Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Wonder Woman is a DC Comics superhero. Created by William Moulton Marston, she first appeared in All Star Comics #8 (1941). She was one of the first female superheroes and is still arguably the most famous.
In most adaptations, Wonder Woman is Princess Diana of the Amazon warrior tribe of Greek mythology. The Amazon ambassador to the larger world, she possesses several superhuman abilities and gifts from the Greek Gods, including a magic lasso and bulletproof bracelets. She is also a member of the all-star Justice League.
Outside the comic book community, she is known for a popular, although often campy, television adaptation which starred Lynda Carter and aired from 1975 until 1979. She has also been featured on the all-star animated series Super Friends in the 1970s and 80s and Justice League in the 2000s.
Her origin and her creator
William Moulton Marston was an educational consultant in 1940 for Detective Comics, Inc. (now known as DC Comics). Marston saw that the DC line was filled with images of super men such as Green Lantern, Batman, and their flagship character Superman. Seeing all these male heroes, Marston was left wondering why there was not a female hero.
Max Gaines, then head of DC Comics, was intrigued by the concept and told Marston that he could create a female comic book hero—a Wonder Woman. Marston did that, using a pen name that combined his own middle name with the middle name of Gaines: Charles Moulton. Marston reportedly based her physical appearance (including her bracelets) on his former student Olive Byrne, who lived with Marston and his wife Elizabeth in a polyamorous relationship.
Marston was the creator of the systolic blood-pressure test, which led to the creation of the polygraph (lie detector). From this work, Marston had been convinced that women were more honest and reliable than men, and could work faster and more accurately. During his lifetime, Marston championed the causes of women of the day.
- "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."
In December 1941, Wonder Woman made her debut in All Star Comics #8. Following this exposure in the second largest selling comic in DC's line, she was featured in Sensation Comics #1 (January 1942), and six months later in her own self-titled book (Summer 1942), making her the first super-heroine to have her own comic book. Until his passing in 1947, Dr. Marston wrote all of Wonder Woman's appearances. Artist H.G. Peter drew the book, giving it a simplistic but identifiable "female" style that contrasted with other super-hero comic books of the day.
Armed with her bulletproof bracelets, magic lasso, and her Amazonian training, Wonder Woman was the archetype of the perfect woman from the mind of her creator, Dr. Marston. She was beautiful, intelligent, strong, but still possessed a soft side. At that time, her powers came from "Amazon concentration", not as a gift from the gods.
Wonder Woman's "magic lasso" was supposedly forged from the Magic Girdle of Aphrodite, which Queen Hippolyta (Wonder Woman's mother) was bequeathed by the Goddess. To make the lasso, the god Hephaestus had borrowed the Olympian belt, removed links from it, and forged the magic lasso from it. It was unbreakable, infinitely stretchable, and could make all who are encircled obey the commands of the wielder, most notably to tell the truth.
Wonder Woman was aided by the Holliday Girls (led by the Rubenesque, sweets-addicted Etta Candy ), who were a sorority that would help Wonder Woman in a time of emergency, or vice versa. Etta was the only member of the Holliday Girls who stood out, with her distinctive figure and propensity for saying "Woo-woo" all the time, and was - after Steve Trevor and Diana herself - the most lasting character in the series.
Images of men putting women into bondage commonly appeared on the covers of Sensation Comics and Wonder Woman from 1942 to 1947. In Wonder Woman issue #3, it is Wonder Woman herself who takes the dominant side, tying other women up, and, in one memorable scene, dressing them up in deer outfits and chasing them through the forest, only to tie them up later and display them on a platter. This subtle, yet identifiable, sexual subtext to the book has been noted by comic book historians, who have debated whether it was an outlet for Dr. Marston's own sexual fantasies (recent biographies indicate that he was an avid practitioner of bondage); or whether it was meant (unconsciously or otherwise) to appeal to the developing sexuality of young readers.
During this same early period, Wonder Woman joined the Justice Society of America as its first female member. The Justice Society was the first super-team, featured in All Star Comics, and times being what they were, Wonder Woman, despite being one of the most powerful members, was the group's secretary.
From her inception, Wonder Woman was not out to just stop criminals, but to reform them. On a small island off Paradise Island was Transformation Island, a rehabilitation complex created by the Amazons to house and reform criminals. A large concept in his concept of Wonder Woman was one of "loving submission", in which one would be kind to others and be willing to surrender to them out of agape. This has often being parodied as male criminals being so enamored with her beauty that they surrender to enjoy her company however briefly in some fashion.
In 1947, William Moulton Marston died, leaving Wonder Woman to be written by Robert Kanigher . While H.G. Peter still illustrated the stories, Wonder Woman became less of a feminist and more of a traditional American heroine. Peter remained on the title through #97, when the elderly artist was fired. Peter died soon afterward.
In later stories, her abilities expanded. Her earrings gave her air to breathe in outer space, her "invisible plane" (originally a propeller driven fighter that looked like either a P-40 Warhawk or P-51 Mustang, but soon upgraded to a jet aircraft, given that era's level of aviation technology level of progress) was given an origin, her tiara was found to be an unbreakable boomerang, and her bracelets allowed her to communicate with Paradise Island.
Dr. Wertham and the 1960s
In 1954, Dr. Frederic Wertham wrote his controversial book Seduction of the Innocent, which expounded on his anti-comic book views, and is seen by many comic book historians as the death of the Golden Age. Facing likely government censorship, the comic book industry established the Comics Code Authority. In the era of the Code, Wonder Woman no longer spoke out as a feminist, and was left to moon over Steve Trevor, and as time wore into the Silver Age, she also fell for Merman and Birdman.
Wonder Woman experienced many changes through the mid-1950s and throughout the 1960s. Wonder Woman's origin was revamped, with her powers instead being derived from a combination of the Greek and Roman deities.
In the 1960s, regular scripter Robert Kanigher adapted gimmicks which had worked for Superman under the editorship of Mort Weisinger. As with Superboy, Wonder Woman's "untold" career as the teenage Wonder Girl was chronicled. Then followed Wonder Tot, in which the infant Amazon princess in her star-spangled jumper cavorted with one Mr. Genie. The next step for Kanigher was to team all three ages of Wonder Woman in what were labeled "Impossible Tales," with her mother, Hippolyta joining in the adventures as "Wonder Queen."
Writer Bob Haney - apparently unaware that Wonder Girl was not a separate character - included her in his new team the Teen Titans, consisting of sidekicks Robin, Kid Flash, and Speedy. Some years later, an origin was provided in which Wonder Girl was revealed to be Donna Troy, an orphan that Wonder Woman saved and given super powers by the Amazons' healing Purple Ray.
The Diana Prince/I Ching Era
At the end of the 1960s, Wonder Woman surrendered her powers to remain in "Man's World" rather than accompany her fellow Amazons into another dimension so they could "restore their magick."
Now a mod boutique owner, the powerless Diana Prince soon came under the wing of a Chinese mentor known as I Ching. Under I Ching's guidance, Diana was trained to use her body as a weapon, learning martial arts and weapons skills, and proceeded to undertake secret agent-style adventures.
The new format of the comic book was strongly influenced by the Emma Peel era of the then-popular British spy series The Avengers. It also bore some similarities to the later TV series Kung Fu, with Diana being an inexperienced student to I Ching's master. Soon after the "new" Wonder Woman began, the editors removed one-by-one her connections to the superhero world, most notably killing off Steve Trevor (though the character would later be revived). One exception was a one-on-one confrontation with Catwoman.
This period of the comic book has its supporters and its detractors. Some critics welcomed the change from campy super-heroics to more serious, "topical" storytelling in the wake of the Batman TV series. Others felt that the comic had abandoned its history. Storylines included secret agent-style plots, as well as some occult tales. One controversial cover showed Diana Prince brandishing a machine gun and firing at an airplane; contrary to the traditional depiction of Wonder Woman, the updated version of Diana Prince was not against killing in order to defend herself or others.
The revised series attracted some writers not normally associated with comic books, most notably science fiction author Samuel R. Delany, who wrote two issues.
This storyline lasted for two years, with Wonder Woman finally being restored to her powers and costume in the early '70s. Part of the credit for the revival of Wonder Woman as a superhero was due to a campaign in which feminist Gloria Steinem - who was offended to see the most famous female superhero depowered - had a hand. The 1972 first issue of Steinem's Ms. Magazine featured Wonder Woman in her 1940s costume on the cover, and contained an essay in appreciation of the character. Ironically, the change in format was originally an acknowledgement of the Women's liberation movement. The I Ching era, despite the controversy, would continue to resonate for some years to come, both in the comic book and in live action adaptations of Wonder Woman a few years later. The 1974 Cathy Lee Crosby telefilm, and the second and third seasons of Lynda Carter's popular series (see below), would borrow heavily from the characterization of Diana Prince in the early 1970s.
Following the return of the "original" Wonder Woman to the comic books, a major story arc consisted of the heroine's attempt to be readmitted to the Justice League of America, the organization she quit after giving up her powers. For more than a year Wonder Woman underwent "trials" to prove her worthiness to rejoin the JLA.
Wonder Woman had barely won readmittance to the JLA when DC Comics ordered another format change. The popularity of the Wonder Woman TV series, which was initially set during World War II, resulted in DC setting the comic book in this era as well (this was made possible due to DC Comics' multiverse concept, which established that the 1970s Wonder Woman and the 1940s original version lived on parallel worlds). When the TV series later changed its setting to the 1970s, the comic book followed suit.
Post-Crisis, Wonder Woman was rebooted in 1987. Writer Greg Potter, who previously created the Jemm, Son of Saturn series for DC, was hired to rework the character. He spent several months behind the scenes working with editor Janice Race on new concepts before being joined by writer/artist George Pérez. Potter dropped out of writing the series after issue #2, and Perez became the sole plotter with help from writer Len Wein, who wrote the series' finished dialogue.
Comic book fans and critics consider Perez's 60-issue run one of the highlights of Wonder Woman's history. Pérez and Potter gave her a pro-woman personality, and Perez's extensive research into Greek mythology gave more depth and verisimilitude to Wonder Woman's world than in her previous incarnation.
In her new incarnation, Wonder Woman was Diana, a princess and an emissary from Paradise Island to man's world. She did not keep her identity a secret, and she was not at first a "superheroine". Indeed, her character was in many ways that of a babe in the woods, innocent and without guile. Diana spoke only classical Greek and had to learn English when she arrived in America, rather than knowing the language intuitively. Nonetheless, Diana was trained as a warrior and had no compunction against using deadly force when called for. Through Pérez's tenure on the book, Diana dealt with war, injustice, inequality, death, and conflicts involving the Olympian Gods.
The supporting characters of the comic were altered as well. For instance, Steve Trevor was changed into an Air Force officer considerably older than Diana's apparent age, thus sidestepping the traditional romance between the two. Instead, Trevor became involved with Etta Candy, who herself became a mature military officer of good standing and a large, but realistic physique. Diana's enemy The Cheetah became a woman who could become a powerful and ferocious feline-humanoid creature who could believably challenge Diana in combat.
After Pérez left the series, other writers and artists tried to follow in his footsteps, with varying degrees of success. William Messner-Loebs wrote the character respectfully and the series sold well, but the artwork portrayed the Amazon in skimpy outfits and sexualized poses, which drew criticism from feminists. John Byrne later tried a "back to basics" approach with mixed reviews, including a period with Diana's mother Hippolyta as Wonder Woman. Phil Jimenez produced a run which was likened in some ways to Pérez's, particularly since Jimenez' art bears a striking resemblance to his.
In other media
The first attempt to translate Wonder Woman to the small screen was in 1967, when the success of the Batman television show led to a flurry of copycat series. Greenway Productions , the company behind the Batman show, produced a four-and-a-half-minute Wonder Woman test reel starring Ellie Wood Walker as Diana Prince, Linda Harrison as Diana's Wonder Woman alter ego and Hope Summers as her mother. As with Batman, the reel took a comic slant on the character. This pilot episode was never broadcast.
Wonder Woman's first broadcast appearance is as a guest in a Brady Kids cartoon in 1972, entitled "Beware of Gifts Bearing Greeks". (Wonder Girl, had already appeared on television in a series of Teen Titans cartoon shorts, part of the Batman/Superman Hour cartoon show.) This was quickly followed by the heroine's inclusion in the long running Superfriends cartoon series.
Her second live-action outing was a TV movie made in 1974, starring Cathy Lee Crosby as a blonde non-superpowered Amazon. This version owed little to the Wonder Woman comic book character current at the time of screening, being closer indeed to the "I Ching period" abandoned by the comic book some years before.
Though not successful at the first attempt, network interest was such that within a year another pilot was in production. Scripting duties were given to Stanley Ralph Ross , who'd worked on the original pilot reel, but this time he was instructed to be more faithful to the comic book and create a subtle "high comedy". The new TV series ran from (1976-1979), and starred Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman/Diana Prince and Lyle Waggoner as Steve Trevor, and is probably the best known version of the character. See Wonder Woman (television series) for details.
Wonder Woman was also a team character in the various incarnations of the Super Friends animated series that aired on Saturday mornings throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and in the animated Justice League series on the Cartoon Network in the 2000s.
During the 1990s, there were many rumors of a possible Wonder Woman feature film, but, to date, nothing has come of it. There are many who feel Lynda Carter's portrayal has made it impossible for anyone suitable to be found to inherit the role (much as studios until recently had spent several years without success searching for a new actor to succeed Christopher Reeve as Superman).
In 2005, a new Wonder Woman movie was announced with Joss Whedon, who has considerable experience with female action heroes with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, writing and directing. Whedon has been quoted as saying his interpretation of the hero will not wear "star-spangled panties", raising concern he may be planning to redesign the character in some way.
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