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Comments on the Wonder Woman Season 1 documentary

April 26, 2020

In the Wonder Woman Season 1 DVD documentary, Beauty, Brawn and Bulletproof Bracelets: A Wonder Woman Retrospective (no director, writer, or producer credited, 2004), comic book historian Les Daniels made quite a gaffe in stating that a female superhero had never been done prior to Wonder Woman. This could be considered true if you know that in the early days, non-powered superheroes such as the Batman, the Sandman, the Atom, Mister Terrific, and the Wildcat were considered “mystery men” rather than “superheroes.” (Marvel’s The Angel, Thomas Halloway, who had no powers (although he later acquired artificial wings, I think in his eighth appearance) could hardly be called a “mystery man”–he wore no mask, got recognized immediately, and never attempted to keep his identity a secret, even though he had no qualms strangling criminals with his bare hands–rich people can get away with anything.) In Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, Max C. Gaines, president of All-American Comics (played by Oliver Platt), initially rejects Wonder Woman on the grounds that female superheroes have been tried but don’t sell.

Chronology of some of the better-known early female superheroes (note that comicbooks were and still are usually published several months in advance of their cover dates to keep them on stands longer):

* Sheena, Queen of the Jungle/Sheena Rivington (Wags #1, Joshua B. Power (UK), January 1937; US: Jumbo Comics #1, Fiction House, September 1938)

* Fantomah/real name unrevealed (Jungle Comics #2, Fiction House, February 1940)

* The Woman in Red/Peggy Allen (Thrilling Comics #2, Nedor Comics, March 1940)

* Lady Luck/Brenda Banks (The Spirit Section (syndicated newspaper supplement), June 2, 1940)

* The Black Widow/Claire Voyant (Mystic Comics #4, Timely Comics (now Marvel), August 1940; after issue #8 she did not appear again apart from flashback cameos in Marvels #1 (January 1994) and Marvel Knights Spider-Man #9 (February 2005) until J. Michael Straczynski’s 12-issue miniseries, The Twelve, which began in March 2008.)

* The Red Tornado/Matilda Hunkel (All-American Comics #20, All-American Comics (now DC), November 1940) (Hunkel was landlady to Scribbly the Boy Cartoonist, a pioneer of the autobiographical comic whose strip was called Why Brothers Leave Home (about Scribbly’s relationship with his younger brother, who felt abandoned by him moving out), and had a large family. She first appeared in All-American Comics #3 (June 1939) and only occasionally, and comically, attempted to play superhero. She continues to be a beloved matriarchal figure for the JSA in much more recent comics.)

* The Silver Scorpion/Betty Barstow (Daring Mystery Comics #7, Timely Comics (now Marvel), April 1941; the character appeared in the following two issues (#9 was retitled Comedy Comics, reflecting the first of many times the series shifted focus and changed titles) and did not appear again until Thunderbolts #40 (July 2000).)

* Miss Fury/Marla Drake (Bell Syndicate comic strip, April 6, 1941; reprinted by Timely (Marvel) in comic book format from Winter 1942 to Winter 1945)

* The Black Cat/Linda Turner (Pocket Comics #1, Harvey Comics, August 1941)

* Phantom Lady/Sandra Knight (Police Comics #1, Quality Comics, August 1941; acquired by DC in the 1970s and featured in Freedom Fighters (with Uncle Sam, Doll Man, The Human Bomb, The Ray, and the Black Condor), set on Earth-X where the Nazis had won World War II, initially appearing together in an annual Justice League/Justice Society team-up in Justice League of America #107-108, 1973)

* Blue Lady/Lucille Martin (Amazing-Man Comics #24, Centaur Comics, October 1941)

* Wonder Woman/Princess Diana of Paradise Island/Diana Prince (All Star Comics #8, All-American Comics (now DC), December 1941)

* Mary Marvel/Mary Batson (adopted surname Bromfield) (Captain Marvel Adventures #18, Fawcett Comics, December 1942; acquired by DC in the 1970s)

* Miss America/Madeline Joyce (Marvel Mystery Comics #49, Timely Comics (now Marvel), November 1943; Giant-Size Avengers #1 (August 1974) established that she married The Whizzaer (Robert Frank), and that they were the parents of Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, although this was presented as false by subsequrent writers.)

* Blonde Phantom/Louise Mason (All-Select Comics #11, Timely Comics (now Marvel), Fall 1946; she became part of She-Hulk’s supporting cast in the 1990s.)

* Namora/Aquaria Nautica Neptunia (Marvel Mystery Comics #82, Timely Comics (now Marvel), May 1947)

* Black Canary/Dinah Drake (Flash Comics #86, DC Comics, August 1947)

* Golden Girl/Betsy Ross (Captain America Comics #66, Timely Comics (now Marvel), April 1948; Ross first appeared without a costumed identity in Captain America Comics #1, Timely Comics, March 1941)

* Sun Girl/Mary Mitchell (Sun Girl #1, Timely Comics (now Marvel), August 1948)

* Venus/Aphrodite/Vicki Nutley Starr (Venus #1, Marvel Comics, August 1948)

I assume that there are other 1940s female superheroes that are more obscure, but Wonder Woman is, at minimum, the 12th female superhero ever created, not the first, even though she is the most iconic.

Daniels also said that DC Comics was then called All-American Comics, but that may have been to not go off on a tangent. All-American was a sister company run by Max C. Gaines that operated out of the same office and carried the logo and advertisements of Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson and Jack Liebowitz’s Detective Comics, Inc. (DC), which briefly split when Gaines wanted to go independent, but then sold everything to DC a few months later. At that point, the company took on the official name National Comics, but was colloquially still DC based on the logo (Jeanette Kahn officially renamed the company DC when she became president in the late 1970s). Since DC characters (Superman (briefly), the Batman (briefly), the Sandman, the Spectre, Doctor Fate, Starman) and All-American Comics characters (the Flash, the Green Lantern, Hawkman, Johnny Thunder and Thunderbolt, the Red Tornado (briefly), Wonder Woman, the Atom, and later Mister Terrific, the Wildcat, and Black Canary) appeared together in the Justice Society in All Star Comics, most readers probably would not have even known that there were two different companies until the All-American logo started appearing, which was only for a few months.

Lynda Carter mentioned that she wanted to see Wonder Woman get married and have children, which she considers too major a part of womanhood for such an icon to not have experienced. You actually can see this in the comics. In Wonder Woman #300, Wonder Woman of Earth-1 goes to visit the Golden Age Wonder Woman on Earth-2, who is married to Steve Trevor. I’m not sure if this was the first time this was depicted (it most likely was not–it was not presented as a new idea that the Golden Age versions of the characters were married). They have a super-powered daughter (introduced in the story as already a teenager) named Hippolyta (Lyta), who uses the costumed identity Fury, and later became a founding member of Infinity, Inc., a team established by the adult children of the members of the Justice Society of America after being refused membership on that team.

Also appearing in the issue is the Bronze Age Sandman (Garret Sanford), who offends Wonder Woman of Earth-1 by admitting to having observed her erotic dreams. Eventually, she realizes that he is a sincere and lonely man in the Dream Dimension (one of his two companions, a nightmare called Brute (Glob is the other), was shown in the 1970s Sandman series having a large family reunion, although I don’t recall him being a husband or father himself), forgives him, and accepts him as an ally and friend even though she rejects his proposal of marriage. They met again in Justice League of America Annual #1. The Sandman was made an honorary member of the team, but since he could exist outside the Dream Dimension for only an hour at a time, he would not be able to participate with them very much.

In Infinity, Inc., the Silver Scarab (Hector Hall, son of Carter and Shiera Hall, Golden Age Hawkman and Hawkwoman) apparently dies (I believe in the late 30s of the series) after getting Lyta pregnant. Hector’s spirit enters the body of Sanford, who had died in the Dream Dimension in the interim, apparently having allowing himself to waste away from loneliness. Hall’s spirit reforms the body into his own image, and he takes over that role and marries Lyta (Infinity, Inc. #49-51). These stories are all by Roy Thomas. In Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman #12, Hector and Lyta are still helping the boy Jed (who was a major character in all the Bronze Age Sandman comics except #4) in the Dream Dimension, but Dream puts a stop to that. Lyta continues to have a major supporting role in The Sandman throughout, and her son is chosen by Dream to be his successor. Lyta hated Dream, believing he had killed her husband, though he insisted that he hadn’t (indeed, he eventually assumed the mantle of Doctor Fate), but when he told her that her then-unnamed son’s name was Daniel, she thought it was appropriate and kept it.

I understand that he final issues of Wonder Woman, #327-329, during the Crisis on Infinite Earths, depict Wonder Woman of Earth-1 marrying Steve Trevor, but these issues always seem to be out of stock (dealers tell me that even though they’re not pricy, Wonder Woman back issues of that period sell well, and Crisis crossovers, which mostly remain uncollected, always sell well, too). I don’t have #327 yet, so I haven’t yet read the other two. Wonder Woman of Earth-1 was sent hurtling back into the clay from which she was formed (I’m not sure when this was added to her origin. I found it a little disturbing when I first saw it on Super Friends as a kid (not realizing then it was a mother-daughter version of the Greek myth of Pygmalion and Galatea), and it’s continued to be part of her origin. It was not part of William Moulton Marston’s origin, either in All Star Comics #8 or Sensation Comics #1, Robert Kanigher’s relaunch origin in Wonder Woman #98, or the origin story in the TV movie pilot of this series) at the very end of the Crisis for the 1987 relaunch of the New Earth Wonder Woman by George Pérez (which is excellent–he wrote the first 62 issues of the new series, drawing the first 24 of those). At this point, because Wonder Woman’s continuity was given a completely fresh start as a character in her late teens, Lyta Trevor’s continuity was reworked to make her adopted by Steve Trevor’s cousins, the daughter of a new World War II-era character called the Golden Age Fury, who got her powers directly from The Furies of Ancient Greece.

I remember reading something about a controversy because the post-Crisis Wonder Woman was going to lose her virginity to a black guy with dreds at some point, though I don’t know much about this (I’ve read only slightly past the Pérez run–through the 1992 Eclipso: The Darkness Within crossover). She was explicitly stated to be such in issue #7 of the new series, where she told off Zeus for wanting to take it, telling her that his affairs are an insult to his wife, particularly with Hera being the Goddess of Marriage, and that she loves him as a father and can’t do it. Zeus feigns outrage at her being the first to refuse him, and he sends her on the Challenge of the Gods to destroy the ancient evil under Paradise Island, which is the last of the Hecataconchieres and the Lernaen Hydra. He pretends it’s a punishment for rejecting him, but he later reveals (I believe to another Olympian) that he did it because he believed that she would succeed (I believe his exact words were that he wanted to “add to her glory” after convincing Ares to go into self-exile).

In the Elseworlds story, Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross (who appears in the documentary), the classic DC heroes have mostly retired after the public takes to superheroes willing (or in the case of Wonder Woman, more willing–see the Invasion! issues of the Pérez run–#25-26) to kill their foes. The backstory to this is that the Joker commits a mass murder including Lois Lane and over eighty men, and he is in turn murdered by one of these violent ’90s-style heroes called Magog while being police-escorted in manacles (Waid and Ross were inspired by everything that they did not like about Marvel’s Cable and Image Comics, though Magog was later reintroduced as a new member of the Justice Society in-continuity). The public turns against Superman because he thought that even with his personal involvement in the case, the Joker deserved a fair trial, not to be murdered by a vigilante while in custody. Public opinion was that he was betraying the woman he loved (who was his wife at this point even in the regular comics) rather than staying true to his core values, so he retires to his family’s farm. At the end of the story, Clark and Diana, now married, invite Bruce Wayne to lunch at a superhero nostalgia-themed diner and reveal to him that they are expecting and want him to be the godfather. That was later followed by series called The Kingdom, but I haven’t read it, so I don’t know if Clark and Diana’s kid has any role, let alone a major one.

Pretty much all the major DC superheroes of the Golden Age got married, mostly to their longtime love interests, and most of them had children. An exception was that Green Lantern Alan Scott married Molly Mayne, his former foe, the Harlequin, rather than longtime girlfriend Irene Miller. The big exception was the Golden Age Sandman Wesley Dodds and Dian Belmont, who eschewed marriage but remained together all their lives and never had children. Dian became a famous writer. Wesley was forced to commit suicide to prevent his mind from being probed for the identitites of his JSA friends. His funeral was in the first issue of the 1990s JSA series. Another who didn’t get married to his sweetheart, Clarice Sterling, was Jim Corrigan/The Spectre, on account of him being dead, though he was later shown in a weirdly sexual relationship with Madame Xanadu. That one (issue #9 of the Doug Moench run) was controversial because Madame Xanadu appeared naked, with nothing obstructing the view, and without a mature readers label.

Carter said that she loved playing Wonder Woman so much that, not only would she have done it for free (she was an unknown at the time and could have used the “exposure” (and clothing-wise she really didn’t think about the exposure but thought in hindsight that maybe she should have, but the character certainly would not have), but that she wished she could actually be Wonder Woman and acquired as much Wonder Woman material as she could at the time, which explains why she was able to make the character so much like she appeared in the comics–extremely intelligent but socially naïve and awkward, even to a certain extent in costume, and so not consciously sexy that Carter said wives and girlfriends would approach her and invite her to meet their partners who were longtime fans. Her Facebook page shows that she has appeared in the recent Supergirl series. She is shown walking next to Supergirl in costume and having a conversation. Carter, who has aged extremely well (she is 68 now, but who knows how much of her appearance is real?), is in a business suit, but I couldn’t tell from the image who she is playing.

Carter noted that her biggest regret was that she didn’t see much of Lyle Waggoner off the set because she was concentrating so hard on developing the character, so she never got to know him particularly well or build a friendship with him.

  1. DC series I am currently paused in reading at circa November 1992 because of the difficulties of my current living situation (I read Eclipso: The Darkness Within on the subway, which I don’t normally do with my own comics):

    New Gods (vol. 3) (a bit behind–February 1990)
    Wonder Woman
    The Demon
    Shade, the Changing Man
    Kid Eternity
    Sandman Mystery Theatre
    The Spectre (vol. 3–about to start)
    Eclipso (about to start, lots of crossovers with The Spectre, The Demon, and characters I’m reading whose series were on hiatus at the time)
    Swamp Thing (a bit ahead–early 1995)
    Starman (a bit ahead–June 1995)
    John Constantine: Hellblazer (even further ahead–January 1996) [The Spectre and The Demon still do some crossing over with Swamp Thing and maybe Hellblazer despite the Vertigo imprint]
    The Books of Magic (even further ahead–November 1997–but want to get caught up with Hellblazer for a crossover)

    I am also really behind on some others:
    Post-Crisis Superman (reading through interlibrary loan, through Septenber 1987–remember, this was weekly at the time)
    Post-Crisis Batman (Just Year One so far, through May 1987)
    Post-Crisis Green Lantern (through Emerald Dawn II, September 1991–I don’t think the series from this period is available in trade paperback format)

    And of course this is in additon to reading comicbooks from other publishers and eras, as well as regular books.

    See also:

  2. I’m guessing the Galatea-type origin for Wonder Woman came in issue #205 or later. The plainclothes run has been reprinted in its entirety and ended in #204.

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