking. Later origins make Wonder Woman a super-powered ambassador of Themyscira, and a member of the Amazon royalty.
Long passage short: The moment of truth for Wonder Woman does not truly exist in the realm of a ready-made origin that the casual viewer would be able to relate to.
Why Do These Moments Matter?
These are moments that the reader/audience/crowd can look at and relate to from a perspective of wanting to be in the shoes of the hero(ine), or at the very least understand why the hero(ine) has entered into this profession. Without these moments, the character with powers becomes nothing more than a vigilante with powers or abilities; at worst, the character acts as little more than a mercenary.
While the tragic beginning is a staple of the major heroes and heroines in and outside of comics, it is not necessarily a requirement. But the tragic beginning is the absolute start of the journey of the character to being a hero – and the moment of truth serves as the point of no return to the simple life. The moment of truth, because of this, is absolutely essential in the telling of a hero or heroine’s mythology.
And based on what most people know of Wonder Woman these days, these two hurdles will be difficult to overcome.