In the mythology of DC Comics, there exists the concept of the Trinity – Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. They represent the thematic underpinnings of the whole enterprise – The Stranger From Elsewhere, The Night’s Avenger and The Queen of Power. Three major arcana, unique in that they have been consistently published since the early 40s and yet, are still relevant today.
Superman was created by two kids from Cleveland named Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster. Batman was created by Bill Finger but a kid named Bob Kane stole all the credit. Wonder Woman was created by the guy who invented the Lie Detector.
Much has been written about William Moulton Marston and his unorthodox home life (he lived in a triparate “marriage” with two women and was big into BDSM, apparently) and Wonder Woman gets tied up a lot – like, A LOT – in the early comics but make no mistake. Wonder Woman is essentially important to the DC Universe and comics in general, even beyond the whole “yin to the yang” thing.
Wonder Woman, first of all, is the premiere female super-hero, probably the only female super-hero that anybody knows. She had a tv show, she’s a merchandising dream, she’s been on lunch boxes and beach towels and bubble-gum cards. In the same way that Superman is the first super-hero (and strangely, in the same way that Batman is not a super-hero AT ALL – but that’s another story, I’ve said too much), Wonder Woman is utterly unique in that she’s top-of-mind, when asked to name a female super-hero. Name another one. Go on. I dare ya.
Superman’s had his ups and downs, over the years (the 90s were particularly cruel to him – he died, came back to life, had a mullet, turned blue, got better, ditched the mullet). Batman, likewise, had a rough patch (his back got broken, he got better, Gotham had a plague and then an earthquake, many more shenanigans, he died and came back to life blahblahblah, he found his long-lost son, who later died and then came back to life blahblah) and Wonder Woman? Man, they’ve never known what to do with Wonder Woman.
A quick info-dump – we all know Jerry and Joe got screwed by DC on Superman. Bob Kane screwed both DC AND Bill Finger (AND JERRY ROBINSON!) on Batman. Marston screwed DC on Wonder Woman.
Somewhere, buried in the original contract, that DC has been renewing since 1942, is a stipulation that if DC ceases publication of Wonder Woman, the rights revert to the Marston family. And they can’t have that, oh no. We’re not leaving that money on the table.
That’s right – the greatest female super-hero ever created is a loss-leader for the publisher. They make more off Wonder Woman branded beach towels and lunch boxes and Under-Oos than they ever did off Wonder Woman comic books. Wonder Woman comic books don’t sell, they never have, they never will. They don’t have to sell, they just have to exist.
Name one Superman villain. Lex Luthor, right? Name a Batman villain. The Joker. (And yes, the guy at the back yelling “KING TUT!” can shut up now.) Name a Wonder Woman villain.
Here’s five – Dr. Psycho (a twisted misogynistic dwarf), the Cheetah (which version?), Angle Man (a jumped-up hood with a magic triangle that “figured out all the angles”) Ares (the Greek God of War), Egg Fu (a giant, sentient Chinese man, whose head looked like an egg) and Silver Swan (she had sonic powers, I think and was largely forgettable). Oh and Paula Von Gunther, a Nazi who Wonder Woman rehabilitated. (She lived a happy life in exile on Paradise Island and created the Purple Ray, which instantly healed people. Not bad for a reformed Nazi.)
None of these (except maybe the Greek God or the reformed Nazi. Or the dwarf) are particularly interesting antagonists. They’re certainly not the calibre of a murder-clown or a mad scientist. Wonder Woman never got the attention that she should have. While Batman was battling an arsonist with a colourful gimmick (Firebug, Firefly, several others), Wonder Woman was wondering if Steve Trevor (the male Lois Lane) would ever ask her to marry him.
It didn’t help that Bob Kanigher was writing her (and THAT’S a story for another time, as it’s very “inside baseball” – suffice to say, Bashful Bob Kanigher lived like Don Draper for as long as he could) and that’s ONE of Wonder Woman’s problems. When they finally wrested control of her from him, they immediately took away her super-powers and tried to make her into Emma Peel. (Google it.) THAT didn’t work so she eventually got her powers back and then went through 12 labours to be accepted back into the Justice League. (It took Gloria Steinem complaining on the cover of the first issue of Ms. Magazine for Wonder Woman to get her powers back.)
In the 70s, there was the television show (and the TERRIBLE pilot starring Cathy Lee Crosby!) and Lynda Carter nailed it – NAILED IT – as Wonder Woman. She cemented, in the minds of the mass audience, what Wonder Woman is. AND THAT IS THIS – a compassionate heroine, who speaks and acts for the down-trodden, the forgotten, the hopeless. Superman saved the world from alien invasions or mad scientists. Batman stops a murder-clown from poisoning the water-supply. Wonder Woman reunites children with their parents or rehabilitates a Nazi.
You all know Superman’s origin – Last Son of Krypton and all that. Batman’s parents ARE DEAD (Spoiler Alert) and you all know that. Five bucks says you have no idea what Wonder Woman’s origin is.
Well, it goes like this :
The Gods blessed Hyppolita, Queen of Paradise Island, with a dream – go down to the shore and form a child from the clay. Name the child Diana and she shall be a light unto you. So she did and yes, she was. And she grew to woman-hood, magical child that she was and truly, a light unto them and she learned from her sisters, every secret under the sun. And then, the war came and Steve Trevor ditched his plane in the … Aegean? I guess? And rather than let him die, Diana saved him. And was eventually chosen to accompany him back to Man’s World. Because they didn’t want him on Paradise Island. Once in Man’s World, she felt she could do some good and teach men (and women!) how best to behave. Armed with a Lasso of Truth and her Amazonian bracelets and her natural skill and resiliency (and YES, an invisible plane), she became the ultimate crusader for Justice.
Unlike Superman or Batman, Diana’s home is extant, it exists. She CAN go home again (and often does, to rest and recharge). Krypton is gone and mere fragments of it are poisonous to Kal El. Batman’s parents are, I remind you, DEAD. Diana calls her mom all the time.
You know how DC is always trying to make Aquaman look cool? Even though he’s totally NOT? Yeah, well. They have greater contempt for Wonder Woman. Nobody looks cool with an Aquaman lunch-box (or even a beach towel, which is kinda ironic) but half the population can identify with Wonder Woman. And DC doesn’t care.
Take away her powers, give them back, take them away again. Make her into a crazy psycho bitch, maybe that’ll work? What if she killed somebody, a meaningless character, like Maxwell Lord? Hey, what if Zeus raped her mother? Greek Gods were hella into rape. What if we make her a bad-ass, like Batman but with the power of Superman? That CAN’T fail, can it? CAN IT?!
Diane Nelson, the publisher of DC Comics Entertainment (an oxymoron, to be sure) is quoted as saying “Wonder Woman is a difficult character to get right.”
No, she isn’t.
Wonder Woman, at her essence, is all about compassion. She cares about people and would rather avoid violence, if possible. (Batman actually enjoys violence, it’s not only his job, it’s also his hobby. Wonder Woman only uses violence if she absolutely has to.) Compassion is so rare and that’s why it’s so valuable. She saves the world, one tiny life at a time. And thus, teaches us all that WE CAN BE HEROES, just for one day.
Boys AND Girls.
Thematically, that beats the hell outta Green Lantern, that’s for sure. He’s just a space cop with a magic ring.