The More You Know: Wonder Woman

Reading Time: 7 minutes

A couple of months ago I knew very, very little about Wonder Woman, which is why I chose to look into her history and evolution. For me, context is key to understanding a topic, so I read a ton of books—all of which are listed at the bottom of this article. In comparing notes from different sources and online articles, I discovered a couple of contradictions in Wonder Woman’s history. Since everyone is posting information about Wonder Woman due to her premiere on the big screen, I thought I would share some of my findings with you, her fans. Whether misconceptions, misinterpreted facts, or just misunderstood all together, I give you “Wonder Woman, The More You Know” edition.

“As lovely as Aphrodite, as wise as Athena, with the speed of Mercury and the strength of Hercules…” Wonder Woman has mesmerized audiences with her strength and beauty for 75 years. She is often credited as the first superheroine, but, in truth, she is not the first female superhero. According to Will Murray, a comic book historian, Spicy Mystery Stories (Aug. 1937) introduced “The Astounding Adventures of Olga Mesmer, the Girl with the X-Ray Eyes.” She has super strength and the ability to see through solid objects—sound like anyone you know? Personally, I can’t understand how Olga wasn’t an instant success. Her name alone is fan-freaking-tastic.

Other female superheroines followed Olga’s footsteps. Fiction House created “Sheena, Queen of the Jungle” (a female Tarzan) in 1937, then there was “Amazona, the Mighty Woman” published in March 1940—with an origin storyline that greatly resembles that of Wonder Woman, and several others. However, Wonder Woman has been the only successful female superhero to get her own series, and a great deal of her success is due to her creator William Moulton Marston and the Golden Age of comics (1941 – 1955).

Sensation Comics Vol. 1 #8 cover art. Via DC.

Marston is often credited as the creator of the lie detector due to his paper “Systolic Blood Pressure Symptoms of Deception” published in The Journal of Experimental Psychology in 1915. However, John Augustus Larson is actually credited with the creation of the polygraph, or lie detector, and Marston is considered a contributor since systolic blood pressure is a component of the lie detector process. Yet, Marston was definitely an enthusiastic advocate, and the lie detector was the inspiration behind Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth. Due to his popularity with the lie detector, Marston thought it best to hide his identity while writing the Wonder Woman scripts by using the pen name Charles Moulton, which was the middle name of both Marston and his publisher Maxwell Charles Gaines.

According to his wife, Marston studied Greek and Latin myths during his youth and he used Amazon mythology as the backbone for Wonder Woman’s origin story and overall identity, but he took some liberties, obviously. On February 23, 1941, William Moulton Marston submitted the first Wonder Woman script, initially titled “Suprema, the Wonder Woman.” Several months later, Wonder Woman made her official debut in “Introducing Wonder Woman” in All-Star Comics Vol. 1 #8 (December-January 1941). She was an instant Amazonian success.

Fun Fact:  There is a great deal of debate among scholars on whether Amazon stands for all-female group. The word Amazon (singular noun), or Amazones (plural noun), is a word of unknown origin adopted by the Greeks. The plural noun Amazones was orginally a Hellenized name for “plurality, a people,” which first appeared in Homer’s IliadAmazones antianeirai. Greeks used distinctive feminine endings (-ai) for groups made up of only women—the way Trooiai stood for Trojan women.

You are probably thinking, well, antianeirai is a feminine epithet attached to Amazones which defines Amazons as a group of female warriors. Antianeirai is often translated as “man-hating,” “opposing men,” or “opposite of men.” However, in ancient Greek anti– meant “equivalent” or “matching.” Antianeirai best translates as “equals of men.” Instead, Amazones was used more as a general noun meaning an entire ethnic group like Hellenes stood for Greeks or Trooes stood for Trojans, and antianeirai was used as a plural compound, describing Amazones: “Amazons, the equals.” Since tribe nomenclatures typically have masculine endings, the epithet was added to emphasize the most notable feature of the Amazon group or tribe, that the women were of equal standing to men, a foreign concept within the Greek culture. Therefore, there is no way to say for certain that Amazon stood for a group of female-only warriors. For more information on this topic check out Adrienne Mayor’s The Amazons.

Regardless, Greek art always depicted Amazons running towards danger—an important feature in modeling Wonder Woman after Amazons, the mythology. For more information on this topic check out Adrienne Mayor’s The Amazons. She will blow your mind and destroy almost everything you thought you knew about Amazons.

Left to Right: Concept sketch of Wonder Woman w/notes from Peters and Marston (1942). Via Heritage Comics. Watercolor and ink of Wonder Woman.

Marston brought in Henry George Peter to illustrate Wonder Woman’s story. Peter worked under Marston’s direction until his death in 1958. In the first design, Marston wrote notes on the drawings for changes in Peter’s initial artwork (shown in above images):

“Dear Dr. Marston, I slapped these two out in a hurry. The eagle is tough to handle as when in perspective or in profile he doesn’t show up clearly—the shoes look like a stenographer’s. I think the idea might be incorporated as a sort of Roman contraption.” -Peter

“Dear Pete—I think the gal with hand up is very cute. I like her skirt, legs, hair. Bracelets okay + boots. These probably will work out. See other suggestions enclosed. No on these + stripes – red + white. With eagles wings above or below breasts as per enclosed? Leave it to you. Don’t we have to put a red stripe around her waist as belt? I thought Gaines wanted it—don’t remember. Circlet will have to go higher—more like a crown—see suggestions enclosed. See you Wednesday morning.” -WMM

Peter and Marston were older than most of the writers and artists in the comic industry, which is one of several reasons for Wonder Woman’s early success. They came with years of experience writing and illustrating for major magazines. Peter drew a great deal of female depictions in the Gibson girl style. However, closer towards the final drawings of Wonder Woman, Peter drew Wonder Woman more in the style of a Vargas girl in body type, hair style, and costume—something Marston annotated on the page of the above right image.

Images via Sensation Comics # 1-5 (1941-1942)

There is a great deal of discussion on whether Golden Age Wonder Woman wore a skirt or culottes. According to Christie Marston, granddaughter of W. M. Marston, Wonder Woman wore a skort (skirt-shorts or similar to 1940s culottes, however, Wonder Woman’s outfit was a single piece so it is probably more like a 1940s playsuit or romper). As explained to me, via Tweet, Christie’s grandmother told her that skirts fall flat but the skort has a pull towards the middle (as seen in the sketch above). Christie’s grandmother explained that a skirt was impractical because a skirt would fly into Wonder Woman’s face during a fight scene. Therefore, Wonder Woman wore a skort that slowly transitioned into short shorts. By Sensation Comics #4 and #5, there are fewer ruffles and the skort becomes shorter and tighter, less like a skort and more like short-shorts (similar to the second ink and pen art in the above image).

In 1942, the National Organization for Decent Literature (N.O.D.L.), a committee of Catholic bishops, placed Sensation Comics on their banned list. Yep, not only was Wonder Woman considered a badass warrior princess but she was banned literature. So you can now celebrate Wonder Woman during banned book week. I think that only makes me love her more.

When Gaines wrote the bishop asking for an explanation, the answer he received for banning Wonder Woman was that she violated the fourth point in their code: “Wonder Woman is not sufficiently dressed.” Although I cannot state with confidence this information as fact, I read that the “insufficiently dressed” note was due to Wonder Woman’s exposed back.

Wonder Woman the Movie

Via Warner Bros

I have yet to see the new Wonder Woman movie, but I am following the conversations on social media and the reviews from different newspapers and geek sites. My favorite section of every article I read is the comment section. Sometimes I learn more from the comment section than I do from the actual article, but there are a lot of cringe-worthy comments too—Why doesn’t Wonder Woman have a luxurious pit-mane?—you didn’t think I was going to get through an article on Wonder Woman and not mention that hot-topic did you?

For the record, the armpit topic started because a blogger noticed that Gadot’s armpits looked super-bright in the original trailer, which raised questions on whether her armpits were bleached or touched up using Photoshop. Somehow that comment meandered over to Twitter and exploded into a topic of why doesn’t Wonder Woman have armpit hair, and the media further blew it out of proportion. I am not sure why this topic took over Twitter and other social media sites for several weeks, but you have to love the sarcastic responses:

Via Twitter

Mr. Dingle, I got you covered. Thanks to my friend Rebekah, you will find a depiction of Wonder Woman in the below image with a luxurious pit-mane. You’re welcome!

This luxurious pit-mane is brought to you by Donarico Art & Photography

Funny you should ask, Will, but I think the answer is Gillette. W. M. Marston was in between jobs and contacted Gillette stating he would appear in one of their ads with the polygraph for a price. Gillette took him up on his offer. On November 21, 1938, Gillette advertised in Life magazine W. M. Marston using the polygraph to demonstrate responses to unshaven men. So by default, I think Wonder Woman is sponsoring Gillette by proxy of W. M. Marston: Strong enough for a man, but made for Wonder Woman!

Via Life magazine Nov. 21, 1938

Even though I know Dominick Houghton’s comment is in good fun, if anyone is truly serious about wanting to know the method of ancient hair removal then I recommend you look into Adrienne Mayor’s book The Amazons. I didn’t have time to find a definitive answer, but ancient Greeks despised “uncouth body hair,” therefore plucking or singeing the unwanted pubic hair. However, that pertains to Greeks, not the Amazonian women. My theory is that Wonder Woman plucked her underpits and then wove those hairs together to create—BOOM—the Lasso of Truth. Now there is a theory you can ponder on.

The next time someone complains about Wonder Woman not being authentic, and the topic of her being a fictional superhero doesn’t suffice, then explain how a breast-shaped metal chest armor would kill her, because, in real battle, a direct blow toward the sternum and heart or even a fall would cause the breastplate to crush the breastbone. In truth, female warriors of antiquity would have worn padding under their chest plates or a leather chest piece creating a flat surface to deflect any immediate blows to the chest—this is also why Amazons are believed to be breastless.

The More You Know…

This episode of “The More You Know Wonder Woman” is brought to you by the word B-O-O-K-S:

  • The Amazons: Lives & Legends of Warrior Women Across the Ancient World by Adrienne Mayor
  • The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore
  • Wonder Woman the Complete History by Les Daniels
  • Wonder Woman the War Years 1941-1945 by Roy Thomas
  • Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine by Tim Hanley
  • Wonder Woman: The Ultimate Guide to the Amazon Warrior by Landry Q. Walker

Finally, I want to thank my good friend Rebekah for creating the featured image of Wonder Woman on top of “The More You Know” image, and thank you to viewers like you—sorry, I had to get all PBS on y’all. I have thoroughly enjoyed researching Wonder Woman and if I had more time and space, I would continue writing more about the interesting history riddled with random facts about Wonder Woman and Amazons. Maybe I will attempt another version of “The More You Know…” but until then I hope you enjoyed this edition.

I found this evolution of Wonder Woman’s costume to be too fascinating not to share. Brought to you by HalloweenCostumes.com:

Via Jason Mattick & Kate Willaert from HalloweenCostumes.com
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