Women’s History Month Superheroine Spotlight: Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman #1 (summer of 1942)Today, the last day of Women’s History Month, I’d like to take a closer look at the most influential and recognizable superheroine in comics, Wonder Woman.

She may not be the the first comic book superheroine or even the first heroine to star in her own comic, but you can’t deny the impact that Wonder Woman has had on the history of comics and our culture as a whole.

As a character with strong feminist roots, Wonder Woman has certainly seen her share of ups and downs throughout her publication.

Created by Dr. William Moulton Marston and his wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston, Wonder Woman first appeared in an 8-page story in All Star Comics #8 (December 1941) and would later go on to star in her own title in the summer of 1942.

Dr. Marston was a Harvard-trained psychologist and the inventor of the polygraph (a legacy that’s clearly reflected in Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth). He was also a staunch feminist. However, instead of advocating for an equal society, Marton championed a matriarchy in which women would use their femininity to control and dominate men (who he regarded as inherently more violent and greedy).

Ares and Aphrodite argue in Wonder Woman (1942) #1

Obviously, this belief is more than a little problematic. Placing women on a pedestal is still a form of objectification.

Steriotypes about women in Wonder Woman #1 (1942)As a member of the DC Editorial Advisory Board, Marston came to realize a severe lack of female characters and role models in comics. To remedy this, he created the character of Wonder Woman, loosely based on his wife Elizabeth Marston and Olive Byrne, a live-in student who was involved in a polyamorous relationship with the Marstons.

Marston’s belief of woman’s superiority and his obsession with bondage and the master/slave relationship would both become central theme’s of early Wonder Woman stories. These stories also contain a surprising amount of stereotypes about women.

Wonder Woman becomes the JSA's secretaryDespite these issues, Wonder Woman’s empowering message and uniqueness helped the heroine to quickly find a market. That’s why it’s not surprising that the decision was made to give Wonder Woman a place on the JSA. Sadly, she was only bestowed the “honor” of becoming their secretary.

This insult is only compounded by the fact that she was physically more powerful than the other JSA members. Not to mention that her book was selling better than those of the male JSAers.

But, with Marston’s death in 1947, Wonder Woman would soon loss sight of her feminist roots completely.

Wonder Woman listed at the JSA's secretary

Steve Trevor carrying Wonder WomanWith women leaving the factories and no Nazis to fight, the publisher decided that it was the perfect time to reboot Wonder Woman as the star of a romance comic. Gone was the strong, feminist Diana of the early ’40s. Instead, fans were left with a Wonder Woman who liked to be princess-carried across shallow streams.

Of course, this was not the only radical transformation the character would undergo. The late 1960 saw the rise of  the “Mod Girl Wonder Woman” when Dinan gave up her powers, opened a mod boutique, and gained a male mentor and slew of new love interests.

The New Mod Wonder Woman

Feminist icon Gloria Steinem was not too happy about about this, but she’s hardly alone in her disdain.

"Mod Girl Wonder Woman" As KL Pereira puts it:

“the new Wonder Woman was a caricature, a weak figure with no personality or wit. Denied her erotic and feminist history, she became a virginal, domesticated figure whose goal of fighting injustice was abandoned for marriage and shopping… Diana Prince is stripped of her superpowers to become a mortal woman. One glance at the cover’s embellished print and fashionably mod Diana… says everything about the story that awaits readers inside: a veritable cacophony of hatboxes, shoes, and fashionable outfits. The most important thing about this Wonder Woman, it seemed, was the way she looked.”

Like so many other female comic characters, Wonder Woman’s publication history is fraught with well-meaning mistakes, carelessness, and down right sexism. However, Wonder Woman perseveres.

Her cultural importance is unrivaled by other superheroines and she is just as important today as she was when she was created more than seven decades ago.

Wonder Woman #1 DC Comic's New 52Comment and share your favorite incarnation of Wonder Woman!

66 Responses to “Women’s History Month Superheroine Spotlight: Wonder Woman”

  1. 1 Megan April 2, 2013 at 10:02 am

    Love everything about this :)

  2. 3 Things You Realize After You Get Married April 2, 2013 at 10:09 am

    Like so many other female comic characters, Wonder Woman’s publication history is fraught with well-meaning mistakes, carelessness, and down right sexism. However, Wonder Woman perseveres. <—I agree with this point and find it interesting…. This is something (particularly the sexism aspect) that is paradoxical in a lot of popular female characters, however of them all all, I do think that Wonder Woman has stood the test of the time in a good way for the most part! I loved her too growing up! Congrats on being FP! :)

  3. 6 littlemisswordy April 2, 2013 at 10:39 am

    Great post! Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  4. 8 lividlips April 2, 2013 at 10:59 am

    thanks for the history lesson! This was a truly enjoyable read

  5. 9 Kristen Chapman Gibbons April 2, 2013 at 11:07 am

    Reblogged this on Big Blue Dot Y'all and commented:
    Partial to Hawkgirl, but Wonder Woman is pretty righteous too.

  6. 10 thefrayedendsofsanity April 2, 2013 at 11:11 am

    I never knew Wonder Woman became a Mod!

  7. 11 Baby Nightsoil April 2, 2013 at 11:42 am

    Best blog-writing I’ve seen about Wonder Woman in a long time! My favorite Wonder Woman is the current one- I am a big fan of Chiang’s style and Azzarello’s puns.

  8. 12 The Philosophunculist April 2, 2013 at 11:51 am

    My little nephews just started watching the old Wonder Woman TV show. Now that is some good stuff.

  9. 13 Matt Chase International April 2, 2013 at 12:24 pm

    I had the outfit. ‘is all I’m saying… ;-)

  10. 14 Smash April 2, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    Awesome post, congrats on being freshly pressed!
    I loved watching the Wonder Woman TV show when I was little, and the Justice League cartoon. I think the New 52 version of Wonder Woman is off to a great start. I’m glad that she’s still kicking ass and that her title carries just as much clout as those of Batman and Superman. She’s my favourite superheroine for sure!

  11. 15 aspiringlily April 2, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    Reblogged this on Aspiring Lily and commented:

  12. 17 slamadams April 2, 2013 at 1:50 pm

    I’m loving the new Wonder Woman book, and it seemed like you were building to it since there was a change that seemed to catch the ire of many feminists. The all female Amazon sovereignty was revealed to be like any ruling class with its secrets and institutionalized follies. Still think its a great series that adds depth to Wonder Woman and her personal world.

    • 18 Daniel Amrhein April 4, 2013 at 3:46 pm

      Yeah, I’ve been enjoying the new book. Azzarello is doing a good job of including just enough of the classic themes (bondage, the master/slave relationship, and Diana’s power of love) without it being too contrived or objectifying her. Like I mentioned in the article, making the Amazons a perfect society because they’re women is simply another form of objectification, so I personally don’t mind that Azzarello is including a few institutionalized follies. I think it makes them better developed characters.

  13. 19 allthoughtswork April 2, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    Wow. Informative. I’ve always been fascinated and amused by how our movies, commercials, comics, and other forms of art reflect our current societal desires and fears. It’s sometimes hard to see it when you’re in it, so reviewing history or looking at other culture’s versions is eye-opening. Turn the sound off and watch a bunch of commercials from around the world, it’s hysterical. Sobering to think that our descendants will laugh their asses off at us in 75 years the way we smugly laugh at our own roots.

  14. 21 lawrenceofcanadia April 2, 2013 at 2:16 pm

    Nice article. It still surprises me how propaganda stretches into all walks of life, even comic books meant for children. And at the time they were worried about Communists brain-washing their youth?
    Admittedly we are only horrified by her “secretarial role” for the JSA because we have been brought up in a more equal society….or have we?

  15. 23 Taaliah April 2, 2013 at 3:12 pm

    Love this…well written, full of facts and big knickers, Wonderwoman would be thrilled:)

  16. 24 TJ Johnston April 2, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    Sometimes the spirits of the times make for awkward translations. If the “mod” Wonder Woman of the ’60s was a bad idea, it couldn’t have been worse than the one imagined in this failed pilot.

    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  17. 25 L. Palmer April 2, 2013 at 3:50 pm

    Wonder Woman has done pretty well in her career if she went from secretary to CEO of her own company with her own invisible plane. That seems a great feminist and capitalist trajectory to me.

  18. 26 nodatappropriatemoments April 2, 2013 at 4:11 pm

    Am I the only one who was ever partial to Black Canary? Haha. This was a very interesting read. I wasn’t aware of Marston’s role in Diana’ conception and I always did find it weird how her weakness is being bound my men. I mean, on the one hand it could be sexist in the way that she loses all powers in the face of men. On the other, it could be a feminist metaphor about how a woman allowing herself to be bound by a man would render her powerless.The modern versions of Wonder Woman are more to my liking and I do hope you cover it again at some point :)

    • 27 Daniel Amrhein April 4, 2013 at 4:25 pm

      I’m so glad you brought this up! I was going to address it in the article but I didn’t want to spend too much time dwelling on the bondage thing. There’s a good argument either way. Personally, I think that it’s inherently a great feminist statement. My biggest problem isn’t with the metaphor itself, but rather how it’s been mishandled. Its careless overuse has led to countless instances of a feminist icon literally being held in chains, often to titillate rather than empower.

  19. 30 deborahtd April 3, 2013 at 2:53 am

    I was not a comic fan, but I loved Wonder Woman on TV. My brother and I would pretend to be her in the vacant lot next door, where a new house was being built. One day my six year old brother spun madly around while I sang “you’re a wonder, Wonder Woman” at the top of my lungs. He launched himself odd the mountain of dirt we stood on, flying, arms a la Diana Prince herself. Poor kid. He only wore the cast for six weeks, but he still rues the day he flew like Wonder Woman and broke his arm in two places… That just never gets old to his 4 older sisters.

  20. 31 jencity013 April 3, 2013 at 3:28 am

    I feel like you have have a blog post here. I mean, sure we can spend all day talking about the historical Wonder Woman. What I would have loved to see is for you to continue to the Wonder Woman we have today. Comic books – like any other form of media – is just a reflection of the culture it’s bred from. So, yes, Wonder Woman of the 1950’s and 1960’s is going to be much more docile and feminine than the Wonder Woman of the new millennium. I like to point out the gay character, North Star, from Marvel Comics. Forty years ago – which is the time frame you’re working with in terms of Wonder Woman – North Star was murdered, quite viciously, by Wolverine. If you paid attention to the news last year, North Star was featured in Marvel’s first gay wedding. The character didn’t change, nor did the comic really. Society changed. And with society, the products of society change as well.

    I congratulate you on a wonderfully written historical piece. But you really could have taken it just a step further and looked at the real progress that has been made. There are many strong, feminist super heroes – male and female – in comics now days, and there is a progress and a progressiveness that should be celebrated.

  21. 32 wonderlust33 April 3, 2013 at 6:33 am

    A fascinating history lesson – thanks for writing this!

  22. 34 andy1076 April 3, 2013 at 7:53 am

    Love your post! brings back fond memories of the good ol days and the video takes it right there :) cheers!!

  23. 35 TomBoy April 3, 2013 at 11:22 am

    So cool to learn about this character’s history! Being born in the 70s, I particularly love the series with Linda Carter and her invisible helicopter. Here are to superpowers and female badasses!

  24. 36 jensine April 3, 2013 at 12:46 pm

    I am a fan … always wanted her “truth lasso”

  25. 37 Connor Moir April 3, 2013 at 2:25 pm

    i loved watching wonder woman when i was a kid….

  26. 38 Dani Worldwide April 3, 2013 at 3:22 pm

    Fascinating, I thoroughly enjoyed the history of Wonder Woman and had no idea she evolved so dramatically over the decades. Great post!

  27. 40 Fish and Cars April 3, 2013 at 8:43 pm

    Thank you for the great post!

  28. 41 Jada M. April 3, 2013 at 9:29 pm

    I have to admit I never really fancied Wonder Woman until I saw the latest cartoon movie. I was blown away by how beautiful, empowering, and witty she was. After further research, I realized just how much she had been “devolved”, only to be revived again as a strong feminist figure. I’m still on the fence about the overt sexuality of her outfits (of a lot of female action heroes really), as I think there’s a fine line between unrealistic sexuality to draw in male audiences, versus encouraging woman to own their sexuality.

  29. 43 candyration April 4, 2013 at 4:22 am

    Of course Wonder Woman is a figure of feminism. she’s a lady. It’s like saying that batman is a symbol for Halloween. Who cares?

    • 44 Daniel Amrhein April 5, 2013 at 5:20 pm

      Not all women are feminists nor do all female characters embody feminist ideas. The current version of Starfire is a decisively unfeminist portrayal of the character and is hardly a figure of feminism.

      I care because a critical examination of a culture’s art and entertainment can lead to a better understanding of its morals and ethics. It is important because Wonder Woman’s many metamorphoses are highly indicative of their time and often reflect the changing role of women in our society or represent historical backlashes against these changes.

  30. 45 Benny April 4, 2013 at 8:03 am


    “With women leaving the factories and no Nazis to fight, the publisher decided that it was the perfect time to reboot Wonder Woman as the star of a romance comic”

    This is my favourite line of all.

    Nice post!

  31. 46 writeonce1770 April 4, 2013 at 8:26 am

    That’s my wife, you captured her well.

  32. 47 thedancingmennonite April 4, 2013 at 11:29 am

    This is good: very, very good! Enjoyed it so thoroughly.

  33. 48 thedancingmennonite April 4, 2013 at 11:35 am

    Reblogged this on thedancingmennonite and commented:
    This blog has me thinking about the possibility of an awesome superhero outfit for The Dancing Mennonite…..anybody into designing one for me? LOL

  34. 49 Daniel Amrhein April 4, 2013 at 7:24 pm

    Thank you all for your congratulatory comments and kind words! It’s wonderful to see so many new visitors to site.

  35. 50 steven pepper April 5, 2013 at 4:12 am

    “we’d like you to act as our secretary”
    “why… that’s quite an honor”!!!
    I love that!
    An enlightening article – particularly in light of the post 911 reemergence of the superhero! More relevant than ever. Thankyou!

  36. 52 comicreviewers April 5, 2013 at 11:13 am

    I liked your post! Great history on the character. I wish that the comics industry knew how to handle their female characters better. I know many people who are un pleased with the current run of Wonder Woman. Dynamite recently re-released Miss Fury (one of the first woman written supeheroines) and she also seems to have lost any positive portrayal of feminine power that was present in the original.

  37. 53 denswpc April 5, 2013 at 2:42 pm

    that good! Perhaps you know the comic Captain Thunder, we find some resemblance

  38. 54 Travel Kitty April 6, 2013 at 5:23 pm

    Such an interesting read on sexism in America and the power of feminism. Thanks for this!

  39. 55 Helena Hann-Basquiat April 6, 2013 at 5:28 pm

    I am really enjoying the Brian Azzarello series (one of the few in the New 52 I have continued reading), with its roots set firmly in Greek Mythology (for the most part).

  40. 56 OyiaBrown April 7, 2013 at 7:27 am

    Reblogged this on Oyia Brown.

  41. 57 vegetarian sources of protein April 7, 2013 at 9:52 am

    wow! I never imagined wonder womans roots to be like this, I have always thought that Diana was created just to be a girl answer to Superman.

  42. 58 progressbyaccident April 7, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    WordPress glitch experience number 1!!! The comment I seem to have left was for another post, 10min ago! Although I am emailing your post to my ‘wonder woman’ infatuated friend. Great post

  43. 60 lauraneed April 11, 2013 at 10:23 am

    I keep waiting for Wonder Woman to be re-discovered by a new generation. Growing up in the 70s she was a hero of mine because she was strong, fearless and independent role model. My daughter is more interested in Cat Woman but I hold out hope one day she too will wear a WW bathing suit with pride like her mom. Great article!

  44. 61 schjerlund12 April 12, 2013 at 3:43 pm

    Reblogged this on danishcolours and commented:
    You go Wonder Woman!:D

  45. 62 Bryan Hemming April 13, 2013 at 2:48 am

    Fascinating piece, and so well written.

  46. 63 MeliciousManners April 30, 2013 at 11:22 am

    I love her cautious Red Sun incarnation. It’s as though she knows things in the universe aren’t quite right.

  1. 1 Crazy hats and grumpy cats | Librarian for Life Trackback on April 14, 2013 at 3:05 pm

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