golden age
Comic Books, Story

Fishing in a Goldfish Bowl: Some of the Complexities of Golden Age Wonder Woman

In December 1942 Wonder Woman was asked to star in a feature film. Initially, she suggests hiring an actress to play her part. But after hearing that Steve Trevor would be in Los Angeles she changes her mind. (Note: This contradicts previous stories where Wonder Woman is uninterested in Trevor. However, her alter-ego Diana Prince is in love with him). Interestingly, she insists on two conditions. First, Diana Prince must be sent along as her secretary and second that Etta Candy and her girls must have roles in the movie. This story has all of the classic Golden Age elements: bondage, hidden identities, and Baroness Paula Von Gunther.

Not a Movie Star

The most compelling element of this story is Wonder Woman’s resistance to the movie. She initially refuses and then agrees though she continues, throughout the story, to resist her position. As the director describes a particular scene to her, she comments, “I get it—I’m a goldfish and this is my bowl.” This comment held my attention even as I finished the story because it communicates agitation. Wonder Woman has an impression of a compassionate and empathetic character. Seeing this side of her is rare (regardless of the version of Wonder Woman we may encounter), is a sharp reminder that Wonder Woman isn’t without feelings or reactions. She cares about peace, justice, democracy, and Steve Trevor. She also has feelings about her status as a public figure.

This is a valuable reminder about who Wonder Woman is and how Marston envisioned her. This is a clear indicator that she is uncomfortable with and uninterested in being a public figure. When the story ends, a studio executive offers to triple her salary to finish the movie, and she responds, “Pay that to Etta Candy and let my double finish the picture. My acting is too – er Amazonian” (Marston 98). This contrast between Hollywood offers and her Amazonian nature reminds the reader of her true nature. It recalls Marston’s insistence on reminding us that she surrendered her rights to Amazonian culture when she left Paradise Island with Steve Trevor to save American Democracy.

Essence of the Golden Era

This story is also a reminder of the goofiness of Golden Age stories and how we reckon more recent depictions with these older depictions. Wonder Woman is a complex character from her inception because Marston brazenly built her. She is an Amazon who is sent to America, by her queen (and mother) and the goddesses Athena and Aphrodite. She also has romantic interest in Steve Trevor. It isn’t clear which drives her because she follows Trevor and the two inevitably end up battling the enemies of democracy.

Does she love Trevor? Does she love the power and authority he has as a soldier? Does she see herself reflected in him? These may be unanswerable questions. What Marston has reminded us is that she doesn’t want to be a goldfish in a bowl. This is a reminder that we shouldn’t treat her as one, and instead apply her principles as Marston intended—to see ourselves as her.

To Discuss

What does Wonder Woman’s reaction here say about her character and how she’s evolved?

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