Amazing Heroes #106This was an article that appeared in the Nov. 1, 1986 (#106) issue of Amazing Heroes. Anyway, I get a call in the middle of the night (for me; I work early shift) from then-editor Mark Waid in California. He sez, "We've got an extensive George Perez interview telling about his upcoming post-Crisis Wonder Woman reboot. Can you throw something together as a history?"

Man, I had lousy writing habits back then. Mark had to call me up two more times before I managed to get everything together just in time. And just FYI: I knew Mark by us both being members of the Legion apa, Interlac. Yeah, Mark, I knew you when. But will he answer my emails these days? :^)

And yes, I can see some historical mistakes here and there in this article, but what can you do? Jeez, I didn't even mention chains and bondage! Well, whatever. At least I managed to work Velikovsky into the intro. So for better or worse, here's

The Wonder Years

An Overview of Pre-Crisis Wonder Woman

by Carol A. Strickland

She was a woman to stand among all those tightly-clad, over-muscled male heroes. A human being who had to go through a lifetime of rigorous training as opposed to inheriting the naturally-endowed alien powers of a Superman. A philosopher teaching the basic goodness of humanity versus the grim personification of revenge that was the Batman.

But this Amazon princess, Wonder Woman, would always be the third-stringer of DC's Top Three. Whereas entire generations of comics readers could follow the adventures of Superman or Batman without noticing any changes to speak of, fans of Wonder Woman had to deal with abrupt turnabouts that seemed to rock the character back on her heels every time a new editor or writer took charge.

A character like Superman demands the adjective "new" when, say, the spelling of Jor-L changes to Jor-El, or when Supie stopped leaping tall buildings in a single bound and began to fly. But a WW fan would laugh off such trivial changes. They'd be superficial ones for Wonder Woman; the many eras of the Amazing Amazon chronicle upheavals of Velikovskian proportions!

The Golden Age

Comics publisher Max Gaines told a psychological consultant whom he called in that comics starring a woman hero couldn't work. The consultant, William Marston, disagreed, and set about to create a comics heroine who would offer a positive example of strength tempered with compassion and love. Working closely with Sheldon Mayer, Marston utilized his love for Greek mythology to develop the Amazon Wonder Woman. Gaines and Marston used their respective middle names to sign the series "Charles Moulton," and a legend was born.

Wonder Woman first appeared in All-Star #8 (Spring, 1941), and her feature quickly branched out and was included in the premiere issues of Sensation Comics, Wonder Woman and Comics Cavalcade. She was a phenomenon! In the midst of World War II, when women were being encouraged to work in factories while their menfolk went off to war, when weekly newsfilms showed women in combat zones, the time was overripe for Wonder Woman.

The Amazon Princess had grown up on Paradise Island, where hatred was non-existent and the world filled with the mythologies of ancient Greece. A champion and graduate in holistic Amazon Training, she traveled to the modern outside world, there to become one of its leading heroes.

Wonder Woman stood for the Good Guys, and the Good Guys were America. So she wore a costume that had all the important parts of the American flag, plus a U.S. eagle to top it off. In her secret identity of Diana Prince she was a member of the War Effort: at first as an Army nurse at Walter Reed, then on staff at the War Department as a secretary to General Darnell.

Wonder Woman was hailed as "beautiful as Aprhodite, wise as Athena, stronger than Hercules and swifter than Mercury!" She got that way because her mother Hippolyte, queen of the Amazons, had scupted a clay statue which the goddess Aphrodite had brought to life.

Now, this wasn't so amazing to the Amazons, for they, too, had been similarly brought to life when Aphrodite plotted to form a race of women who were stronger than men in order to counter the evil war god Mars's plan for world anarchy. The Amazons built their culture upon a cornerstone of love, but were betrayed by men and forced into servitude. When they finally managed to escape, Aphrodite led them to Paradise Island where they could live without interference from the outside, which they termed Man's World.

Woner Woman, nee Diana, grew up on Paradise Island and took part in Amazon Training which gave the Amazons their powers of strength, speed, and great intelligence. When a U.S. flyboy named Steve Trevor crashed in the ocean near the island, Diana saved him and ultimately fell in love with him. Through him, Aphrodite and Hippolyte discovered the evils of the war that was being waged in Man's World and resolved to send an Amazon champion from Paradise Island to help humanity fight the Axis. They declared a contest to be held to determine which Amazon was the best candidate.

Diana disguised herself (for her mother had refused to let her compete) and found herself tied at the end of the championship games with her friend Mala. How to break the tie? The Amazons decided upon an imaginative game that would become the hallmark of the series: Bullets and Bracelets, in which one Amazon shot a gun at the other, who would have to deflect the bullets with her super-hard Amazonium bracelets.

Diana won the game and journeyed to Man's World with Steve Trevor in an Invisible Plane which could be powered by her thoughts alone. She wore a Magic Laso which had a hypnotic quality over whomever it bound and forced them to do as commanded. And lastly, she carried with her a Mental Radio which boosted telepathic abilities, allowing WW's allies merely to concentrate and have their message delivered to whomever was receiving on the other end. It certainly beat Ma Bell!

Most notable of WW's "possessions," though, was her artist, Harry G. Peter, who had been picked by Marston to draw the series. Although the basic concept of WW was brilliant, it was Peter who sealed her success. Other artists of the era dealt with female characters in a T&A approach: huge breasts, lowered eyelids, slit skirts, etc. These characters, if remembered at all, are usually recalled in a romantic or sexy connotation: she was so-and-so's girlfriend; she was the hot-to-trot Nazi, etc.

Wonder Woman and her secondary characters, Etta Candy and the Holliday Girls from Holliday College (who were quite plainly shown to be enthusiastic heterosexuals, despite what reactionary psychologist Frederic Wertham claimed), were filled with boundless energy and the spirit of adventure, willing to face any challenge and beat it, for they knew their cause to be good and they had confidence in themselves. It was a major statement in attutide for women to make, and no doubt it made just as great an impression on the children who read the stories.

Although Wonder Woman met her share of super-criminals, mostly minions of Mars, most of her adventures concerned everyday life with everyday people. She would show them how, by being confident in themselves, positive in their attitudes, and by relying on teamwork, they could rise above negative situations and overcome evil. Often in the early part of the Golden Age, Wonder Woman would require the aid of some civilian, and together the two could accomplish anything.

Notable in the series was the storyline involving Paula von Gunther, the world's most notorious female spy. Utterly evil, she had an army of slave girls whose joy it was to grovel before her and be tortured for her amusement. Paula went to prison-- was even executed, so readers thought -- and came back to threaten the United States and Wonder Woman time and time again. But WW did something that no other comic book character ever did with an enemy then or since: she reformed her WW #3). Paula became Wonder Woman's best friend and dedicated herself to Aphrodite.

Wonder Woman was an action-packed treatise on the basic goodness of humanity. She was a symbol of the modern woman as well, and of humanity when it turned away from the ways of war.

But Dr. Marston died in 1947. Robert Kanigher took over the writing while H.G. Peter imitators gradually took on the art chores, and the direction of the series wobbled. Instead of fairy tales involving beautiful and good queens ruling planets of women, we began to see scaly aliens plotting invasions of Planet Earth. There were still a few leprechauns about, and the series was still much gentler than other comic books -- friendly, compassionate, and stressing sisterhood -- but Wonder Woman wasn't quite as authoritative and comanding as before.

World War II was over and women were being encouraged to quit the factory and go home, back to being homemakers. And Dr. Frederic Wertham was calling Wonder Woman's sexuality into question. Was WW too butch? Was she a lesbian? Was she too brutal for young girls to read? She certainly wasn't now. If there were an era corresponding to Mort Weisinger's legendary stint on the Superman family, it would be that of the early '50's Wonder Woman, but without Weisinger's clever, inventive touches. The Wonder Woman tales of that time were trivial stories maiinly concerned with keeping WW's dual identity a secret, with various science-fiction plots mixed into the "ordinary civilian' plots. Wonder Woman began to display more super-speed than usual, her swiftness approaching that of the Flash. She mentioned her Amazon hearing and her Amazon vision. In essence, she was becoming DC's Superwoman.

Instead of being too busy to marry Steve Trevor, she now claimed that if she married Steve she would have to quit being a super-hero. Married women didn't work.

Even the Holliday Girls, when they appeared, were no longer clad in their red-and-white shorts and tank tops that they'd been wearing since 1941. Instead they wore blouses and long skirts, which prevented them from taking active roles. Now the only action-oriented women in the series were Wonder Woman and the Amazons, and the latter now wore what looked to be American gym outfits, as if that was the only excuse they could find to be active -- just to be physically fit.

The Golden Age was clearly on the way out, but there was no clear idea about where to take Wonder Woman.

wondie homepagenext page
DC Comics
Wonder Woman et al are all trademarked and/or copyrighted by DC Comics, Inc. Buy their comics!