Your Wonder Woman/Rocket Raccoon Post Is (Still) Missing the Point

Wonder-Woman-Rocket-RaccoonBack when the first footage for Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy rolled out, somebody tweeted, in a nutshell, that then-recent remarks made by Mark Pedowicz of The CW--suggesting that Wonder Woman was a challenging character to adapt--were preposterous because Marvel Studios was making a movie with a talking raccoon.

The tweet was funny, and it got re-shared hundreds of times. It crossed through my Twitter and Facebook feed at least ten times, often with accompanying "hell yeah!" commentary from whoever shared it.

And, of course, it was more or less nonsense. But it was entertaining nonsense and certainly wasn't hurting anybody.

Gal-Gadot_41This week, the image above has started to make the rounds (credit where it's due, it seems to have originated from this Imgur user). It's basically the same joke, but in meme form, and with the added wrinkle of poking a little fun at Man of Steel since in the time since the joke was first made, we've discovered that Gal Gadot will play Wonder Woman in Batman vs. Superman.

Again, it's gone a bit viral in the comics community. Again, it's been popping up relentlessly in my feed for about 36 hours. Again, it's pretty off-target, actually.

It's true that more than one Warner Bros. executive have responded to inquiries about a Wonder Woman film or TV series with the answer that the character is difficult to get right. What both the original tweet and this meme suggest is that they're saying "It's hard, so we're not doing it, because we aren't as ambitious as Marvel."

Of course, Marvel's Louis D'Esposito has previously said something similar about Black Panther: just after San Diego Comic Con International in 2012, here's the report that came out of MTV News:

As for “Black Panther,” he noted that T’Challa “has a lot of the same characteristics of a Captain America: great character, good values.” But the movie might be difficult to pull off, he said, because of having to create Wakanda from the ground up. “It’s always easier basing it here. For instance, ‘Iron Man 3′ is rooted right here in Los Angeles and New York. When you bring in other worlds, you’re always faced with those difficulties.”
black-panther-movieBoth Marvel and Warners have said that their black and female characters, respectively, are hard to get right, and that getting them wrong would be worse than not doing them. And here's the thing: they're right.

Not because they should be dragging their feet on developing these characters--but recent experience suggests that they aren't. They're right because getting these particular characters wrong would be far worse than just making a crappy SteelElektra or Jonah Hex movie.

In the cases of both Black Panther and Wonder Woman, it isn't about just a superhero that checks that box--it's about the iconic superhero that represents an entire class of superhero characters in the eyes and minds of many fans.

Particularly casual fans or non-comics-readers, who will have to make up much of the audience and whose enthusiasm for these projects is not as guaranteed as comic book fans' is. After all, Michael B. Jordan hit the nail on the head this week when he said that critics upset about Fox having cast a black man as Johnny Storm in Fantastic Four will go see the movie anyway. He's acknowledging that anyone who cares enough about the source material to complain about colorblind casting, also cares enough to go see it opening weekend...if only so they can complain about everything else they think the filmmakers got wrong.

wonder-woman-girl-power The characters' biggest fans are often the films' biggest trolls. Mark Waid, noted lover of all things Superman, claimed to have stood up and shouted at the screen during a screening of Man of Steel. The friend he said calmed him down later clarified that he did not shout, but the idea is there: Fans are passionate about these characters and want to see them done right.

And, yes, Wonder Woman--a character who is widely considered a feminist icon and whose face and logo adorn children's clothing and fashion accessories worn all over the world by non-comic book-readers--is going to be held to a higher standard than will Elektra or even Catwoman. You know how we know? Because the same fans that Jordan was talking about above, have proven it time and time again.

Go to any forum where fans are criticizing the decision to cast a person of color as Johnny Storm, and you'll find defenses citing characters like Heimdall, who is played by Idris Elba in the Thor films in spite of having traditionally been depicted as a white character. And then two posts down from that, you'll get the inevitable clarification that nobody much cares about Heimdall, but lots of people care about Johnny Storm.

Similarly instructive is the fact that there's nobody-but-nobody out there saying "It's past time for a Jean Grey movie." Or that in every conversation about colorblind casting or racebending characters, the first fan to be outed as an obvious racist defaults to "Well, what if Black Panther was recast as white? Then you wouldn't be so cool with it, would you?"

[That argument isn't actually worth responding to, but we'll give it one sentence: Panther's race, like Luke Cage's for that matter, is inherent to his character in that he's specifically playing to and defying expectations about characters of color. Johnny Storm, not so much.]

It's not hard to tell a good Wonder Woman story, or a good Black Panther story. They're inherently great characters and that will shine through if given half a chance. But if you tell a bad one, it will permanently damage both that character's brand and your reputation as a studio. Telling a Black Panther story that comes off as unintentionally racist or ignorant of African culture would be a huge problem for Marvel, as would making a Wonder Woman film that doesn't depict Diana--or Amazon culture--in the right light.

And, yes, it's long overdue that anybody besides a straight, white male have their own big-budget tentpole superhero film. When you've got Marvel making two of them a year and coming to Ant-Man before giving a thought to Black Widow (starring one of the most celebrated actresses on the planet who just happens to have played the part in the top-grossing superhero film of all time), it's clear somewhere along the way there's a serious lack of confidence in the studios' ability to make and market superheroes who fall outside of the tiny box of "normal." But that's not what this conversation--or that meme--is really about.