Rebirth of Reason


The Amazon Princess and America
by Alexandra Ceely

As beautiful as Aphrodite, as wise as Athena, as swift as Mercury, as strong as Hercules, and as American as apple pie, she is Wonder Woman. Along with the two greats, Superman and Batman, the super heroine graced by gods and goddesses of Olympus has been an American icon for 60 years. Even though she has had her ups and downs, she is still entrenched in American culture and psyche. But she has never been as popular as those two male heroes, so how could she have survived so long?

Wonder Woman made her debut in All Star Comics in December of 1942. Her creator was Charles Moulton, a pen name for a rather eccentric psychologist named William Moulton Marston. He believed women would one day rule the world, and Wonder Woman was the prototype who would show the way. He obviously liked women very much, for he was married to one, lived with three, and had children by two of them. But he did not create Wonder Woman as a role model for women; no, she was a model for boys, to show them that it was good to submit to "the power of love" that the strong woman represented. In a very real way, Wonder Woman was a female Superman. She was always saving her love, Steve Trevor, from someone or something threatening, in pure Superman/Lois Lane fashion.

When Wonder Woman was born, the United States was fighting World War II. She enthusiastically joined the fight against fascists and nazis, helping Steve Trevor crush spy rings as well as outrageous super villains. Although she believed in peace, she recognized the necessity of fighting evil. After the war, Dr. Marston had Wonder Woman traveling through space and time, meeting aliens and leprechauns and Julius Caesar in strange flights of fantasy. Dr. Marston exclusively wrote Wonder Woman until his death in 1947, and the old fashioned artist H.G. Peter continued to draw her for several more years.

But, inevitably, tastes changed, and Wonder Woman's readership lagged. Romance comics rose in popularity, and suddenly Wonder Woman was being saved by Steve Trevor, and lamenting her lack of marriage proposals. In the 60's, writers of Wonder Woman changed her altogether, doing away with her powers and her costume, and even the title "Wonder Woman" in favor of Diana Prince. They created a character more like Emma Peel of The Avengers - only half as exciting. But Gloria Steinem and members of the feminist movement demanded that the classic Wonder Woman be brought back, with all her strength and her wisdom. Since then, she has gone through troubled times, as all of the characters in the DC universe have, but she is still Wonder Woman.

As a young girl, I read and collected Wonder Woman comics. Why? Because she was a strong kick-ass super hero who was also female. She was a combination of Emma Peel and Batgirl, my other two favorite heroines. To me she proved that women were just as strong as men. But, the readership of Wonder Woman has always been predominantly male. Boys and men read more comic books than girls and women, that's just a fact of life. And now, among today's post-modernist anti-heroes, Wonder Woman must compete with the angst of Batman, the wisecracks of Spiderman, the bad attitude of Wolverine and the Satanic overtones of Spawn. Comic book heroes are still predominantly male, and the few female ones tend to be just as twisted as the men, to the extent that female super villains are the ones with their own comics, like Catwoman and Harly Quinn.

So how has Wonder Woman held her appeal all these years? One answer is the artwork. When H.G.Peter first drew Wonder Woman in 1942, he used a primitive, caricaturish style popular at the turn of the century. That was fine for the time. In the 60's the artwork was more refined, but comic book art was very distinct from any other, and it appealed to kids. Nowadays, comic books aren't bought by kids anymore - they can't afford them! So the tastes of comics connoisseurs has matured. In the last few years, the covers of Wonder Woman have been painted by Adam Hughes, who has made her more beautiful than she ever was before. What man could resist a woman truly as beautiful as Aphrodite?

But artwork does not explain it all. It is what lies behind the facade that has allowed Wonder Woman to retain her popularity. Even though Wonder Woman is a warrior born and trained to fight evil, she represents truth and beauty and peace. These ideas seem a bit hokey to many today, but let's dig a little deeper to a more subconscious level. Wonder Woman represents America.

In a recent publication apart from her monthly magazine, Wonder Woman ponders her role in man's world. In Wonder Woman: Spirit of Truth, she is shown trying to help people, yet being scorned as a freak, and feared for her strength and differentness. In one scene, she arrives in a desert war zone, stepping out of her invisible plane like a goddess from Mt. Olympus. Immediately, the chador-covered women of the marketplace stone her, fearful of her western appearance. She asks Clark Kent for advice, and he explains the concept of blending in with those she wishes to help. The next time she tries to help these people, she arrives completely covered, but when it comes down to remaining under cover or saving these peoples' lives, she drops her disguise and again appears as the goddess, the Amazon warrior that she is.

As an editor said of her recently, "We believe Diana's mission is to promote peace, not stop war." Wonder Woman fights terrorists and corruption while espousing her own ideal: a peaceful world. She is the embodiment of peace through superior firepower. She hesitates to enter any battle unnecessarily, or to hurt anyone even accidentally, yet rises like a mighty goddess of war when provoked. This is the perception of America: strong, beautiful, wanting to help, yet scorned and despised by those she would aid. Wonder Woman is America.

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