I bought my first Wonder Woman comic sometime in 1974. It was one of the early issues of the Twelve Labors storyline. The Mod Era had been recognized as, ultimately, a failure. While Diana had her powers back and her compatriots in the Justice League were ready to welcome her with open arms, she hesitated. Unsure of herself and her abilities, of her place in the world, she suggested that the League monitored her next adventures, and that they use that as the basis for their decision to re-admit her to the League.
I do have some memories of seeing issues from that Mod Era, memories which came back when I read the full set of stories much later, but that issue (this one, I think) was the first time I looked at the book and thought, “This. I want to read this.”
I followed those Twelve Labors, and her rejoining the Justice League. I kept on reading. I watched what I could of the TV show, though the network affiliate in my area didn’t air any of the first season. When the comic switched to World War II/Earth 2 to match the show, I kept reading. When the comic came back to modern day, I kept reading. When Steve Trevor came back to life, and then died again, and then came back to life, I kept reading.
At some point, it fell away. Probably because of some artist or other I didn’t like. I was mostly driven to pick up comics because of art, and even characters I loved lost me at times for that reason.
And then something seismic happened in comics. Crisis on Infinite Earths changed everything. The DC Universe was remade, and with it, Wonder Woman. George Perez revamped the title, and I jumped back on board.
I’ve come and gone from the title over the years. But my love for Diana as a character has never wavered in that time, despite so many changes in direction and creative teams over the years.
And there have been so many directions and creative teams over the 80 years Wonder Woman has existed. And I’ve dug into many of them through reprints and trade paperbacks over the years.
There was her origins, created by William Moulton Marston, steeped in Marston’s early feminism and his ideas on bondage and “willing submission”. There were the somewhat dismal Robert Kanigher years, when Diana went from a powerful woman to a sop whose only interest seemed to be getting Steve Trevor to marry her. I mean, they even replaced her kick ass boots with dainty ballet slippers.
Then there was the ill fated Mod Era, when faced with the cancellation of the book, DC figured they might as well change it up dramatically because otherwise, the book was doomed. So Denny O’Neill had the idea to take away her powers, kill off Steve Trevor and remake Diana in the mode of Emma Peel from The Avengers (No, not THOSE Avengers). It was… an interesting idea, if deeply flawed. Diana still often pined for some man or other. There was her mentor, I Ching (*shudders in racist*) and the fact that DC’s most powerful heroine had been stripped of her superpowers. But there are some really interesting stories in this period. And there are times when Diana, despite having to rely only on her new martial arts skills, shows grit and power, and a familiar determination to do what’s right. What needs to be done.
And over the years there have been memorable writers who have shown how much they too love Wonder Woman. For every writer that shows how much they don’t “get” her at all, there have been George Perez, Phil Jimenez, Gail Simone, Greg Rucka. Each of them has taken what has come before and found their own way to make Diana compelling and shown her to be the top tier character she is.
So, who is Diana? Who are the Amazons? Who are Steve Trevor and Etta Candy? What is this mythos that has held me for almost fifty years? Who is this character that has kept me coming back since I was 11?
The Amazons are a culture devoted to peace, to art, to philosophy, to science. And yes, to the arts of war. But only as a last resort. Only so that if you threaten them, they will not lose. When portrayed properly, they Amazons are one of the most sophisticated cultures that has ever existed. One of the details I have loved the most from George Perez’s reboot is the idea that the Amazons were created by the Greek Gods from the souls of women lost to violence perpetrated by men, given a new life and a new chance to create a better culture, a better world.
Steve Trevor has been the square jawed hero who was smitten with Wonder Woman, yet never noticed Diana Prince at all. At other times, he has been an older, mentor figure who was one of Diana’s closest friend. At his best, he has been portrayed as a smart, capable, and skilled agent who is eminently worthy of Diana’s esteem and love.
Etta Candy has been a sorority girl, a ditzy secretary, a secret agent herself. And is now a butch Black lesbian. (She has achieved perfection.) But through it all, she has been another of Diana’s best friends.
And Diana? My beautiful Diana? Diana was sculpted from the clay of Paradise Island/Themyscira (she is not, nor has she ever been the daughter of Zeus LALALALALA I CAN’T HEAR YOU….) She was brought to life by the same Greek Gods her people venerated. Her speed, her strength, her ability to fly, those were all gifted to her. And when the time came to enter Man’s World in WWII or combat Ares, or be the ambassador of her people, she chose that happily, because she knew what had to be done.
Diana is truth. She is kindness and compassion. She is laughter and loyalty. She is power, but power used only in the service of helping others, protecting those who need her help. She will first take every path but the violent one. But if you threaten peace, if you threaten the innocent, she will stop you. And she beyond her superpowers, she has all of the combat skills to back them up.
Diana is the light. She is the best in all of us. She is the will to help those who need us. She is present I the love we hold for each other. The generosity of spirit we show to each other, when we share what we have. When we lift each other up, rather than tear each other down. When we strive to make ourselves and each other better.
She is all of us when we stand against violence, against cruelty, against racism, against homophobia and transphobia. She is all of us when we say, “No”. When we say “This is not acceptable. There is a better way. A way that benefits us all.”
Loving Wonder Woman made me a better human. Made me want to strive for more. Made me want to strive for the light. To be someone that, even in the tiniest of ways, eases the path of those around me so that we all might be just a little bit better.
Diana is not a sword. Not a shield. Diana is an embrace. Diana is laughter and joy. Diana is the power that holds the line, and says “No further. This ends now.”
Diana is the open hand. Waiting to lead us, to join us. Ready to say “Let’s go this way. Let’s go together.”