If nothing else, Batman v Superman has brought Wonder Woman to the forefront of cultural consciousness, and that’s a great thing. Since the early 1940s, Diana has meant something to women of all ages, as a WWII-era soldier, or as an animated proto-feminist on Cartoon Network. When she appeared on television in the 70s, she was a sexy, campy hero on a legitimately fun program.
Although Wonder Woman will appear in her first solo film next year, the character already has a long history , one wrought with rampant fandom and controversy. The following experimental short by feminist filmmaker Dara Birnbaum illustrates the complex relationship that grew between 70s era feminists and the most popular female hero, who was glamorous before she was effective.
Lynda Carter played Wonder Woman from 1975 to 1979, first on ABC, and then on CBS for seasons 2 and 3. Carter embodied Wonder Woman’s original patriotism and feminine values: she had been crowned Miss World in 1972, and performed the USO for American soldiers stationed overseas. Though Carter was clearly cast as eye candy, the role of her male counterpart, Steve Trevor, went to Lyle Waggoner, who had been in the running for Batman before Adam West had won out. Waggoner’s casting was a nod to a very specific group of female fans, who knew him as a Playgirl model from 1973.
Diana, in the Wonder Woman television show, was not a nurse as she was in the original comics. She was, instead, an American soldier, specifically Navy Yeoman Petty Officer First Class Diana Prince. As the show was set during WWII, Wonder Woman’s antagonists were often Nazis.
Several other details were unique to the television program: Lynda Carter suggested to showrunners that her character transform into Wonder Woman after doing a spin motion with her arms outstretched, and the move stuck. In the show’s first season, Wonder Woman used the ability to do uncanny imitations, and was often seen impersonating enemy combatants over the phone, while working in espionage. Diana’s younger sister enjoyed a short tenure as “Wonder Girl” before disappearing from the plot entirely.
The show also used Wonder Woman’s invisible airplane, which first appeared in comic books in 1942, but lost favor with fans over time. Diana’s plane, and her lasso of truth and bulletproof bracelets, gave the show a tone that still translates as skillful camp. Scriptwriter Stanley Ralph Ross modeled the show after his previous work in what he called “high comedy”: Adam West’s Batman and The Monkees. The first season’s opening theme reflected Ross’ winking humor.
>In your satin tights / fighting for your rights / and the ol’ red white and blue
After completing its first season set in WWII, Wonder Woman was picked up for a second season and changed its setting to the then-contemporary 1970s. The revamped show, now titled The New Adventures of Wonder Woman, aired on CBS. Diana lost her romantic interest and gained a robot named Rover, who was often played for comedic relief. The intro sounded jazzier, and the animation was more dynamic.
The only character Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman ever killed onscreen was a genetic clone of Adolf Hitler; aside from that instance, she kept a no-kill policy.
The show’s campy feel was only increased in its final season, when CBS executives apparently decided Wonder Woman was intended for younger audiences. Diana spoke to skateboarders and rode roller-coasters. She began punching and kicking antagonists, but only in order to subdue them; she inflicted minimal damage. In the third season’s finale, the show relocated Wonder Woman to Los Angeles, hoping to revamp again for a fourth season, which never came.
Overall, Wonder Woman as she existed in the 1970s, should be a lesson to contemporary versions of the character, and characters like her. What Zack Snyder missed out on was the franchise’s obvious opportunity for self-aware humor. Diana Prince has certainly succeeded as a stern heroic figure, but when the world around her has an intelligent sense of humor, both she and the audience benefits from the balance.