Pop Culture Series: 75 Years of Wonder Woman

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By Lauren Fralinger, Lauren and Research Services

They’re often called the “trinity” in comic book circles: Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. Over the past 75 years, we have seen Superman and Batman on screen in many incarnations, each portrayal adding a bit more history to the character. 2016 has brought us only our second live portrayal of Wonder Woman, and though audiences haven’t seen her as frequently, that is about to change. Celebrating her 75th anniversary in 2016, Wonder Woman is a feminist pop culture icon whose legacy has endured nearly a century.

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Wonder Woman appears on the first issue of Sensation Comics (1942). Art by H. G. Peter.

Debuting in 1941 in All Star Comics #8, Wonder Woman was one of the earliest female superheroes to make it into print. Developed by William Moulton Marston, Wonder Woman was created to be a different kind of superhero. Still in their early days, superhero comics were dominated by powerful, almost exclusively male heroes who used physical strength or technology to win their battles. In contrast, Marston wanted to create a superhero who won not through the strength of their fists, but also through love. It was Marston’s wife Elizabeth who suggested that this new superhero be a woman.

Wonder Woman’s origins are steeped in Greek mythology. Born as Diana, Princess of the Amazons, she was sculpted from clay by her mother, Queen Hippolyta and imbued with powers from several Olympian goddesses. Withdrawn from the world and protected by the gods, the Amazons lived in isolation on a hidden island until it was accidentally discovered by an American intelligence officer whose plane crashed there during World War II. Selected to bring the man back to “Man’s World” and to join the fight against the Nazis, Diana was gifted a pair of magical, bulletproof bracelets and a lasso of truth, which forces honesty from anyone it captures. Wonder Woman quickly joined the war alongside other early superheroes and served on the Justice Society of America, one of the first superhero teams.

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Lynda Carter (left) first portrayed Wonder Woman on screen in the 1970s. Gal Godot (right) will take on the role in the 2017 series.

Over the course of 75 years, Wonder Woman has gone through dozens of incarnations in the comics as writers and stories have come and gone. Acknowledged early on as one of the most powerful heroes in the DC Comics stable, Wonder Woman went through a strange period in the late sixties and early seventies where her powers were taken from her entirely. Dismayed that one of the most recognizable and powerful women in pop culture was no longer able to compete on the same field as her super powered male counterparts, Gloria Steinem placed Wonder Woman on the cover of the inaugural issue of her new magazine, Ms., and criticized the decision to strip away everything that made Diana so empowered. A year later, Wonder Woman had her bracelets, lasso and superpowers returned, and was back in full fighting form.

Diana’s first on-screen portrayal was made by Lynda Carter in the 1970s Wonder Woman television series. Airing from 1975 to 1979 during the peak of the second-wave feminist movement, Wonder Woman presented a powerful, intelligent, and deeply human woman capable of extraordinary abilities to American audiences. Decades after the end of the 1970s series, Wonder Woman made appearances in various animated series such as Justice League and Justice League Unlimited in the early 2000s, but was not portrayed live again until 2016’s Batman vs. Superman. Though Batman and Superman both made the jump to the movies decades earlier, Gal Gadot’s portrayal of the Amazon princess was the first time Wonder Woman had made it into theaters. Batman vs. Superman may have been her first silver screen appearance, but it won’t be her last; Gadot will reprise her role as Diana for 2017’s Wonder Woman.

Interested in more Wonder Woman? The Richter Library has you covered. Check out more books and comics about the adventures of the Amazon Princess here:

Books:

Wonder Woman: A Celebration of 75 Years (2016)

Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine (2014)

Wonder Woman (2012)

Wonder Woman ‘77 (2016)

Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman (2015)

Wonder Woman: The Greatest Stories Ever Told (2006)

Wonder Woman: Earth One (2016)

 

DVDs:

Wonder Woman: The Complete First Season (2004)

Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines (2012)