23 August 2005

A Brief History of Wonder Woman

(I wrote this for another website back in 2002. I present it here with a couple of minor edits for the sake of clarity and modernity. Perhaps I will do more character overviews like this in the near future, if you'd like...)

I can't explain why I love Wonder Woman like I do. Perhaps it stems from fond childhood memories (The second comic I remember owning was an issue where she fought off an alien invasion singlehandedly; also, I was a toddler when the TV show began). Perhaps it is the admittedly lascivious quasi-dominatrix costume (a beautiful woman wearing red leather boots, a bustier, and star-spangled panties, tying people up is just begging for scrutiny). Perhaps it's because she has been the central character in many imaginative and interesting stories (that ain't it; the comics have been hit-and-miss). In any case, everyone has heard of her and seen her, but nobody really knows anything about her. That's why I am here to help...

Wonder Woman is the brainchild of William Moulton Marston, PhD. In addition to being a noted psychologist, lecturer, columnist, and creative consultant for Universal Pictures, Marston also invented the polygraph (lie-detector). In the early 1940's, he saw that comic book characters such as Superman and Batman were staggeringly popular with young boys. He wanted to create a superheroine that young girls could look up to. He was fascinated with ancient cultures, which would help to explain the heroine's connection to Greek mythology. He based the heroine's appearance on his secretary Olive Byrne, a tall brunette who regularly wore a pair of very large bracelets (He would later have two children with Ms. Byrne). Assisted by editor M.C. Gaines (both he and Marston shared a writing credit as "Charles Moulton") and artist Harry Peter (which, to my knowledge, is not a pseudonym), Wonder Woman made her debut in All Star Comics #8 (December 1941-January 1942). He continued to write Wonder Woman's adventures until his death in 1947.

For those of you who don't know her backstory, this is the most recent version:

Diana is the daughter of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. The gods endowed her with strength, speed, and extraordinary beauty. The amazons live on Themyscira (Paradise Island), which exists outside of time. Around the time she became an adult, the Amazons were planning to open up diplomatic relations with the "Man's World." Hippolyta forbade her daughter from entering the contest to select an ambassador to the "Man's World," so she donned a mask and entered the contest anyway. She won, and was given the title of Wonder Woman, and was sent to teach the Amazonian philosophy of peace to the nations of the world, even if she had to put a boot in somebody's ass to do it.

She has gone through many changes over the years. In the 60's, she lost her amazon powers and became a kung-fu babe ala Emma Peel. She's lost and regained the invisible jet numerous times. She can no longer be rendered powerless if she is bound by a man. As of 1986, her powers have been defined as follows:

  • She has been given superhuman strength by Zeus, and, in times of crisis, can draw strength from the Earth itself (she is roughly equal to Superman in terms of strength).
  • Hermes gave her superhuman speed and the ability to fly (She's been clocked at about Mach 3).
  • She carries an unbreakable magic lasso, forged by the gods, which compels all who are bound by it to tell the truth.
  • She wears magic bracelets, which she can use to deflect bullets, energy beams, etc.
  • Her tiara is razor sharp, and can be hurled like a boomerang.
  • She is highly resistant to blunt trauma, but is susceptible to edged weapons and bullets.
  • Her only real weaknesses is her rather black-and-white view of the world (the consequences of which can be seen in current DC comics).
Unfortunately, the number of collected volumes of Wonder Woman comics is low, and for the most part, those that do exist are mired in continuity and are not that good. My personal favorite Wonder Woman collection is "Paradise Lost" by Phil Jimenez. It's a fantastic introduction to the character, the art is excellent, and the stories are intriguing. Batman, Robin, Lois Lane, and Lex Luthor show up at various points in the book, and are used to good effect (particularly Lois Lane).

(Wow, I was a wordy person back then. Well, there have been a few more good Wonder Woman comics since then. I'll review them for you soon.)


Anonymous said...

Hello Dan,
This is great information. I will be quoting some of your work in my research paper for college on Children's Literature and feminist power influences through comic book characters.

Bridget said...

I have to create a religion for my Religion class so I decided to base it around Wonder Woman and this really helped me with some minor details that I needed. Thanks a lot!

Dan Reads Comics said...

Thank you both for using this little essay as a reference.

If you both need to add a footnote or an item as a list of reference, This is the book I used as a fact checker...