Prior to 1941, William Moulton Marston was a celebrity psychologist best known for developing the systolic blood-pressure test, which presaged the modern polygraph. Then Marston devised a way to indoctrinate children with his philosophies of female superiority and the pacifying power of love. Taking advantage of his position as an educational consultant for DC Comics, he created Wonder Woman, a superheroine derived from Greek myth. Since Marston didn’t really need money, he filled the early Wonder Woman comics with his singularly kinky obsessions, returning repeatedly to fetishistic images of dominance and submission. Over the years, other writers have tried to leave their own stamp on Wonder Woman, but unlike Batman or Superman—who have simple, iconic origins—Wonder Woman has a persona so bound up in her creator’s complicated motivations that very few have been able to breathe in new life.
The made-for-DVD animated feature Wonder Woman doesn’t solve the how-to-top-Marston problem, but it feels truer to the source than most other reinterpretations, and it’s a significant improvement on DC’s last two DVD movies, Justice League: The New Frontier and Superman: Doomsday. Though roughly the same creative team was involved in all three—headed up by producer/visionary Bruce Timm—Wonder Woman is less sketchy and more direct, encompassing an origin story, a little fish-out-of-water comic relief, and a PG-13 battle royal between the Amazons and the forces of Ares. The strong voice cast includes Keri Russell as Princess Diana, who defies her mother and wins the right to be the Amazon champion in man’s world, and Nathan Fillion as Steve Trevor, the Army pilot who tries to acclimate her to mortal life. Those two—plus Rosario Dawson as Artemis and Alfred Molina as Ares—make the cartoon feel less cartoony.
Wonder Woman suffers from Timm’s tendency to resolve epic stories with clanging, zapping, overlong battle sequences. But director Lauren Montgomery and screenwriters Gail Simone and Michael Jelenic introduce some sly wit in the Steve/Diana interactions, plus such dynamic action sequences as Ares skipping Wonder Woman across a reflecting pool like a stone. This Wonder Woman is drenched in blood and pumped with female empowerment in a way that gives it some of that old Marston kink. Too bad it isn’t a series pilot.
Key features: A poorly recorded commentary featuring Timm and Montgomery, two Wonder Woman-heavy episodes of the Justice League cartoon, plus two half-hour featurettes about the history of Wonder Woman, the comic and the character.