A month (as of this writing) after its release in the U.S., the film Wonder Woman is a box-office hit and a cultural phenomenon. To people who were not comic-book fans, WW, like Captain America: The First Avenger, took a character not as popular or “cool” as other heroes (Marvel’s Spider-Man or Wolverine in the case of Cap; DC’s Superman or Batman for Wonder Woman) and made them awesome overnight
Much has already been written about the movie (including this great review from fantasy author John C. Wright), but one aspect I haven’t read yet is how WW deals with its male characters.
In tales and novels, comic books, and films of action and adventure and derring-do, it used to be a given that the strong, capable, brave, manly hero would fight evil, save the world, and rescue the princess (too often, most of those princesses—Star Wars’ Leia notwithstanding—were exasperatingly depicted as weak and helpless). If a woman was present, she was usually the male hero’s sidekick and/or romantic interest.
WW, of course, subverts this trope, with the Amazonian princess Diana (expertly performed by Gal Gadot) taking on almost all the challenges, accompanied by Steve Trevor (solidly played by Chris Pine, whose Captain James T. Kirk from the new Star Trek movies knows a thing or two about being the manly hero). And therein lies a potential problem.
That being that while audiences may have been conditioned, over too many years and by too many stories, to expect and put up with damsels in distress, they have very little patience or sympathy for useless male characters (like those here and here). It would have been easy for WW to portray Trevor (and his mercenary companions Sameer, Charlie, and “Chief”) as ineffectual and wimpy compared to the superhuman warrior Diana.
The movie wisely avoids this problem by giving Trevor (and chums) plenty to contribute. While only Wonder Woman can cross no-man’s land by herself (one of the film’s best—if not the best—vignette), and go toe-to-toe with the Ares, Steve is the only one who can help Diana save humankind. In addition to introducing and explaining the world outside Themyscira to her, he guides her to where she needs to go, assembles a team to aid her, infiltrates the enemy stronghold, and sacrifices himself to destroy the plane carrying poisonous gas, while she struggles against the god of war.
Steve is as heroic and capable as a man can be, but he cannot do what Diana does. Diana is as heroic and capable as a superwoman can be, but she cannot know what Steve does. Their characters and abilities complement each other, but as the movie progresses, she grows, learning more and more about the world and its people.
By the end of the film, Diana has come into her own, fulfilling her destiny, and assuming her born role as Earth’s sworn protector. She no longer needs Steve, but still cares deeply for him, as evidenced by her cherishing the photograph of them.
Despite all he does, Steve does not rescue a princess. Nor is he a “prince” who needs rescuing, unlike Sam from This Wasted Land, my young adult dark fantasy novel that I’ll publish this fall. TWL is your typical teenage love story: Boy meets Girl; Boy is Abducted by Evil Witch; Girl goes to get Boy back.
Like WW, my novel is subverting the damsel-in-distress trope, but I’ve put a lot into making sure that Sam doesn’t come across as a “gamma male.” Like Diana and Steve, Alyx and Sam complement each other: she’s feisty, withdrawn, artistic, and a newcomer to Kent Island High School; he’s level-headed, outgoing, scholarly, and has lived on Kent Island all his life. I’ll have more about them soon.
Kenton Kilgore is forging a new direction in young adult science-fiction and fantasy. His latest work-in-progress is This Wasted Land, a modern-fantasy/horror novel, to be published in 2017.
Kenton is the author of Dragontamer’s Daughters, based on Navajo culture and belief. He also wrote Lost Dogs, the story of a German Shepherd and a Beagle-mix who survive the end of the human world, only to find that their struggles have just begun. With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.
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