The Evolution of Wonder Woman Through GenerationsDresden Shumaker
I am part of a multigenerational family where members span from a baby boomer to a Gen-Xer to a post-millennial 5-year-old. When it comes to comic characters, there is only one all three of us love: Wonder Woman. Every generation, Wonder Woman (AKA Diana Prince) seems to reinvent herself, morphing and shifting into what the world needs her to be.
Psychologist William Moulton Marston invented the character of Wonder Woman in 1941, just before the U.S. entered WWII. When the world first met Wonder Woman, she had the power of the Lasso of Truth. In a paper archived within the American Psychological Association, Nick Joyce discusses Marston’s intense fascination with the truth. It was this fascination that led to Marston’s work on the systolic blood pressure test, which was the foundation for the lie detector test.
Wonder Woman was such a successful character she garnered her own stand-alone comic book by the summer of 1942.
My mother told me that during her childhood in the ’50s and ’60s, “Wonder Woman was struggling to break out of the era’s stereotypes as much as any budding feminist was, as well. Options for both were limited.” My mom saw Wonder Woman as an inspiration to claim a better life.
In 1975, my generation’s Wonder Woman arrived. When I think of Diana Prince, I don’t ever think of a comic book or cartoon; I instantly think of Lynda Carter. In the ’70s- era TV show, Wonder Woman was sophisticated, smart, romantic, and brave. She was also incredibly marketable, and I know many friends who felt empowered as kids in their Wonder Woman under-roos or bathing suits. Wonder Woman loved her job, and she was good at it. Seeing a glamazon have so much enjoyment in doing a job well done, even if that job was taking to task bad guys, was eye-opening. Up to that point I really had only seen jobs as work, not as passion. Could there actually be a job for me in my adult life as satisfying as Wonder Woman’s job?
While my son has seen Wonder Woman in a few Justice League cartoons, if you asked him who Wonder Woman is, he would tell you she’s a LEGO character. He thinks Wonder Woman is friends with Batman, has an invisible jet, and connects to interchangeable yellow blocks. Her message of equality exists simply by being on equal footing with other male characters. There is much our kids could learn from Wonder Woman, after all it is her mission to promote peace and “unlock the potential of humanity.” She is also proof that genderizing toys is ridiculous as both boys and girls appreciate and enjoy the power of this super hero.
Over the years Wonder Woman has seen many makeovers. The original comic featured the character in a red breast plate and blue shorts with white stars. Later she seemed to have on an American flag, star-spangled skirt. In 1968 she got a complete makeover, went mod, and even lost her powers. It was Gloria Steinem who returned the Amazon back to her glory after putting Wonder Woman on the cover of Ms. magazine. Ann Matsuuchi, who wrote extensively about the 1972 “Women’s Lib” Issue of the magazine, revealed, “In her meetings with the comic book publisher, Steinem complained that the removal of costume and trappings was a shameful disempowering of a beloved female superhero.” Wonder Woman’s powers were restored thanks to Gloria’s lobbying.
The double W logo on Wonder Woman’s chest first appeared in 1982, the ’90s brought about HUGE boobs, and in 2010 she put on some pants. Breasts and comics go hand in hand with, well, sexism and comics, but it took Wonder Woman’s first female writer, Jodi Picoult, to speak up about it. Jodi wrote five issues of the comic in 2007.
One of the first things that I did was ask if we could give her breast-reduction surgery, because as a woman, I know you wouldn’t fight crime in a bustier. But I was somehow shot down by DC.
That’s a joke.
But, of course she’s a sex object! If she wasn’t, she wouldn’t dress like that! And she’s sexy! Power is sexy! Strength is sexy! However, the flip side to that is that it’s also scary to a lot of people who are threatened by women who can think and act for themselves.
In 2011 came “The New 52,” the relaunch of the entire DC Comics line. Wonder Woman not only got a new costume (a throwback to one of her original costumes), but she also got an entirely new backstory where she was the daughter of Zeus and the God of War. This storyline never jived with me, as I don’t love the aggressive elements played into the plot.
The New 52 reign is now, thankfully, coming to an end and a brand new creative team, David Finch and Meredith Finch, is taking over Wonder Woman. For the first time ever, a husband and wife team will work together as artist/writer. Issue 36 in November is said to be “focusing on bringing humanity to the powerful Amazonian princess.” Meredith Finch told USA Today, “The purity of [Lynda] Carter’s portrayal appealed to her as a kid,” so the tone of these new issues may be familiar to those of us who grew up in the ’70s.
In one of the first interviews with Meredith and David Finch, David made the awful mistake of saying Wonder Woman was not a feminist. “We want her to be a strong — I don’t want to say feminist, but a strong character. Beautiful, but strong.” Since I believe he has been corrected on this error many times, I am opting to not be another person rubbing his nose in it. Read Lauren McCubbin’s piece in The Guardian for analysis.
While my son currently only has a LEGO character for reference, in 2016 his Wonder Woman will be Gal Gadot. Gadot will make her big screen debut as Wonder Woman in Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. There are already whisperings that a solo Wonder Woman film is around the corner. Last June, Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara hinted so strongly about an (as yet unmade) announcement, many sites are already putting Wonder Woman in the July 2017 schedule.
Today, over 70 years since her birth, Wonder Woman is considered the perfect icon of feminism. However, with so many of us looking to her to be our cover girl, I have to wonder if she’s doing us a disservice by constantly changing and reinventing herself. I appreciate many of the evolutions of her character, but there are times when I wish the writers and artists would let Wonder Woman be. Superman doesn’t have to endure extreme makeovers to keep flying, neither should Wonder Woman.
For my mother’s generation she was created to show strength is more than brute force, it is also humanity. For my generation, Wonder Woman was an introduction of empowerment. Lynda Carter has said she “never viewed her empowerment as an attack on men but rather as representing women as equals. To this day I view the character as a voice for equal rights for all.”
I hope my son’s generation is able to continue to feel the influence of Wonder Woman’s message of equality, honesty and justice. It would be amazing if both boys and girls could see her as a character to aspire to, the same way she inspired me.