76 years ago, the eighth issue of “All-Star Comics” introduced a new heroine who would become one of the most essential icons in comic books and feminist culture: Wonder Woman. Now, she has made her long-awaited arrival on movie screens around the world in a new film directed by Patty Jenkins and starring Gal Gadot. Here’s how the champion of the Amazons got here.
Wonder Woman was created in 1941 by psychologist William Moulton Marston in order to provide comic books with a superhero who didn’t embody the hyper-masculine qualities of Superman and Batman. Marston was in a polyamorous relationship with his wife, attorney and psychologist Elizabeth Holloway, and a former student, Olive Byrne. Both women were the key inspirations for Diana Prince.
Wonder Woman’s debut story revolved around WWII pilot, Steve Trevor, who crash lands on an island populated by a race of powerful women called Amazons. There, he is healed and falls in love with Diana, Princess of the Amazons. When they learn of the war outside the island, Diana wins a tournament held to decide who will be the Amazons’ champion and fight the Nazis in the war, earning her the title of Wonder Woman.
Noting that Byrne often wore a set of bracelets, Marston decided to give Wonder Woman a pair of bracelets that could deflect bullets. The bracelets were originally shackles Amazons wore when they were enslaved by Hercules and his men, and after they liberated themselves, they continued to wear them as a reminder to stay vigilant.
Marston also created a weakness for Wonder Woman: Whenever the bracelets were chained together, she would lose her Amazon strength. This would often lead to Wonder Woman triumphing by breaking from her bondage, turning her into a WWII-era symbol of women breaking free from society’s constraints.
Wonder Woman also returned the favor with a bondage tool of her own: her magic lasso, which forced those ensnared by it to tell the truth. An odd weapon for the time, but a fitting creation for Marston, who was one of the inventors of the lie detector test.
A year after her debut, Wonder Woman broke away from All-Star Comics and got her own series. Her rise coincided with the rise of Rosie The Riveter and an interest in more feminist media as women were called upon to contribute to the war effort by taking factory jobs while men were away on the front lines. But she couldn’t break every boundary. She served on the Justice Society of America — a precursor to the Justice League — as the team’s secretary.
By the 50s, the rise of the nuclear family, combined with the change in comic book content imposed by the Comics Code Authority, forced Wonder Woman on a different path. An emphasis was put more on Wonder Woman’s romantic life with Steve Trevor and her origin story was rewritten so that she was a descendant of the Greek gods, a move made to placate censors uncomfortable with the idea that Marston’s Amazons had no fathers in their society.
In 1968, Wonder Woman made her most shocking move yet, choosing to surrender her Amazon powers rather than travel with her people to another dimension so she could stay with Steve. Opening a mod boutique and relying on a Chinese mentor named I Ching to teach her martial arts skills she could use instead of her powers, Wonder Woman was taken far away from her roots.
But in 1972, Wonder Woman found new life as a feminist icon, starting with her appearance on the cover of the first issue of Gloria Steinem’s Ms. magazine. A year later, DC restored her powers in “Wonder Woman Vol. 1, #204,” while the character gained popularity outside of comic books as a part of the “Super Friends” animated TV series.
Then, in 1974, Wonder Woman made her live-action debut in a made-for-TV movie starring Cathy Lee Crosby. A year later, Lynda Carter stepped into the role in an iconic TV series that rivaled Adam West’s “Batman” series in popularity.
Following the entire reboot of the DC timeline with “Crisis On Infinite Earths” in 1986, Wonder Woman’s origins were rewritten again. Her original, fatherless origins were restored, while the Greek mythology from the 50s continued to play a major role. Diana’s home island was also given a new name: Themiscyra, a name still used to this day.
In the '90s, NBC attempted to revive Wonder Woman on TV with a new series that would see Diana work as a professor in Greek mythology while not fighting bad guys as Wonder Woman. Unfortunately, the series was scuttled before filming could begin.
In 2011, DC rebooted its entire continuity again with The New 52, leading to writer Brian Azzarello giving Diana a new addition to her arsenal along with her magic lasso: a sword and shield, both of which are used in the new movie.
In 2016, DC writer Greg Rucka confirmed that Wonder Woman is, by canon law, bisexual. “Themyscira is a queer culture,” he said. "I'm not hedging that. And anyone who wants to prevaricate on that is being silly.”
That same year, Israeli actress Gal Gadot stepped into the role of Wonder Woman and gave the character her feature film debut in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Though critics largely panned the film, praise was reserved for Gadot’s performance, as they saw potential for her future in a solo movie.
That potential has been realized in 2017 with “Wonder Woman,” the first solo film for a super heroine in DC’s Extended Universe. Wonder Woman will also play a major role later this year in “Justice League,” where she will team up with Batman, Cyborg, The Flash, and Aquaman.