‘Wonder Woman’: The secret origins of a smash hit film

Introduced in the 1940s as a “progressive” counterpart to Superman and Batman, Wonder Woman has endured as a major superhero character ever since. (Pt. 1 of 2)

Composite image by T. L. Ponick: (L) Cover of Wonder Woman vol. 2, 1 (Feb, 1987). Art by George Pérez. (R) Wonder Woman on the cover of Trinity vol. 2, #4 (February 2017). Art by Clay Mann and Brad Anderson. Artwork © DC Comics, low res images, fair use in context.

WASHINGTON, July 4, 2017 – There are very few comic book characters more enduring than Wonder Woman. She was created by William Moulton Marston in 1941 only a few years after that enduring pair of DC Comics stalwarts, Superman and Batman, had hit the stands.

Like those two characters, Wonder Woman has managed to stay in print ever since. Her dynamic look and unique superhero status – particularly in the era when she first appears – are why she’s been one of the icons of the superhero genre since its inception and one of few women in the genre who’s firmly planted in the canon.

Wonder Woman’s origins are dramatically different from the backstories of the other dominant superheroes of her time. Whereas Superman and Batman were created by men in their early 20s whose creations hit the newsstands as works in progress, Wonder Woman’s spiritual mother was nearly 50 when she dreamed up the idea for an excitingly different female superhero whose origins were shrouded in ancient Greek mythology.

Unlike Superman and Batman who were created at first to star in adventure and crime stories, Wonder Woman was a fully formed concept when she first made her first DC Comics appearance in All Star Comics #8 in October 1941. She was the brainchild of professor of psychology William Marston, a Harvard Ph.D. who made a significant contribution to the development of the modern polygraph.

In his non-academic life, Marston had become obsessed with creating a different kind of “progressive” mythic comic book character as a counterbalance to then then-popular and highly ultra-male Superman and Batman.

Marston saw comic books as an educational tool and used Wonder Woman as way for him to express his views of liberated women. The idea of Wonder Woman was, according to numerous sources, actually fleshed out and suggested to Marston by his wife, Elizabeth, a fellow progressive herself. Given the era, the notion of a superhero “Wonder Woman” was a “far out there” concept, especially considering she first appeared in a DC Comic in 1941.

With the death Marston in 1947 while he was still writing the stories for Wonder Woman, the notion of the character a progressive benchmark receded. Her perception as one of DC Comics’ core characters never really changed, but the her stories began to transition toward more standard fare.

As a result, despite being touted alongside the likes of Superman and Batman, Wonder Woman was given few opportunities to shine independently. She was included in superhero teams like DC’s periodically revised “Justice League” series. But outside of her appearance in a short-lived but fondly remembered 1970s TV series starring Lynda Carter, she was excluded from television, film, and animation efforts, whereas Superman and Batman were regulars on these circuits.

This was maddening development for true Wonder Woman devotees. But on another level, it turned out to be a godsend when it came to Wonder Woman’s long-delayed appearance on the silver screen.

Next: “Wonder Woman’s” dramatic debut in Hollywood’s superhero universe.

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