After my last post, people may have the impression that I don’t appreciate Marston-era Wonder Woman, and I want to be sure that is cleared up. I appreciate Marston’s creation. I appreciate the complexity that he gave the character from the moment he created her. A simpler character most likely would not have endured 75 years and multiple writers and incarnations. I also appreciate that the fundamental principles (including compassion, seeking justice, and pursuing peace) present in her founding exist today. Certainly Marston’s stories rely on some elements that, through repetition, are the core of Wonder Woman, and without these she would be a different character than the Wonder Woman we have today.
Why Wonder Woman is Unique
She seeks peace.
Though Marston makes clear that Diana chooses to leave Paradise Island in part to follow Steve Trevor she pursues peace. In story after story, we see her foil anti-American villains in an effort to end the war. In some stories she intercepts a message or a threat against Steve Trevor and is forced to follow him and save him, but often she is on her own and securing American democracy. Her relationship with Trevor isn’t the center of the narrative. Her Amazonian mission is.
She cannot return to Paradise Island.
Marston made clear that once Diana chose to enter man’s world to secure American democracy she was sacrificing her Amazonian-ness. We see Wonder Woman using her skills and abilities to provide herself with resources that she is used to from her life in Paradise Island including her relationship with Etta Candy and her girls and the telepathy telephone.
She builds a new sisterhood.
Without explanation, she finds and befriends Etta Candy and she relies on Candy and her sorority sisters to intervene when she needs support in a mission. Etta Candy and her sisters repeatedly come to Wonder Woman’s aid. This is all done without question. The reader is never given an explanation. A complex narrative about a connection between the two is never offered. Candy has her sorority sisters and by extension it seems she naturally adopts Wonder Woman as another sister. This holistic understanding is an expression of Marston’s much-discussed understanding that women belong to a sisterhood. Apparently this does not only apply to the outside-of-man’s-world Amazons.
She does not have superpowers.
This is the most important element of Marston’s stories for me. Wonder Woman does not have superpowers. She does not fly. She cannot spin in a circle and change into her Wonder Woman outfit. Instead, she must carry her Wonder Woman costume in a bag and, when necessary, she must find a place to change. As a result, she sometimes finds herself in the vulnerable position of her costume falling into others’ hands. This includes her Lasso of Truth. Imagine stumbling across a suitcase and opening it to find Wonder Woman’s outfit and tools.
In Marston’s vision, Wonder Woman’s abilities come from her training, her values, and her knowledge. In every story she characterizes her incredible feats of strength and speed as “play.” She doesn’t recognize her extraordinary abilities because they aren’t extraordinary to her. This is important because it is Marston’s primary assertion. Women have natural abilities and those abilities are extraordinary in man’s world.
Interestingly, in my mission to be both a scholar and a fan, I find myself repeatedly facing objectivity. In academic writing it is necessary to maintain an objectivity, a perspective outside of opinion that is supported by research, and to communicate Wonder Woman’s importance to culture, to women, to others, but not to myself. Interestingly, as a fan it seems equally necessary to maintain respect. Love the stories or hate them, we appreciate them. The community understands them as the foundation, the base, the ground floor for every incarnation that follows. Whether we enjoy the stories or not, we recognize their value. This is a compelling and unexpected overlap between these worlds.
How do you balance your fan based love with objective analysis? Is this an important process?