In a recent post, I took Marvel Comics’ David Gabriel to task for his feckless assertion that his readers were misogynists and racists. The success of DC’s Wonder Woman proves my point.
Wonder Woman is smashing records, challenging expectations, and basically kicking ass on screen and off. As movies go, it’s doing remarkably well, approaching the break-even point for the studio with little effort (Note: For a film to succeed, it must make twice its budget for the studio to get back its initial investment. That’s because half of all ticket sales go to the theater.)
But why is Wonder Woman doing well while Marvel’s cast of women and minority heroes tanked? Why does Wonder Woman succeed when other fem-ideal films such as Ghostbusters fail dismally? The answer lies in character.
As every writer should know, a good story requires three things:
- Likable, believable characters you want to see succeed,
- A great story arc that concludes without leaving the audience confused,
- A setting that telegraphs information to the audience while providing material support to the story.
Oddly, formulaic approaches exist for points 2 and 3, but not really for point 1. Sure, a character should grow as a person, but how that happens can rely on any number of tricks of the writer’s trade. But no matter how a character develops through plot, all characters must have a starting place, an origin, and writers call that backstory.
And here’s the deal: Wonder Woman’s backstory is uniquely her own.
Wonder Woman isn’t the daughter of Krypton. She’s not Aquaman’s sister. She didn’t find a Green Lantern ring. She’s Dianna, Princess of the Amazons, and that’s what makes her so appealing.
As I stated in my earlier article, you can’t simply drape Superman’s cape on a woman and call her Superwoman. You can’t simply put Thor’s hammer in a girl’s hand and expect her to be an original heroine. Doing this absolutely insures that the heroine you create can never be her own person, never occupy her own space. Far from empowering women, it’s analogous to having a man do the hard work first then letting the girls pretend they’re contributing–it’s demeaning to women who actually get things done.
The biggest problem with 2016’s Ghostbusters was, quite simply, a lack of originality. The problem with Marvel’s efforts to make new minority and women characters is precisely the same.
Wonder Woman dishes up a big heaping helping of humble pie and drops it right in front of David Gabriel. Now he has to eat it because the numbers don’t lie. Wonder Woman‘s success is proof that name calling, man-shaming, and misandry will never produce a strong female heroine–it just alienates the base and results in dismal failure.