Saturday 20 January 2018

Meet Wonder Woman Diana's many guises - from secretary to full-fledged feminist icon

Ever since she first appeared in 1941, Diana Prince, aka Wonder Woman, has always been a different kind of superhero

Shield, swords and lasso: Wonder Woman played by Gal Gadot goes back to her roots as a powerful superhero
Shield, swords and lasso: Wonder Woman played by Gal Gadot goes back to her roots as a powerful superhero
Lynda Carter in the popular TV series
New champion: Gal Gadot takes on the role of Wonder Woman

Michael Cavna

During World War II, when Superman and Batman arose as mainstream pop symbols of strength and morality, the publisher that became DC Comics needed an antidote to what a Harvard psychologist called superhero comic books' worst crime: "bloodcurdling masculinity".

Turns out that psychologist, William Moulton Marston, had a plan to combat such a crime - in the star-spangled form of a female warrior who could, time and again, escape the shackles of a man's world of inflated pride and prejudice.

That creation was Diana Prince, who, upon landing in America from her isolated Paradise Island, donned the identity of Wonder Woman.

On one hand, Marston was a man of progressive politics, enthusiastically stating that a great women's movement was afoot. On the other hand, he embodied some knuckle-dragging ideas, too.

He insisted that Wonder Woman be chained or otherwise bound in every issue, telling his DC editor that "women enjoy submission" - sparking reader complaints. Marston was well aware, though, that broken chains were also a powerful feminist symbol of emancipation. And Marston - whose scientific work led to the development of the lie-detector test - also outfitted Wonder Woman with the empowering golden Lasso of Truth.

(Marston was less than truthful about was himself. He secretly lived in a polyamorous relationship with two feminists: his wife, lawyer Elizabeth Holloway Marston, and his former college student Olive Byrne, the niece of birth-control pioneer Margaret Sanger. Each of the two women bore him two children.)

Out of this complex origin story born of a complicated mind, Wonder Woman made her debut in All-Star Comics in 1941. Today sees the release of the new Wonder Woman film, which pushes back against marketplace domination of male superheroes, and has already caused some debate - a cinema chain in the US came under fire for 'discrimination' after announcing a handful of all-female screenings a week after the premiere, while a Lebanese group is seeking to ban the film because of its Israeli star, Gal Gadot. It's no surprise that the first female-fronted superhero film in 12 years is being met with some controversy. Here we look back at her feminist, and less-than-feminist, history.

The creation: 1941 According to lore, Marston didn't initially have a female character in mind when mulling a superhero less masculine than Superman. But Marston later characterises it as a natural solution, saying: "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."

Upon being hired as an editorial adviser at All-American/Detective Comics, Marston sells his Wonder Woman character to the publisher with the agreement that his tales will spotlight "the growth in the power of women". He teams with not a woman but rather male artist Harry G Peter to create her tiara-topped, flesh-flashing attire. Wonder Woman first appears in All-Star Comics No 8, wearing bracelets similar to those worn by Byrne, Marston's former student turned lover.

The bracelets, according to Wonder Woman's prose, were "fashioned by our captors" as physical symbols that "we must always keep aloof from men".

Just 'one of the guys' - sort of: Spring 1942

Within a half-dozen issues of All-Star Comics, Wonder Woman becomes an honorary member of the DC superhero team-up Justice Society of America, yet her official position long remains "secretary" - a striking distinction compared with her fellow heroes.

Solo stardom:

Summer 1942

Wonder Woman proves so popular that she gets her own comic book with Sensation Comics. As Rosie the Riveter becomes iconic, and women fill men's jobs as men go to war, readers of all ages more readily embrace the tough, well-muscled female hero. Within a few years, Wonder Woman has 10 million readers and her own syndicated comic strip.

The rise of soapy romance: 1950s

Congressional overreaction to Seduction of the Innocent psychiatrist Fredric Wertham's questionable findings about the "effects" of comic books on children leads to the Comics Code Authority - essentially the publishers' consent to soften content. As a result, romance stories rise. Following the trend, Diana Prince - who left women-only Paradise Island with the crash-landing military hero Steve Trevor - becomes a more domestic-minded figure whose thoughts are often on marriage and modelling, when not working as a lonely-hearts columnist.

Full surrender:

Late 1960s

The sacrifice is complete: Diana decides to surrender her superpowers for the sake of being near Steve. Two decades after Marston's death, that narrative registers as a far cry from the creator's stated sentiment, when he wrote "Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world."

Cover woman: 1972 Wonder Woman boosts her perception as a feminist icon by appearing on the first cover of Gloria Steinem's Ms. magazine, tying her image to women's rights movements.

TV stardom: 1973-1975 Wonder Woman increases her presence and popularity on television, joining the animated series Super Friends; making her live-action small-screen debut in a 1974 made-for-TV movie starring Cathy Lee Crosby; and then getting her own Emmy-nominated network series starring the iconic Lynda Carter. Wonder Woman "encompasses everything great and powerful about being a woman, and Lynda took it all seriously," Wonder Woman 77 writer Marc Andreyko told the DC Comics fan site.

Series scuttled:

1997-1999

NBC works on developing a new live-action series in which Diana Prince will work as a UCLA professor of Greek history. Despite national casting efforts, the series is shut down before a single frame is shot.

Meanwhile, back in the comics, John Byrne is enjoying a memorable mid-90s run on Wonder Woman by presenting her as a muscular goddess.

Pointing to a

return: 2009

Wonder Woman gets some solo screen glory again. Keri Russell voices the Amazon-tribe superhero in WB/DC's direct-to-DVD animated movie Wonder Woman, with Lauren Montgomery as the director.

The rumours are true:

September 2016

DC writer Greg Rucka confirms the long-standing belief that Wonder Woman is canonically gay. Rucka tells Comicosity: "By our standards where I am standing . . . Themyscira (Paradise Island) is a queer culture. I'm not hedging that."

Ambassador Prince: October 2016

The UN names Wonder Woman as an honorary ambassador, intending to move her beyond supervillain-battling crime-fighter to help raise awareness of gender equality. In December, however, the UN drops Wonder Woman after many of its employees object to an overtly sexualised figure who now embodies "a large-breasted, white woman of impossible proportions".

The star-spangled red carpet: June 2017

Wonder Woman will mark the first solo film for a superheroine in the DC Extended Universe, and the first DCEU release to be directed by a woman, Patty Jenkins. And yet, Jenkins says: "I don't think of myself as a female filmmaker and I don't think about Wonder Woman as a female film."

Irish Independent

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