Her mission is to bring harmony and sexual equality in a world torn by the rule of man. The origin of the most famous super heroine ever, Diana Prince, otherwise known as Wonder Woman, may be unknown to many. As with many comic book characters, there is often evolution and reimagining involved over the years. Wonder Woman now emphasizes an Amazonian ideal, where women are proud, statuesque, and fiercer than men. However, many people, and even some geeks, may not know the true beginnings of the Wonder Woman character. Wonder Woman is often characterized and defined by the various transitions she’s gone through. The Golden Age, which marked her origin, the Silver Age, that showed her evolution and strengths, and finally the Bronze Age, where she was more mysterious and forceful.
Polygraph Creator Invents Wonder Woman
Originally created by William Moulton Marston, a psychologist already famous for inventing the polygraph, Wonder Woman was imagined as a new type of superhero. She would conquer evil—not with fists or weapons—but with love. The catch: she was a woman. Marston proposed the idea to the co-founder of All-American Publications. After getting the “ok” to develop her character for publication, Marston conceived Wonder Woman with his wife Elizabeth, whom Marston believed to be a model of an unconventional, independent, liberated woman. Olive Byrne, his research assistant, was the inspiration for some of the Wonder Woman costume.
In preparation for the Wonder Woman character, along with Olive Byrne, Marston began studying human passion, inducement, and power. His studies concentrated primarily on sexual deviance. One such instance that he witnessed was a bizarre sorority initiation at an all-women’s college, known as a “baby party.” Marston saw “new pledges dressed like babies and tied up, poked with sticks, and wrestled into submission by other girls.” For some reason, he decided to incorporate these observations into the character. Many people attribute the inclusion to the fact that Marston did not just observe sexual deviance—he was a sexual deviant. Marston, while happily married to Elizabeth, was in a polyamorous relationship with both Elizabeth and Olive. The three of them had four children—two from Elizabeth and two from Olive.
The Kinky Side of Wonder Woman
Unsurprisingly, the early Wonder Woman comics were overflowing with bondage, spankings, enslavement, and punishment of both men and women. In fact, every single Wonder Woman comic that Marston created depicted BDSM and a multitude of other sexual fetishes. After completing the character development, costume design, and intended direction, Wonder Woman debuted in All Star Comics #8 (December 1941). In the Golden Age, Marston defined her as the perfect woman; she had bulletproof bracelets, the Lasso of Truth, and the knowledge of Amazonian fighting techniques. She was strong—physically and mentally—intelligent and stunning, yet also depicted as having an elegant, soft side. She was all for feminism and female empowerment, and her powers were taken from traits of Amazon goddesses as a main part of her origin story.
Marston created the character to contend with the strength of Superman, but to also have the positive characteristics that he associated with women, such as justness and desire for peace. He originally called the character “Suprema, The Wonder Woman,” but her name was shortened before she made her comic book debut.
50 Shades of Wonder Woman
Despite the BDSM and fetishism (or because of it—who knows?) Wonder Woman was quickly established into the superhero world, even becoming the only female member of the Justice Society (a predecessor to the Justice League of America). But it wasn’t all female empowerment, since even as the only woman to hold such an honor, she was frequently excluded from the team’s battles and often relegated to being the team’s official secretary.
Wonder Woman was granted her own comic series in 1942, and while it was meant to appeal to both sexes, the comic books included articles and advertisements designed to appeal to a female audience. Though Wonder Woman did sell better than most superhero comics to young girls, 90 percent of all comics starring the Amazon Princess were purchased by males.
In 1949, Marston was removed as lead writer on the Wonder Woman series. Many of the character's sexist weaknesses and all of the fetishes were removed from the series. The only thing that remained largely unchanged was the costume. Ironically, the removal of the characteristics included by Marston actually aided in his ultimate goal of making Wonder Woman a symbol of female empowerment and a feminist icon.
After Marston left the publication, Wonder Woman became more independent, held high-powered positions, and was seen as more of a highly-trained, natural warrior. Marston’s ultimate goal, without the sexist roles and fetishes, was finally realized.
Wonder Woman of the Silver Age of Comics
During the Silver Age, which spanned the 1950s-1960s, there were key changes to Wonder Woman's origin story. This time, her influences came from specific gods and goddesses. She was "beautiful as Aphrodite, wise as Athena, strong as Hercules and swifter than Mercury." This age also manifested the emergence of the Multiverse, where different versions of Wonder Woman lived in different realities. Writers could have Golden Age Wonder Woman and Silver Age Wonder Woman existing at the same time on different Earths (Earth-One and Earth-Two). In fact, in one series, the Impossible Tales, there were three different versions of Wonder Woman coexisting at the same time.
In 1967, there was a botched TV pilot entitled Who’s Afraid of Diana Prince?, which was meant to have the same campy, comedic, slapstick feel as the uber successful Batman series of the time. In it, Linda Harrison played Wonder Woman, while her alter ego, Diana Prince, was played by Ellie Wood Walker. Many critics and fans that saw the pilot described it as awkward and unsure of itself. The series never proceeded past the pilot.
The Bronze Age of Wonder Woman
Next, in the 1970s came the Bronze Age, and Wonder Woman became a regular woman without her super powers. She was actually a mod boutique owner with a secret identity. During this period, however, she was still learning different styles of martial arts and how to use a variety of weapons. She also continued to undergo many missions, and new characters were introduced. She just lacked inherent superpower—a portion of this Age focused more on her ability to learn technique rather than any powers she was born with. However, in 1973, Wonder Woman's original costume and powers were reinstated due to public outcry that many female superheroes were being de-powered.
During the Bronze Age, a made-for-TV movie starring Cathy Lee Crosby hit the small screens in 1974. This dismal attempt failed primarily because the character strayed so far from her roots, including her costume and secret identity. Almost no part of the storyline related to the original character.
Wonder Woman on the Small Screen
Just a year later, in 1975, Diana would reappear on the small screen played by Lynda Carter for a new television show on ABC. Unfortunately, the show was cancelled after its first season, but triumphantly CBS resurrected the show and kept it afloat for two more years. Though the show did not have a long run, it did succeed in making Lynda Carter the “face” of the character. If you ask most geeks or adults who were kids of that era, which actress gave the ultimate portrayal of Wonder Woman? Most will say Lynda Carter.
Finally, in 1982, Wonder Woman was returned to her roots. She was given a slight costume revision—with a new symbol—the "W" on her costume. This new logo was copyrightable, so it was able to sell better in merchandise and other areas of marketing. New writers then took over the series, and she was written as a more confident and bold character than ever before, with exciting and surprising plots. Even so, sales declined and the comic series eventually ended.
Wonder Woman became, and still is, the most popular female superhero/comic book heroine of all time, and a fantasy woman for geeks everywhere. Since the Bronze Age, Wonder Woman has experience a few attempted relaunches with the comic book series and TV shows. Most of them have been unsuccessful.
Over 30 years later, in 2011, NBC attempted to bring Wonder Woman back to television. Adrianne Palicki, who now plays Mockingbird on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., was cast as Wonder Woman. However, the show was cut before the pilot could even air. There were many issues prior to and during production. Shortly before the show was set to premiere, photos leaked of the costume, and let’s just say geeks everywhere were not pleased. Negative outcry over the images caused the production to go back and alter the costume in response. This plus delays and lack of quality in the show’s graphics sealed its fate.
Wonder Woman on the Big Screen
Recently, however, Wonder Woman has made a successful and dominant return in the epic 2016 movie Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Despite the movie being named Batman vs. Superman, it had been known by geeks everywhere that Wonder Woman would play a key role. Not only did the movie succeed in boxes offices worldwide, but it also did a great job of reviving Wonder Woman on the silver screen. Many geeks and critics agreed that Wonder Woman, played by Israeli actress Gal Gadot, stole the show. She has a powerful entrance during one of the best battle scenes in the film, and from then on, it’s hard to keep your eyes off her. It’s also recently been confirmed that Gadot will star in an upcoming Wonder Woman movie of her own.
Wonder Woman is the quintessential icon for strong, smart, caring women everywhere. She’s proven her staying power. She can “hang” with the boys, and we, for one, cannot wait until she gets her chance to shine solo on the big screen.
Looking for the best of both past and contemporary Wonder Woman? Then look no further! Comic book superstar Grant Morrison's Wonder Woman: Earth 1 takes the character back to her feminist and S&M roots. This is a great starting place for anyone interested in reading about Wonder Woman. This graphic novel is a can't miss tour-de-force by one of the modern masters of comics.