Perhaps more than any of her contemporaries, the personality of the lead character of the Wonder Woman comic has changed drastically from decade to decade in various attempts to keep the story fresh and appease public critique of the storyline.
When Wonder Woman began in 1941, she was introduced as unapologetically assertive and independent Princess Diana of the Amazons. Her mother was Queen Hippolyte and the infamous lasso of truth was a gift bequeathed by the goddess Aphrodite. While the original Wonder Woman could not fly, she did have immense mental power, so strong that she boasted to Aquaman that the powers of her mind could easily defeat mere super strength alone. It was this “Amazonian concentration,” that was the initial explanation for the tremendous feats she performed during her early years.
Still, early Wonder Woman had to be careful to follow Hippolyte’s advice to “let no man chain … together or you will be forced to obey him – until you can get him or another man to break your chains.” The bracelets on Diana’s wrists were to “…teach you the folly of submitting to man’s domination.”
Following Steve Trevor’s crash onto Paradise Island, the Amazons’ home, Wonder Woman fell in love with the army officer and eagerly participated in a tournament to decide which Amazon would accompany Trevor back to the United States. After winning the tournament, Diana was granted the title of Wonder Woman from her people. Once in the United States, Diana posed as Diana Prince, secretary to Trevor’s boss and in her off-time joined the Justice Society of America.
The early Wonder Woman tales featured a lot of discussion about forcing the world into loving submission and panel upon panel of being bound. It was no surprise then, that Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocence claimed in 1954 that Wonder Woman was a lesbian dominatrix who would forever scar the minds of young children with her evil ways.
That set the stage for the first major overhaul in Wonder Woman’s comic. Wonder Woman dropped her outspoken feminist rhetoric, began pining and gushing over Trevor and other men during 50s and 60s. On a more positive note, her powers received an upgrade. With her origin now including gifts from the gods as a child, Wonder Woman was referred to as “beautiful as Aphrodite, wise as Athena, stronger than Hercules, and swifter than Mercury.” Wonder Woman also gained the ability to glide on air currents, which allowed her to appear to fly.
Her upgrades, alas, were short lived. In an effort to cash in on the Emma Peel and Mod Squad look of the late 1960s, Diana was stripped of her powers and her people as Paradise Island was sent off to another dimension. She was also stripped of her costume, wearing instead an Emma Peel style catsuit.
The “Diana Prince” era, also known as the “New Wonder Woman” era was a critical and commercial flop. Unsurprisingly, by 1973, Diana regained her powers and old costume.
In the 1980s, after years worth of continually declining sales, it was time for a reboot once again to the character of Wonder Woman. Following the universe altering Crisis on Infinite Earths, writer George Perez gave the character the richest background history she’d had since her initial origin story. Paradise Island was back, and it was back in a huge way, with a sprawling mythos of feminist yet compassionate women that harkened back to the Golden Age glory of Wonder Woman. In addition, Wonder Woman was far more powerful than she’d ever been and could fly on her own without the aide of air currents. One of the more controversial decisions in the new reboot was to age Steve Trevor considerably, so that he was no longer a love interest for Diana.
That characterization for Diana lasted until the Sacrifice arc. In that story, Diana killed Maxwell Lord to stop him from controlling Superman’s mind. The reason for Diana to break the superhero code against killing came from her warrior background, which supposedly made her more ruthless than her counterparts. This began a period of down-playing the compassionate side to the Amazons, a trend that reached its peak when the Amazons attacked Man’s World during the 2007 Amazons Attack special.
Throughout her long history, Wonder Woman has gained two Wonder Girls, numerous would-be love interests, and worked as both a diplomat and a fast food worker. The one constant in the Wonder Woman story seems to be an on-going struggle to define just who Wonder Woman is supposed to be.
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