I’m just going to go ahead and say it: I think that Marvel’s Black Widow is the most important female super-hero out there right now. It’s not because of her powers, or because of her history, but because she’s looking like the most likely candidate for first female super-hero to get her own movie anytime soon, now that DC has seemingly relegated Wonder Woman to television. Is it just me, or is something wrong with this picture?
Don’t take that as a diss on Black Widow – Although I wouldn’t complain that loudly if you did, because I’m not the largest fan of either the character or Scarlet Johannson’s performance in Iron Man 2 – but… if mainstream audiences are ready for a Captain America movie, how hard would it really be to make a Wonder Woman movie work? She’s a more famous character, for one thing (Not to mention, even more patriotic, if the number of stars on her outfit is anything to go by), and she has the novelty of – gasp! – being a woman theoretically going for her, as well. But that’s the thing, isn’t it? Being a female action hero isn’t a novelty as much as a drawback when it comes to movies these days, and for some reason, DC doesn’t seem to want to risk breaking that spell with one of its most iconic characters.
(To be fair to DC Entertainment, it’s not like Wonder Woman movies have been easy to create; it feels as if the property has been in development for at least a decade, and nothing has worked out for whatever reason, including the now-mythical Joss Whedon version which, if DC Comics was being smart about these things, they’d tap him to adapt into comics for the inevitable Wonder Woman: Earth One graphic novel.)
The thing is, while I think that a Wonder Woman television series has the potential to be great dependent on the people working on it (David E. Kelley makes me nervous, I admit), I can’t help but feel that it leaves the movie side of things a bit bereft of potential female leads. Outside of Wonder Woman, which DC super-heroines have the ability to successfully carry their own movies? Zatanna and Madame Xanadu could both rock variations on the Spooky Chick idea, perhaps, and on the straightforward superhero that isn’t tied to another franchise too much, probably Vixen – if given the opportunity, and that’s unlikely considering I doubt DC or mainstream audiences are ready to give a black woman her own action movie just yet – but otherwise… who? Power Girl, with her convoluted backstory, is out for the same reason that Supergirl is (Too related to Superman to really be able to stand out on her own). Batgirl, Oracle and the majority of the Birds of Prey are out for their ties to Batman and/or the Blackhawks – Black Canary, maybe, could stand on her own characterwise, but that name… I’m not sure (Sorry, Dinah).
And even if a character can survive the selection process, who’s to say that their movie wouldn’t be another Elektra – which softened the character to make her fit a mainstream idea of what a female hero should be – or, worse still, another Catwoman – a fate worse than no movie at all, let’s be honest? Something I read in relation to this summer’s Salt (Hi, another movie to reinforce the idea that audiences would rather watch male heroes in crap than female heroes in – admittedly only just – superior movies) sticks with me, about there being a concern that Salt’s husband not be saved by her during the film because it makes him seem less manly. To make him an equal to Salt – or, at least, not need her help – reduces the hero of the piece, though, because… isn’t the point of the hero in this kind of thing to save the day, or at least their partner?
Maybe it’s a good thing that Wonder Woman won’t go into movies, after all. Perhaps, just as moviemakers seem suspicious about the audience being ready for female heroes, it’s the case that movies aren’t ready for them, either. Television offers a chance to get into character complexity more, and let them save the day at least once, if only because the menfolk can get their chance to redress the balance later. And at least shows like Buffy, Alias, Nikita and the like demonstrate that television audiences are more than willing to accept women kicking ass without too much trouble. Good luck, Black Widow. I have a sneaking suspicion you just might need it.