Wonder Woman is an enigma. Although she's among DC's most famous and instantly recognizable heroes, if you go up to someone on the street and ask about her origin story, it's unlikely they'll be able to fill you in. Unlike Superman and Batman, Wonder Woman's story hasn't been absorbed into the public consciousness. And yet her fans are among the most dedicated and passionate in DC's fanbase. Once you know Diana Prince, it's easy to fall in love with her.
It's difficult to pin down why this is. Wonder Woman's story is much more complex than her contemporaries — we all grew up knowing that Superman is an alien and Batman's parents died — and ironically, while this complexity may have prevented Wonder Woman's story from being well-known, this also makes her the most compelling member of the Justice League.
Wonder Woman is a superhero unlike any other. There is a sense of divinity and destiny in her story, as her role has more in common with the champions of Greek mythology than more typical superheroes of her era. Conceived by William Moulton Marston as a tonic to the violent masculinity that he blamed for many of the world's ills, Wonder Woman jumped straight into World War II from her mythological island of Themiscyra, a champion from an ancient and idealized age come to rid the world of war.
Wonder Woman's Silver Age origin story expanded on the Hellenistic influence, with Hippolyta molding Diana out of clay and the Greek pantheon of gods granting Diana special powers. Beauty and grace came from Aphrodite, flight and speed from Hermes, wisdom and skill in battle from Athena. This set Wonder Woman apart from other Justice League heroes and everyone else in DC's multiverse. Diana was not born of man or woman, but made of clay and granted godly powers. She was something new, something powerful, dedicated to helping those who could not help themselves.
Superheroes fulfill much the same purpose in our culture as the demigods and champions of ancient legends. Wonder Woman bridges the gap between the ancient and the new, inviting her writers to make full use of the gods and monsters that populate Greek mythology. This can be challenging and many writers in Wonder Woman's comic history ignored her mythical roots. But if you take this away, then Diana becomes just another superhero with powers similar to Superman and with nothing to set her apart (and the less said about that time in the 1970s when she was a de-powered spy, the better).
Some of Wonder Woman's best stories dove headfirst into the Hellenistic narrative — The New 52, one of DC's recent continuities, refined the mythological element of Diana's story. Instead of pitting her against the kind of cackling villains that other superheroes face, writer Brian Azzarello wove an intricate tale of rival gods and dueling demigods, with Diana — now daughter of Zeus — caught in the crossfire. Azzarello also introduced many of Greek mythology's most terrifyingly weird monsters, while a later crossover with Haden Blackman's critically acclaimed Batwoman comic blended legend with a supernatural gothic story to great effect.
Of course, this reboot was not without its controversies. As he told the New York Post, Azzarello changed Diana's origin because he felt a father figure was vital to her character — thus demonstrating a fundamental misunderstanding of the entire point of Diana's story. For Wonder Woman isn't just a champion worthy of the myths of old, she's also a bold statement about what women can achieve, completely independent of men.
If there is one thing that sets Wonder Woman apart from her contemporaries, it's the fact that she herself is set apart. Having grown up on Paradise Island, Diana has a unique perspective on humanity — she is an outsider who can see everything humans do wrong and everything they do right. Again, this is a complicated element of Diana's character that, in the past, has led writers to give her stilted and antiquated dialogue while painting her as naive and often obtuse.
But when utilized properly, Diana as an outsider is a fascinating idea, especially when this makes her a wise voice in the Justice League. Most often, this external perspective is applied to Diana's hatred of war — which is why her archenemy is Ares, the Greek god of war.
Diana's driving force is the fact that she always believes there is another way, that war can be avoided — even if, paradoxically, she uses violence to achieve this end. Director Patty Jenkins chose the relationship that Diana has with war as a core theme of 2017's Wonder Woman, with the trailers revealing that Diana's peaceful upbringing and determination to save others led her to try to stop World War I.
This is an excellent use of all the elements that make up Wonder Woman's story. We get the sense that Gal Gadot's Diana comes from a world not like ours, but her eagerness to become a savior is endearing. In the film, Diana is presented as a legendary figure, the woman who walks through war without a scratch, inspiring others to find another way and put an end to WWI. As she has many times in the comics, Diana's actions are directed toward the resolution of conflict, believing that Ares is perpetuating WWI for his own gain.
But this is just the start of Wonder Woman's DCEU story. Thanks to years of gritty DC movies, Wonder Woman is positioned as bringing hope back to the DCEU, the light at the end of a dark, blue-tinted tunnel. More than ever, Diana's role as the outsider is emphasized — and now, thanks to Wonder Woman's WWI setting, the DCEU's Diana will also have the wisdom of longevity, having witnessed decades of human history. Of course, we're yet to discover how her long life may have tarnished her youthful ideals.
So far, it seems that Jenkins and the other DCEU filmmakers have cherry-picked the best parts of Diana's story, leaning heavily on her mythological origin while stressing the importance of her optimism. Ultimately, that's what makes her such an inspiring hero — and with the release of her first live-action solo movie, millions of new fans will finally discover the importance of Wonder Woman.