76 years after she appeared in a backup story in National Comics’ All-Star Comics #8, Wonder Woman is finally getting her first solo movie. She was originally created by psychologist and polygraph test inventor William Moulton Marston, who was inspired by both his wife, Elizabeth Marston, and his partner, Olive Byrne, to create a powerful female superhero. Wonder Woman has traditionally been considered to be one of DC Comics’ Trinity, along with Superman and Batman, but her journey to the silver screen has been fraught with many false starts. However, this demigoddess, Justice League founding member, and feminist icon is finally getting her due on June 2, 2017 because of director Patty Jenkins and actor Gal Gadot, who reprises the role she first played in Batman v Superman. It has garnered a very positive critical and fan response, and is set to have a $100.5 million opening weekend, which is the highest opening for a female director.
Wonder Woman’s golden lasso, crown, bracelets, and status as the female superhero are well-known to most modern consumers of pop culture, but there have been many incarnations of Diana. Her origin story isn’t as stable as “darkness, no parents” (Batman) or “strange visitor from another planet” (Superman), and her parentage fluctuates from being made out of clay to being the daughter of Zeus, like in the 2011-2015 Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang comics and the current 2017 film. However, Wonder Woman’s blend of peacefulness, warrior spirit, and commitment to sisterhood and solidarity among women, along with her unique connection to Greek mythology, has made her a lasting pop culture icon in comics, TV, and now film.
Here are ten moments in Wonder Woman’s history that shaped her as a character or introduced her to a wider audience.
10. Wonder Woman’s Origin is Revealed and She Gets the Invisible Jet (1942)
Wonder Woman’s first appearance is technically in All-Star Comics #8, where she played second fiddle to a lead story featuring the Justice Society of America, who she would later join as the secretary (because of sexism). Her first cover appearance was in Sensation Comics #1 (1942), where she is rocking her red, white, and blue costume while blocking bullets with her bracelets as depicted by H.G. Peter. The story continues Wonder Woman’s rescue of Steve Trevor in All-Star #8, and she also takes on her main secret identity, Diana Prince.
Writer William Moulton Marston lays out a thesis statement for Wonder Woman in the first paragraph. Her mission is to “save the world from the hatreds and wars of men in a man-made world.” Basically, Wonder Woman is here to punch fascists, punch corrupt men who exploit women, and fight against the patriarchy with her super strength, lightning reflexes, and super speed. Because this comic came out around World War II, she fights for the United States of America, coming to love her new land and even doing some shopping during the lull in the action. I love these kinds of moments in Wonder Woman stories, because even though she is a skilled warrior and diplomat, she is still a little awkward around modern society. This, plus her sassy one-liners to criminals and police, really make Wonder Woman an endearing character from the get-go.
However, the most touching moment in Sensation Comics #1 is when Wonder Woman takes the identity of Diana Prince from an army nurse of the same name who is struggling to save money to be with her husband in South America. Wonder Woman gives the woman some money she has earned as a bullet blocking sideshow act, and takes her name and ID badge so she can be close to Steve Trevor, as well as experience the world as a normal human. This moment is also the first of many times that she uses something other than her fists to solve a problem.
Also, it’s pretty freaking awesome that in a day and age when the role of women in society was minimized, Steve Trevor gives the Wonder Woman credit for taking out a terrorist poison gas bomber, who is this issue’s main villain.
9. Wonder Woman Loses Her Powers and Gets a “Groovy” Makeover (1968)
After Marston stopped writing Wonder Woman due to passing away in 1947, the book lost its unique identity – such as having a queer subtext and a connection to bondage subcultures – and became yet another DC Silver Age superhero comic. It lacked the sheer energy of the Carmine Infantino-drawn The Flash or the goofy insanity of the Mort Weisinger-edited Superman family comics, so to make Wonder Woman fresh, writer Denny O’Neil and artists Mike Sekowsky and Dick Giordano decided to basically make her Emma Peel.
The plot of Wonder Woman #178 is a little threadbare, but Sekowsy crafts a classic moment when Diana throws off her dowdy business clothes and transforms into a hippie princess in a gorgeous splash page. She was entrapped by a skeezy lawyer to testify against Steve Trevor in a murder case, so she has to find his real killer as Diana Prince. Between bursts of trippy colors, fights against Neo-Nazi biker gangs, and a duel to the death with Steve Trevor’s not-so-best friend, Wonder Woman ponders whether it’s time to lose the secret identity.
Wonder Woman #179 is where the real status quo shift begins, as Wonder Woman decides to not go to another dimension with the Amazons, and consequently loses her superpowers, costume, and status as ambassador to Man’s World. She loses her abilities so that she can stay with Steve Trevor after he was almost sent to the electric chair for murder, but picks up some martial arts skills from I-Ching. Most of her adventures during this time were espionage thrillers in the vein of TV’s Avengers or the James Bond films, and she faced a new villain, Dr. Cyber.
With his gift for fashion and hairstyles – while still blocking out a decent action scene – Mike Sekowsky’s art on Wonder Woman in the 1960s and 70s is definitely memorable, and it was nice to see someone at dowdy old DC Comics embrace the counterculture of the time. However, rejecting her life mission and superhero identity for a man rings hollow in Wonder Woman’s characterization as a feminist superhero, even though Diana and Steve loved each other very much at the time.
8. Wonder Woman Gets Her Powers Back Thanks to Gloria Steinem (1972-3)
Along with being a feminist pioneer, Gloria Steinem is a huge Wonder Woman fan. She grew up reading the comics as a child, and even confessed in a 2013 PBS interview to buying bracelets in pairs because Wonder Woman blocked bullets with two bracelets. In 1972, Steinem got permission from Warner Communications to make Wonder Woman the first cover subject of Ms magazine, which was one of the first magazines for women that was owned and edited by women. The cover had the powerful headline “Wonder Woman for President,” and honestly she would make a fantastic one. It also cemented her status as an icon for second-wave feminists and beyond, and exposed her to a larger audience – not just comic book readers.
Steinem and Ms. magazine also had an impact on the way Wonder Woman was written and portrayed in her comic. Since her de-powering, most of her storylines centered around her pining for her boyfriend Steve Trevor and learning martial arts from a blind Asian man named I-Ching. These stories haven’t aged well, and according to Lillian S. Robinson’s book Wonder Women: Feminisms and Superheroes, pressure from Steinem and Ms. led to her getting her powers and original costume back in 1973’s Wonder Woman #204, which also introduced the black Amazon, Nubia, and killed off I-Ching in a classic story from Robert Kanigher and Iron Man co-creator Don Heck. It was rumored that Steinem directly called Kanigher about changing the story so that Diana Prince could have her powers and status as Wonder Woman back, and while sure, it has some cheesy elements like Wonder Woman getting amnesia, the character was herself again.
Wonder Woman appeared on the cover of Ms to celebrate its 40th anniversary in 2012, and Gloria Steinem continues to speak, write, and have opinions about her. In 2010, she criticized a new storyline where Wonder Woman grew up away from the Amazons, saying that it basically turned her into a female version of Superman instead of being nurtured by the sisterhood of the Amazons. Also, Steinem wasn’t a big fan of her wearing pants, which only lasted for a year in the comics.
7. Wonder Woman Becomes a Small Screen Superstar (1976-1979)
For many people, Wonder Woman will always be synonymous with the fabulous Lynda Carter and the ABC/CBS show featuring her, which ran for three seasons from 1976 to 1979. Season 1 was set in the 1940s – like the original Wonder Woman comics – while seasons 2 and 3, which aired on CBS, skipped in time to the present day to save money. In an awkward twist, her love interest switched from Steve Trevor to his son Steve Trevor Jr., with both being played by Lyle Waggoner (Diana and Steve Trevor Jr. had no romantic tension, however). As well as being catchy as hell, the disco-tinged theme song is a fantastic thesis statement for the character of Wonder Woman, especially the lines”Stop a war with love. Make a hawk a dove.” In her classic appearances Wonder Woman didn’t wield a sword, just her golden lasso of truth, and she sought to persuade her enemies of a better way before punching and kicking them, but as the first season of Wonder Woman showed, she has no tolerance for Nazis.
After Season 1, which featured Wonder Woman fighting Nazis and had characters from the comic like Etta Candy as main cast members, Diana’s bad guys were mostly rival spy groups, as unlike the 1966 Batman show, there weren’t many villains to pull from the comics (with Cheetah, her arch-nemesis, being one of the few). She also got her abilities from a magic belt instead of getting gifts from various Greek gods or from special training with the Amazons on Themiscyra. With a ratings drop in Season 3, the writers introduced all kinds of gimmicks, like skateboard and roller coaster-themed episodes, moving the setting of the show from Washington D.C. to L.A., and worst of all, the introduction of a super-powered chimpanzee named Brett. Carter brings a true presence to the role of Diana Prince and Wonder Woman, but most of the plots of Wonder Woman are forgettable. However, Diana’s spinning transformation into Wonder Woman has stood the test of time, popping up in the comics and cartoons, like Superfriends and Justice League.
Lynda Carter’s portrayal of Wonder Woman is so enduring that there is currently a digital-first DC Comic called Wonder Woman ’77 set in the continuity of the show that recently crossed over with the 1960s TV version of Batman and The Bionic Woman. She even “reprised” the role in an adorable ad for the Wonder Woman film, appearing with Melissa Benoist, who plays the titular superhero in the CW’s Supergirl.
6. George Perez Redefines Wonder Woman for a New Generation of Readers (1987)
In the 1986 Crisis on Infinite Earths miniseries by Marv Wolfman and George Perez, DC Comics streamlined over 40 years of story, went from having multiple Earths to just one, and killed off Supergirl and Barry Allen’s The Flash, along with some more obscure heroes and villains. Following Crisis, John Byrne revamped Superman’s origins in Man of Steel, and Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli created a modern Batman in the legendary “Batman Year One.” Wonder Woman also got her first “#1” issue since 1942, and got brought into the present day thanks to writer/artist George Perez and his co-writers Greg Potter (Creepy, Eerie) and Len Wein (Co-creator of Wolverine and Swamp Thing) in the six-issue story arc “Gods and Mortals.” Perez was a writer on Wonder Woman for 62 straight issues until 1992, and is responsible for making her a complex superhero and warrior with a strong connection to both Greek mythology and the Justice League.
“Gods and Mortals” provides a more in-depth understanding of the Amazons and Wonder Woman’s origins, readings more like Cold-War-thriller-meets-Greek-mythology than a superhero comic. Diana herself doesn’t appear until 25 pages into the first issue, which focuses on the Amazons and their role as a peaceful buffer between the Greek gods and “Man’s world.” Unfortunately, the Amazons’ peaceful way of life was ended by Heracles and his soldiers, who raped and killed them before being driven out by Diana’s mother, Hippolyta. After winning a contest of strength against her mother’s wishes, Wonder Woman’s purpose is to defeat Ares, who is a divine manipulative force behind all wars and hatred, even though she only speaks ancient Greek and has no understanding of the modern world.
Wonder Woman: Gods and Mortals is a rich reading experience, and lays the foundation for all modern portrayals of Diana. The 2017 film owes a great debt to it plot-wise, even though it is set in the 1910s and not the late-1980s. George Perez’s art is intricate and powerful, and he, Greg Potter, and Len Wein craft an entertaining quest storyline that also critiques the nature of war and the use of force to bring peace. The supporting characters, Steve Trevor and Etta Candy, get some nice fleshing-out as members of the U.S. military, who struggle with the gung-ho, hawkish policies of the Cold War. Diana also gets a mentor in Julia Kapatelis, who understands Greek and is a professor at Harvard (William Moulton Marston’s alma mater.)
Best of all, Perez, Potter, and Wein write Wonder Woman with doubts and flaws, as the god Hermes leaves her to fight Ares and his sons, Phobos and Deimos, by herself. Diana often wonders if she can defeat a god when she can barely keep her friends safe. In the end, with bombastic yellows and reds from colorist Tatjana Wood, it is truth that bests hates, and Perez and company integrate things like the Lasso of Truth and her princess’ tiara into Wonder Woman’s character instead of making them mere props and plot devices.