Wonder Woman’s 75th Anniversary is this year, and with Wonder Woman making a much-anticipated cameo in Batman v Superman, The Mary Sue’s own Sam Riedel figured it was high time to give new fans of the heroine a history lesson about her long career in butt-kicking. Here’s the run-down of Diana’s canon, from 1941 to the present day.
For those of you who prefer text to video, read on for the full transcript!
Let’s be honest: since Warner Brothers announced that Wonder Woman would guest star in Dawn of Justice, we’ve been way more excited to see her on the big screen than Batman or Superman. As one of the first female superheroes and part of the DC Comics “Big Three,” Princess Diana of Themyscira occupies a vital role in feminist pop culture that we’re excited to see represented in Hollywood. Here’s a crash course in Amazonian lore to get you ready for Wonder Woman’s big debut this weekend.
Wonder Woman first appeared in December 1941’s All Star Comics #8, in an adventure appropriately titled “Introducing Wonder Woman.” Although William Moulton Marston and H.G. Peter get credit for bringing her to life, we really owe Marston’s wife Elizabeth a debt for insisting that her husband’s new superhero–who was supposed to win fights with love, not fisticuffs–should be a woman.
All Star #8 gives us Diana’s World War II-era origin, which shares some of the same story beats we know today. After hapless Army pilot Steve Trevor crash lands on Paradise Island and alerts the Amazons to the Nazi threat, Queen Hippolyta holds a contest to see which of her subjects will go to Man’s World to help America win the war. Her daughter, Princess Diana, wins by easily deflecting bullets with her invulnerable bracelets, and takes the place of a nurse also named Diana to be close to Trevor and aid him in his fight. But it’s the background information in this issue that really makes a difference: Hippolyta tells us that the Amazons were once enslaved by Hercules, and wear bracelets to remind themselves never again to be chained by men. Rebellion against the patriarchy is in Wonder Woman’s blood from the very beginning.
Diana swiftly received her own series so that she could have adventures outside of acting as the Justice Society’s secretary, a role about which we’ll just say: yuck. In her series, we were introduced to the story of her birth (she was a clay statue granted life by the gods after Hippolyta’s prayers were answered), her invisible robot plane (still cooler than the Batmobile), her archenemy Mars, and frequent sidekick Etta Candy, who we desperately hope will make a cameo in Dawn of Justice.
In the 1960s, Wonder Woman hit a speed bump: renouncing her powers rather than accompany her Amazon sisters to another dimension, because comic books, Diana became a secret agent inspired by Emma Peel from the TV show The Avengers. This was a highly controversial move done at the direction of DC’s editorial director Carmine Infantino, and drew harsh criticism from leading feminists of the time like Gloria Steinem–but we tend to take her opinions with a shovel of salt these days.
After the epic Crisis on Infinite Earths, George Perez, Greg Potter, and Len Wein rebooted Diana’s origin for the Modern Age of comics. Although the team kept many of the same plot points, there were a few notable exceptions–namely, that Diana hadn’t come to America to fight Nazis, but to be an ambassador for peace in Man’s World. Her birth was also slightly changed. This time, Queen Hippolyta was ordered by the gods to make a baby out of clay, altering the balance of power from Marston’s original tale.
This wasn’t the last time Diana’s past would be retconned, of course. The 2011 “New 52” reboot saw Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang turn the “birthed of clay” origin into a lie, revealing Wonder Woman’s “true” lineage: the biological daughter of Hippolyta and Zeus. Fans were displeased, although not nearly as much as they were when Azzarello made the Amazons into serial sexual predators…but that’s another story. This team also played up Wonder Woman’s status as a warrior, forcing her to make some tough decisions about life and death–just like she did back in the leadup to Infinite Crisis when, in order to save Superman from mind control, she broke Maxwell Lord’s neck with a single twist. Not exactly a peaceful ambassador anymore!
Over the years, Diana has had a host of powers and abilities. Back in the Golden Age, her strength was equal to that of Superman, though now he’s usually shown to be a bit stronger, because Kryptonian blood is basically a cheat code. Marston’s Wonder Woman could also heal quickly thanks to the Fountain of Eternal Youth, and developed ESP, super breath, immunity to electric shocks, and much more. Of course, all those powers would be removed if she ever allowed a man to chain her bracelets together. Later, other writers would give Diana powers like mastery of languages, telescopic vision, and a last-ditch ability to merge with the earth to remove poisons or other toxins from her body. Modern versions of Wonder Woman have been able to fly, though the incarnation that helped found the Silver Age Justice League was only able to glide on wind currents, gaining the ability to fly properly after being hit with a divine feather. Where can I get one of those?
Now, just in advance of DC’s “Rebirth” event, which promises to start an entirely new continuity five years after the New 52, we’re counting down the days until Diana appears in Dawn of Justice. What do we know about her character and abilities as of right now? Well, in an interview with Israeli outlet Ynetnews, actor Gal Gadot enthused that she has incredible endurance, strength, and the ability to jump “really high”–but not quite fly. Warner Entertainment has also let slip a few juicy tidbits about Diana Prince’s day job and past life in a bit of copy for the Wonder Woman bust: “The immortal Amazonian Princess Diana keeps her eyes and ears open for intrigue as the beautiful and mysterious antiquities dealer, Diana Prince.” Sounds like this Wonder Woman will be a mashup of several periods of the character’s history, from the Silver Age and her time as a powerless secret agent to her modern incarnation as a sword-wielding warrior. Diana sounds pretty great, but please, Warner: no neck-snapping?
Thanks for watching! Be sure to like and subscribe, and let us know in the comments what you hope to see from Wonder Woman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, in theaters March 25th.
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