In Issue #8 of DC’s All Star Comics (cover date: Jan. ’42) there’s an eight-page story intended to test readers reaction to a new type of hero. Written by Charles Moulton (pseudonym of Psychologist William Moulton Marston) with art by Harry G. Peters, Wonder Woman, Amazon Princess, enters a troubled world. Positive feedback encouraged DC to give her the lead feature in a new anthology series called Sensation Comics. An ardent believer in feminism, and a great admirer of Margaret Sangster, founder of Planned Parenthood, Marston imbued his creation with qualities normally found in male heroes. Wonder Woman (nee Diana) is the daughter of Queen Hippolyta, who sculpted her from clay. The statue was given life by Aphrodite and powers (wisdom, strength, speed, etc.) by the other Greek Goddesses. As Marston wrote, Wonder Woman ” … is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world”.
Wonder Woman’s Golden Age exploits begin with her winning a contest to determine who will leave the idyllic Amazon homeland of Paradise Island to help fight the growing menace of World War. She remained a feminist icon until Marston’s death in 1947. (She didn’t entirely escape the sexism rampant during this period. When she joined The Justice Society of America in 1942 she was made their secretary.) Robert Kanigher became writer and editor, and Wonder Woman’s forceful personality was toned down to make her more acceptable to current attitudes. Stories about her love life increased. Steve Trevor, an Army Intelligence officer whose plane crashes near Paradise Island in the first story is her main suitor, though most of their relationship seems to consist of her explaining why she can’t marry him. (The sanitizing she went through in the Fifties wasn’t helped by her run in with Dr. Fredric Wertham of “Seduction of the Innocent” fame, who claimed that the strength and independence she exhibited made her a lesbian.)*
As Diana moved into the Silver Age, conventional heroics took more of a back seat to romance, alien invasions and, occasionally, the bizarre. In one story “Andy Gorilla – Prize Pupil” (#78 Nov. ’55) she teaches an ape to play baseball to save a friend’s school from closing. Seems one of the Trustees is the late grandfather of a Mr. Scragg, who runs an opposing school. According to the grandfather’s will, Miss Gates baseball team must win the two schools annual game or she’ll be forced to merge with Scragg. However, all Miss Gates pupils are out because of a measles epidemic so she decides to call on her friend Wonder Woman. Scragg agrees, so long as he can set all the conditions. When Wonder Woman arrives, she finds the only ‘pupil’ left in the school is a gorilla named Andy. Despite Scragg’s undermining efforts, they win the game.
Beginning In issue #98 (May ’58) Kanigher began a redo of Wonder Woman’s back story, and the more modern visuals by Ross Andru (pencils) and Mike Esposito (inks) replaced Harry Peters antiquated artwork. Issue #105 (April ’59) contained a somewhat revised origin. Instead of being sculpted from clay, Diana now has a father (though we never see him) and both Gods and Goddesses bequeath their powers to her. Years later, when Diana is a teen-ager, word comes that all the men have been killed in ‘the Wars’ and the Amazons decide to leave their homeland; with the aid of Diana’s abilities they discover and settle on Paradise Island. Kanigher started doing stories of the Wonder Family, which eventually consisted of Wonder Woman, her mother, Queen Hippolyta, Wonder Girl (Diana as a teenager) and Wonder Tot (Diana as a toddler). At first, Wonder Girl and Wonder Tot starred in their own stories, but Kanigher eventually brought the entire family together in a series of ‘Impossible Tales’. These ‘Tales’ were later identified as having taken place on an alternate earth called Earth 124.1, since the stories began in issue 124 (Aug. ’62). As the Sixties wore on, however, readership began to fall off.
Written by Denny O’Neil with art by Mike Sekowsky, Issue #178 (Oct. ’68) brought a new outlook. Wonder Woman, using her secret identity as Diana Prince, adopts a Mod image to help Steve Trevor clear himself of murder charges.Though Steve’s in love with Wonder Woman he really likes Diana’s new look and considers asking her out (he never did realize they’re the same person) prompting Wonder Woman to contemplate her own change rather than just punching him out. The next issue, however, shakes things up even more as Diana receives a summons to Paradise Island and is told that the Amazons are moving to another dimension to rest and renew their powers. Diana decides to stay behind since Steve is in trouble again, but, to do this, must renounce her abilities and Wonder Woman identity. Diana Prince settles into life in New York and meets an Oriental named I Ching (yes) who knows she was Wonder Woman. He offers to teach her new fighting skills so she can help Steve battle the diabolical Doctor Cyber.
The new Diana (modeled after Diana Rigg’s character Emma Peel on ‘The Avengers’) continued until the end of the Silver Age.
Though Wonder Woman wasn’t faring very well in her own book during this period she did get the chance to indulge in the old-fashioned heroics that defined her early days. In ‘The Brave and the Bold’ #28 (Feb-Mar. ’60) The Justice League of America makes its’ debut with Diana very much a part of the team (as opposed to the 1940’s Justice Society, where she ended up as their secretary). Her first appearance finds her sitting in a car with Steve Trevor explaining why she can’t marry him, however, things improve as she answers a call to fight Starro the Conqueror, a giant starfish from Outer Space. After two more Brave and Bold appearances the Justice League get their own series (if you think this book is free of sexual stereotypes, whenever the Secret Sanctuary needs cleaning, guess who’s in charge?)
In 1972, not long after the Silver Age ended, Gloria Steinem started Ms Magazine with Wonder Woman on the first cover. The article deplored the loss of her powers, which the author felt robbed her of her unique identity. In fact, the new incarnation wasn’t all that popular with readers in general, so, soon after, in ‘Wonder Woman’ Issue #204 (Jan-Feb ’63) Diana regained her abilities.
* Wertham was half right. The 2016 DC Rebirth officially declared her to be bisexual.