As the first female superhero, Wonder Woman has been hailed as an icon ever since her first appearance in DC's Sensation Comics in 1942. Created by William Marston, along with his wife Sadie Holloway and their partner Olive Byrne, Wonder Woman was conceived as a tonic to the more violent masculine heroes of the age. Marston infused Diana of Themiscyra with everything he felt a hero should have: strength and skill in battle, but also diplomatic ability and compassion.
Above all else, Diana symbolized truth and justice, which was clear as her chief weapon was the Lasso of Truth. In later years, Wonder Woman was developed into the greatest warrior of the Justice League, and her role in the comics has been an inspiration to many people.
With Gal Gadot leaping onto the screen for Wonder Woman's long awaited live-action debut, we're heading into a new era for this iconic hero, one of DC's oldest and best.
Champion Of Truth & Justice
It's easy to see how influenced Marston was by early feminist politics in Wonder Woman's first comic books. Themes of equality and justice for all were prevalent, along with a lot of queer subtext. Marston intended Wonder Woman to be a new kind of hero, espousing his values and changing the course of comic history forever.
Although her origin story has since been altered several times, Diana was originally written as the daughter of Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, a peaceful and diplomatic race of women who were nonetheless unmatched in their skills as warriors. Mirroring the myth of Galatea, Hippolyta created Diana from clay. Later retcons to her story revealed that Diana's powers were granted by the Gods of Olympus, as they chose her to be their champion and the defender of humanity.
The New 52 changed this origin story completely, adding in a father (Zeus) and giving Diana the mantle of the God of War. After decades of choosing diplomacy and truth above all else, the New 52 Wonder Woman was the most vicious and warlike we'd seen yet. The recent Rebirth continuity reset, however, has taken a welcome step back to her original values.
Diana's story has incorporated many elements over the years, and war has been an important part of her story. But as Gail Simone argued, the point of Wonder Woman isn't that she's good at fighting wars, it's that she's good at ending them.
"If you need to stop an asteroid, you call Superman. If you need to solve a mystery, you call Batman. But if you need to end a war, you call Wonder Woman."
Although she's been written by many people over the years, with many different iterations of her character, Wonder Woman is at her best when the focus isn't just her skills as a warrior, but her capability for compassion.
The Heart Of The Justice League
Although it's true that Superman is the paragon of virtue, Wonder Woman is often the voice of reason in the League. But beyond her role as part of the superhero team, Diana's dual identities as both a warrior and a diplomat aren't incompatible. One of the best examples of this is in the 2009 animated film Wonder Woman, where she teaches a young girl how to "disembowel her playmates."
Wonder Woman's role as a symbol of hope is one of the things that makes her so compelling. There are so many moments like this, when Diana inspires people to overcome adversity. Another excellent example is in the recent run of Sensation Comics; in Issue 3, Diana encounters a boy who idolizes her, taking issue with how his peers bully him for liking "girl stuff." She snaps off a part of the Lasso of Truth, telling him:
"The truth is: Being true to yourself is never wrong."
That statement has become even more pertinent recently, as the queer themes that Marston not-so-subtly injected into Wonder Woman's story have become more prevalent.
In Earth One, an ongoing comic series by Grant Morrison, Diana has a girlfriend named Mala, bringing those queer undertones to the fore. It's clear that Wonder Woman's role as a symbol of hope is far from over, and has only become more important lately.
With any luck, Wonder Woman's 2017 movie will cherry pick the best parts of Diana's comic history. The sizzle reel for Wonder Woman released late last year called Diana "the best fighter in the DC universe." While this is true, there's much more to Wonder Woman's characterization than her skill in battle. There's a dignity about her that is unmatched by any other DC character, and it's her capacity for love that really sets her apart, making her just as important now as she was 75 years ago.