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Wonder Woman

Entry updated 23 January 2023. Tagged: Character, Comics.

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Dark-haired US Comic-book Superhero – the first female example of major and lasting importance (but see Miss Fury for discussion of earlier candidates). Dressed in star-spangled blue shorts and a low-cut, strapless red top with a gold eagle motif, red high-heeled boots and a gold tiara, she also wears gold, bullet-deflecting bracelets which, if chained together by a man, become "bracelets of submission", placing her under his control. She was created by the early Feminist and psychologist William Moulton Marston (1893-1947), the inventor of the polygraph, under the pseudonym Charles Moulton, basing her in part on his wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston (1893-1993) and their partner Olive Byrne, both of whom were active feminists from around the beginning of World War One; Byrne was the niece of Margaret Sanger (1879-1966), who was arrested for her advocacy of birth control, and who was also an influence on Marston. Along with Batman and Superman, Wonder Woman is one of DC Comics' most enduring characters. She first appeared in All Star Comics #8 (December/January 1941-1942) where the beginning of her origin story (completed in Sensation Comics #1 1942) is set on Paradise Island, a Lost World of heroic immortal women, an essentially parthenogenetic Island Utopia ruled by the wise and courageous Queen Hippolyte. Marston almost certainly modeled this origin story on work by women writers like Angel Island (1914) by Inez Haynes Gillmore. They see the future threatened by World War Two and cause US army officer Steve Trevor to crashland on their island, so that one of their number can return with him to "help fight the forces of hate and oppression". Queen Hippolyte's daughter, Diana, falls in love with Trevor and is chosen to accompany him. She assumes the identity of plain, bespectacled Diana Prince as a cover and is aided by a group of adolescent girls – the Holliday Girls. With an invisible robot plane (see Invisibility) and a golden lasso that – polygraph-like – forces anyone she ensnares with it to tell the truth (see also Lie Detectors), she sets out to battle the Nazi menace. Her later election to DC Comics's Justice League of America put some of the evolution of the character into the hands of the Justice League writer Gardner F Fox, who soon had her making coffee for Superman and Batman and taking secretarial notes. Fox left her behind whenever he could get away with sending the boys into action without female impediments.

Marston on the other hand used the character in her own comic, Wonder Woman (Summer 1942-present), to express and explore ideas about male and female relationships, psychological theories and philosophical notions; and espousing feminist agendas in general. He continued to write the comic until his death in 1947, after which, in the hands of Robert Kanigher (1915-2002), Wonder Woman became a more routine superheroine adventure comic book, with more emphasis on her gadgets and her invisible plane. But in the first years, Wonder Woman's list of adversaries included some colourful Villains and villainesses, including Gestapo agent Paula von Gunther, Hypnota the Great – a woman posing as a man, who mentally enslaves her own sister – and Dr Psycho, a psychopathic madman who hypnotizes his fiancée (see Hypnotism) to gain her assistance in his plan to dominate and control all women. Frederick Wertham was led to cite Wonder Woman as "one of the most harmful" comic books in his Seduction of the Innocent (1953) almost certainly not because Wonder Woman is threatened with submission, but because of the comic's frequent use of bondage, often of men.

Wonder Woman was drawn with a touch of affectionate whimsy by H G Peter (1880-1958), an artist old enough to have developed his own feminist orientation decades earlier; he eventually took on a team of assistants to help with the art, which he continued to produce until his death in 1958. Ross Andru (1925-1993) and Mike Esposito (1927-2010) then took over the artwork.

In 1968 (Wonder Woman #179) Mike Sekowsky took over both script and art. He re-clad Wonder Woman in a trendy jumpsuit, killed off Steve Trevor and introduced an ancient Chinese mystic, I Ching. Wonder Woman became a karate-chopping Feminist icon. This phase was short-lived: she returned to being the costumed superheroine in Wonder Woman #204 (1973). Other efforts were made to breathe new life into the character in the 1980s, most notably with writer Kurt Busiek's (1960-    ) and artist Trina Robbins's attempt to return to Marston's conception in The Legend of Wonder Woman (1986). Like so many others, the character was revamped in DC's rationalization and rebooting of its overly complex Multiverse in Crisis on Infinite Earths (12 issues April 1985-March 1986; graph 1986) A new series of Wonder Woman comic books began in 1987 with art by George Pérez (1954-    ). Further upheavals and retcons during DC's relaunch and reboot of its entire line of publications as The New 52 in September 2011 left Wonder Woman with yet another altered origin story, to which Wonder Woman (2017) directed by Patty Jenkins remains faithful (for this film see Wonder Woman Film/TV; see also DC Extended Universe).

The feminist magazine Ms published a book-length vintage collection entitled Wonder Woman (graph 1972) with a perceptive introduction by Gloria Steinem and an interpretive essay by feminist psychologist Dr Phyllis Chester. For all Television and film incarnations of the character, see Wonder Woman Film/TV. [RT/JC]

see also: Justice League; Carol Lay; Greg Rucka.

further reading

further reading: comics collections


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