Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Wonder Woman

Dark-haired US Comic-book superheroine dressed in star-spangled blue shorts and a low-cut, strapless red top with a gold eagle motif, red high-heeled boots and a gold tiara. She also wears gold, bullet-deflecting bracelets which, if chained together by a man, become "bracelets of submission", placing her under his control. She was created by psychologist William Moulton Marston – the inventor of the polygraph – under the pseudonym Charles Moulton, and, along with Batman and Superman, is one of DC Comics' most enduring characters. Her first appearance was in All Star Comics #8 (December/January 1941-1942) where the beginning of her origin story (completed in Sensation Comics #1 1942) is set on Paradise Island, a lost world of heroic immortal women, ruled by the wise and courageous Queen Hippolyte. They see the future threatened by world war and cause US army officer Steve Trevor to crashland on their island, so that one of their number can return with him to "help fight the forces of hate and oppression". Queen Hippolyte's daughter, Diana, falls in love with Trevor and is chosen to accompany him. With an invisible robot plane and a golden lasso that gives her control over anyone she ensnares with it, she battles the Nazi menace. She assumes the identity of plain, bespectacled Diana Prince as a cover and is aided by a group of adolescent girls – the Holliday Girls.

Marston used the character to express and explore ideas about male and female relationships, psychological theories and philosophical notions. WW's list of adversaries included some colourful villains and villainesses, including Gestapo agent Paula von Gunther, Hypnota the Great – a woman posing as a man, who mentally enslaves her own sister – and Dr Psycho, a psychopathic madman who hypnotizes his fiancée to gain her assistance in his plan to dominate and control all women. It was themes such as this that led Frederick Wertham (1895-1981) to cite WW as "one of the most harmful" comic books in his Seduction of the Innocent (1953).

WW was drawn with a touch of whimsy by H G Peter (1880-1958), who took on a team of assistants to help with the art, which he continued to produce until 1950, when he was abruptly fired; he died soon afterwards. Marston wrote the stories until his death in 1947, after which, written by Robert Kanigher (1915-2002) and drawn by Ross Andru (1925-1993) and Mike Esposito (1927-2010), WW became a more routine superheroine adventure comic book, with more emphasis on her gadgets and her invisible plane.

In 1968 (Wonder Woman #179) Mike Sekowsky took over both script and art. He re-clad WW in a trendy jumpsuit, killed off Steve Trevor and introduced an ancient Chinese mystic, I Ching. WW became a karate-chopping feminist icon. This phase was short-lived: she returned to being the costumed superheroine in Wonder Woman #204 (1973). Other efforts were made to breathe new life into the character in the 1980s, most notably with writer Kurt Busiek's (1960-    ) and artist Trina Robbins's attempt to return to Marston's conception (in The Legend of Wonder Woman 1986). A new series of WW comic books began in 1987 with art by George Pérez (1954-    ).

The feminist magazine Ms published a book-length vintage collection with a perceptive introduction by Gloria Steinem and an "interpretive essay" by feminist psychologist Dr Phyllis Chester entitled Wonder Woman (graph 1972). [RT]

see also: The Adventures of Wonder Woman (1976-1979); The New, Original Wonder Woman (1975 tvm); Wonder Woman (1974 tvm).

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This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.