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WONDER WOMAN ON-SCREEN
One of the highlights of this year's otherwise-disappointing Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice was longtime DC super-heroine Wonder Woman making her feature film appearance, as she helped the World's Finest Heroes battle Doomsday (the alien killing machine introduced in the comic books in 1992) -- a hint of things to except when the Wonder Woman feature film, part of the DC Extended Universe film franchise which began with Man Of Steel (2013), premiers in movie theaters next year, designed in part to boost the Amazing Amazon's public profile further, even though the character has been around for almost a century (though a few years less than Superman and Batman, who both debuted in the late-1930's).
Though the Amazing Amazon -- created by writer/psychologist Dr. William Moulton Marston (under his pen name of Charles Moulton, a key player in the creation of the lie detector, which helped inspire Wonder Woman's magic lasso) and artist Harry G. Peter, with an assist from Marston's wife Elizabeth, and introduced in All-Star Comics#8 (December 1941) -- first appeared during the Golden Age of comic books, which began near the end of the Great Depression in the late-1930's, and ended in the early-1950's, when the comic book super-heroes' popularity was in decline (which proved to be temporary), and went on to become one of the most significant pop culture characters of all time, there was little or no effort to increase Wonder Woman's stock, as far as her appearing in mass-media adaptations were concerned (unlike her DC cohorts Superman and Batman). Whether or not it would have helped the character's popularity during the 1940's, nobody could say, including Marston,who died in early-May 1947, almost two years after the end of World War II, as Robert Kanigher took over first the editing, then the writing of DC's Wonder Woman comic book for the next twenty-two years, which included the end of comics' Golden Age and the start of its Silver Age; by that time, the super-heroine's career and popularity started a slow decline, and her adventures during that time span didn't entirely reflect the changing times.
The first adaptation of Wonder Woman for media other than comic books occurred in 1966, when Synthetic Plastics Company produced and released a Wonder Woman audio record, partially to capitalize on the success of ABC's live-action Batman TV series, which led in part to renewed (and brief) interest in comic books. (Synthetic also produced audio records featuring Superman and Batman.) But as author/media historian Les Daniels pointed out in his 2000 book Wonder Woman: The Complete History (published by Chronicle Books), the overall quality of the Wonder Woman audio record produced by Synthetic (and those featuring Superman and Batman at that time) were below average, which probably explains you hardly see them being sold at used record and memorabilia stores these days. In later decades, Wonder Woman and other comic book super-heroes would be served well by better-quality audio adventure recordings, including the audio records produced by Peter Pan Records' Power imprint during the 1970's.
In 1967, William Dozier produced a brief five-minute film -- which is above this very paragraph -- with the possibility of bringing forth a Wonder Woman TV series. The end result, however, was less than successful for several reasons -- including not only the unavoidable fact that the film was treated more like a TV sitcom than a straight adventure TV series (accounting for its lack of appeal), but also because ratings for the Batman TV series (which Dozier produced as well) were already declining as a result of the camp humor craze's popularity already falling apart.
Ironically enough, that same year, another DC super-heroine connected to Wonder Woman -- Wonder Girl -- appeared in several Teen Titans cartoon shorts which were part of The Superman/Aquaman Hour Of Adventure, which Filmation produced for CBS as part of the TV network's Saturday morning line-up. It should be noted that the Wonder Girl who appeared on TV at that time was in reality Wonder Woman's adopted sister Donna Troy, who first appeared in The Brave & The Bold#60 (June-July 1965), which marked the second appearance of the Teen Titans -- as well as the fact that the original Wonder Girl was none other than Wonder Woman as a teenager, first introduced in the comic books in 1958, as part of writer/editor Robert Kanigher's attempt to keep her visible in the public eye (while creating continuity problems which would extend into the early-1980's). In later years, Wonder Girl would make occasional appearances on various TV series featuring DC super-heroes, including an appearance on the live-action Wonder Woman TV series of the 1970's, which introduced audiences of that time to up-and-coming actress Debra Winger.
In 1968, DC decided to revamp Wonder Woman, partly to keep her up with the times, as the writer-artist team of Denny O'Neil and Mike Sekowsky stripped the Amazing Amazon of her costume, powers, and weapons -- not to mention kill off U.S. Air Force Colonel Steve Trevor, a mainstay of the Wonder Woman supporting cast since 1941 -- and remade her as a female adventurer in the mold of Diana Rigg's Emma Peel on the 1960's TV series The Avengers (not to be confused with Marvel Comics' super-hero team). The strategy worked -- for a while.
But by the early-1970's, the comic book industry was facing tough times which were, in some respects, similar to what happened in the early-to-mid-1950's when psychiatrist Dr. Frederic Wertham openly attacked Wonder Woman and her DC stablemates Superman and Batman in his 1954 book Seduction Of The Innocent. DC's decision to modernize Wonder Woman was strongly criticized in the first-ever issue of Ms. magazine, published in January 1972 -- and even DC executives finally realized that that decision had robbed the character of her uniqueness; by year's end, the Amazing Amazon returned to her former self. But that turnaround wasn't enough to boost sales of Wonder Woman's comic book, partly because the character's popularity had been in slow decline since the late-1940's.
Ironically enough, by the time that Wonder Woman already regained her costume, powers,and weapons, the character appeared on a 1972 episode of The Brady Kids, an animated TV cartoon series spun off from The Brady Bunch, one of the most popular TV sitcoms of its time, which aired on ABC -- an unusual pop culture encounter rivaled only by Scooby-Doo meeting Batman and Robin on the popular cartoon canine's animated TV series then airing on rival TV network CBS. Anyone watching both The New Scooby-Doo Movies and The Brady Kids at that time couldn't have known that roughly a year later, Wonder Woman, along with Superman, Batman, Robin, and Aquaman, would take center stage in the popular animated TV series Super Friends, produced by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, which debuted on ABC in 1973, and would run on and off until 1986.
In 1974, Warner Bros. (which, like DC, is now owned by Time Warner) produced a live-action Wonder Woman TV-movie starring Cathy Lee Crosby in the title role, and which aired on ABC. But the TV-movie and its overall plot, inspired in part by the character's non-super powered stint during the late-1960's and early-1970's, left everything to be desired -- and definitely didn't help her popularity at all.
Still, Warners and ABC didn't give up hope in Wonder Woman's potential to become a hit on TV. In 1975-76, ABC aired several Wonder Woman TV-movies, starring Lynda Carter in the title role, and former Carol Burnett Show regular Lyle Waggoner as Steve Trevor -- the success of the TV-movies would begat a prime-time Wonder Woman TV series which ABC first aired in 1976, and remains the best-known and best-loved mass media incarnation of the super-heroine, thanks in part to Carter playing the title character. Like the TV-movies, the series' first season was set during World War II, the era where Wonder Woman made her comic book debut.
But by the end of the series' first season, ABC somehow lost interest in Wonder Woman -- and decided to pull the TV show from its prime time line-up. Thankfully, the TV series was rescued by rival TV network CBS, who made it part of its prime time line-up in the fall of 1977, and lasted for two more seasons until 1979 -- notable for the fact that the TV series' time period was updated to the late-1970's, where Wonder Woman in her secret identity of Diana Prince worked as a U.S. government agent alongside Steve Trevor's son and namesake (played by Lyle Waggoner, one of several creative holdovers from the first season, before the TV series switched networks).
The success of the Wonder Woman TV series boosted sales of her comic book, and certainly kept her in the public eye. But by 1985, six years after the end of the TV series, Wonder Woman's popularity was in need of a serious boost -- and not even the Super Friends TV series, which was nearing its twilight by then, could help jump-start it. It was the DC comic book limited series Crisis On Infinite Earths, published in 1985, which would play a key role in revamping not only Wonder Woman, but also many other DC characters -- not surprisingly, artist George Perez, who drew Crisis, would help jump-start the character's popularity when he illustrated and co-wrote an all-new monthly comic book published in November 1986. By that time, however, Wonder Woman's on-screen appearances would cease for the next fifteen years.
In 2001, as the 21st Century began, Wonder Woman would play a prominent role in the Justice League animated TV series which aired on Cartoon Network (another Time Warner company), which aired until 2006 -- and remains the definite TV version of the Justice League Of America, of which Wonder Woman was a founding member back in 1959, mainly because Warner Bros. produced it (as well as the Batman and Superman animated TV series of the 1990's).
In 2009, three years after the Justice League animated TV series ended, Wonder Woman spotlighted her own animated direct-to-video movie, with Keri Russell (Felicity, The Americans) voicing the title character; critical and popular reaction to it was positive. Two years after that, in 2011, Warner Bros. and David E. Kelley produced a live-action Wonder Woman TV-movie which was supposed to air on NBC, and segue way into a possible weekly TV-series -- but it didn't. And from the viewpoints of industry insiders and TV critics, it was probably for the best. However, Wonder Woman did manage to appear in a story arc on the TV series Smallville in 2013, when the future super-heroine met the future Superman.
In the past few years, Wonder Woman's most recent on-screen appearances have been on the Internet, when she and other DC characters appeared in the DC Super-Hero Girls animated shorts that've appeared on YouTube in conjunction with the action figure line of the same name which was co-launched by Mattel in 2015; both the action figures and the YouTube animated shorts re-imagine not only Wonder Woman, but other DC super-heroines as teenagers attending high school; the first few seasons have since aired on Boomerang (still another Time Warner company).
In 2014, Wonder Woman finally made her feature film debut in the hit animated feature film The Lego Movie -- appearing alongside Lego versions of, among others, Superman and Batman. Two years after that, Gal Gadot played a live-action Wonder Woman in Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice (2016), her appearance being one of the few good things about the film, and gives hope that the live-action Wonder Woman and Justice League feature films, due to be released in 2017, will not only be successful, but also better in terms of overall quality -- thus allowing the Amazing Amazon to stay in the public eye for the next seventy-five years and beyond.
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