A Contextual History of Wonder Woman (2001)


Nearly twenty years ago, for no better reason than it amused me, and without thought of publication for there was nowhere to publish it then, I wrote the following piece about Wonder Woman, as she was in 2001. It’s sat on my laptop(s) ever since, taking up pixels. In the week when Wonder Woman 750 has appeared, I rediscovered it, and, realising I’d never posted it here, decided to repair that omission. I have neither updated, revised nor ‘improved’ it in any way, the last of which may be fairly easy to tell.

Wonder Woman

If I were to say that the current Wonder Woman is simultaneously the first, third and second to bear that name, and that her mother is, at one and the same time, the third, fifth and first, taking her name and identity directly from the character she inspired fifty years later, who preceded her by several years, you would be lost beyond all hope of comprehension.
Yet such a statement is meat and drink to a comic book fan, who regularly is expected to unravel such complex relationships with ease.
To the layperson, a considerably lengthy explanation is necessary to enable you to understand how such a situation could arise.
The first Wonder Woman (that is, the first first Wonder Woman: don’t worry, all will become clear) dates from 1941, making her debut in an unrelated back-up story in All-Star 8 and proceeding immediately to headline the new Sensation Comic: she gained her own title in a shorter period of time than anyone before her and continued to appear in both Sensation and Wonder Woman until the former’s cancellation in the late 40’s.
Wonder Woman guested with the Justice Society of America in All-Star 11, appeared again in 12, when she was invited to become team secretary, and stayed with the JSA until their final adventure in All-Star 57 (although she played a purely passive and cameo role until issue 38 and was arguably demeaned when Black Canary became the JSA’s first official female member whilst Wonder Woman was never officially upgraded from secretary).
Wonder Woman’s title enjoyed continuous publication throughout the 50’s making her, along with Superman, Batman & Robin and back-up features Green Arrow and Aquaman, one of the few characters to have been continuously published since the Golden Age.
Wonder Woman was the daughter of Hyppolita, Queen of the Amazons. After their escape from bondage at the hands of Hercules, the Amazons withdrew from Man’s World, to Paradise Island. Hyppolita longed for a daughter and petitioned the Goddesses, who instructed her to form a baby girl from the clays of the riverbank. They then invested the model with life, the baby being named Diana and growing to become the best and strongest of the Amazons.
The Amazons learned of war in Man’s World when a USAF craft piloted by Major Steve Trevor accidentally penetrated the protective clouds that shielded Paradise Island from the world. Diana rescued the pilot, the first man she had ever seen, and immediately fell in love with him.
The Amazons resolved to send a representative to Man’s World, to help bring peace. Hyppolita forbade Diana to compete but her daughter entered the competition masked, and duly won out. To go into Man’s World, she was given a special costume, consisting of a red bathing suit top decorated by a golden eagle, blue culottes (later cycle shorts and even later orthodox trunks) spangled with silver stars and red boots (later laced Grecian sandals).
In Man’s World, Diana was given the name Wonder Woman thanks to a chance remark by Steve Trevor. She took over the identity of Army Nurse Diana Prince, who wanted to follow her boyfriend to California (and who, presumably, never came back). Later, Diana Prince entered the military, rising to the rank of Lieutenant.
Wonder Woman had super-strength, speed and agility. She could not fly, but could glide upon wind currents. She was not invulnerable, but was supremely skilled at deflecting bullets with her Amazonian bracelets. She possessed a magic lasso which, once looped around someone, forced them to obey her. She had an invisible robot plane which she controlled with her thoughts.
If Wonder Woman’s bracelets were bound together by a man, she lost all her powers. If she removed them, she lost all self-control and became a raging madwoman.
Wonder Woman was created by psychologist Wiliam Moulton Marston, with the assistance of artist Harry G Peters. Marston had complained about the lack of female role models in comics and was, in effect, challenged to come up with one.

Wonder Woman

The first inarguable appearance of the second Wonder Woman was in Brave & Bold 27, in 1960. B&B had started out as an adventure series, but was phasing into a try-out title, alongside the purpose created Showcase, which had very successfully introduced new (Silver Age) versions of Golden Age heroes such as Flash and Green Lantern. Now the new versions joined with the Big Three, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman and a couple of other characters to form the Justice League of America, a revival of the JSA-style hero team.
Which led to certain problems with internal consistency.
Wonder Woman (along with Superman and Batman) had been a member of the Justice Society where she had served alongside the Golden Age Flash and Green Lantern. She (like they) was now a member of the Justice League, serving alongside the Silver Age Flash and Green Lantern. But the Silver Age Flash’s origin had made it plain that, to him as much as us, the Golden Age Flash was nothing but a comic book character. How, then, could Wonder Woman serve with both?
This essential contradiction went unexplored (officially: no doubt it exercised the minds of fans) for a year, until the seminal “Flash of Two Worlds” in Flash 123. This established the fact that there were two Earths, each occupying the same physical space but, due to their fractionally different vibration rates, forever invisible and intangible to one another – that is, until the Silver Age Flash accidentally tuned into the vibration rate of the other world and discovered that on this world the Golden Age Flash was more than just a comic book character.
This story would go on to be the foundation stone of DC’s Multiversal continuity for a quarter century. The Golden Age characters had lived, still lived, somewhat older, greyer, still with their powers but a bit rusty and with less stamina, on what would, in 1963, be termed Earth 2, whilst their newer counterparts lived on Earth 1.
No doubt the terminology was chronologically inverted, but to make that complaint ignores the reality of comic book publishing: Earth 1 was the current Earth, the mainstream, supposedly our own reality but with added superheroes, whereas Earth 2 was just that, a second Earth, a different Earth, where things were parallel but not the same.
There were two Flashes and two Green Lanterns and, within a year or so there would also be two Hawkmans and Atoms. It was less apparent that there also had to be two Supermans, two Batmans (and Robins) and, of course, two Wonder Womans.

Wonder Woman

These, however, were the Big Three, comics’ primal trinity. That there were now two of each was a logical necessity: that these alternates were virtually identical a logical requirement of their status. All three had experienced no break in their publishing history where it could be said that one had been replaced by another, and it was left to the obsessive fan to debate at which exact point DC had begun publishing the adventures of one in succession to the history of the other.
Thus the second Wonder Woman could only clearly be said to have first appeared when the first JLA adventure was published but, though her first unequivocal appearance was written by Gardner Fox and drawn by Mike Sekowsky and Bernard Sachs, her creator was still Marston.
Though the Earth 1 Big Three were initially avatars of their originals – who would dare tamper with the Holy Trinity? – DC eventually cottoned on to the cute notion that where the early history of each character differed from the final and accepted form of the legend, those early and discarded characteristics now had a home.
Superman’s early days were littered with rejected elements – working for the Daily Star, not Planet, only developing powers as an adult, Luthor with a shock of red hair – which found their home in the Earth 2 version. Rather fewer distinctions could be drawn in the other two. The yellow oval that, in imitation of the Bat-signal, was placed around Batman’s symbol in 1964 was held to belong to the Earth 1 Batman only. And when the Earth 2 Wonder Woman finally made her bow, in 1967, she was found to have retained the original red boots, instead of adopting Grecian sandals.
As DC grew more confident in their parallel world system, moving it from gimmick to a fecund source of stories (sadly, the fecundity was in quantity, not quality), more differences appeared between the two Wonder Womans.
At first, it was the Earth 1 Wonder Woman, losing her powers and adopting a kind of Diana Rigg- Avengers existence, albeit only for a few years whilst her Earth 2 counterpart remained a fully-fledged Amazon. By the late Seventies, however, DC was fully alive to the possibilities of having a second version of a long-established character: things could happen to the Earth 2 Diana that could not be permitted to her more ubiquitous Earth 1 counterpart, because they would represent permanent change.
Thus the Earth 2 Wonder Woman could marry her Steve Trevor (instead of him dying in a hail of bullets, as happened to the Earth 1 version when DC simply ran out of ideas), and become the proud mother of a teenage superheroine: Hyppolita (Lyta) Trevor, aka The Fury, who had half her mother’s Amazonian strengths.
In the late Seventies/early Eighties, Wonder Woman transferred to TV in the bodice busting form of Lynda Carter. At first, her adventures were set in World War 2, with the comic immediately switching over to tales of the Earth 2 Wonder Woman to match: when a later series brought everything up to date, the Earth 1 model resumed control.

Wonder Woman

And a further change occurred in the early Eighties when Wonder Woman adopted a new costume: to tie in with a charitable Wonder Woman Foundation sponsored by DC, issue 300 saw the Amazon swap her golden eagle for a stylised WW logo across her capacious bosom. Naturally, her earlier counterpart retained her eagle.
But despite all this activity, despite her undoubted longevity, Wonder Woman had not, for many many years, been a big seller. With DC gearing up for massive continuity changes in 1985 with Crisis on Infinite Earths, the fate of the Amazing Amazon was just one of the issues under consideration.
Crisis would bring to an end the Multiverse: a battle royal at the beginning of time would shatter the Multiverse from its inception, destroying all of reality for the briefest of spans before Time began anew, as a single Universe. The heroes of many parallel worlds, the Earth 2 Superman and Wonder Woman amongst them, as well as their modern counterparts, bounced back to the present day, in the new Universe, with full memories of the parallel worlds that had existed until just instants before.
The Universe had room in it for one Superman, one Batman and one Wonder Woman: the original, Golden Age versions were displaced, and had to be disposed of.
Superman, the progenitor, the first of the first, had the honour of striking the final victory blow, after which he was spirited away to some unidentified, unreachable paradisial retirement dimension, never to be seen again1. After that, he not only no longer existed, but never had. With the exception of Lois Lane, his wife, rescued from the reality storm as a final gift to go with him into Never-Never Land, his continuity disappeared with the Multiverse. His cousin Kara, aka Power Girl, was carried over into the Universe: in due course her ‘phoney’ memories of a Kryptonian background were replaced by ‘true’ memories of deriving her powers from the long dead Atlantean mage, Arion, her much-removed grandfather.
Batman had already had the decency to be killed off on Earth 2, dying with his boots on, saving Gotham City one last time, from an inadequate and totally inappropriate adversary. However, he left not merely his now-adult Robin, but also a daughter, by his late wife, the Earth 2 Catwoman. This daughter had become a heroine as the Huntress. Robin, of course, had to go, there being room only for one, but most people would have kept the Huntress if they could. However, when not only the character’s parents but her entire raison d’être have suddenly ceased to ever exist, it became entirely too difficult to proceed. Thus Robin and The Huntress were trapped beneath a crumbling building whilst saving lives but, when the rubble had been cleared away, there were no bodies to be seen – as if they had never existed. A new Huntress was created, and is still around to this date, but no-one pretends she has anything like the appeal of the daughter of Batman and Catwoman.
As for the original Wonder Woman, she survived the battle and, like her male equivalent, retired with honours, being translated to Mount Olympus and joining the pantheon of Greek Gods, with her Steve Trevor at her side. After which she ceased to have ever existed2. Her daughter, the Fury, carried on: she was now the daughter of a retrospectively-created Forties Greek Superheroine also called The Fury, and had been raised by an adoptive American family called Trevor.
But, unlike the formerly Earth 1 Superman and Batman, the second Wonder Woman also did not survive Crisis: during the final battle, she was hit by a bolt of Chronal energy flung out by the villainous Anti-Monitor, which reverted her to the clay she had once been. It did more than that: in a manner entirely different to the Crisis itself, it ensured that not only did the second Wonder Woman no longer exist she, like her predecessor, never had existed.

Wonder Woman

The scene was therefore set for a third Wonder Woman to appear, who would not only be the third Wonder Woman but also, naturally, the first. After all, there hadn’t been any before her. Let us think of her as the second first Wonder Woman.
The third Wonder Woman made her debut in Legends, a six issue crossover series drawn by John Byrne, but her true debut was reserved for the first issue of her new series, Wonder Woman 1. She remains created by William Moulton Marston, but this new version was the work of artist George Perez, abetted as scripter (over Perez’s plots) by Greg Potter – replaced after two issues by Len Wein.
Perez’s Wonder Woman resembled the original – shorts became standard female briefs, she wore boots and bore the now official WW symbol – and her origin was clearly based upon Marston’s original. The Amazon race were now the embodiment of the spirits of all women who had died of violence at the hands of men, Hyppolita’s being the only one to have been pregnant at the time, and Diana’s, after her ‘birth’ from the clays of the riverbank, being that of the unborn child.
Once more Steve Trevor’s plane accidentally penetrates the wards separating Paradise Island from Man’s World, but this is now a ploy by Aries, God of War, who is seeking to foment nuclear destruction. Trevor is a much older man now, clearly in his 50’s: an uncle to Diana rather than a would-be lover (his romantic interest will come in the form of an up-dated Etta Candy, once a cartoon fat girl comic relief side-kick, now a capable if overweight Air Force Lieutenant).
And in Man’s World, Diana is given the name Wonder Woman by a publicist wanting to cash in on her symbolic value, and assumed to be a superheroine by virtue of her costume – which is rather the abbreviated battle armour given her by her Amazon sisters.
The third Wonder Woman was briefly a member of Justice League Europe, very briefly that is, and in later years has come aboard the latest JLA, but that was many developments down the line. She was the one and only Wonder Woman: the role of secretary to the JSA – now the hero team of another generation instead of the hero team of another world – was retrospectively vested in 40’s strongwoman Miss America. Until…
But that is to get ahead of our account.

Wonder Woman

For now, the third Wonder Woman stood alone. Her series, directed by Perez, who eventually grew confident enough to script as well as plot/draw, and then to cede the art to Jill Thompson whilst he wrote, proved to be the success Wonder Woman should always have been, justifying DC’s drastic efforts to sweep the decks clear.
Perez moved on after five years, leaving his charge in the hands of writer Bill Loebs. After a couple of years, Loebs introduced the fourth Wonder Woman.
She appeared in ‘The Contest’, along with hot new artist Mike Deodato (one of a number of hot artists whose facility with the human body and the art of story-telling took second place to his ability to generate violent pictures filled with extraneous detail), which ran in Wonder Woman 0, 90-93. Hyppolita, unhappy at the general lack of success of Diana’s mission to Man’s World, called her home and required her to re-submit to the original selection process, to prove herself still the best Amazon: Diana was – you couldn’t see this one coming? – beaten.
The victor in this new contest, and the fourth Wonder Woman, Artemis – a redhead bearing an unfeasibly long and horrendously complex pony-tail – was an Amazon from Bana-Migdoll, being a separated strain of the Amazon race introduced under Perez, who had followed Hyppolita’s more aggressive and vengeful sister, and who had not taken all that well to absorption into the main Amazon race on Paradise Island.
Artemis had a far more aggressive nature, not being content to subdue and overcome evil but being far more inclined to slaughter it outright, in as visually explicit a manner as was compatible with the Comics Code.
The fourth Wonder Woman was a nod to the more violent times, the last thrashings of the grim’n’gritty movement, a warrior (with all that implies).
Fortunately, the perceptive among you will have taken regard of the issue number in which she was introduced. With Wonder Woman (second series) just over half a year from its centenary, a landmark usually marked by an over-sized issue and a life-changing moment, it was fairly clear that Diana’s resumption of her traditional role would be the feature event.
In the meantime, Diana refused to confine herself to Paradise Island, and returned to Man’s World to continue her career, in a fetchingly tight dark blue bra-top and cycle shorts. The two characters ran parallel until the climactic issue 100 when, in battle royal, Artemis paid the ultimate price in defeating a ravening monster, recognising with her dying breath Diana’s greater right to the Wonder Woman name and cossy.
Artemis would return from the dead in a later mini-series, but not as Wonder Woman, and hence has no further role to play in this account.
Diana resumed her role as Wonder Woman, until 1998. With issue 107, her series had been taken over by writer-artist John Byrne who, some eighteen months later, chose to play another game with the character, leading to the fifth Wonder Woman and the onset of total textual complexity.

Wonder Woman

To clear the way for another successor, Diana this time was to die. Like the first Wonder Woman (the first first Wonder Woman, that is) she was translated to Mount Olympus, to become one with the pantheon of Greek Gods, although the second first Wonder Woman would prove to be far less amenable to giving up her humanity for divinity than the first first Wonder Woman had (presumably) been and, after an appropriate length of time, returned to life and her given role.
In the meantime, the fifth Wonder Woman was Hyppolita: Diana’s mother assumed her role in Man’s World, in penance for the part she had to play in her daughter’s death. Hyppolita was the fifth Wonder Woman, but we must remember that she was also the third Wonder Woman, after Diana and Artemis.
Her costume was identical to that worn by Diana and Artemis, except that she wore a skirt of sorts, its length varying with the artist in question (one particularly juvenile minded artist not only drew it as a mini-skirt but planned his shots to give as many glimpses of Amazonian white panties as he could get away with).
Whether this change of apparel was intended to reflect Hyppolita’s greater dignity as an older (albeit still immortal) woman, or as a Queen, remained unspecified.
But Byrne had great ideas in mind. No sooner had Hyppolita appeared on TV for the first time as Wonder Woman than she sparked a memory of recognition in the mind of Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash. Almost fifty years earlier (in a short story published in 1997) Flash had been captured by an old foe: he had escaped thanks to the advice of a mysterious elderly stranger who resembled his father (and whose identity was obvious to anyone who had ever read more than three comics). Whilst this stranger had been spouting Get-out-of-Jail-free advice, Flash had glimpsed a woman in an overcoat and a strange costume in the background. Meanwhile, in 1998, Jay Garrick was convinced that he had now recognised the mysterious woman.
Hyppolita had no recollection of the incident, but was willing to accompany Jay back in time (courtesy of the invisible robot plane and Paradise Island’s somewhat nebulous situation in the time stream) to 1941 to check out the details.
Needless to say, and without any time-consuming speeches about how at-last-I-realise, the elder Garrick gave the requisite information to his younger self, wrapping up that short-lived mystery with the perfunctoriness it deserved.
But Jay persuaded Wonder Woman to let him visit the old JSA headquarters at the Smithsonian before returning to the present, not thinking that some of his old comrades – not to mention his younger self – might be about. This led to an adventure with Nazi’s that Jay only seemed to remember as it went along.
At the end, Jay returned to the future alone: Wonder Woman had decided (with no apparent explanation) to remain in the Forties, which she did for half an hour, present day time, returning to 1998 having stayed in the Forties until 1950. If you know what I mean.
The moment she returned, Jay remembered all those JSA adventures that had included Wonder Woman. What’s more, now everyone remembered the Forties Wonder Woman, they could all remember how Diana (the second first Wonder Woman) had been given the name of Wonder Woman because of the recollection of the first Wonder Woman (Hyppolita, the third Wonder Woman).
So, just to get this straight, the first Wonder Woman was now Hyppolita, who was actually the third Wonder Woman in current continuity, and the fifth one overall. She was active between 1941 and 1950, as an interlude from being active in 1998-9, in succession to Diana, the first Wonder Woman (the second first Wonder Woman, that is), but the third Wonder Woman overall, who was given the name Wonder Woman in tribute to Hyppolita, who was the second Wonder Woman to succeed her but had appeared forty plus years before her, both taking her name from and bequeathing it to her daughter. Meanwhile, the Earth 2 Diana was actually the first Wonder Woman (the first first Wonder Woman), but she never existed anyway, and the second Wonder Woman was originally the same as the first Wonder Woman, and she never existed anyway either, but not for the same reason. And, so as not to leave her out, the odd one out in all this is Artemis, who was the second, fourth and third Wonder Woman, according to which angle you look at her.
All of which is clear as mud to you, and daylight to the comic book fan, who may not be regarded as quite as big an idiot as you thought. And if you think that’s complicated, let me tell you about the pre-Crisis history of the Spectre.

And here’s one we hadn’t had by then

2 thoughts on “A Contextual History of Wonder Woman (2001)

  1. Good rundown. I’m surprised you could keep it straight. I started reading WW in the ’50s, prior to the Silver Age, and followed her (except for the Diana Rigg era, despite being a fan of Mrs. Peel) until giving up on superhero comics almost entirely (except for special series like Kingdom Come) in the ’80s. I adored the 2017 movie, though. I consider it and the 1978 Superman to be the epitome of DC adaptations. Both movies had problematic endings, but until those they shone.

    1. This was written nearly twenty years ago, and I’d have no chnce of extending it to the present day. It was all for fun, though the reference to comics fans understanding complex continuities with ease was meant to be serious. As it happens, I do intend to write about The Spectre, pre-Crisis, involving at least one old fandom article from the Eighties, and in another context as well. I hope you have fun with that too.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.