Updated: Oct 16
Celebrating the Amazing Amazon on her 80th Anniversary
Most gay men have a favorite fantasy female idol -- Samantha Stevens, Jaime Sommers, Jeannie, Alexis Carrington, Xena, Olivia Pope.
Since childhood, this gay man's "super woman" of choice has always been DC Comics' Wonder Woman -- created by Dr. William Moulton Marston -- who celebrates her 80th anniversary on Oct. 21, 2021.
Famed comic-book writer/artist George Perez, who chronicled Wonder Woman in the 1980s, describes her thusly: "...a star-spangled amalgam of fantasy, American patriotism, ancient myth, science fiction, and even a not-so-subtle hint of kinkiness."
I'm frequently asked, Why Wonder Woman?
It's a question I've pondered a lot over the decades. Alas, there's no one simple answer.
Back in my 20s, a shrink once offered this explanation: "When you were a gay kid, you needed a role model who exhibited strength without being a macho asshole."
That's certainly one reason. I could spend an entire blog just unpacking that theory. But this is about her, not me!
Another reason I identified with Diana early on was her backstory.
Here's someone with a charmed life -- a princess, no less -- living in such a utopia that it was literally named "Paradise Island." (The name "Themyscira" came later, and we'll get there!)
Yet despite this blessed existence, Diana felt restless and longed for more -- to experience life in "Man's World," to use her talents and skills for a greater good. So she left paradise behind, and journeyed to a brand-new world. (Unlike Supes and Bats, she could still return home to family when she wanted or needed to.)
I grew up in rural Indiana, which is downright bucolic. Yet as much as I love it there, for as long as I can remember, I longed to leave it behind, to move to the "big city," to experience different lifestyles and cultures -- so long as I could come back home to visit!
How I wished for an invisible jet of my own, that would allow me to live in both worlds, as soon as I read my very first Wonder Woman comic book.
And then, there's her status as an LGBTQ icon. Long before he'd ever heard the term "gender roles," young Leon relished how Diana Prince turned sexual stereotypes and conventions on their heads. (As did her creator Marston, I'd later learn, with his polyamorous home life -- but, again, that's another blog.)
Diana came from a land of only women. She advocated equality. She loved Steve Trevor, but refused to "settle down" and get married, because doing so would only distract her from her life's work.
But most importantly, she was never the "damsel in distress," waiting to be rescued by a man. She was the "cavalry," constantly saving Trevor's ass.
(Her earliest stories also contained a good deal of "bondage and discipline" -- something I never picked up on until I was an adult!)
I enjoyed the SuperFriends cartoon. But once the TV show starring Lynda Carter debuted in 1975, this 12-year-old was a deeply committed fanatic. The series fell apart a bit after it moved to CBS and updated to the 1970s, but its first season on ABC -- set during World War II in the 1940s -- remained perhaps the most faithful adaptation of an original comic-book property to TV or film until Watchmen. And Carter-as-Wonder Woman may be the most ideal Hollywood casting since Vivien Leigh won the role of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind.
I'm sure I'm not the only gay boy who spun himself dizzy back then!
From my earliest exposure to the comic books, I also appreciated that Wonder Woman's mission set her apart from all the other spandex'd superheroes, and made her truly unique.
She wasn't the world's greatest detective, out to strike terror in the hearts of criminals, like Batman.
She wasn't the guardian of the universe and enforcer of truth and justice, like Superman.
She wasn't thrust into her role by events outside her control -- like the demise of her planet, or murder of her parents, or a bite from a radioactive spider. She chose to be the hero.
And unlike her "Bam! Pow!" colleagues, Wonder Woman used force and might as a last resort. She almost always saw the potential for good in even the worst villains, and preferred to resolve conflicts with truth and reason instead of fisticuffs.
Many early Wonder Woman tales didn't end with the criminal going to jail. Diana was just as interested in forgiveness, redemption and transformation. She felt anyone could change for the better, and even convinced vile Nazi Baroness Paula von Gunther to change her evil ways and use her genius for the good of humanity. (After a stint at the Amazons' "Transformation Island," Gunther became Paradise Island's leading scientist!)
That really appealed to this young pacifist!
Unfortunately, this aspect of her character can be particularly vexing for some of her writers, and can make creating an exciting conclusion to a Wonder Woman tale especially challenging. (Don't believe me? Just watch the frustrating Wonder Woman 1984.)
Perhaps this is why the character was revamped by DC Comics in the mid-1980s.
After a wonderful start with the aforementioned writer/artist Perez, this new Wonder Woman began to embrace her warrior heritage. She often carried a sword and a shield. Her desire to reform criminals was toned down in favor of a more brutal Amazon. Idyllic Paradise Island became strive-filled Themyscira.
As comics in general became darker and darker, she seemed to stray further and further from her pacifist roots. The "point of no return" came in 2005, when Wonder Woman snapped the neck of villain Maxwell Lord. (Granted, I found myself wishing she'd do just that in WW84!)
It was around this time that I stopped reading her monthly adventures. The "New 52" interpretation of the character was just too much to take. I sold my massive collection of comic books and most of my action figures and statues.
But I never gave up on Marston's original heroine, the peace-loving character I grew up with.
So I was thrilled in 2017 when the long-awaited, well-received feature film Wonder Woman restored just a bit of that original sense of the character (even if she did still run around with that sword and shield.)
I was thrilled further that Patty Jenkins & Gal Gadot brought her a new level of respect and appreciation, especially since she's spent many of her decades languishing -- suffering from creative teams that don't "get" her, constant "revamps," and a publishing company that often treated her as an after-thought.
DC isn't making that mistake these days! They've since jettisoned most of the "New 52" and have brought the character a bit closer to her original incarnation. They seem to finally revere her as much as Superman and Batman since her big box-office debut.
Now if only they'd get rid of that damned sword and shield!
Happy Birthday, Wonder Woman! Thank you, Dr. Marston! Here's to many more decades of the Amazing Amazon!
How to Celebrate!
Check out Polymor.com's list of the Greatest Wonder Woman Comics of All Time. I agree with almost every entry on this list, except for the dreadful New 52. I prefer Amazons who don't rape and kill sailors, then sacrifice the resulting male offspring -- but that's just me!
As for the best episodes of the series, check out the Pilot, entitled "New, Original Wonder Woman," plus season one's "Fausta: The Nazi Wonder Woman," "Last of the $2 Bills" and the two-part "Feminium Mystique" (with Debra Winger as Wonder Girl). From season two, check out "Anschluss '77," "The Man Who Could Move the World" and "Light-Fingered Lady" -- all available on HBO Max.
Finally, check out two new special titles from DC Comics that celebrate her long, varied history.
Wonder Woman 80th Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectacular features 9 brand-new stories, each written & drawn to emulate the style of each of the Amazon's eight decades --with the final chapter set in 2109. (It comes in 8 variant covers, too, naturally!)
Or splurge on the 400-plus-page full-color hardcover collection Wonder Woman: 80 Years of the Amazon Warrior - The Deluxe Edition, which reprints stories from the title's different incarnations of the character, along with new interviews with Lynda Carter, Gal Gadot and Patty Jenkins.