Reading early Wonder Woman, part one of a series

Okay, so Bradley’s committed me to this – we’ve been talking about it for a while. The early appearances of Wonder Woman are too much fun to neglect. She’s a powerful figure – and a far cry from the hyper-sexualized character that most people reading the comic today see.

(I hope to write about most of the comics in the first volume of the Wonder Woman Archives, so we’ll see how this goes.)

Wonder Woman first appeared in the December 1941-January 1942 issue of All Star Comics (no. 8), which gives some background on her origin. Wonder Woman was a princess on Paradise Island, the Amazonian stronghold ruled by Hippolyte. When the young princess – who has fallen in love with the downed American pilot Steve Trevor – asks her mother about men and their world, Hippolyte reveals the ways that the Amazons had previously interacted with men. She recounts her battle against Hercules, the loss of her magic girdle to him, the subsequent enslavement of all of the Amazons, and their eventual escape.

Those bracelets that all of the women of Paradise Island wear are intended to be reminders that they – as Queen Hippolyte explains – “must always keep aloof from men,” because when they do not, men will put them in chains. Those bracelets are reminders of the bondage that men use to oppress women in what the comic describes as “The man-made world.”

And it is that world of men that William Moulton Marston (writing under the pen name Charles Moulton) found a failure. While Wonder Woman gives up her heritage and eternal life to escort Steve Trevor back to a United States in the midst of World War II, she does not do it merely to "catch a man" (more on that idea in a future post). She certainly loves him – and Marston clearly thinks the love is an important factor in life. But she also adopts the United States as her homeland, a nice piece of propaganda during the war. But it's not just an adopted patriotism: in the second appearance of Wonder Woman, Moulton explains that

Like the crash of thunder from the sky comes the Wonder Woman, to save the world from the hatreds and wars of men in a man-made world! And what a woman! A woman with the eternal beauty of Aphrodite and the wisdom of Athena – yet whose lovely form hides the agility of Mercury and the steel sinews of a Hercules! Who is Wonder Woman? Why does she fight for America? … The Amazon maid Diana fell in love with Captain Trevor, and decided to bring him back to America and help him wage battle for freedom, democracy, and womankind thru-out the world!

Wonder Woman is fantastic in these initial comics. She’s powerful and compassionate – and clever.

Next time, I’ll talk about Wonder Woman’s fashion sense (seriously, she’s got some good stuff to say about the clothes that women wear…)

cross posted at The Seacost of Bohemia

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