Image from the 'Wonder Woman' DVDThere’s a new posse coming to town. One of its riders is Mike Jelenic.
Jelenic is part of a new generation of animation talent working under Bruce Timm. He and Lauren Montgomery are the creative team behind the upcoming DC Animated Universe release, Wonder Woman. It will be pre-screened at this year’s New York Comic Con and will be released on DVD March 3rd.
Interestingly, Jelenic, who these days is also working on Batman: The Brave and the Bold, wasn’t the original writer on the project. It was a writer with quite a bit of familiarity with Princess Diana, Wonder Woman series writer, Gail Simone.
“I sort of came to the project after the fact,” says Jelenic. “They had gone through a couple of drafts with Gail. At some point it became a production issue. They needed things ASAP. That was when I was brought in.”
Even so, Jelenic is quite generous in his praise of Simone’s work.
“I used some of Gail’s stuff,” he admits. “I took a lot of the cues Gail left in. The basic plot is something she came up with; which is the Amazons have Ares imprisoned, he escapes and Diana has to stop him. She also pretty much set the tone for Hippolyta, Artemis and some other characters. From there, I took my own liberties. One scene I pretty much left alone was Wonder Woman teaching a little kid how to sword fight. I altered only a little bit and I think it’s one of the best scenes in the movie.”
Image from the 'Wonder Woman' DVDThen again, Simone’s work aside, Jelenic did do a solid job with on the final script. In part that’s because he did his research.
“First, I figure out what's the story that's worth telling, and that usually entails a long time of just staring at the blank page,” said Jelenic. “Once I know that story, I start focusing on the moments. I think when you remember great films, it's not necessarily the plot that you remember, it's the moments. So I start trying to accumulate a list of moments. In Wonder Woman, there are a lot of them – the bar scene between Diana and Steve, the interrogation of Steve, the truth lasso.”
And if Jelenic pays homage to another great moment from another movie, he will. The bar scene between Trevor and Diana is an homage to a ‘30s comedy classic.
“If the movie has any inspiration, it was the fish out of water character,” he said. “The biggest influence was the movie Ninochka with Greta Garbo. There are a lot of little nods to that. For instance, in the bar scene I even quote the movie. It was great for showing the miscommunications between the two sides. I think it’s a really great movie. I wanted the non-action scenes of Wonder Woman to feel like that.
Image from the 'Wonder Woman' DVD“[From there] It's taking all the elements and moments and, while working within the theme of the story, creating something that serves those ideas. I also researched a lot Greek mythology to help form the screenplay. I definitely wanted to hit some of the hallmarks of Greek tragedies, so I had to brush up on Ares and Hades, Hera and Zeus, and tons of characters I can't even pronounce.”
The research also extends to the Amazing Amazon herself, at least all the incarnations of her and Trevor within the DC Universe.
“We had to hit certain elements that are part of Wonder Woman's myth,” said Jelenic, “and my job was to answer what sort of ramifications her origins would have on her character during her journey to becoming a hero. It's basically trying to boil down essential Wonder Woman elements into one story. We looked at the stuff that the fans had to see, the iconic things about Wonder Woman, and then tried to put a twist on them. We've seen the lasso and the invisible jet before, so what's another way we could use them? I wanted to incorporate all these iconic Wonder Woman moments into the larger overall story.
Image from the 'Wonder Woman' DVD“Diana had to represent all the feminine ideals and virtues, the things that make women great. At the same time, she's a very strong female character in terms of both her physical prowess and her personality. So we tried to find a balance to create a character that doesn't lose her femininity by being a strong action hero.
“Ultimately, we wanted to explore her journey of discovery. She's been raised to believe that women don't need men, that women are morally better. If there is a message to the film, it's basically that men and women are not perfect. Men have their problems. Women have their problems. And when they interact, these problems often grow. But at the end of the day, men and women are actually stronger and better when they work together to overcome these problems.”
In fact, one could say this film isn’t a totally clear cut good versus evil film. Even Ares has an exceedingly strong reason for wanting to destroy Themyscira and Hippolyta has nearly as strong a one for hating Ares.
Image from the 'Wonder Woman' DVDYet probably the most interesting of all the characters introduced is Persephone, who is actually the character who let’s Trevor onto the Amazon island. Like the classic WW storyline, it all is kicked off when Trevor gets caught in a dogfight over Themyscira. What he doesn’t know is there’s an invisible island below him. The only way that island can be seen, as it turns out, is if an Amazon, any Amazon, punches said magic mirror.
Hippolyta punches the mirror the first time, just to see what’s going over her island. As for the second time, the one that let’s Trevor crash land?
“There’s two times where the mirror was punched,” says Jelenic. “The first time we see Hippolyta do it. We are seeing her having second thoughts about the Amazons secluded from the rest of society. She does have a longing to reunite with the world. After all, a major part of the movie is about Wonder Woman reuniting them with the outside world.
“Then there’s when you see an unseen figure punch the mirror a second time. That leads to Steve Trevor landing on Themyscira. We are supposed to be wondering who it’s supposed to be. Could it be Alexa, who’s questioning the isolation. Is it Hippolyta again? Actually, it’s Persephone who punched it. We don’t put an exclamation point on it, but it’s all part of her master plan with Ares.”
“One thing I wanted in the movie was no character is completely bad, with the possible exception of Ares, says Jelenic. “Nobody’s perfect. Hippolyta’s flawed. Persephone’s flawed. Yet you can see both their sides of things. Hopefully, you can relate to both of them, especially when Persephone does give it back to Hippolyta.”
And if there are two characters who are really flawed, it’s Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor. Throughout the film though, we find out it’s as much a nurture as opposed to nature reason for both.
“I actually really like Steve,” says Jelenic. “That’s going to be a character people are really going to like or be turned off by. I think he’s kind of fun. He stirs things up. Steve Trevor was a difficult character to crack in that, as a love interest to Wonder Woman, it's important that you make him somebody who is worthy of Diana's affection. So he had to be strong and competent. At the same time, in order to create the romantic comedy, he is flawed. He has his own sort of misogynistic ideas that he has to resolve. But he proves himself worthy. He also has to go through his little character arc. He’s imperfect.”
As for the third member of DC’s Trinity?
“One of the things I did not want to do was Wonder Woman’s origin story certain ways,” Jelenic notes. “You know they have Wonder Woman come to the outside world to learn a lesson. She has to be tamed. I didn’t want to do that. I mean she does have her own lesson to be learned, but that’s standard with any main character in a story.”
On the plus side, he does have lots of praise for the other principles on the production of this movie.
“I think we were incredibly fortunate to get this amazing cast,” praises Jelenic. “I thought the lines I'd written were pretty good, but these actors really make them their own. Steve Trevor's lines looked funny on the page, but they are hilarious coming out of Nathan Fillion's mouth.
“Keri Russell brings a sense of compassion and depth to her character that goes beyond what was even intended in the script. Keri was great. I didn’t want Wonder Woman to come off as a man. I wanted her to still be feminine. At one moment she could be really sweet but you can still buy it when she completely switches to warrior mode. She very much keeps Wonder Woman both. She matches really well.”
“Lauren's direction is amazing” adds Jelenic. “I wrote some battle scenes in the script, but the way she fleshed them out is so much better than I could have ever conceived. At the same time, her approach to directing the characters is very strong. I enjoy watching the scenes between Steve and Diana just as much as the battle scenes.”
As for Jelenic’s immediate future? He says he’s getting back to work on BBB, which may not have been officially greenlit for a second season, but he’s feeling pretty good about it.
“I enjoy working in the world of comics, but there are definitely some challenges,” he says. “It's hard to keep every single fan happy with what you do. That's probably the biggest and most daunting challenge. You want to bring your own take to the character, but at the same time, you don't want to betray what people feel are the core ideas of the character. Regardless of what you do, there's going to be someone who says you suck. But if you do a decent enough job, a lot of people will tend to appreciate you putting a different spin on the subject. It's actually a great time to work with comics – but it's like the opposite of cool to work in comics. It's fun to be able to spend your day coming up with stories for men in tights. So it's not cool, but it's fun.”
ASIFA HONORS RECENTLY DEPARTED
ASIFA is holding a memorial service for the professionals in the animation field who left us in 2008. It will be held on Saturday, February 7 from 1:00 to 2:00 pm at the Lasky-DeMille Barn, 2100 N Highland, Hollywood California; across from the Hollywood Bowl.
The honorees include John Ahern, Gus Arriola, Phyllis Barnhart, Gordon Bellamy, Harriet Burns, Greg Burson, John W. Burton, Jr., Vivian Byrne, Joyce Carlson, Bob Carr, Rose Di Bucci, Charlie Downs, Ray Ellis, Joni Jones Fitts, Etsuko Fujioka, Steve Gerber, Fernando Gonzalez, Yoo Sik Ham, Larry Harmon, Margie Hermanson, Ollie Johnston, Ted Key, Eartha Kitt, Andy Knight, Harvey Korman, Lyn Kroeger, Brice Mack, Bill Melendez, David Mitton, Gary Mooney, Jim Mueller, June Nam, Ethan Ormsby, Bill Perez, Richard Pimm, Oliver Postgate, Denis Rich, Dodie Roberts, Irma Rosien, Gerard Salvio, Gina Sheppherd, Robert Smith, Jim Snider, Al Stetter, Dave Stevens, Morris Sullivan, Emru Townsend, Pat Raine Webb, Chiyoko Wergles, Bob Winquist and Justin Wright.
The afternoon is free of charge and is open to all; no RSVPs necessary.
NEXT COLUMN: Lauren Montgomery weighs in on her work on Wonder Woman