Superman on Television
Justice League: Episode Reviews
Season 1 - Episodes 8-9: "Paradise Lost"Reviewed by: Barry Freiman
Paradise (Lost) by Themysciran Light.
I love Wonder Woman. I feel it's important to set that premise out clearly up front. Because I don't like "Paradise Lost" nor am I happy with Wonder Woman's portrayal during most of the first season of JL. But, given that I've already reviewed season two as of this writing, Wonder Woman fans take heart: things will get better.
I was 11 in 1975 when the first New, Original Wonder Woman telefilm with Lynda Carter aired on ABC. And, much like the Batman TV show's effect on my 2-year old mind in 1966, Wonder Woman the TV show ingrained a certain image of the Amazon Princess forever in my brain. No, I don't mean the gold hubcaps covering her Amazon attributes. Being gay, I reserve a special place in my heart for women like the original Princess Diana, Wonder Woman.
After all, it isn't a physical attraction I feel toward the character or Lynda Carter so much as an emotional connection. If there's one thing most gay men can connect with, it's the notion of compartmentalizing pieces of one's personality and locking them away - much as Diana Prince does with Wonder Woman. Diana Prince fits into Man's World by trying to be more masculine and/or less outwardly feminine. Wonder Woman, on the other hand, easily commands respect in spite of and some might say because she embraces so openly her femininity.
Society expects men to act manly. Think of Old Spice or better yet the campaign for Secret deodorant: "Strong Enough for a Man. But Made for a Woman." So it's not surprising that gay men might envy Wonder Woman's freedom to girl it up without anyone mistaking her for being less powerful or less deserving of respect just because she's a woman. Wonder Woman may be super serious about feminine empowerment, but that doesn't mean it's not super to be an empowered feminist. What seems a very matter of fact portrayal of women in today's media - to wit, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle and even the Powerpuff Girls - was once quite daring: that women indeed have the right to expect equality with men and embrace everything that makes them uniquely feminine.
In 1987, when George Perez re-booted Wonder Woman with a new history and a comic book renumbered at issue one, he excised Diana Prince from the equation. The new, new Wonder Woman had no secret identity. I suspect Perez found it contradictory for the character to stand for feminine empowerment when she spent half her time covering up her feminine attributes with glasses, doughty clothing, and a hair bun. Yet this is very much one of the great contradictions inherent in feminism and, some might say, in being female. Perhaps, Perez did away with Diana Prince prematurely, confusing political correctness with genuine equality.
Perez took pieces of Diana Prince, the secret identity, and recreated them as a counter-point to Wonder Woman in two new characters: Myndi Mayer, Diana's public relations representative, and Julia Kapattellis, a scholar in Ancient Greece. Once the initial stories with these supporting characters had finished, however, Wonder Woman has floundered largely as a character in the comic books because she's lacked a counter-point to her overt femininity For this reason, she's been portrayed as a teenage boy's idealized version of a woman: slinky and sexy but also able to hang out with the boys in their clubhouse. And, in super hero world, that club house is the JL Watchtower.
I believe that, without Diana Prince as a run-off for the character's masculinity, Wonder Woman herself has become less of a uniquely female character and has in fact embraced the male patterns of her creators and of her JL peers in my opinion.
Interestingly enough, the animated creators seemed to ultimately realize this and pair Wonder Woman up with a more conventional Princess in season two's "Maid of Honor" and use the latter character's sense of fun as shorthand for 21st Century "grrrl power" to mine the woman in Wonder Woman. But, as of the events in "Paradise Lost", this Wonder Woman still feels like a stranger.
I suspect another large part of why I dislike "Paradise Lost" as a story arc may be because it relies so heavily on Wonder Woman's extremely contrived secret origin set up in the JL pilot arc "Secret Origins". You'll recall that, in "Secret Origins", J'onn telepathically nudges Diana to leave Themyscira (aka Paradise Island) to join the battle for Earth's freedom from the Martian invaders. No Steve Trevor crash landing on the island, no contest to choose an Amazon to go to 'Patriarch's World' (aka the sexist USA), no bullets and bracelets, not even any giant Kangas - and not a single invisible plane in sight! Perhaps worst of all, Diana carries a strong rope that appears to only be good for one thing: roping things; it doesn't compel people to tell the truth.
Diana is nagged by how she's left matters with her mother, Queen Hippolyta, when she should be nagged by how she's left matters with us viewers. It's as if JL viewers only warranted the abbreviated secret origin of Wonder Woman, the one in which there's no explanation for the Amazons, Diana, or the costume that just happens to emulate the American flag. Superman and Batman didn't need much background because each character had already headlined his own show. As the third member of DC's "Big Three", Wonder Woman deserved an animated series origin that was more than just a footnote to the bigger JL case. Perhaps Wonder Woman should have been the heroine who'd previously been established on Earth, not Hawkgirl.
This certainly would have saved us viewers from the tag-on ending here used to arbitrarily leave Wonder Woman an exile. Rather than use the return to Themyscira as a means to take a longer look at the character's genesis, the animators stick on an epilogue in which Diana is exiled from the island and pushed into the arms of her new family, the JL. Somewhat confusingly, Diana isn't exiled from Paradise because she stole the Wonder Woman costume and left the island without permission; rather, she's kicked out of Paradise because she returned with men even though those men saved all the Amazons from a life in petrified stone. I agree with the Flash that this is bogus and question whether a monarchy of women for women could have flourished for thousands of years with such a strict constructionist's view of written law. After all, didn't Joni Mitchell long ago bemoan that they paved paradise and put up a parking lot? Wonder Woman's Mom should be more flexible - or is the message here that, without men, that masculine role has been assumed by the women? It's politics as usual, it seems, no matter where you go...
Unlike later story arcs, "Paradise Lost" also feels like it's part of a kiddie show. Wonder Woman uses the Javelin-7 to get to Paradise Island even though she can fly presumably to market the JL jet to the kiddie set. While the Amazons embrace Greek mythology as their religion, there's no overt mention of the Greek Gods as Gods even when "Lord Hades" shows up as the real bad guy.
Felix Faust was a somewhat uninspired choice for villain. A comic book villain, Faust had appeared in animated form once before on the final Super-Friends incarnation, "The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians". In that appearance, Faust attempts to break out of jail by stealing Superman's powers, but the Man of Steel's powers end up instead in Faust's prison cell roommate, the Penguin. That story had a goofy Silver Age sense of wonder to it with a super-powered Penguin lauding it over the Super-Friends and a powerless Superman. Here, Faust's role might have been better represented by a female sorceress seduced by Lord Hades much as Queen Hippolyta had been as related during the flashback sequence. As it is, Faust's inclusion here seems as arbitrary as Deadshot's inclusion in "The Enemy Below".
Finally, some might recall that the story of a sorcerer lauding it over Diana's sisters - changing them to trolls instead of stone - took place on the 1988 CBS-TV Superman cartoon. In that story, Wonder Woman shows up and Superman already knows her and you know what? It worked better than "Paradise Lost".
Oh, and I did notice that the little girl Diana saves at the beginning of Part One is named Cassie, which just so happens to be the secret identity of the new Wonder Girl - I just didn't think it was clever enough to point out. Dang and now I did anyway. (and Ha ha on Hurricane Gardner too -- these references seem superfluous now that there's going to be a "Justice League Unlimited" anyway)
Superman is along for the ride and even he doesn't pick things up - if anything, his inclusion is a reminder that what is essentially not working about Wonder Woman here is that she's coming across as little more than a female Superman. These are both characters still very much in need of personality, especially when compared to Batman who, as usual in the first season, gets most of the best lines in the story.
I give "Paradise Lost" only two speeding bullets out of five because it's not always a good thing to be like Superman - especially not if you're Wonder Woman. And Superman didn't have all that much to do here either.
On the contrary, Superman has plenty to do next week in "Warworld", which introduces everyone's favorite yellow skinned alien, Mongul. Anyone who thinks I was unfair to Diana this week may want to skip "Warworld" because I'm about to be fairly unfair to Clark too.
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