Women have been featured in American comic books since the start of the medium. While there were a few female crime fighters in the early days, Wonder Woman became the first widely known female superhero when she made her debut in All Star Comics #8 in December 1941.
Created by William Moulton Marston, Wonder Woman tells the story of Princess Diana of Themyscira, the superheroine that was formed from clay from Queen Hippolyta of the Amazons.
Diana was gifted with powers from the gods, including strength, wisdom and courage, a hunter's heart, beauty, sisterhood, speed and flight. Growing up with warrior women, she was sent into Man's World, where she took on the secret identity of Diana Prince.
Wonder Woman is commonly viewed as a feminist icon. She shows that females are powerful, too, and pushes for justice, love and equality.
When we think of her in terms of who she is and what she stands for, a feminist may come to mind, but probably the first thing we know Wonder Woman by is her appearance.
While female comic book characters are often sexualized (especially lately), Wonder Woman's strength isn't played down by her beauty. Her famous red, white, and blue star-spangled suit is one of the most well-known costumes in comics.
We all look forward to seeing the new Batsuit each time it's revealed, but superheros like Batman are praised for more than just their looks. Wonder Woman is one of the few — if not the only — female character whose costume and character continues to stand the test of time.
But what really is it about her that has caused her to become arguably the most well-known superheroine?
"Marston would say she caught on because it's a strong female, and we are wired to submit to strong women," says Tim Hanley, Wonder Woman expert and author of Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World's Most Famous Heroine. "I think it's just a good, fun book."
Although she has been a permanent fixture in comics and pop culture (as well as appearing on TV and now film) since her debut, there are many things about her that have changed in terms of story line and design.
Let's take a look at Wonder Woman's evolution throughout history, highlighting her ever-changing look.
After first appearing in comics in All Star Comics #8 in December 1941, Wonder Woman graced the cover of Sensation Comics #1 in 1942.
We think of Wonder Woman wearing that body suit, but originally she wore a more modest knee-length skirt. During this time period, her look changes a few times to sometimes wearing the skirt, sometimes shorts. Still, her costume includes the red top, blue and white star skirt, red boots, and tiara, which she could use as a weapon.
One of the most bizarre things about Wonder Woman that he discovered, Hanley says, has been the bondage fetishes in the '40s.
"It's dismissed in a lot of places, but when you really look into Marston and her creation, and the way the books were laid out, it's kind of the decor of the book. Everything Marston wanted to do, and his thoughts on — oddly enough — feminism, are tied into his bondage fetishism."
Sex symbol or not, Diana was on the first cover of Ms. magazine, causing her to be seen as a liberal feminist, role model, and an icon.
In the 1950s, her storyline starts to evolve a bit, and she gains the ability to fly, something she couldn't do in the '40s. In terms of her costume, she was still wearing the classic costume, but it started to get shorter.
"The first big change was into the late '50s," Hanley says. "She kind of got emasculated to a certain extent, the feminism kind of faded away."
During this time she was more interested in settling down and getting married instead of fighting crime. While fighting crime is still on her agenda, the job annoys her. Fans saw a totally different side of Wonder Woman.
In 1962, we see Wonder Woman wearing the costume we all know and love. The skirt is gone, replaced with a body suit. In this image, we see her with her tiara, metal bracelets (used to deflect weapons), and her lasso.
"The lasso is the only one with real power. The lasso originally would give Wonder Woman control over somebody. It was a symbol of feminine power," Hanley says. "It evolved into a lie detector, so she could compel you to tell the truth."
Late 1960s Reboot
Then in 1968, Wonder Woman got a modern revamp (because the domesticated superhero sold terribly, Hanley notes). In this storyline, the Amazons were sent to an entirely different dimension, and she was a normal human, meaning her superpowers were nonexistent — although she does learn tae kwon do. Because her boyfriend Steve Trevor was murdered in the first issue after she gave up her powers, she went on a quest for his revenge — a storyline Hanley says did not make for a great book.
She stops wearing a costume and just wears clothes in this era. "It's a white middle-aged guy's take on mod fashion," Hanley says.
In '72, Wonder Woman comes back in the comics as the original Amazon she was, and with that she is back in the iconic red and blue costume.
Cathy Lee Crosby As Wonder Woman
In 1974, Cathy Lee Crosby played Wonder Woman in the made-for-TV movie. The film was a pilot for a TV series, but didn't do as well as hoped, so Warner Bros. and ABC developed the series a year later that starred Lynda Carter (which we will get to next).
Crosby didn't wear the traditional briefs and tiara costume Wonder Woman is known for, instead sporting pants and a long-sleeved red jacket with blue and white star sleeves. In this storyline, Diana's secret identity was not so secret.
Lynda Carter As Wonder Woman
In the mid-'70s, CBS picked up the Wonder Woman series starting Lynda Carter, which lasted for three seasons. Carter was quoted telling US magazine that she hated the way men looked at her in this role, adding that she "never meant to be a sexual object for anyone but my husband."
Still, there's no denying she wears the costume well. "Wonder Woman is one of the characters — because based on who she is — [who] can pull off a smaller costume," Hanley says. "One of the things people say about Linda Carter is she can pull it off. She looks comfortable in that outfit, she looks like she fits in it."
The pilot of the show (which first started on ABC) followed the original comic book story, but some elements were dropped, such as her birthplace, and her time in the military was tweaked.
To show when Diana Prince would change into Wonder Woman on TV, Carter suggested spinning, which then would be adapted into the Justice League animated series. In comics, Prince would use her lasso around her body.
They brought back her classic costume for The New Original Wonder Woman, although the cape was used in just promo shots. During Wonder Woman's time on TV, Hanley says her costume stays relatively the same, and does so in comics as well throughout the '70s and most of the '80s.
In 1987, we see another relaunch, this time by the legendary George Pérez, who is responsible for revitalizing her popularity.
"The '80s weren't really great for Wonder Woman, and he [George Pérez] made her a best-seller again," says Hanley.
While her costume stays the same, she is depicted with curly hair. Her revamped look makes her look more an Amazon than ever before, and she has an overall stronger and more powerful look thanks to Pérez's drawings that make her resemble a Greek goddess.
While she is drawn with more muscles than ever before, there are other aesthetic changes to the strapless top where the eagle was now replaced with Double-W.
Replaced By Artemis
Diana earned the Wonder Woman title back in the '40s, as well as in the 1987 relaunch. But then, in the mid-'90s, Diana loses her title to Artemis in The Contest.
As a result, Diana is given a sexy, black outfit. "Comics got ridiculously sexy in the 1990s," Hanley says. "It really got out of hand. The comics kind of become very much a fanboy sort of thing, and this was how everyone was drawn."
But were the sexier female characters still known for their strength? Hanley says no. "This was a weird time for Wonder Woman specifically," he says, especially since this was a year after Pérez left.
Following the sexualized style of Diana, Artemis is drawn with super long legs and tiny waist. Her briefs ride up high, becoming one of the most revealing Wonder Woman costume looks.
The presumption is that sex sells. So did this tactic work? "No, she was back in the old costume," Hanley says.
After Pérez leaves, the books don't sell well. That means Wonder Woman gets a fresh look. "Costume is pretty much straight pandering - if no one cares about the story, let's make her sexy and try to sell a few books."
Justice League, the animated series produced by Warner Bros. Animation and aired on Cartoon Network, ran from 2001 to 2004, with its name changing to Justice League Unlimited in its second season. The series was based on the DC Comics series, but while the other characters stayed true to their original story, Wonder Woman was the exception.
However, Diana's competition to become Wonder Woman was included in her story, along with her adjustment to the Man's World, and she follows closely to the George Pérez revamp. She does not keep a secret identity, but does wear the traditional costume, although her lasso doesn't appear until later.
Issue #600 Redesign
In 2010, we get another revamp that gives her a look that resembles our current time. Instead of wearing the iconic suit, she is depicted in black pants and a jacket. She does keep a form of the tiara, her bracelets, and her red top. She looks both strong and sexy, without being exploitative.
"There's a lot more female fans now, so the conversation has shifted from fanboys saying, 'Is it sexy enough?' and other fans saying, 'Is this too sexy? Is this exploitive?' to — with Wonder Woman and other characters, too — now wearing jackets, pants, and they are more covered up," Hanley says.
Then in 2011, DC Comics revamped the character again, this time with writer Brian Azzarello and illustrator Cliff Chiang. The results gave us a look that was modern-meets-ancient Greece; however, she learns in the first issues that she was not an Amazon princess made from clay, but instead the daughter of Queen Hippolyta and Zeus. This made her origin a bit easier to follow for new fans. It also means that she was now powerful and divine, while still having that human emotion.
Post-New 52 Design
Diana then got another makeover — along with Batman and Superman — that debuted in June. David Finch created the cover to #41, which was a dramatic change because, surprisingly, she is more covered up than ever before. She is seen wearing the red top and boots, but with pants and long sleeves. Her bracelets have spikes coming from them, and she is pictured with closed fists.
Batman v Superman Costume
On June 9 at the Las Vegas Licensing Expo, Warner Bros. Consumer Products displayed Wonder Woman's costume that will appear in next summer's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The costume is a modern take on the classic look, a red and gold top with blue shorts minus the stars. She is seen with her tiara, brackets, and lasso, along with a shield and sword. It's a darker look, a theme of the movie, while still staying true to who she is.
"It's covering up, to certain extent, but it's also just not being exploitative [that] is the major trust of what we're seeing lately," Hanley says. This is a trend we see in the Batgirl and Spider-Woman costumes as well.
Actress Gal Gadot will play Diana in the film, as well as her own feature film set for 2017, and is locked down to make appearances in other DC Comics Universe films. But fans were critical of the casting choice, saying that Gadot was too thin.
"The skinny thing seemed to break down on two lines: they wanted her to be stronger, more muscular, and taller, too. Wonder Woman is an Amazon, usually that means tall, and Gadot is an average-sized lady. And then there was the other side: her boobs aren't big enough, that fanboy angle as well," Hanley says. "But for me, it seems its Wonder Woman, she doesn't need to have muscles to be strong. It's just inherent in her."
Her origin in the film followed the Zeus demi-god storyline that comes from the 2011 comics.
"People, particularly movie executives, seem to think that her whole origin is complicated," Hanley says, even though "it's a cool feminist thing, no men are involved."
We have seen variations of her origin, and her storyline has evolved and changed since her 1940s debut, but Wonder Woman continues to stand the test of time, with her latest appearances only sparking a new generation of fans. Known for her feminist past, she continues to be relevant and looks to have a bright feature.
"It seems to be whenever they change Wonder Woman, most fans just sit back and wait for her to go back to [the] original costume," Hanley says.
We'll just sit back and continue to watch her evolve.
Photo: DC Comics