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Authors: Tim Hanley

Wonder Woman Unbound

BOOK: Wonder Woman Unbound
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Copyright © 2014 by Tim Hanley

All rights reserved

Published by Chicago Review Press Incorporated

814 North Franklin Street

Chicago, IL 60610

ISBN 978-1-61374-909-8

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Hanley, Tim.

Wonder Woman Unbound : the Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine / Tim Hanley.

pages cm

Summary: “With her golden lasso and her bullet-deflecting bracelets, Wonder Woman is a beloved icon of female strength in a world of male superheroes. But this close look at her history portrays a complicated heroine who is more than just a female Superman. The original Wonder Woman was ahead of her time, advocating female superiority and the benefits of matriarchy in the 1940s. At the same time, her creator filled the comics with titillating bondage imagery, and Wonder Woman was tied up as often as she saved the world. In the 1950s, Wonder Woman begrudgingly continued her superheroic mission, wishing she could settle down with her boyfriend instead, all while continually hinting at hidden lesbian leanings. While other female characters stepped forward as women’s lib took off in the late 1960s, Wonder Woman fell backwards, losing her superpowers and flitting from man to man. Ms. magazine and Lynda Carter restored Wonder Woman’s feminist strength in the 1970s, turning her into a powerful symbol as her checkered past was quickly forgotten. Exploring this lost history as well as her modern incarnations adds new dimensions to the world’s most beloved female character, and Wonder Woman Unbound delves into her comic book and its spin-offs as well as the myriad motivations of her creators to showcase the peculiar journey that led to Wonder Woman’s iconic status”— Provided by publisher.

Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-61374-909-8 (pbk.)
1. Wonder Woman (Fictitious character) 2. Women in literature. 3. Gender identity in literature. 4. Comic books, strips, etc.—United States. 5. Literature and society—United States. I. Title.
PN6728.W6H34 2014
741.5’973—dc23

2013045111

Unless otherwise indicated, all images are from the author’s collection

Front cover design: Tim Hanley

Cover layout: Jonathan Hahn

Interior design: PerfecType, Nashville, TN

Printed in the United States of America

5  4  3  2  1

To my parents

Contents

Introduction

Part 1: The Golden Age

1
The Utopian Alternative
2
Damsels in Distress
3
Amazon Princess, Bondage Queen

Interlude 1:
Wonder Woman’s
Extra Features

Part 2: The Silver Age

4
A Herculean Task
5
Focus on the Family, or Superman Is a Jackass
6
Conforming to the Code

Interlude 2:
Letters and Advertisements

Part 3: The Bronze Age

7
Wonder Woman No More
8
Doin’ It for Themselves
9
Restoration and Re-creation
10
The Mundane Modern Age
Conclusion
Acknowledgments
Source Notes
Bibliography
Index

Introduction

“W
heeee! I’m a butterfly on the first day of spring!”

So exclaimed Diana Prince in
Wonder Woman
#182, her arms raised and her eyes closed, reveling in the joy of trying on expensive dresses in a trendy boutique in London. The year was 1969, and Wonder Woman had recently given up her superpowers, trading her bullet-deflecting bracelets and golden lasso for a normal life as her alter ego, Diana Prince.

Wonder Woman was a princess of the Amazons, the mythic race of warrior women, but when her sisters decided to leave for another dimension, Wonder Woman chose to stay behind with her boyfriend, Steve Trevor. Unfortunately, Steve died soon after she renounced her powers, and Diana set out on a quest to track down his killer. This brings us to London, where she took a hiatus from avenging Steve’s death to go on a shopping spree with her new friend, Reginald Hyde-White. Reggie footed the bill for all of Diana’s new mod fashions, and later that afternoon declared his love for her. Steve had just died three days before, and Diana had only met Reggie that morning, but our heroine was unable to resist his charms and kissed Reggie passionately. However, their love was short-lived: Reggie was employed by Steve’s killer, and he betrayed Diana later in the issue. Enraged, she attacked Reggie, nearly crippling him, and the story ended with a weeping and broken-hearted Diana running off into the night.

Wonder Woman is a recognizable figure: gold tiara, invisible jet, fights bad guys, looks like Lynda Carter. She’s a role model for many, and the most famous female superhero in a genre dominated by males. She’s also been a feminist icon since Gloria Steinem put her on the first cover of
Ms.
magazine in 1972. This gal, with no superpowers and no star-spangled outfit, cavorting with strange men, isn’t the Wonder Woman that most people are familiar with.

Fans today tend to have a very iconic but generic concept of Wonder Woman, a combination of nostalgia for the 1970s TV show and vague associations with feminism. She is important and beloved as the most famous superheroine of all time, a bastion of female representation in a male-dominated genre, but she’s a symbol more than a living, vibrant character. This is largely due to a lack of exposure; for the past thirty years, aside from her one sparsely read monthly comic, Wonder Woman has lacked the publication, television, and film presence of her fellow superheroes. The modern Wonder Woman is practically nonexistent outside of T-shirts and other memorabilia.

However, the early decades of Wonder Woman’s history were incredibly bizarre, and these versions of the character fell by the wayside after Lynda Carter and
Ms.
magazine in the 1970s. Created in 1941 by a psychologist named William Moulton Marston, the original Wonder Woman looked and acted a lot like her modern-day counterpart, but she had an unusual background and some strange secrets. As years passed, new creators further convoluted the character, muddying her odd yet feminist origin. While American women grew from complacent housewives to protesters for women’s liberation, gaining new strength and independence as they moved forward together, Wonder Woman fell backward.

Wonder Woman was created during the Golden Age of comics, before the temporary workplace gains of World War II, at a time when women were told that their only place was in the home. An Amazon princess and the most powerful warrior of her race, Wonder Woman ignored these expectations. Her comics didn’t just suggest equality of the sexes; they flat-out demonstrated that every woman had innate power and that Wonder Woman was superior to her male counterparts. By the 1950s, as the Silver Age of comics began, American women started to chafe under the limitations of their domestic lives just as Wonder Woman wanted to settle down. When women took to the streets in the late 1960s to demand their rights and Bronze Age heroines left behind the men who kept them down, a heartbroken Wonder Woman gave up her superpowers and sat out the women’s liberation movement.

Wonder Woman grew opposite to the evolution of American women. But as it always is with Wonder Woman, there were further complications. Marston, the advocate of female power and strength, was also a kinky bondage enthusiast. The amazing Amazon who wished she could just be a housewife was labeled a man-hating lesbian by anti-comics crusaders. When not weeping over her lost love, our heroine flitted from man to man.

By rediscovering the forgotten history of Wonder Woman, we can both understand her journey to her current iconic status and flesh out Wonder Woman as a character and not just a symbol. Each of these early depictions of Wonder Woman was wrapped in contradictions, and none of them much resemble the contemporary Wonder Woman, but all of them together combine into the most peculiar and fascinating history of any comic book character.

PART 1

The Golden Age

1

The Utopian Alternative

O
rigin stories are an integral part of superhero comic books, repeated and referenced so often that they’ve become as iconic to the characters as the logos on their chests. Some origin stories have remained the same from the very beginning: in every telling of Batman’s origin, Bruce Wayne witnesses the murder of his parents when he’s a boy and dedicates his life to fighting crime. Other origin stories changed when new characters took on the mantle of an established hero: the original Golden Age Flash, Jay Garrick, gained superspeed by inhaling hard water vapors, while the Silver Age Flash, Barry Allen, gained the same powers from electrified chemicals.

Unlike the Flash, Wonder Woman remained the same character, but unlike Batman, each of her incarnations had its own distinct origin story.
*
Her first came from her creator, William Moulton Marston, a man whose lofty goals made him stand out among his fellow comic book creators in the early 1940s. He wanted to impart to his readers a specific message about female superiority. Most of the first superheroes had origins rooted in some sort of tragic event that motivated their crime-fighting career. Wonder Woman, on the other hand, was rooted in a feminist utopian vision. Her mission was not to resolve tragic personal issues but to help facilitate a coming matriarchy. Marston rejected the conventions of the burgeoning superhero genre and set up Wonder Woman as a new, unique brand of hero.

The Golden Age

The beginning of the comic book industry wasn’t anything auspicious; publishers had a lot of paper and wanted to keep the presses running, so in the early 1930s they began reprinting newspaper comic strips as comic books. One of these new publishers was National Allied Publications, founded by Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson in 1934. National’s first series was
New Fun,
which premiered in February 1935. It was the first comic book to have only new material, most of which was written by Wheeler-Nicholson himself. National launched a second series with an even less imaginative title,
New Comics,
in December 1935. But Wheeler-Nicholson didn’t have enough money to finance his third series,
Detective Comics,
so he turned to Harry Donenfeld, a publisher and distributor who headed the Independent News Company.

Donenfeld was a fierce businessman with a less than reputable history. His associations with gangsters and the mob dated back to the Prohibition Era, and in the early 1930s he published lurid, erotic pulp magazines. This new partnership with Wheeler-Nicholson led to the creation of Detective Comics Inc., and
Detective Comics
debuted in March 1937. Detective Comics Inc. was soon renamed National Comics when the crafty Donenfeld forced Wheeler-Nicholson out of the company. Finding comics quite profitable, Donenfeld teamed up with another new publisher, Max Gaines, to form a sister company called All-American Publications in 1938.
*
Both companies used a logo based on the original partnership of Detective Comics Inc., the encircled initials “DC,” and they were commonly known as DC Comics.
Detective Comics
did well, but it was National’s new series,
Action Comics,
that changed the industry forever and marked the beginning of the Golden Age of comic books.

BOOK: Wonder Woman Unbound
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