There is a truism in the world of Hero Histories: The shorter the tenure, the simpler to put together. When considering the history of a character dating back to the dawn of superheroic history, it is a very daunting matter to recount the entirety of their history, as even a fictional universe will have been through a lot of changes in 80 years. Today’s entrant has had at least four notable iterations in her time, but today we focus specifically on the second of her major historical eras. Some might call it the Silver Age version; an inaccurate designation, as her story doesn’t definitively close until the end of the Bronze Age Of Comics. *I* tend to think of it as the Earth-1 version, a designation that is more accurate, but still 30 years out of date. Regardless of how we choose to define it, we have to agree that hers is a decades-long record of heroism that earns her a place at the top of the costumed-character pyramid (alongside that guy with the red cape and the one with the funny pointy ears.) This, then, is your Major Spoilers Hero History of Princess Diana of Themiscyra, called Diana Prince by some, but for whom all the world is waiting as… Wonder Woman!
You may be thinking to yourself, “Hey, Matthew!” (Which, now that I think of it, is an odd thing for most of you to be saying to yourself…) Why such a seemingly arbitrary time-frame? For that, we have to talk real-world comics history for a moment. Wonder Woman’s first appearance came in the Winter of 1941 in All-Star Comics #8, followed almost immediately by her headlining role starting in the first issue of Sensation Comics. She was one of the earliest recruits to the legendary Justice Society Of America, and when the market for superhero comics went bust near the end of the 1940s, she, Superman, Batman (and oddly, Johnny Quick) were the only ones not supplanted by western, funny animal or romance comics. Wonder Woman’s solo continued even through the 50s, when a bolt from the blue came in the form of Showcase #4, the first appearance of an all-new version of The Flash.
Soon enough, there would be a new Green Lantern, an updated JSA, and a meeting between the two worlds that would lead to a yearly crossover, but for the readers, there was only a gradual shift of story and tone. When a new Hawkman appeared, it was a simple matter to delineate the line between Silver and Golden Age, but for some heroes, it’s hard to tell where on the spectrum the transition takes place. Fortunately for us, the Earth-1 version of Wonder Woman has a clear moment that delineates her world from her Golden Age counterpart: a new origin story!Many years ago, the Olympian Gods came to hidden Paradise Island to bless the newest Amazon, a young girl named Diana who would grow up to be their Princess. Having been granted wisdom and beauty of godly nature, baby Diana is approached by fleet Mercury himself, who is apparently kind of a klutz, and drops his winged helmet right on the baby… (Nice work, bonehead!) Interestingly, this origin makes no mention of Diana being of magical origin, as the Amazons are, at the time of her birth, a fully gender-integrated society. As young Diana grows, her superhuman powers grow with her, and she becomes known as The Wonder Girl. With Amazon society now consisting only of women, she is raised by all the Amazons, learning every language known to their society, how to sail, how to fight… She becomes a hero to her people, using her strength and wits to defend Paradise Island as her mother, Queen Hippolyta, watches proudly… As she grows into a young woman, Princess Diana begins wearing her signature red-blue-and-gold uniform as a symbol of… something or other, and becomes the beautiful, yet powerful woman whom her godly patrons empowered her to be. That’s when Athena lets the other shoe drop… Diana wants to be the ambassador to her people, but to prevent her mother from unconsciously choosing her above others who might have equal chance at the role, the future Wonder Woman uses her wisdom in a unique manner… Competition after competition is held, each eliminating more and more Amazons from the running, until only two women are left. The two remaining competitors compete in a brutal wrestling match on a razor-thin tightrope above their sisters, and one finally best the other, and throws her from the wire…
…only to make certain she is not injured in the fall.Before she can set off for man’s world, the newly christened Wonder Woman must fight off one final threat to her people, as a plane attempts an emergency crash-landing on her island, bearing a male pilot. Were he to land on their mystic sanctuary, all the Amazons would lose their powers forever! Unable to ditch him in the ocean, Wonder Woman carried Captain Steve Trevor back home to man’s world under her own power, telling him of her quest to turn a single penny into a million dollars. A series of wacky misunderstandings occur before Wonder Woman is finally able to use her combined gifts to literally turn the single copper penny into a million dollar idea… SCIENCE!!! There’s probably also some magic involved there, to be honest, as metallurgy really doesn’t work that way. Having established herself as a hero to man’s world, Wonder Woman continues to split her time between Washington DC, and Paradise Island, where her adventures tended to involve a lot of weird aliens. In one case, she was even forced to battle a colossal robot version of herself after being de-aged to a child and reverting to her Wonder Girl self… ,,,but whatever her age, the Amazing Amazon retains he wits, her power and her beauty. Interestingly, such time-travel shenanigans were not uncommon for Wonder Woman, as Hippolyta (missing the days when her daughter was a cute young thing), uses Amazonian magic to bring her baby forward in time. Alongside her Wonder Girl self and an even-younger version known as Wonder Tot, Wonder Woman and her mother often found themselves adventuring together. Even though 75% of them were the same person, the Wonder Woman Family became a force to be reckoned with in matters intergalactic, mythological and/or criminal. That dinosaur is for Rodrigo, by the way. The presence of Wonder Girl alongside her future self also led to a strange paradox, as Wonder Girl began working alongside Robin, Kid Flash and Aqualad as a member of the Teen Titans, with little to no explanation of how it all happened. (The real-world explanation is that writer Bob Haney saw her on the cover of Wonder Woman’s book, didn’t read any of the back story, but chose to use her anyway. I’m not too broken up about it, though, as it led to one of the most beautiful Teen Titans stories of all, “Who Is Wonder Girl?”, and so I think I can forgive Bob.)
Paradise Island wasn’t the only place awash in monsters from space, though, and so it came to be that the alien starfish Starro attacked Earth with an all-out wave of space echinoderms. Starro’s strategy proved too much for a single hero, and so Wonder Woman found herself working alongside newcomer The Martian Manhunter to bring him down…The alien wasn’t the only hero standing against the alien fish, as Wonder Woman found herself working alongside The Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman and (briefly) Superman and Batman to bring down the massive alien presence once and for all. Having found that they worked quite well together, the heroes officially combined their forces as the Justice League Of America! As ambassador to an outside world full of strange-talking people, Wonder Woman encountered any number of fully inexplicable beasties, including a terrible alien slime-mold known only as “The Glop”… I’d read a monthly comic featuring the adventures of Beatnik Shades Guy, though. “Beat it, everyone, while I feed this goo a STACK OF JIVE!” Too reet, hepcat! Outtasite! Wacky Hipster Exclamation!
Now, here’s more of singing Glop, just because…Princess Diana, in her teenage incarnation, beats The Glop, but since he’s THE Sensational Character Find of 1965, I kinda didn’t want to show that. Instead, we take a look eastward, to the dark and nefarious island stronghold known as Oolong, where another of Wonder Woman’s most terrifying foes laughs an evil, stereotypical and deeply racist laugh… Stay tuned later in Wonder Woman Week for more on the Egg-Fu front, Faithful Spoilerites. It gets weirder… Wonder Woman’s life becomes a balance between the idyllic world of Paradise Island, where her family and fellow Amazons are, and Man’s World, where she pursues a romance with Captain Steve Trevor, hidden in plain sight as a Diana Prince. That balance is thrown entirely out of whack when Trevor is accused of murder, with her own testimony seemingly dooming him to life in prison… Worse news is on the horizon, though, as before Wonder Woman can focus her attentions on freeing her beloved from an unjust imprisonment, Queen Hippolyta recalls her to Paradise Island… The Amazons have begun preparations to leave our dimension indefinitely, with all their mystical artifacts and powers going with them. Diana chooses to stay behind to protect her beloved, giving up her Amazon heritage, the magical boons that give her superhuman powers and even her uniform, all in the name of love… Without her family, Diana Prince struggles to rebuild her life, using the remaining fortunes of Amazon coffers to buy her own fashion boutique, giving her an income and a place to live. As for the matter of her lost super-strength, Diana has to turn elsewhere, calling on the skills of a new friend, a mysterious man known as I-Ching… Her years of Amazon exertions and superheroic struggle make her a quick study, and Diana Prince masters the martial art of karate, with a little bit of judo for some reason, becoming quite skilled in open-handed fighting. Sadly for her, the boon once given to her by Aphrodite doesn’t protect her against the loss of love due to cruel irony… Her beloved Captain Trevor is shot dead by minions of the evil Doctor Cyber, leaving her truly alone, save for I-Ching and her new associate Tim Trench. No longer a superhero, Diana resigns from the Justice League Of America, and stops using her Wonder Woman designation, but is unable to shake the trouble that follows her everywhere. Her battle with Doctor Cyber ends with the villain scarred and vowing revenge, and even her day-to-day life as fashion maven isn’t without conflict… You can take the costume, the powers, even break her heart, but no one is able to take the Wonder out of the Woman. Diana finds herself drawn into adventure after adventure, traveling through space and dimension, battling alongside swordsmen Fafrhd and The Grey Mouser, battling a slavery ring, and more. When Batman’s old nemesis the Catwoman returns after years of inactivity, it is Diana, rather than the Dark Knight, who confronts her in hand-to-hand combat… Indeed, Diana is almost as formidable as a powerless hero as she was at the top of the superheroic power charts, but sadly, additional tragedy is hiding in the shadows. Scant months after Steve Trevor died in her arms, Diana is forced to once again deal with the flying fickle finger of fatality… Injured by a sniper’s bullet herself, Diana is dazed, and finds herself driven to steal a military plane and fly out to the middle of the ocean. Crash-landing, she fights a shark with her bare hands before giving in to her wounds. When she awakens, Diana finds herself disoriented, face-to-face with a stranger who claims to be… her Mother? Here’s where things get even weirder, as Hippolyta hooks Wonder Woman up to the memory machine, which tells her of her own past. It is here that we first find that Diana was NOT born of woman by man, but sculpted from clay by the Queen of The Amazons herself, and given mystical life by the gods themselves. Diana is restored to her full mystical might by the Amazons, and meets another powerful warrior in combat, a woman known as Nubia, before being returned by her mother to New York. Things proceed quickly for Wonder Woman (as they always seem to, probably another gift of her patron deities), as a new job immediately presents itself… But, when the Queen rebuilt Diana’s memories, she made certain that her technicians left out certain parts of the past. Hippolyta’s secrets come back to haunt her, as Wonder Woman finds herself once again attacked by Nubia, possessed by the power of God Of War Ares, and is hard-pressed to fight her off. How can this newcomer be as strong as Wonder Woman herself?
Because, it seems, Nubia… is her SISTER.Through the power of her wits and her heart, Wonder Woman realizes the connection to her sister, and frees Nubia from Ares’ control… Together, the two Wonder Women are more than a match for Ares and his coterie of monsters, driving him back to Olympus in defeat. Hippolyta finally comes clean to her daughter about their history, and Diana and Nubia vow to stay in touch, which naturally means we never see her again. Having completed her return to the life of an Amazon, and re-established Diana Prince’s life as a U.N. translator, Wonder Woman finally has time to address the OTHER side of her life, and petitions to rejoin the Justice League Of America. Due to the fact that all superhero teams are apparently seventh-grade recess groups, Wonder Woman undergoes a series of 12 trials, much as Hercules himself had to in mythology, in order to prove herself worthy… But of course, she passes. Life for the Amazing Amazon returns to a semblance of normality for a time, as she adventures with her friends, protects the world against world-beaters and jerks, and even crosses swords with the gods themselves, such as when Aphrodite and her mother chose to test her resolve as an Amazon with a trial of love. Wonder Woman petitions the Goddess Of Love to allow him to stay with her, and Aphrodite agrees that Steve Trevor should be spared “the curse” for Princess Diana, since she made the declaration out of pure love. Having died in a hail of gunfire once already, Steve Trevor takes on a new identity, that of Steve Howard, and once again accompanies Wonder Woman on her adventures, in the hopes that this time, his fate will be different.
It isn’t…But, like all heroes of Hellenistic origins, Diana’s chain gets jerked pretty hard by the Fates, as another Steve Trevor drops out of the multiverse, literally into her lap… Having had him die in her arms twice now, Diana reinvests herself in both her career and her love of Steve Trevor, so much so that, when called back to Paradise Island to compete in a NEW tournament to choose the Amazon ambassador, she is bested by a redheaded Amazonian upstart (a theme which would eventually crop up in the adventures of the Post-Crisis Wonder Woman as well.) Orana’s reign is a short one, as her mental and emotional strength is not up to the challenge of her physical prowess, and Diana is allowed to become Wonder Woman once more. As she adventures more and more in the world of man, though, she finds the imbalance of power between the genders to be more and more troubling. Having grown up in a society of super-women, she can’t quite understand why the men of the outside world treat their women differently… Of course, being able to crush tanks with her bare hands probably colors her perception, as well. After years of adventuring, Wonder Woman finds that she has become more than a superhero, but an iconic presence, a hero for women of all stripes, at least some of whom want to thank her for being such a strong role model… Considering the words of her new friends, Wonder Woman fully embraces a feminist viewpoint, vowing that she can serve as an example not only for her fellow Amazons, but for the women of the outside world as well… Also: Steve Trevor is dying again, for some reason. We spoke briefly earlier of the existence of Earth-2, a world where the superheroes started their careers much earlier, and though she didn’t have the same relationship with her counterpart that The Flash did with his (Jay was Barry’s childhood hero, after all) Wonder Woman met her older counterpart on a number of occasions with the Justice League. She even visits the world of Earth-2, assisting her sister Princess in defeating some world-beater or another, only to discover the shocking truth: Her elder self was happily married to Steve Trevor! Realizing that a relationship between an immortal Amazon and some squishy Air Force doofus wasn’t immediately doomed for failure, Wonder Woman and Steve get more serious, leading her to propose marriage to now-Colonel Trevor. During an adventure wherein she was forced to live out strange alternate timelines, Wonder Woman successfully takes her beau-in-blue all the way to the altar, only to find out the real price of Clark-Kenting for so long… Steve cannot marry her, as he is in love with his dead girlfriend… Diana Prince. Their wedding put on hold, Wonder Woman returns to her secret identity once more (these things get complicated, but Diana Prince has been dead nearly as often as Trevor himself) only to find that having your boyfriend be your immediate superior can be problematic, in more ways than one. Interestingly, as the most iconic and powerful female superhero of her world, Wonder Woman ironically has more trouble figuring out matters of the heart than in fighting off alien invasions, wars of the gods or even the machinations of The Cheetah or Circe. But, eventually, after years of courtship and several funerals, Steve Trevor and Princess Diana successfully tie the knot, getting married atop Mount Olympus itself by no lesser light than Zeus himself, a union foretold and ordained, that even Pluto himself couldn’t tear asunder… I wish that I could tell you that this was Wonder Woman’s happy ending. I wish it as much as Red wished it for Andy Dufresne, but even if this isn’t Shawshank Prison in the 1930s, things don’t always end up blissful even in four-color fairy-tale worlds. The beginning of the end of it all arrives in the form of The Monitor, a strange man from beyond, always observing the Earth from his orbiting satellite headquarters. When things finally come to a head, The Monitor gathers ALL of the heroes in the Earth-1, Earth-2, Earth-4, Earth-S and Earth-X, from Ambush Bug to Zoot Sputnik, as well as the survivors of other destroyed worlds to break the bad news: The Multiverse itself is shattering. Wonder Woman stands at the forefront of the Monitor’s army, alongside Superman himself, fighting against the evil Anti-Monitor, whose madness drove him to try to destroy every single world in the greater multiverse, one at a time. Their battles rage across the universe, drawing in heroes from every age, with cowboys and vikings battling alongside the futuristic aliens of the Legion of Super-Heroes. Eventually, under the leadership of Alexander Luthor, last survivor of the doomed Earth-3, the heroes take their battle to the anti-matter universe of Qward, where Wonder Woman and her fellow heroes strike what seems like a fatal blow against the Anti-Monitor… …while Batman stands by and cheers them on as moral support, which is the role Batman should serve in such massive earth-shattering crossovers, to be frank. The efforts of the heroes are successful, up to a point, as The Anti-Monitor manages to destroy the Mulitiverse, but the heroes (most importantly, the awe-inspiring Spectre) are able to protect the remaining five Earths, which merge into one world with shared elements of all. Reports of The Anti-Monitor’s death are sadly premature, however, as the villain strikes at the merged worlds, bringing out the heroes in force once more. This battle rages longer and more brutally than the first, leaving only a few of the most powerful heroes standing against him.
Wonder Woman is once again at the front of this army…Their battle fatally wounds The Anti-Monitor, and causes his antimatter world to collapse in on itself, and the heroes beat a hasty retreat. Staying behind to make sure her comrades escape safely, Wonder Woman is among the last targets of the Anti-Monitor, as he throws himself into a suicidal storm of rage… With Wonder Woman gone, only the Supermen remain, and it falls upon the Superman of Earth-2, the first superhero of them all (depending on how one counts) to strike the killing blow against the villain. Having saved the world, he is carried out of the new universe forever, never to return, not even in Final Crisis, which is a dark and terrible story that I am frankly glad the New 52 wiped out of existence. Bygones…
Of course, since this was nearly thirty years ago now, and we all know that Wonder Woman’s adventures continued, we the Faithful Spoilerites know that there’s got to be a coda…Rather than being blown to shreds, as poor Supergirl was, or annihilated in a time-vortex like The Flash, Wonder Woman was devolved, and her timeline reversed (which, by the way, serves as the final appearance of the original Wonder Girl and Wonder Tot as well), in preparation for a whole new genesis in the new, combined world to come. *That* Wonder Woman’s adventures included many of the stories that modern readers associate with the character, including fully embracing her iconic role as ambassador to man’s world, her taking up a sword, and that time she worked at the Taco Hut for a few months, and her era only ended when the New 52 began in 2011.
Like so many myths, the story of Wonder Woman is a tangled one, with strange, dream-like starts and stops and recurring motifs. Her search for love was always there, as well as her refusal to give up in the face of danger. At it’s heart, it is a story of loss and of sacrifice that ends with a new beginning, as befitting the paradox at the heart of Wonder Woman: The expectation that love and strength are sides of the same coin, power and compassion in one unstoppable package.
**If you’ve enjoyed this Hero History, you might want to ‘Read All About It’ at your Local Major Spoilers! You can just click “Hero Histories” in the “Columns” section on our main page, and read an ever-increasing number of other guys and gals who are likewise awesome as heck. The adventures of Wonder Woman continue to be published by DC Comics, as they have been since 1941, and probably will be for eternity. Soooo, we got that goin’ for us… which is nice, y’know?
Its good to see Hero History after a while. Great job, Matthew!
I know they’re probably a lot of trouble to put together, but I wish there were even more Hero Histories.