The Secret History of Wonder Woman

As an avid reader of DC Comics, Wonder Woman became my favorite super hero, and as the most successful woman in comic book history, I was surprised to learn very few books were available on the subject of her genesis and rise to popularity. To me, it was no secret that Wonder Woman was a symbol of feminism; an excellent leader, and the perfect mix of brawn and wisdom. (Lynda Carter’s incarnation of the superwoman is still my favorite, even during the campy moments of the series.) Part Mother Theresa and part Margaret Thatcher, Diana Prince was everything I aspired to become: a pioneering woman that would fight for fairness with kindness, never backing down to the will of men. My expectations of this book were very high and because of this it didn’t fully deliver.

Here’s why:

Jill Lepore writes a compelling story about the history of Wonder Woman using the events of the early 1900s, which included women’s suffrage and the fight for equal rights to explain how her creator, William Moulton Marston, came up with the concept and back story for the famous heroine. Armed with letters, archived information and lots of pictures, the book chronicles the rise of the New Age Woman which served as the starting point for our mythical Amazonian warrior. It didn’t surprise me to learn that Wonder Woman was conceived to epitomize the modern woman of the 1940s and beyond. It attempted to inspire men and women alike to support and embrace a new female stereotype that transcended motherhood and marriage. Fortunately, she managed to do this and so much more for many generations of children and adults worldwide, surviving into the 2010s, far longer than any other female characters in pulp fiction. She became part of DC’s holy trinity, at times surpassing Batman and Superman in popularity. There is only one word that can truly describe this Amazonian: timeless.

Although the historical material is excellent, Lepore quickly lost me by relying heavily on Marston’s biography to connect the dots with the Wonder Woman persona. Page after page you read more about her creator and the women that shaped the character and only get small glimpses into the Amazonian’s psyche. It wasn’t until page 190something that the actual graphic design and character development for Princess Diana was introduced into the narrative and by then I had lost interest in the story. A lot of time and effort was dedicated to explaining the importance of the excessive bondage imagery of the early comics and after a while it starts to repeat itself. The book is more about Marston and his family and not a standalone tale of how our beloved Princess Diana rose to capture the hearts and minds of the American public by redefining the value and place of women in society. Wonder Woman is chained to Marston’s story and is never truly freed from this connection.

If you decide to read the text, approach it with the understanding that you will get a lesson about the struggle of women in the United States of America during a period of time where they were seen as no more than baby making machines and that you will get schooled on why it was important to present a cohesive picture when discussing her inception. Wonder Woman had to be fully in control of her own destiny and not defined by trending gender roles to be embraced by people around the globe. She is an Amazon, a myth wanting to turn into reality; a woman that would eventually become an ambassador of change and diplomacy. To be effective she must be perceived as an equal to men: strong and patriotic like Superman and as influential and relentless as Batman/Bruce Wayne.

Even though it took me a long time to get through the text, I am glad that this book is out there. Wonder Woman is a great role model for girls to emulate, and contains real substance and a rich legacy that lives through the many generations of readers she has accumulated throughout the decades. I hope it inspires more people to willingly accept the challenge of making this world a better place for women, shedding light on the events in history that have enabled women like Diana Prince to excel in areas where only men had the opportunity to shine. We all need more Wonder Women in our lives and men that assist us in the fight for gender equality. Considering the women of the 1940s thought there would be a woman president by now, we owe it to ourselves to rise to this challenge. May we all aspire to become Amazons, the women of the future.

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