Beautiful as Aphrodite, Wise as Athena, Strong as Hercules, and Swifter than Mercury…
This June a major motion picture staring the character Wonder Woman will be released into theaters. I can’t help but wonder…which Wonder Woman will she be? Will she be the Amazon Princess Diana from Paradise Island I knew from my youth, or one of the many incarnations that were re-written and drawn in comic books since the original came out?
Wonder Woman, Then and Now:
I was a huge fan of the Wonder Woman comics when I was a kid. I cherished each one I got my hands on and re-read them over and over. There were very few mass media strong female role-models out there. And she was unique!
Wonder Woman was a stand alone woman of power and substance. She didn’t come by her fame or her training by the help of any man. She wasn’t a sidekick or little sister to a superhero. She WAS the superhero. She was tough as nails, yet compassionate. She always tried to subdue her enemies by the least violent way possible, and if she could, try and help them reform. She cared about kids and animals. At least that is the Wonder Woman I remember. And it was the Wonder Woman image that became a symbol of the 1960s-70s Women’s Movement, and led Gloria Steinman to put her on the first cover of Ms. Magazine.
The idea that women were strong, smart, and should have all the opportunities available to them as men, was the message William Marston wanted to send out to everyone when he first wrote Wonder Woman, and especially to girls. He was an original feminist. He introduced her to the world through “All American All Star Comics” in December of 1941. By the third issue , millions were reading about her.
We all know the Superman and Batman origin stories. They are pretty simple and haven’t really strayed since they were first told. The re-telling of Wonder Woman’s origin story has taken several right and left turns over the many decades. I am a purist and have had a hard time with that. I wonder if this new movie will stay true?
What is the original origin story for Wonder Woman? If you don’t have the old comics, written by her creator William Marston, known then as William Moultan, and drawn by the first artist Harry G. Peter, check out “The Golden Age of Wonder Woman Omnibus Volume 1” for reproductions of those first issues.
Here we go: Wonder Woman’s Origin Story:
Seeing women constantly being mistreated and enslaved, the goddess Aphrodite created a nation of extraordinary women who were superior to men. They lived in Amazonia, and you guessed it, were called Amazons. She gave their queen a magic girdle (basically a wide belt), and as long as she wore/possessed it no one could defeat the Amazons. Mars, the god of war, hated that idea, so he egged on Hercules, the strongest man on Earth, to attack the Amazons and trick Queen Hippolyte to take away her magic. They attacked and it came down to single combat between Hercules and Hippolyte. With the Magic Girdle, she wins. For some reason, maybe she got off on the foreplay of fighting, Hippolyte allows Hercules to seduce her and he manages to get her out of her girdle! Now weakened, he and his army defeat the Amazons and enslave them. Furious they were tricked by men, Aphrodite will not help them until the Queen pleads and begs for forgiveness.
Aphrodite helps the Amazons break free and recapture the Magic Girdle giving them back their strength. They defeat Hercules and his men, steal ships, and set out to sea with Aphrodite guiding them. She brings them to the remote Paradise Island where they swear to remain away from the man made world. Here they will have eternal youth and strength. The only catch, they must wear bracelets to remind them of the chains of mankind that once bound them..oh, and yes, don’t loose your girdle again!
Because the Amazons lived forever, there was no need to have children, but the goddess Athena had Hippolyte fashion a child out of clay. Aphrodite breathed life into her and she became a living child called Princess Diana. You could say, she was not man made!
Now, how did Wonder Woman get to America? Steve Trevor, an American Intelligence Officer and Airman in WWII was pursuing a spy plane and crashed on Paradise Island. Princess Diana becomes obsessed with him and helps care for him. Queen Hippolyte is not happy he showed up and consults the goddesses Aphrodite and Athena. They tell her he must return to America along with an Amazon Champion to help preserve “America, the last citadel of Democracy, and of equal rights for women…”
To pick this champion, they held a series of trials and games. Having been forbidden from entering, Princess Diana disguises herself and does it anyways. You know it, she wins, and shocks her mother who has no choice, but accept her as the victor.
And so off she goes to America with the still injured Trevor in her invisible plane to take on the identity of Diana Prince Army Nurse. This way she can continue to care for him. Unfortunately she falls into the Clark Kent/Lois Lane situation, where Trevor falls for Wonder Woman and ignores her when she is playing Nurse Prince. It is a painful price she will pay in order to fight for justice and freedom.
Now what about her gadgets?
Let’s start with her bracelets. Wonder Woman was given them as a teenager in a special ritual. The Amazons of Paradise Island must wear them to remind them to never be enslaved by men again. The cool part is that they can fend off bullets! The bad part is that if she willingly lets a man add chains to them, she will be rendered helpless.
Her Golden Lasso was made from the Magic Girdle, made up of tiny links. It will make who ever is bound by it, do what ever Wonder Woman’s wishes. They feel compelled..a phrase often used in the comics.
Her Invisible Plane: I love this twist. The reason the Amazons are advanced in their technological know how, is that Athena, the goddess of Wisdom, gave Queen Hippolyte a Magic Sphere that lets her know what is going on at different times in history and in the future.
Because the queen passes on what she learned, they can build something like the Invisible Plane.
In the first comics, Wonder Woman also had the Mental Radio. Call it the first Facetime/Skype ability! For she did call home on it and to her friend Etta Candy, Sorority President of Beeta Lamda at Holliday College. Hey, this talking and seeing an image on a screen was way before Star Trek and the Jetsons did it! Way to go Marston! But then again he did create the Lie Detector.
Her last skills are those bestowed upon her by the gods; Beautiful as Aphrodite, Wise as Athena, Strong as Hercules, and Swifter than Mercury. No, she does not fly in the original series, but she can leap a good distance.
Marston repeated her origin story again when the first issue of Wonder Woman came out in the summer of 1942. From there she would undergo some changes. Even her uniform changed over the years from flowing culottes (a suggestion made by Marston’s lover because a skirt would fly up), to tight shorts, to bathing suit looking, to at one point no uniform, then pants, and now in this new movie version of her-along with modern comics, she is back to a mini skirt! That is one way you can tell men have dominated writing her story because they seem to have ignored the practical advice of a woman -skirts fly up in action scenes- to having her skirt fly up in modern versions to expose her rear end. Hey, sex sells!
Though I confess, my absolute favorite image of her is this cover by the British artist Brian Bolland. He made her look like a beautiful, confident, and strong American woman. Second confession, I talked a comic book store owner out of the poster made from this cover.
Even though I am acting like an old curmudgeon, saying only the older version of Wonder Woman is the best, it was written way before I was born, and when you sit and read those first comics, you may cringe at some of the story-lines and the depictions of other women and cultures. You have to keep in mind the time-frame and how for the most part, the series was well ahead of its time. I feel more good than bad came out of those first comics. Especially the fact that within the centerfolds of the Wonder Woman comics, was a four page feature called “Wonder Women of History”. Each episode told the story of a real woman of substance and her achievements that girls could look up to, and aspire to be. Wonder Woman was fiction: these women were real. The first biography was about the nurse, Florence Nightingale. Other women featured would include Marie Curie, Amelia Earhart and Susan B. Anthony. Extraordinary nurses would be featured four more times. That was a good thing seeing there was a nursing shortage due to the war. I would bet many young women suddenly saw that as a profession to take up. Sadly they didn’t continue with “Wonder Woman of History” after 1954.
Without Marston keeping the feminist undercurrent going, the story-lines began to change to appeal more to the male audience. (Almost all the authors have been men). Though he professed to be a feminist , Marston also had fun injecting his own political symbolism and erotic undercurrents into the stories. Really, how many women can be tied up per issue? To learn more details about Marston’s unconventional life and how the women in it influenced his creation of Wonder Woman, you can read “The Secret History of Wonder Woman” by Jill Lepore. The book includes a more intimate look at the suffragette/women’s rights movement, mostly through encounters with the radical female leaders of that time.
I couldn’t write this article without a thankful nod to the attempts made to bring the story-lines back to the right origin story. I found one in the March 1993 issue AND the most recent graphic novel : “DC Universe Rebirth: WONDER WOMAN: Vol.2 Year One.” I have to say, I found the story enjoyable , but more so the art work. It was stunning and fun. This issue included a re-telling of Wonder Woman’s origin story from the point of Steve Trevor’s crash landing onto Themyscira-the new name for Paradise Island, and how she returns him to modern day America. The biggest surprise was the re-imaging of Etta Candy. Which was also a re-imaging from Volume 1! Though I don’t think it will be a big deal if you never knew the original version.
In summary: I do hope the spirit of Wonder Woman’s origin story of being raised by a brave strong single Mom supported and surrounded by smart and confident women endures. And how she came from a female empowered world that will form her into a person that is true to her morals and convictions and willing to fight for those who can not. And I hope this Halloween following the movie release, there will be thousands of little girls running around dressed as Wonder Woman Princess pretending to take out bad guys, instead of a princess waiting to be rescued…and they will be beautiful as Aphrodite, wise as Athena, strong as Hercules, and swifter than Mercury!
Take Note: WONDER WOMAN, all titles, characters, likenesses, and elements are trademarks of D.C. Comics. Learn more about D.C. Universe at www.dccomics.com
Update June 11, 2017: Saw the movie. Will give my afterthoughts after the Resource section in case you haven’t seen it yet!
My favorite book was “Wonder Woman the Complete History” by Les Daniels, published by Chronicle Books, 2000. The book covers her history, a look at Marston’s life, and many comic strips. It also includes all sorts of mementoes, artifacts, and toys among full color pages.
“The Secret History of Wonder Woman” by Jill Lepore, published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2014. This book is very much a history lesson of the suffragette movement, and the women’s rights movement, along with telling what made William Marston pen Wonder Woman. You will get a closer look at famous rebel women of that time period including Margaret Sanger. Be forewarned, the author goes into detail about his fascination/experiments with submission and bondage, and his unconventional lifestyle with two women.
“The Golden Age of Wonder Woman Omnibus Volume 1”. DC Comics: This hefty book gives you the complete comics from 1941-1943. The color is crisp and the stories are fun. It is an awkwardly large book, so you have to get creative to relax and read it, but it’s worth it to see back into her beginnings.
“The Golden Age of DC Comics 1935-1956” by Paul Levits, published by Taschen 2013. This is a coffee-table book, not something you can hold in your lap. It covers all the favorite DC Superheros, such as Batman and Superman, along with Wonder Woman. As an artist, and Batman fan, the cover jumped out at me. I do adore the old comic book art. This book also includes great commentary about the writers and artists.
For more images and trivia, please check out Archer Atwood Books Facebook page.
For more about the call to nursing during WWII:… “Right up to the 1940s, becoming a Nurse was not the vocation that parents wanted their daughters to take up. That change in attitude happened with the coming of World War II, some well written marketing campaigns, and we will toss in the first issues of the “Wonder Woman” comics for good measure!….” Read more at : http://maplewoodpress.com/nursing-history-u-s-cadet-nurse-corps/
Spoiler Alert if you haven’t seen it yet.
After watching the new Wonder Woman movie, I was very pleased with the end result. They tampered with her origin story a bit by having Zeus breath life into her, instead of Aphrodite. This took away from her all female origin. That was the biggest disappointment for me. BUT, their portrayal of Paradise Island/Themyscira, the Amazons, and Queen Hippolyte was fantastic. They also brought Steve Trevor to life as I had imagined him. What made me the happiest, was that they kept the key parts of Wonder Woman’s personality in tact, that she wanted to protect those who could not protect themselves, always do the right thing, be a leader not a follower, and that women can kick some serious butt without a man saving her. And it was fun that the main bad -“guy”, was the first bad-woman of the original comics. They also brought in her first in America friend, Etta Candy, and kept her general appearance the same as the comics. Well done-two thumbs up, and I know I will be seeing those little girls and women wearing Wonder Woman costumes this Halloween!… Atwood