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Why Wonder Woman's Costume Really Worries Me

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Entertainment Weekly

Some projects come to television heralded by all manner of advance coverage and fan buzz, like Sunday’s debut of Game of Thrones, which has been written about—here among other places—when it was only a twinkle in HBO’s eye years ago. And some projects are greeted by intense scrutiny and advance buzz… of a less flattering kind.

That’s the case with NBC’s Wonder Woman, which has had to deal with bad press ever since a very-bad-looking David E. Kelley script leaked earlier this year. (And maybe since Kelley was announced as the producer, frankly.) Then commenters moved on to photos that emerged of Wonder Woman’s costume: was it too vinyl and stifling? Did it have sufficient chest support?

Well, now comes word in a TVLine story that Wonder Woman will also wear the short shorts that Lynda Carter popularized. Thank God! We can all stop worrying about the show now!

Seriously, I wonder if the costume angst isn’t just way of, er, covering up deeper anxieties about the project.

The early photos of Wonder Woman’s costume did look kind of ridiculous. As did Wonder Woman’s past costumes. As, come to think of it, have most costumes of any superhero in the history of superherodom. You know why? Because they’re superhero costumes!

But costumes are a handy focus for fan anxiety, because they stand in for every challenge and impossibility in adapting a superhero franchise. Rendered the traditional way, they can look ridiculous and unrealistic. “Updated” or made minimalistic, they can seem pretentious or a wrongheaded rethinking of the character. Unchanged, they lack imagination; changed, they take unearned liberties. And that’s before you get into the various gender overtones of the costume of a character who is one of the few massively popular female superheroes among the general public (so that the clothes also raise the question of whether she’s being presented as a heroine or as eye candy, for starters).

There are only a handful of costume updates of classic superheroes that have really been successful while making a new statement—some of the latter-era Batman costumes, for instance, depending on their particular rubber-and-S&M quotient. In part that’s because a costume, at best, is an expression of character: the right dark costume can capture a well-rethought and characterized Dark Knight.

All of this is by way of saying: we can pass the time snarking about this or that photo of Wonder Woman’s costume. But we can’t really know whether the costume has been redesigned correctly until we know whether the character has been redesigned correctly. And, sorry, David E. Kelley: I suspect that’s what a lot of us are really worried about.