Wonder Woman is a comic book superheroine currently owned and published under several titles by DC Comics. Created by a psychologist in 1941 as a result of a need to address the lack of a female character within a pantheon of male heroes, Wonder Woman is one of the longest-running and most popular titular characters in comic history, the subject of animated and live-action television shows, graphic novels, and an up-coming major motion picture.
Based on the Amazons of Greek mythology, Wonder Woman is a princess from the island of Themyscira (also identified in some media as Paradise Island), the daughter of Queen Hippolyta.
In 1938 the most famous of the comic characters - Superman - debuted, marking the beginning of the Golden Age of comics. This was followed up a year later by another massive success, Batman. Rivals Fawcett Publications and Timely Comics would follow with their own successes, Captain Marvel and Captain America, respectively. Created with the superheroes were titles devoted to graphic horror, sex, true crime, and so on, and the biggest group of readers were kids, particularly young boys. Naturally, critics would enter into the fray, with newspapers less than two years following Superman's creation calling them a "national disgrace." "Ten million copies of these sex-horror serials are sold every month,” wrote an editor at the Chicago Daily News, who called for a ban on them all.
Maxwell Charles Gaines was the co-publisher of All-American Publications, a small company with a number of successful titles, in part due to the financial backing of Henry Donenfeld, CEO of National Allied Publications and Detective Comics; all three would eventually combine into DC Comics. To counter the critics in 1940, Gaines brought in a psychologist of some repute to act as a consultant, Dr. William Moulton Marston, the inventor of the polygraph. That summer a staff writer for Family Circle Magazine, Olive Richard, visited Marston at his home and asked him his expert opinion about comic book controversy, specifically the torture, sadism and other cruelties sometimes found in the books. "Unfortunately, that is true," Marston stated, "but when a lovely heroine is bound to the stake, comics followers are sure that the rescue will arrive in the nick of time. The reader’s wish is to save the girl, not to see her suffer.”
Marston then suggested to Gaines that a female character be created, because he wanted to make sure there was a female alternative to male superheroes, who he didn't think served as the proper role models for girl readers.
- "Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. Not wanting to be girls, they don't want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women's strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman."
Wonder Woman debuted in All Star Comics #8 for December, 1941; her cover debut would take place in the January, 1942 issue of Sensation Comics #1. The new character possessed great strength, speed and agility, and endurance, though unlike Superman she is not bulletproof, but to deflect them she wears a pair of magic bracelets. Finishing off her ensemble was a legacy of Marston's polygraph, an indestructible golden lasso able to force anyone bound in it to tell her the truth.
Marston also had another, darker legacy which crept into the comic stories during his time authoring them. Marston was a feminist; he believed in empowering women to be equal to men, and much of his work on Wonder Woman showed off the character's athletic prowess and intelligence. In his own avant-garde life he had a wife (lawyer Elizabeth Holloway) and a mistress (Olive Byrne) who lived in the same house, and he fathered children with both women. Byrne - the real name of the Family Circle writer Olive Richard - was also the niece of Margaret Sanger, the individual who gave America eugenics, abortion on demand, and Planned Parenthood. Despite believing in the superiority of women over men, Marston disturbingly added a subtle sadomasochistic bent: the Wonder Woman stories frequently had the heroine in chains, bound, gagged, or subdued; part of the reason for her bracelets was that if a man could bind them, she could be "tamed." In a letter to publisher Gaines dated February 1943, a member of his advisory board and an expert on children’s literature spoke out about the "sadistic bits showing women chained, tortured, etc." which seemed to be in every issue. And nearly every issue they would remain until Marston's death in 1947; the characterization of Wonder Woman as related to it would be eliminated altogether by 1954, the result of Congressional hearings into the corruption of children from comic books.
Unlike other superheroes like Superman, Batman, or Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman never made it to either television or film until the late-1960s, despite having a long-running dedicated title within the comics industry. William Dozier - creator of the hit Batman series - attempted to be the first producer to put the character on television, but his screen test never made it past the network approval stage for a pilot program. Extremely campy, this version starred Ellie Wood Walker as Wonder Woman's alter-ego Diana Prince, and Linda Harrison as the heroine; Dozier's interpretation of Wonder Woman made the character into a slightly dim-witted narcissist.
Wonder Woman's first appearance in animation was done in 1972 as a single episode of Filmation's The Brady Kids, a Saturday morning spin-off of the ABC comedy The Brady Bunch. In the episode titled "It's All Greek To Me" the kids are transported to ancient Greece courtesy of a mathematician who happens to be Wonder Woman. A year later she would join Superman, Batman, and Aquaman in Hanna-Barbera's Super Friends. Sporting a moral message at the end of every episode, Super Friends would be broadcast in various incarnations through the mid-1980s, with voice actress Shannon Farnon as Wonder Woman.
In 1974 a made-for-television film was broadcast on ABC and set Wonder Woman in contemporary times against a powerful agent (played by Ricardo Montalban) running a worldwide espionage ring. Starring Cathy Lee Crosby in the title role, this first live action version of Wonder Woman bore little resemblance to the comic character; Crosby was blonde, had no powers except her intellect, and wore an athletic-appearing jump suit.
Lynda Carter series
Despite the dismal ratings of the Crosby version, ABC decided to take a chance on a second take, in which this time the character would stay true to the comic's interpretation. Titled The New Original Wonder Woman, this two-hour TV movie aired in November 1975, and led to two more films (titled simply Wonder Woman) broadcast the following spring. A ratings success, the three TV movies led to an 11-episode run during 1976-1977. Despite the success, ABC was uneasy about funding the program, as it was originally a period piece set during World War II, which required the necessary set designs, props, and vehicles for that time period which contributed to the cost. After ABC declined to renew Wonder Woman, CBS would pick up the series and change the setting to a modern time for two more seasons (under the name The New Adventures of Wonder Woman) before the series was cancelled in 1979.
For all three seasons the character was played by Lynda Carter, a former member of the Bob Hope USO tours, winner of the Miss World USA beauty pageant in 1972, and an actress who had relatively few parts up until then. Ironically, she was also an avid reader of the Wonder Woman comic book series when she was young, and when she was cast in the role she became fully identified in popular culture with that part. Unfortunately, her contract was such that she did not make any money at all if her image was used in marketing Wonder Woman merchandise; occasionally a company comes out with a bust or figure of Wonder Woman in Carter's likeness, such was her impact on the character.
2011 reboot attempt
As early as October 2010 the idea was pitched for a reboot of the series, with both director David E. Kelly and Warner Bros. contacting the major networks; only NBC ordered a pilot episode. Adrianne Palicki was selected to play Wonder Woman, but in a costume that drew complaints about the "rubbery look"; it was quickly replaced before filming began, and even then the costume de-emphasized the patriotic American look that the original character (and Lynda Carter's series) had. Despite this, Carter said she liked the look. "Adrianne looks gorgeous'" she said, "and I'm really looking forward to seeing David E. Kelley's new series."
No one would see the series, however. The pilot that was filmed revealed a character who was no longer an Amazon from Themyscira; instead she was renamed "Diana Themyscira", a vigilante crime fighter who runs a corporation, and with the aspects of Greek Amazon mythology central to the core of the character entirely gone. After viewing the pilot, NBC cancelled the series order; the project was shelved in May 2011.
DC Super Hero Girls
A teenage version of Wonder Woman appears as one of the main characters in the online DC Comics animated action/adventure superhero comedy DC Super Hero Girls, voiced by Grey DeLisle. This version of Wonder Woman is a student at Super Hero High School, where she learns to harness her powers for her future career as a superhero.
DC Extended Universe
In June, 2013, following the success of Man Of Steel, it was announced that Warner Bros. had given the green light to produce a sequel to the film to be released a year later. At the San Diego ComicCon the following month it was announced that instead of a sequel, it would be a stand-alone film meant to kick-start the Justice League story line and begin a series of films collectively titled the DC Extended Universe. Released in 2016, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice marked the first big-screen appearance of Wonder Woman, although her time on-screen was small as compared to the two titular heroes. Gal Gadot, an Israeli actress whose credits include the popular Fast and Furious franchise, was cast to play the Amazonian princess in this film, and although the film as a whole received luke-warm criticism, Gadot's performance was positively received, with the one newspaper claiming "she stole limelight" away from Batman and Superman
Wonder Woman (2017)
Wonder Woman was released on June 2, 2017, and by the end of that month the film had grossed over $720 million world-wide. In this story Diana learns of a war raging outside of her island world via a pilot who crashed nearby, and she leaves to fight in it and discovers her destiny. Departing from the comics history slightly, the story takes place in World War I rather than World War II, in keeping with the immortality of the character. Chris Pine co-stars as Steve Trevor, and is directed by Patty Jenkins, who as a female marks a first for the superhero film genre.
In a side note, it was discovered that Wonder Woman reached gender parity in ticket sales; 50% of viewers were women, as opposed to an average of 62% men seeing previous action films which had in its cast a female heroine. Matthew Liebmann of Movio also indicated the above-average attendance numbers involved parents and their children. "That says to me that there was an increase in parents taking their children to see the film," he said. "It wasn’t just the female audience that made this film a hit."
- The Late Show, Fox Network. Air date: February 9, 1987
- Wonder Woman bio at DC Super Hero Girls website