It's the 70th anniversary of one of the three characters that, along with Superman and Batman, makes up the "trinity" of DC Comics. This powerful woman was created by William Moulton Marston, whose research helped lead to the creation of the lie detector.
In the DC Universe, the gods of Olympus exist and are other-dimensional beings that were worshiped for a time by the people of Earth. Long ago, the goddesses of Olympus decided to protect those women known as Amazons, leading them to Themyscira, a Paradise Island where they would be hidden from the outside world and man's aggression and where they wouldn't age. The centuries went on and the Amazons made a peaceful society, developing advanced technology and always practicing their warrior ways. After many centuries, Queen Hyppolyta was given a child. As the legend goes, she pleaded to the goddesses for a daughter and they gave her this wish, breathing life into a baby she formed from the mud and clay of the shore.
A recent story has revealed that this origin tale may not be entirely accurate, but the result was the same in any case. Diana of Themyscira was born to the Amazons, blessed with great power by Olympus. Thanks to her sisters on Paradise Island, Diana learned how to fight while also gaining an education in their philosophies of peace, tolerance and sisterhood. Soon after completing her second decade of life, Diana's world changed when a USAF pilot named Steve Trevor crashed onto Paradise Island. The Amazons decided it was time to return to Patriarch's World and a contest was held to select a warrior to act as ambassador. Diana won and since then she has been a protector of the Earth, known to the general public as Wonder Woman. A founding member of the Justice League, she has fought with Earth's greatest heroes against a variety of menaces and whether she's in a group or on her own, she's not someone to mess with.
Got it? Good. Now let's check out her styles.
THE GOLDEN AGE WARRIORIt was 1941 when Diana was first introduced to the world of comics in All-Star Comics #8. The original costume was meant to emulate the American flag, since Diana was told that she would have to fight for American ideals against the Nazi menace. Like Captain America and other patriotic characters of the time, it directly incorporates elements of the US flag and is decorated with a proud eagle. Wonder Woman’s creator William Moulton Marston also deliberately had her adorned in strong primary colors since kids seem to react positively to this in superhero designs.
By fitting the tiara completely around the hair, it more resembles a crown, giving a sense that Diana is literally a princess. The bracelets were said to be strong enough to deflect bullets, but here they seem a bit too small to be effective. In the story, it was said that Wonder Woman’s people wore bracelets as a reminder that they had once been subjugated by men (a reference to the myth of Herakles conquering the Amazons). What’s more, it was later revealed that if Wonder Woman (or any Amazon) removed her bracelets, she would lose control of herself and fly into a berserker rage.
So the bracelets are in keeping with Marston’s idea on the beneficial nature of certain forms of submission, an interesting contrast to his intention that Wonder Woman also be a character who proved herself superior to any man she came across. Martson often spoke quite seriously of his belief that women were more honest and more in harmony with nature. In a 1930s interview, he said that he believed we'd have a matriarchal society in 100 years (at least, if we knew what was good for us). The bracelets were also apparently a nod to Martson's colleague and mistress, who (along with the children she had with him) lived with Martson and his wife and their kids.When Wonder Woman was introduced, she seemed to be wearing culottes or a full-blown skirt. It basically depended which panel you were looking at. Even with a full skirt, it's short enough that it doesn't seem to interfere with her movements and it lets the artist give a nice sense of motion when Diana is heading into action, similar to Superman's cape enhancing the image of his flight.
Eventually, Diana just got herself some tight star-spangled shorts. The form fitting nature certainly makes Diana more identifiable as a superhero rather than someone attending a patriotically-themed pageant and some could argue that this is also more practical for battle. Today, I don't think that kind of practicality matters TOO much since Diana is depicted as a super-powered person who is capable of bruising Superman with her fist and thus, I think she's powerful enough to wear whatever she wants. But in the 1940s, Diana was depicted as a several times faster and stronger than a normal person BUT was not someone with over super-powers like Superman or Captain Marvel. So during the Golden Age of comics (roughly 1938-1951), yes, Diana could have benefited from some more practical protection.And speaking of practicality, that brings up the matter of footwear. Starting in 1950, Diana traded in her boots for sandals. These certainly remind us of the warriors of Greek myth after which she’s modeled, but they don’t seem like serious footwear for a warrior who occasionally has to help defend the world. You'll also notice that the shorts are getting a bit shorter. These moves in making Diana more feminine in her design came at a time when comics were under attack for putting bad ideas in kids' heads. Women were supposed to see more womanly (or whatever that meant for many people at the time) and comics needed to be less violent.
So while Batman was now hanging out with Batwoman in order to quash rumors of homosexuality, Wonder Woman was wearing more feminine shorts and sandals while her stories also now focused less on teaching women about their own power and more about how often she had to escape romantic entanglements from people like Amoeba-Man, Bird-Man and Mer-Man. She even left her civilian job at the military and was put in charge of a romantic advice column. Yeah, I know.Along with these new stories, there were also now stories of Diana’s childhood, depicting her as an Amazon teenager. For years, there had been successful stories depicting Clark Kent in his younger years and operating as "Superboy," long before he was old enough to be Superman. So we got stories of young Diana operating on Paradise Island as “Wonder Girl,” getting into weird adventures and occasionally, much to everyone’s lack-of-surprise, having to avoid the romantic advances of people like Mer-Boy and Bird-Boy. In these stories, she wore an alternative version of her outfit that was basically a skirt and a shirt with a slightly Romanesque design on it. Later on, the persona of Wonder Girl was turned into a completely separate character, a young sidekick to Diana, and eventually she was given her own back-story and the name of Donna Troy.
MARTIAL ARTIST DIANA PRINCEAs the Silver Age of comics began in the late 1950s, Wonder Woman rejoined the military in her cover identity of "Diana Prince" and also got a bit of a power increase. She was now much stronger and could also glide on air currents (which isn't quite as good as flight, but it's something). In 1965, Wonder Woman got her boots back at last but otherwise looked the same.
But big changes were coming for Diana just a few years later. Denny O’Neil became the new writer of the book not too long afterward and he had some ideas of how to make Diana relevant and a fan-favorite again. Starting in 1969, O’Neil was the writer who had changed Green Arrow from a happy-go-lucky rich playboy into a man who lost his fortune and became a cantankerous, highly opinionated left-wing activist. In the 1970s, O’Neil would become very well known for making Green Lantern a much more grounded character, having him question his life as he went on a road trip to “discover America” with Green Arrow. And around the same time, it was O’Neil, along with artist partner Neal Adams, who brought Batman back to being a much darker character and who also returned the Joker to his roots as a psychotic killer.But all those successes were in the future. Before all that, O’Neil attempted a similar thing with Wonder Woman in 1968, introducing a whole new take on things. First, Paradise Island was forced to leave Earth’s dimension and Diana, who chose not to go with them, had to say goodbye to her mother, her sisters and even her super-powers. Immediately afterward, her love Steve Trevor was seemingly killed. Traumatized by the loss, Diana was then found by a mysterious, blind martial arts master named I-Ching who taught our hero new ways to fight. Already a skilled and experienced warrior, Diana was able to master these martial arts in a matter of weeks and began a new life as an world-traveling adventurer.
Suddenly, the colorful superhero had been replaced by an Emma Peel style character (but who strangely seemed less emotionally tough). Diana was no longer fighting demonic forces and mad gods in-between journeying to other planets with the Justice League. She wasn't even really using the name "Wonder Woman." Now she was just Diana Prince, private investigator and fashion boutique owner, who would team up with non-powered folks such as Johnny Double and Tim Trench as she hunted down spies and strange criminals. She wore several modern outfits and jumpsuits before making it a point to always wear white.Though O'Neil had intended to make Diana easier to relate to and believed that showing her operate without superhuman abilities actually made her stronger, many women saw this as an attack and a deliberate theft of power. Gloria Steinem herself called out DC Comics for changing Wonder Woman in the first issue of Ms. Magazine. Years later, O’Neil admitted he had made a mistake and that he understood why folks had reacted the way that they did.
Interestingly enough, recent writers have attempted a very similar tactic of de-powering Wonder Woman and putting her in stylized street clothes. The results and the fan reactions have been mixed. We'll get more into that later.
BACK TO THE CLASSICA while later, Diana’s powers were restored and she resumed her Wonder Woman identity, also rejoining the Justice League of America after she felt she had proven herself still worthy of membership. The eagle became more stylized now and seemed like an armored breastplate at times. Artists also began extending the belt so that it made contact with the symbol. And her hair now went over the tiara, making her a bit more fashionable with the times.
At this time, Wonder Woman’s shorts now began to truly resemble the bottom of a swimsuit. Also, her belt finally became golden in color and it gave the costume a better uniformity. The white belt had always broken up the flow of the outfit, I think, but this gave it a nice balance. Artists also began drawing the bracelets a bit bigger, making them look more like they had a purpose beyond decoration. For many folks, this is the “classic Pre-Crisis look.” What's the Crisis? Just wait a second and we'll get to it.In 1982, Diana got herself a new symbol. The eagle was shortened down to such a degree that it now looked like a stylized “WW.” This became Wonder Woman’s official, trademarked seal and has stuck around in some form or another in nearly every incarnation of her outfit since.
Then 1985 came along and DC Comics decided to celebrate its 50th anniversary with a crossover Crisis on Infinite Earths. The story ended with time and space being rebooted, giving DC the opportunity to streamline and revise many of its characters' histories. Wonder Woman was definitely a target of this. In 1987, a new ongoing Wonder Woman series started, giving the character stronger power and a revised origin.
And this is where we're going to end things for now. In Part 2 of the 70th anniversary special, we'll delve into the Post-Crisis Wonder Woman through the 1990s and all the way to today. Hope you've been enjoying this look back. For now, this is Alan Kistler, Agent of S.T.Y.L.E., signing off!
Alan Sizzler Kistler is an actor and freelance writer living in New York City. His work can be found on various websites and he has been recognized by publishers and news media outlets as a comic book historian and Doctor Who historian. He is a contributor to the book Star Trek and History, coming soon. He knows entirely too much about superheroes, time travel stories, Muppets, and vampires that don't sparkle. His website is AlanKistler.com and his twitterfeed is @SizzlerKistler
- Agent of S.T.Y.L.E.:Wonder Girl
- Agent of S.T.Y.L.E.: Superboy
- Agent of S.T.Y.L.E.: The Many Costume Changes of Superman