Tag Archives: realism

Q&A: Wonder Woman

Did you see Wonder Woman? The fighting that the Amazons did was extremely choreographic and really beautiful to watch for a plebeian like me, but did it seem grounded in reality?

There’s nothing about Wonder Woman that’s grounded in reality. This is an intentional design decision and, to be fair, the likes of Atomic Blonde and Haywire aren’t either. In Haywire’s case, it’s because what makes for a good MMA fight is about as far from SpecOps as you can get.

The combat seen in Wonder Woman is stylistically designed to be superhuman because Diana and the Amazons are superhuman. They’re immortal, godlike beings who live on a paradise island hidden from the rest of the world. Their combat style and choreography emphasizes that aspect of their characters. It’s part of the visual storytelling ongoing to show us who and what they are.

Wonder Woman is the sort of archetypal character meant to inspire, who we look up at in wonder, who inspires us to be better, and to believe in ourselves.

The combat isn’t grounding in reality and it doesn’t need to be. In reality, we can’t reflect bullets with gauntlets and walking across No Man’s Land with just a shield would just lead to Diana’s legs being shot out from under her by a gatling gun. Realism isn’t the point of the movie though.
Besides that, Wonder Woman is no more realistic than Captain America fighting Nazis with a shield or Batman doing whatever Batman does in the Dark Knight. Or Athena kicking Ares keister in the Illiad.

Wonder Woman walking into the No Man’s Land is thematic not realistic, and that’s the same for the movie’s fight choreography. Hear it: Wonder Woman walks into No Man’s Land. You don’t even need the visual to feel a sense of awe. This woman walking where soldiers are scared to go.

This is archetypal, mythic storytelling with mythic heroes.

The problem is that “grounded in reality” has become the new version of “believable” or “suspension of disbelief” or “relateable” except with much more restrictive rules. Usually because this justification is really “I don’t like it, therefore”. Used more often to shut down conversation than start it, because “realism” sounds more legitimate than personal preference or inherent bias. If you’re ever in a discussion with someone and they can’t elaborate on why it isn’t “realistic” with a genre that was never about realism anyway, then you can usually say this is why.

Realism as an argument gets brought up a lot with superheroes, and the idea that anything in the superhero genre (and this includes superspies) is real is laughable. It’s called “superhero fiction” for a reason, and DC’s heroes from the Gold and Silver Age are all archetypal, mythic heroes who are better than humanity and through which we find the best of ourselves.

What’s real are the emotions and beliefs Wonder Woman inspires in you, the sense of awe, the wonder, and the hope. To hope for and fight for a better future than the one we see before us. To inspire our dreams so we find the courage to chase them. To look up at the stars instead of down at our feet.
To believe we’ll find victory so long as we keep getting up again.

To remind us we can change the world.

Sometimes, we just need freedom reality’s constraints to find the best in ourselves. Inspire us to see who we could be, beyond what we’ve previously believed to be possible.

You know how many glorious scientific inventions we have because of science fiction? Like hoverboards from Back to the Future. Or flip phones from Star Trek. They weren’t grounded in reality either when they were imagined. There was only the possibility they might, maybe exist… someday.

When discussing anything creative try and remember this: no is not a shut down nor does it remove the idea’s value.

Rather, any explanation on the subject is meant to help us gain a better understanding of the subject. The more we know then the more choices become available, and we’re able to pick the one best for us.

The choreographers, directors, and producers who put together the Amazon’s combat style are people who have a firm grasp of how combat is supposed to work both onscreen and off it. They chose this route because what we see on screen is representative of the themes they had in mind and the story they were trying to tell. It was intentional, not accidental. They knew what they wanted.

The point is don’t be discouraged from chasing after a feeling or a dream just because fiction is what inspired you. The difference between fantasy and reality is the will we have to take ourselves there.


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My character is a vigilante in the Wild West. However, he is over 300 years old, a cursed Mayan criminal doomed to wander the Earth punishing criminals for his own misdeeds. He posses superhuman strength, agility, and speed, as well as resurrects completely healed if and only if he is killed; as well as a Ghost Rider-like ability to condemn criminals like How “realistic” would it be for him to rarely if ever miss when shooting his revolver, and have mastered several different fighting styles?

About as realistic as the rest. Most of the time when people talk about “realism” in fiction, they’re butchering the term. In a world where Mayan gods stalk the earth 1500 years after the civilization that worshiped them crumbled to dust, inflicting superpowers on the unwary, it’s not unrealistic at all for you to have a character that’s freakishly accurate with handguns after 300 years of practice, and or mastered several different martial arts. It’s internally consistent, and to an extent, that’s all “realistic” means when we’re talking about fantasy.

What might not be realistic is the idea that he’s alone. That throughout human history, the Mayan gods have never “cursed” others with similar immortality.

Remember, for the nineteenth century, a lot of the modern martial arts didn’t exist, or would have fiercely protected. Your character can’t have learned any Chinese or Japanese forms in that era.

And, while martial arts like Systema have a long history, the modern form is completely different from the historical versions of the form. So, if you really want a martial arts background, you’re going to have to do some research. Also, using the term “martial arts” to refer to unarmed forms is strictly a twentieth century invention.

Really, you’re going to have to decide how much anachronism you’re willing to accept, and then do a lot of research to keep your material appropriate.

So, some a lot of recommendations:

I’m assuming you’ve already looked at the westerns with quasi supernatural protagonists. If you haven’t, I’d start with Hang ‘Em High, High Plains Drifter, and A Fistful of Dollars. The entire “I thought we killed him” avenging hero is almost it’s own sub-genre in westerns.

Deadlands was a Comedy/Horror/Western RPG in the 90s. The setting is an alternate 1880s American west where the supernatural has broken free and the end of the world may be nigh. It includes an entire mechanic set for playing the classic returned from the grave hero.

Brimestone isn’t a western, but it’s worth looking at (if you can find it). The central character was a cop who died and went to hell in 1983. The show picks up in 1998, there’s been an escape from Hell, and the Devil (played by John Glover) sends him back to earth to hunt down the damned.

Kurosawa’s Yojimbo and the American remake Last Man Standing may seem like odd recommendations, but they’re both worth watching. Neither story is supernatural, but they both deal with a lone fighter clearing a town of two competing gangs.

Millennium is an even stranger recommendation, set in the late 90s, it’s a horror/crime series that deals with a burned out ex-FBI investigator who may, or may not, posses psychic powers. The show has an ongoing supernatural element that is kept very low key until the final season. At it’s core, it’s a story about a man being forced to stand against evil by some supernatural force. Fair warning: each season shifts tone sharply, so it’s effectively three different shows; the first two should be useful for you.

The Dark Tower by Steven King is a series I still need to finish, but what I’ve read of this post apocalyptic/horror/western is good, really good. It might be off tone, but it could be very useful for you, especially in setting up a gunfighter.

The Saint of Killers from Vertigo Comics’ Preacher might be worth looking at. I could do a full article unpacking that comic, but it could be useful if you have the time and resources.

Finally, the Highlander TV series is on point. The original show follows a 400 year old immortal wandering the earth. He doesn’t have a compulsion to get involved, but it should give you some good ideas for how to handle your character. Especially if you want to have him interacting with a cadre of normal characters who follow him.