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The Comic Book Historian: A Look at the History of Wonder Woman

PopCultHQ connected with the Comic Book Historian to learn more about the hugely popular and widely-recognized Amazon warrior Wonder Woman. Here’s what Christian had to share about this legendary Amazon and her extensive journey from conception to the current incarnation seen today.

With Wonder Woman less than a month away from arriving in theaters, and hopes are high that it is a fantastic film and not the usual Warner Bros. drivel, I thought I’d chat a bit about everyone’s favorite Amazon. From time to time I find myself commissioned by various online pop culture sites to write about comics in various forms. As I continue to write works on the history of the industry, continuing to work towards my credit as an official Comic Book Historian, needless to say I’ve been approached to write about the warrior princess who is beautiful as Aphrodite, wise as Athena, stronger than Hercules, and swifter than Hermes…

(l.-r.) William Moulton Marston, Harry George Peter, Sheldon Mayer, Max Gaines (1942)

Wonder Woman has an unusual beginnings well over 75 years ago, created by William Moulton Marston with the artistic stylings of Harry George Peter. The oddity that makes her creation stand out is not only was she a female character but Marston was an educated man. Having written many books and holding a PhD from Harvard University at the time (in 1941), you didn’t have that sort of intellectual writing comic books unlike today. Also Martson was an inventor; he invented the lie detector which, you guessed it, is a direct relation to Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth.

Marston held his PhD in Psychology and was also a Psychologist well before he became an author. He wrote his first paper on what is called DISC Theory, which centers on the four different behavioral traits: dominance, inducement, submission, and compliance. He believed these four aspects helped attain certain reactions based on one’s environment.

  • Dominance produces activity in an antagonistic environment
  • Inducement produces activity in a favorable environment
  • Submission produces passivity in a favorable environment
  • Compliance produces passivity in an antagonistic environment

This is something he would insert into his writing of Wonder Woman. From his psychological work, Marston became convinced that women were more honest than men in certain situations and could work faster and more accurately. During his lifetime, Marston championed the latent abilities and causes of the women of his day.

William and Elizabeth Marston

Marston once wrote: “Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. Not wanting to be girls, they don’t want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.”

Elizabeth Holloway Marston

The look of Wonder Woman came from the inspiration of his wife, Elizabeth Holloway Marston and her appearance. The two of them Husband and wife had a third partner; Olive Byrne who they would introduce as their live-in nanny. The three lived their full lives in a polyamorous relationship, whereas Marston exerted an almost textbook BDSM relationship with his wife. He had a belief published in some of his works that he felt women were most free when they found a man to submit too (not necessarily in a sexual sense either) and that the act of submission did not detract from any sense of self or the idea of feminism as it was solely the right to choose. Needless to say, Marston was an interesting person.

His early work in Wonder Woman, who first appeared in 1941 in All Star Comics #8, was as back-up stories. Later she would headline her own serialized anthology comic, Sensation Comics #1. as the cover feature later in the same year of 1941. She would later go on to have her own full comic book series in 1942 with her own Wonder Woman v.1 #1. These were unheard of in these times to be introduced in a serialized comic and then jump to your own series. Batman (Detective Comics #2 – 1939) and Superman (Action Comics #1 – 1938) both debuted in serialized comics. Batman would not see his own full title until 1940 with Batman v.1 #1 and Superman who was insanely popular wouldn’t see Superman v.1 #1 until late 1939/40. Wonder Woman quickly showed she could hold her own with the big boys. It is no wonder the three form the current DC Universe’s Holy Trinity of superheroes.

Like many comics during a war-torn era of history, Wonder Woman would also fight Nazis and aid the United States and their allies during World War II. She even teamed with the Justice Society of America, a 20-year precursor to the Justice League of America, just like Superman and Captain America, who in their own respective bubbles helped the Allies win the war. At this point there was no encompassing DC Universe, DC Comics didn’t even exist yet. However Wonder Woman would continue to break new ground as with the ‘Wonder Woman for President’ cover to issue 7 of her monthly series. In a time when female heroes were either sidekicks, love interests, damsels in distress or teenage heroes, Wonder Woman was the first true female superhero!

Some fun facts of Wonder Woman was her early 1940s weakness. A very bondage-heavy tone, pinning the Amazon down, crossing her bracelets over above her head, and bounding her in her own lasso would render her powerless. A weakness which had been lost as the evolution of the character continued over the years. Wonder Woman did however find herself tied up and bound an awful lot in her early days, something which wormed it’s way into the 1970s live action series with Lynda Carter.

Some character history:
Wonder Woman, the Amazon Princess Diana, was the only child of a secret island Themyscira, or in the beginning simply referred to as Paradise Island. It was an island of Amazon women. The Amazons were created by the Gods to show Zeus that women could be just as influential as men in a world dubbed ‘The World of Man.’ In hopes to one day have a child of her own, Queen Hippolyta was given a lump of clay by Poseidon. As Hippolyta sculpted that of a infant baby girl, the Goddess Athena granted the clay effigy life. Thus implying Wonder Woman has two mothers (something that in the modern era has been used as a symbol by some in the LGBT communities).

To gain her mother’s favor and prove her worth, Diana as a young woman secretly enters a contest where the winner would be given the mantle of Wonder Woman with the gifts of the Gods (golden bracelets, a tiara, the Girdle of Gaia and the Lasso of Truth, otherwise known as The Golden Perfect crafted by Hephaestus himself). Diana wins the contest, besting Artemis and claiming the mantle for herself at the surprise of everyone, including her mother.

When World War II Air Force pilot, Colonel Steve Trevor, crashed on Themyscira, he warned of an impending worldwide conflict. It was decided that Diana would be sent as Wonder Woman to return Colonel Trevor to the World of Man and give aid in whatever way possible in this conflict. Trevor convinces Queen Hippolyta, General Antiope, and Captain Menalippe that the second World War would indeed become their problem given enough time.

Thus Wonder Woman’s adventures begin!

As time went on, DC Comics came to fruition and the vast multiverse was taking shape in 1960. Wonder Woman once again beat both Batman and Superman to the punch. Wonder Woman along with Martian Manhunter, Aquaman, Green Lantern and Flash founded the Justice League of America (Brave and the Bold v.1 #28) A little unknown fact that both Batman and Superman were not originally founding members but something that would be later retconned in 1986 with DC’s attempt to streamline their universe.

Around the middle of the 1960s, Wonder Woman was stripped of her powers, having turned her back to the Gods who had empowered her from her ‘conception.’ Interestingly enough, Diana turns her back on her fellow sisters and Gods as the Amazons prepare to leave this plane of existence; Diana stays behind to help Steve Trevor who had been wrongfully convicted of a crime. A depowered Wonder Woman traded in her colorful costume for average clothing of a more hippie persuasion and traveled the world with her new mentor, the blind Kung-Fu instructor I-Ching (Wonder Woman v.1 #179). This drastic move didn’t last very long and a move from fans and women around the world ushered in a new era of greatness with a restored Wonder Woman some two-three years later with Wonder Woman v.1 #200!

Wonder Woman would go on to have a convoluted history along with each of the major DC characters. Between Earth 1 (the then-current Wonder Woman), Earth 2 (the WW II Wonder Woman), Earth 3 (Super Woman, the evil Wonder Woman from the Crime Syndicate of Super Villains) and so on. DC decided in 1986 to wipe it all away and start over.

Post Crisis/modern history:
The Amazons were given a much more complex, deeper origin and history. Created from the Well of Souls in Hades, the Amazons were rained down upon the world by Athena and her sisters along with Hermes in an attempt to stop Ares, who Zeus had given free reign over the World of Man. Each Amazon was the reincarnation of the soul of a woman who had suffered death from the anger of a man. However Athena allowed one small soul to linger in the well. They were given a second chance to prove that mankind could be a world of equality for both sexes. This was proved to be impossible when Queen Hippolyta fell in love with Hercules and then she and the demi-god ruled over the Amazons and the Argonauts. Ares had manipulated Hercules and besmirched Hippolyta, where he would order his Argonauts to take the Amazons as slaves.

Enslaved and brutally raped, the Amazons revolted, in which they killed many men. This angered the Gods and they gave the Amazons one more chance. Spirited away to the secret island of Themyscira, the Amazons were forced to wear silver bracelets to forever remind them of their one-time enslavement to men and guard a lone prisoner whose cell laid deep within the center of the island. This would be Ares, whose siblings had all teamed up to defeat the God of War.

Of course, yearning for a baby of her own, Hippolyta was granted clay of the sea to sculpt a child. It was revealed that Hippolyta was the soul of the first woman to ever be murdered by a man in anger. At the time of her death, she was with child; an unborn baby girl who was the lone soul Athena left in the Well of Souls. It was this soul which Athena would harvest and place into the clay body thus giving baby Diana life anew.

Her origin would follow the same as it did before the reboot. Entering a contest in secret, however the gold bracelets now held meaning; they were to symbolize the hope Wonder Woman gave her sisters, or Aunts if you want to be technical, that their one-time shame could be redeemed. It was when Ares escapes his shackles that Diana is sent to the World of Man to stop the God of War from causing World War III.

Wonder Woman would go on to cement herself in the modern day DC Universe as a force to be reckoned with, proving that she still maintained being the most notable female superhero of all-time. From turning down advances from Superman and shooting down the Man of Steel in a hilarious way during an outing that was misconstrued as a date by him to finding her true love in the form of the Dark Knight. During the Blackest Night story arc/event, the Star Sapphire power ring, which shows all ring bearers their true love, possessed Wonder Woman showing Batman as her true love. A relationship which the two have tried many times to pursue but never successfully. She would fight for equality, battle the Gods at every turn, and at one point splitting Ares’ head in half with her battle axe. She would prove women were more than the sum of their looks and abilities.

At one point, Diana would lose her mantle of Wonder Woman, having it granted by the Gods to the would-be rightful heir, Artemis. Diana would tangle with Artemis at every turn as she would fight and strive to maintain being a superhero. Not until Artemis’s death at the hands of Ares would Diana return to the mantle of Wonder Woman, even so much as giving her life to save her fellow Amazons. At this point, Queen Hippolyta would become Wonder Woman and even travel back in time to World War II, thus giving the Justice Society their Wonder Woman just like she was with them back in 1941. Hippolyta would trade her life for her daughter’s own by traveling to Hades and rescuing her from the river Styx.

In light of recent developments over the past seven years, retcons have changed Wonder Woman from a creation of the Gods to a demi-god of her own, having her mother be Queen Hippolyta and her father Zeus himself. Even so, Wonder Woman has become the Goddess of War after having destroyed Ares.

Through all of this 75-year adventure, Wonder Woman has been a WWII veteran, a feminist icon, and a sex symbol; all of which she maintains today and will more than likely do so for the next 75 years.


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Jason Bennett
Jason Bennett is PopCultHQ's senior editor, a contributing writer, and comic book reviewer/reporter. He is a big lover of coffee, cats, cooking and comics (plus all things Green Lantern). He is a strong supporter of indie comics, creators, and publishers and Chris Hardwick is his spirit animal (we don't know how to respond to that). Follow Jason on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram: @TahoeJBennett

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