No other female comic book character has grown to be the icon that Wonder Woman is. With over 70 years under her belt, she’s fought Nazis, Greek gods, and social issues in the patriarch’s world. As the brainchild of William Moulton Marston, a psychologist, she was meant to be an example of how our lives could be if we were to let a certain type of woman rule.
It should be noted that Wonder Woman’s origin has been altered many times during her publication history. Pre-New 52, the Modern Age’s retelling was the most widely accepted. Wonder Woman was born as Diana on an island called Themyscira. Her mother, Queen Hippolyta, was a woman who died in a previous life while pregnant. She carried this longing for a child to her life as an Amazon. The Amazons are a race of women blessed and protected by the Greek gods. After terrible previous lives at the hands of men, the Greek goddesses took pity upon them and gave them immortality and a life without the interference of man.
When Hippolyta was instructed to create a child from clay, she poured her love and devotion into it. The Greek goddesses and Hermes reflected her love with the gifts they bestowed up the clay child:
Beauty from Aphrodite
Strength from Demeter
Wisdom from Athena
Speed and flight from Hermes
Eyes of the hunter and unity with beasts from Artemis
Sisterhood with fire and ability to discern the truth from Hestia
With their gifts, they breathed life into Diana, making her the first child born to the Amazons.
The Amazons surrounded Diana with love, knowledge, training, and peace. Due to her unique environment, Diana became a figure that fought for peace and protected the weary. You could say that the Amazonian race was what Marston was championing as the perfect utopia, and that a child born into that utopia could become the example we follow.
Diana is best known for her time as Wonder Woman. When a plane crashes on Themyscira, Hippolyta calls for a tournament to decide which Amazon will escort the pilot, a man named Steve Trevor, back to the United States. With a little deception, Diana enters the contest against her mother’s wishes and wins the title of Wonder Woman.
Once Diana enters man’s world, she becomes an advocate for peace and justice. Not satisfied with going back to her paradise, Diana sacrifices the comforts of home to spread the Amazonian way of life to a world very different from hers. Diana’s intention as Wonder Woman was to be an ambassador (formal or informal) of peace to the patriarch’s world rather than one of its many superheroes. At her core, Wonder Woman is a teacher, not a fighter.
A lot has changed for the Amazonian princess. Gone is the loving desperation of her mother and generous gifts from the gods. Gone is the Amazonian way of life. Gone is the mission to spread peace throughout the patriarch’s world.
Instead, the reboot has introduced a race of women further from Marston’s original intent and closer to Greek mythology. Wonder Woman is the biological child of Hippolyta and Zeus. The Amazons are a race of women who lure men into their beds, kill the men, birth the children, and dispose of any male child – a far cry from the harmonious race that Marston envisioned as a role model for women.
Wonder Woman spends much less time teaching others and more time fighting. She has sworn to protect Zola, a woman Zeus impregnated. Zola’s child is a half-sibling of Diana’s, and the target of hatred from Hera. Hera, out of jealousy and spite, turned all the Amazons into stone. Diana, in the meantime, must deal with the vacuum Zeus created when he mysteriously disappeared and his squabbling relatives who are vying for control.
In addition to her appearances in her own title, she is a character in the Justice League book and will be featured in a Superman/Wonder Woman series. In both, she is Superman’s girlfriend. There will also be a Wonder Woman: Earth One title by Grant Morrison hitting shelves hopefully within a year.
WHY should I care?
Two words: Feminist Icon. Wonder Woman was created as a different kind of superhero in a time where big muscles and action-packed stories were valued. A woman raised by women who could compel others to tell the truth was, at the time, unique.
Though Wonder Woman has a strange overtone of bondage in the early days (a reflection of her creator), she graced the first cover of Ms Magazine in 1972. There is no question that she was chosen for the first cover of the feminist flagship magazine. The image of Wonder Woman carrying people, protecting them from war, and under the banner “Wonder Woman for President” was the symbol women needed in 1972. Fast-forward 40 years to the most recent Wonder Woman Ms. Magazine cover. As feminism’s needs changed, so did the role Wonder Woman played in them. No longer just a protector of people’s rights, Wonder Woman strides alongside her fellow sisters to advocate for equality. Both of these covers demonstrate the power this character has to women: she represents the full spectrum of being a strong woman, from protecting others to fighting for her own rights.
Separating Wonder Woman from her gender, we see a character that exemplifies practices we can use in our everyday lives. As an ambassador of Themyscira to the world, Wonder Woman is in a constant state of exchanging ideas and teaching. Her method of interaction pivots on a need to understand others, a trait that is touched upon when Artemis, fellow Amazonian, briefly took the title of Wonder Woman. While Artemis’s background is only slightly different than Diana’s (she was a member of a sister tribe of Amazons on Themyscira), her approach to the patriarch’s world is far more severe. Instead of incorporating the teaching and loving that Diana exemplifies, Artemis employed a harsh, militaristic approach. To simplify, Diana aimed to change the problem while Artemis only treated the symptoms. By explicitly laying out this example within her own comic book, we see the uniqueness of Diana as a heroine. She is not here to force others to her will, but to bring us to her willingly and without reservation.
Loving submission is a term that is thrown around in Wonder Woman comics. The idea that people are willing to submit to those who deserve to lead is oftentimes missing in modern comics. Disrespect, disregard, and self-reliance are far too common among superheroes. Diana demonstrates humility and loving submission to those around her. Loving submission is not the blind following of leaders; instead, loving submission is the recognition of others’ kindness and the choice to follow them willingly or not. Loving submission is exemplified through Diana’s relationship with the gods and her relationship with the people around her on earth.
Diana echoes many common religious practices in her submission to the Greek gods. She is aware of the many gifts they have bestowed upon her and her Amazonian family, and she will not hesitate to thank them. Diana has prayed to her Greek gods many times before battle, well aware of their role in her life. Despite her power and influence in the world, Diana has no trouble submitting to gods who could help her. On the flip side, Diana will correct the gods when they mess up (which is more often than not). Through loving submission, Diana holds the gods accountable and brings them up to a higher standard.
On earth, Diana respects each and every human life. From her arrival to the patriarch’s world, Diana decides to become a public figure subject to public laws. True, Diana’s status as an Amazon personally gifted by the Greek gods could create special privileges in man’s world, but she would rather be treated as a regular human as much as possible. When her status gets in the way of being like others, she uses her position to advocate for others. Through advocacy, she is spreading the message of peace, kindness, and respect. Diana uses her public figure to help others. Her kindness towards others in turn bring them closer to the Amazonian way of life and the ideals that Wonder Woman stands for. That, in a single example, is the core of loving submission.
Wonder Woman is a counter-stereotype, a woman we don’t get to see too often in popular culture. Media often portrays women as sexual objects, and comic books tend to recreate female superheroes in the image of popular male characters. Wonder Woman was created in response to the prevalence of male characters. At the behest of his wife, Marston created a female character that embodied every positive characteristic that women possess. In his view, women were capable of leading the world and becoming role models. Over time, Wonder Woman hit some rocky moments, like being depowered, devalued, and seen as Superman’s girlfriend. Throughout all of this, Wonder Woman has prevailed as a character that girls and women are unashamed of exemplified.
WHAT should I read?
Gods and Mortals
George Perez’s run is a great starting place for new fans. In this collection, Perez kicks off the volume of Wonder Woman, closing the book on her Golden Age, Silver Age, and Bronze Age history. He stays true to her Greek roots and Marston’s original intent. Diana is presented as a young woman with a thirst for knowledge in the man’s world. There’s some good action in this trade, too!
Wonder Woman: Paradise Found
Phil Jimenez knows his Wonder Woman. In his run, he presents a strong, elegant, well-spoken heroine who has her faults. This collection features some strained mother-daughter moments, demonstrating that even Wonder Woman can have a hard time around her mother. It also has one of the sweetest moments between Wonder Woman and Superman (albeit, one of them is incapacitated at the time) that demonstrates the deep friendship they have.
This short story by Greg Rucka demonstrates the extent to which Diana will protect those that lovingly submit to her. If you are in Diana’s protection, you are well-cared for, even against Batman.
Who is Wonder Woman?
Part of the appeal to Wonder Woman is her role in mentoring her friends Donna and Cassie. While temporarily out of the costume, Diana takes on the mantel of Diana Prince, a spy. We also get some Tom Tressor action, one of Diana’s love interests over the years.
Love and Murder
Speaking of love interests…Diana and Tom team up to take down Circe in Jodi Picoult’s collection of Wonder Woman story. While not the most traditional Wonder Woman story, it does demonstrate the range of roles Wonder Woman can play in an action story.
Down to Earth
Rucka has done a great job writing a Wonder Woman that is an advocate that won’t back down under public pressure. When she publishes a book about the Amazonian ideals, a right-wing group tries to smear her good name. With a great team behind her, Diana shows the folly in criticizing others.
This collection contains the infamous moment when Wonder Woman kills someone with her bare hands. The repercussions from that moment show her strength. She does not deny what she did, and she readily submits to the law in this case.
You know that moment when Wonder Woman had pants? Here it is! If you can suspend what you know about her history and timeline for at least this volume, you may even enjoy it. Straczynski shows Diana just discovering her powers and dealing with the disappearance of her Amazons.
The New 52 brought along a lot of changes to Wonder Woman’s personality and actions. Azzarello writes a much harsher, more violent Diana that is a pawn in the gods’ game. The art is fantastic; Chiang draws an imposing Diana that stands heads and shoulders above the crowd.
Admittedly, there’s a lot more to Diana than what was mentioned in this article. A character as old and as important as Diana cannot be justly discussed in a few paragraphs. If you have thoughts, opinions, or questions about the character, please leave a comment.
(Originally published August 29, 2013)