Like previous years, the convention center at San Diego Comic-Con 2017 became a hub for cosplayers, with fans from across the world sporting elaborate costumes, celebrating just about every film, TV show, or comic out there. Every Comic-Con, the community seems to champion a specific character, releasing an army of meticulously dressed near-clones across the crowded halls. Last year it was Harley Quinn. This year it was Wonder Woman. The standout costume is often a statement, made en masse, on the state of the comics world. This year, the message was loud and clear: Hollywood must go further with female superheroes.
Costumers dressing up as Diana Prince’s alter ego were everywhere during the show, ranging from casual fans wearing Wonder Woman-branded T-shirts to dedicated cosplayers in elaborate costume replicas. The increased interest comes as little surprise: Patty Jenkins’ new film is only now starting to leave theaters after surpassing Batman v Superman’s domestic box-office take.
After years of superhero movies that have largely catered primarily to male fans, Hollywood is slowly starting to recognize the power of building films around female heroes. And fans are responding.
Wonder Woman is a “kickass woman in a male-dominated film industry”
Kelsey Walmer, who traveled to SDCC from North Hollywood, California, says she fell in love with the character when she was a child. Her mother — a Wonder Woman cosplayer herself — introduced her to the 1975 Lynda Carter series. Calling the character a “kickass woman in a male-dominated film industry,” Walmer repeated a common refrain about Wonder Woman’s appeal: that she was inspirational for women everywhere.
Cosplayers across the convention echoed that notion. Waukegan, Illinois, resident Sham Golba praised the film because it doesn’t differentiate Wonder Woman from other heroes in terms of skills or abilities. “She’s no weaker than the guys,” Golba explains. “She never stops what she’s doing, and overcomes every obstacle.”
Many of those same sentiments hold true about the legacy comic book character and Lynda Carter’s television take. But Jenkins’ Wonder Woman has brought the hero back into the mainstream, and the resulting uptick in interest follows a familiar pattern. Comic-Con cosplay always serves as a litmus test to show which characters are resonating in the popular consciousness.
Cosplayers on the show floor repeatedly said their interest in Wonder Woman wasn’t simply about this movie, though. Like the popularity of Harley Quinn after 2016’s Suicide Squad, it’s a sign that fans with few options are hungry for more and better female characters to champion. Hollywood remains agonizingly slow in building tentpole films around female leads, despite the massive latitude that the success of superhero movies has afforded studios. Marvel, in particular, has been called out for years for not giving Black Widow her own standalone movie, and the company is only now giving a female superhero her own film in the form of Captain Marvel, which won’t arrive in theaters until 2019.
DC beat Marvel to the punch with Wonder Woman, and fans have responded to Gal Gadot’s portrayal enthusiastically. “We embrace characters who show willingness to stand up for our rights,” says Channelle Tatman, of Irving, California. “[We] fight to protect ourselves and our family, work hard to fulfill our dreams, and overall be a hero just like any male superhero!”
With Warner Bros. officially announcing Wonder Woman 2 during Comic-Con, and Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige proclaiming that Captain Marvel will be the most powerful superhero it’s ever put on film, it appears that Hollywood is starting to grasp the importance of reaching beyond the male-centric superhero mold it’s been relying on for so long. Movies like Charlize Theron’s Atomic Blonde and the long-simmering Alita: Battle Angel may also afford the opportunity for audiences to discover new characters that can be embraced by fans walking the halls of future conventions.
“These incredible female personas,” says Vanessa Perez, who was dressed as the latest film incarnation of Wonder Woman, “all serve as a huge inspiration for me as well as many other female audiences out there. It's really incredible to witness these types of characters changing the current public perception of what power and a superhero really is.”
Photography by Andrew Liptak / The Verge