Saturday, November 3, 2007

Fictional Role Models, Part Two: WONDER WOMAN

Yesterday I wrote about Nancy Drew, so today I'm moving to the first of the comic book heroes, Wonder Woman. Created by William Moulton Marston in 1941, Wonder Woman was an instant hit. Marston, a psychiatrist who also invented the lie detector, felt there was a need for a female superhero. Little girls deserved to have someone they could look up to, just like little boys. To Marston, one of the major differences between his character and her male counterparts was "love" – he wanted to create a character who had as much compassion as strength. This is one reason her mythology includes the reformation of villains, not just battles that must be won. He was also heavily into bondage and submission, themes that outraged some parents and put the comic in the crosshairs during a 1950s witch-hunt, but the kinky weirdness just adds to the fun when you read the books. Kids probably took it in stride, since comics often had people tied up and needing rescue.

Diana was in love with Steve Trevor, but spent almost no time being rescued by him. She did most of the rescuing (Steve was often taken prisoner) and if she did need help, Etta Candy and the Holliday Girls were often her first choice (more about Etta in another installment).

Her adventures were imaginative and sometimes bizarre. She traveled to other planets, like Venus and Saturn and even went inside of an atom. But her message remained the same: use your gifts, your strength, your mind, and your abilities to help those who cannot help themselves. Wonder Woman felt that her gender was often mistreated in "Man's World" and spent many adventures helping women. She also had quite a few female villains to contend with, several of whom she reformed. Baroness Paula Von Gunther, once an arch enemy, became her best friend. The message of redemption must have echoed loudly among her female readership.

Filled with wild adventures and strong feminist messages. Wonder Woman inspired generations of women. Gloria Steinam acknowledges the profound affect the character had on her life. In fact, it was Steinam who campaigned to have the character returned to her superhero image after an experimental period where Diana lost her powers, took up karate, wore a lot of white jumpsuits, and cried dramatically every chance she got.

Many people think of the 70's TV Show with Lynda Carter when they think of Wonder Woman. Even though that incarnation had some differences from the comic, some of the messages still got through. Diana fought the bad guys, was devoted to her adopted country, and spun in a circle to change her clothes. Not sure what message that last thing sent, but it was a neat trick.

I've spoken primarily of the Golden Age Wonder Woman comics because they're so much fun. If you'd like to see a sample, I am posting "reviews" which consist primarily of retelling the plot with scans from the comic and a lot of cheeky commentary. The reviews are posted on my new blog, Comic Books Revisited. The first story is from Wonder Woman #25 (see the cover to the left), published in 1947. It has three separate stories and the third one is my favorite. It's probably one of the most bondage-filled WW stories ever. I think there are only 3 panels where no one is tied up. It's a corker. I update it daily, so don't miss the fun.

My apologies if this write-up about Wonder Woman was a little too serious and little too long. She's one of my favorite characters and it's hard to shut me up when I get a chance to talk about her.


Madonna said...

I left a comment but it disappeared in the ether. So, mainly what I said was that you taught me to love Wonder Woman. Marston created a fantastic character. Unfortunately, subsequent writers and artists did not always do her justice, and even created unbelievably sexist interpretations. However one of my favorites is Greg Rucha's Hiketia and of course your Origins issue which was fantastic.

VP81955 said...

Nice comments on one of the all-time great superhero icons, but just to clarify -- it was Gloria Steinem, not Steinman. In fact, the first issue of Ms., Steinem's magazine, showed a giant Wonder Woman striding up a street:

Joanna Sandsmark said...

Gak! I hate typos. Thank you so much for pointing that out because I missed it entirely in my edit.

I know the issue, a real collector's item, and I love that she honored the memory of her own fictional hero.

Thank you vp81955 and Madonna for your wonderful (no pun intended) comments.

-- Joanna

Joanna Sandsmark said...
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