One of the most famous superheroes of all time, Wonder Woman was created by William Moulton Marston – the same man who invented the polygraph (lie detector test). Besides pursuing scientific knowledge, Marston believed that comic books held great educational potential. His interview in an article in Family Circle in 1940 caught the attention of Max Gaines, the head of DC Comics, and Marston was hired as an educational consultant.
Due to his involvement in testing the polygraph, Marston believed that women were more honest than men, and were more efficient workers. He believed there were not enough strong, powerful, self-sufficient female role models for girls, so he and his wife came up with the idea to create a woman superhero.
Wonder Woman was to be a “feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman” (American Scholar, 1943).
Wonder Woman was introduced to the public in December 1941, in All Star Comics #8. It was DC Comic’s second largest selling comic, and Wonder Woman made quite a splash. Six months later she was given her own comic book, written by Charles Marston, William’s pen name.
In the early days, Wonder Woman (also known as Princess Diana of the Amazon Warriors) was an agile, six-foot tall woman with super strength. She had the ability to channel strength into her muscles with the power of her mind, which she learned in her Amazon training. On her arms she wore indestructible gold bracelets called Bracelets of Victory, which kept her safe from any weapons due to the impenetrable force field they created. She also carried a magic golden lasso called The Lasso of Truth. It was unbreakable, infinitely stretchable, and could make anyone encircled by it obey Wonder Woman’s orders, usually to tell the truth. Her gifts were given to her from the gods and goddesses of Olympus. It was said she was blessed in her crib by the gods in order to become as “beautiful as Aphrodite, wise as Athena, stronger than Hercules, and swifter than Mercury”. She was the strongest, fastest, and most intelligent warrior from a race of women bred to fight in war.
After Marston died in 1947, Wonder Woman’s abilities and powers seemed to change with each story line, and depended on which writers were working on the comic book. With each new adventure, Wonder Woman was given more tools to help her defeat evil. Her earrings allowed her to breathe in outer space, her tiara became an unbreakable boomerang, and her bracelets allowed her to communicate with her home, Paradise Island. She was also given an invisible airplane. Her previous Amazon training was expanded to include scientific knowledge and the ability to speak every language known.
The success of the Wonder Woman comic book led to a television series. In 1967, the first attempt at a series was abandoned, so it was not until 1975 that Wonder Woman was shown on TV. It premiered on ABC as a television movie and the success led to more episodes, which CBS picked up. The television show ran for two more seasons, and created a star out of Lynda Carter.
The series began in the World War II era with Major Steve Trevor (Lyle Waggoner) bailing out of his fighter plane, and landing on Paradise Island. He is found by Princess Diana and nursed back to health by the Amazon Women. Diana wins a contest to be the one that returns Trevor back to the U.S. She ends up staying to protect Trevor from danger and disguises herself to become his new secretary. Due to her crime fighting abilities as Wonder Woman, she also becomes an agent in the Inter-Agency Defense Command.
Check out this clip from an early episode of the Wonder Woman TV series:
In the following seasons, the episodes took place in modern day. The format changed each year to try to draw more viewers and a younger audience, but after 1979, the show was suspended and never returned to television. The show did have an impact on US society; Wonder Woman portrayed a strong self-sufficient woman, capable of holding her own in a man’s world. This theme caught the eye of the famous feminist, Gloria Steinem, and Wonder Woman was featured in Steinem’s Ms. magazine.
Despite all the changes brought to the Wonder Woman character over the years, I think Marston would be proud of his superhero. Not only can she compete with men, she can win and look pretty doing so! She can be seen as a role model for young women, showing strength, resilience, and a never-give-up attitude.
Are you a Wonder Woman fan? How do you see her as part of the superhero universe?