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Dance of the Puppets

Like a bat on a hot tin roof since August 2005

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The complicated origin of Wonder Woman

This is the Earth 1/Silver Age origin of Wonder Woman using the version published in DC Special Series #19 as the basis, with additions and variations from elsewhere as noted. I am not including references from the Golden Age version as that would just make things even more complicated.

The Amazons are originally created by Aphrodite as a race of super women (1) who will defeat all men that stand against them through force of arms because they have the power of love (2). She gives Queen Hippolyte (3) a magic girdle which makes them unconquerable. At Mars' direction Hercules eventually defeats them by seducing Hippolyte and stealing the magic girdle before enslaving them all. Hippolyte appeals to Aphrodite who frees them (4) but commands that they must forever after wear the wrist bands that chained them "to teach them the folly of submitting to men". Should a man ever chain them they will become as weak as a normal woman and if they ever remove them they will "lose all control of their emotions" (5).

The girdle is retrieved though Hippo's sister (6) Antiope, wife of Thesius (7) dies in the battle (8). Aphrodite decides to separate them from men completely and sends them off to Paradise Island and just to make sure, she decrees that no man may set foot there or the amazons would lose their powers (9).
Oddly it never seems to occur to anyone that this is a bad weakness in their defences. If any enemy were to attack Paradise Island, all they would need to do would be to get one man onto the island for the amazons to lose their powers. Mars never takes advantage of this however, and in fact never attacks Paradise Island directly (10), so presumably he has some private understanding with Aphrodite about it.

At this point the story gets a little vague. We are told that the Amazons have been on Paradise Island for a thousand years, and Aphrodite does bring them the odd toy now and then, like the Magic Sphere (11) that allows them to keep up to date on the outside world, and indeed get well ahead of it on scientific advances (12). But after 900+ years Queen Hippolyte becomes sad for the lack of anyone to love other than all (13) the other amazons and so Athene directs her to sculpt an infant child (14) which is then brought to life by Aphrodite(15).

At this point in some versions of the story several other gods visit to imbue the infant Diana with special powers. Oddly, this includes Hercules. Perhaps after all this time he has reformed and wants to make amends for seducing and then mugging Hippolyte before subjecting the entire Amazon nation to slavery, the direct result of which was their cutting themselves off from the outside world and their stuck with wearing chunky bracelets for 1000 years. Sadly, in no version of the origin is this point addressed.

What many consider to be the first Silver Age version of the origin story (16) appears in Wonder Woman #105, and although it is the first to involve the gods doing their fairy godmother routine, it does so in a context that is inconsistent with every other version of the story. Here Diana is born well before the Amazons go into isolation, and they only do so because all their menfolk have died in the wars and they just want to cut themselves off from such a savage world. In fact here Diana as a teenager builds the ship (17) they leave in. Its only claim to accuracy anywhere is the gods’ gift, which is grafted onto later versions of the story. Seen purely in context with earlier versions it is one big mess of inaccuracies and omissions.

Things then start to get a little surreal. As Diana grows up she is often referred to first as Wonder Tot and later Wonder Girl. At both periods of her life she wears an outfit that contains motifs from the costume she wears as Wonder Woman. We are even shown her performing trials to win these motifs as a teenager. She and her mother are fully aware of her destiny as Wonder Woman as they have a device that allows them to observe her future adventures.
The final act of the story opens with Steve Trevor crashing an aircraft near Paradise Island. Diana rescues him and nurses him back to health. The rules about no man setting foot on the island are here severely strained as the spirit of the law is broken even if the letter of the law is observed. Diana carries Steve onto the island and he then spends his time on tables or in beds to avoid so much as a toe making contact with the floor. I am assuming that this is one of the many exceptions Aphrodite makes (18) as she seems to have set the whole thing up.

Hippolyte consults Aphrodite who tells her that an Amazon (19) must escort the man home and stay to fight against evil and injustice. Hippolyte declares a contest to choose who will get the honour despite the fact that she has known for years that Diana will win it. I can only assume that she's been sniffing the mists of Nepenthe. She even forbids Diana to take part because she can't bear to let her go, but Diana enters anyway, wearing an unconvincingly small mask. Either the other Amazons are extremely stupid or they must be humouring her by pretending that they are at all fooled by it (20).

Inevitably, Diana wins the contest. Probably because of those powers the gods gave her at birth. She is given her costume that Aphrodite has cunningly designed for her incorporating patriotic symbols of the country to which she is heading. Aphrodite has also directed Hippolyte to take some links from her magic girdle to create a magic lasso. Diana flies Steve back to America in her magic invisible robot plane which she just happened to have lying around (21).

Arriving in America, Diana is a bit mystified as to what to do next. Although the Amazons have been observing the outside world for centuries and looting it for technological advances she seems oddly unprepared for her situation (22). Eventually she bumps into a crying nurse who coincidently is her identical twin, has the same name, and is tending Steve Trevor. Wonder Woman finances a trip to South America for her in exchange for her identity. There are several mutually exclusive variations on what becomes of this woman later, though all but one (23) refer to the golden age/Earth 2 Wonder Woman.

And so established as a nurse in a military hospital where security is so lax that nobody notices the difference, Princess Diana becomes Diana Prince and nurses Steve Trevor back to health. When Steve returns to duty she follows him and somehow manages to get a job as his secretary in Military Intelligence (24) and spends many years having a chaste romance with him despite his treating her like a servant in her secret identity and alternately nagging her to marry him or exhibiting bouts of insane jealousy when she is in her heroic identity and they live happily ever after until he drops dead, gets resurrected, dies again, and is finally replaced by an alternate version from another dimension.

1. from clay according to #159
2. no, I’ve never quite understood how that works, either
3. often spelled Hippolyta
4. or supports them when they free themselves
5. invariably this is depicted as running berserk with overwhelming anger and never any other emotion, which suggests they must be repressing a lot normally, and somehow it doesn't seem to apply to Diana when in her secret identity.
6. if they were all created simultaneously by Aphrodite surely they are all sisters?
7. only mention that the amazons had anything to do with men.
8. in #247 it is an Amazon called Diana who dies at this point
9. other consequences appear to be them losing their immortality and crumbling to dust (#223) earthquakes, and sundry disasters, or immediately falling in love with the visitor (#216), although Aphrodite seems to suspend this law as it suits her (25)
10. except #198 when he is wearing a false beard, calling himself Ares, and claiming Hippolyte is his daughter, but perhaps this is an alternate dimension Ares/Mars.
11. it's a disc.
12. though we never, ever see any of the infrastructure required to create their advanced society. Where are the mines, refineries, factories, etc? It’s not like they can import anything.
13. how many women make up the Amazon nation is also very unclear, as is the size of the island they live on.
14. she usually looks like a toddler, so Hippo is cunningly bypassing all that midnight feeding and diaper changing business.
15. the addition of a second infant only appears in #206 and is otherwise ignored.
16. there’s one in #97 but I’ll probably end up doing a whole separate article to explain why this should be ignored.
17. how many can one ship hold? All the main versions only show them using a single ship, which rather limits the size of the population. See (13).
18. without telling the amazons.
19. in Secret Origins she specifically states "a young Amazon". Since no men are allowed on Paradise Island, they are either kidnapping girls from the outside world or cloning themselves, because otherwise the only young Amazon is Diana. What a giveaway.
20. They are a small closed society who have been together for a thousand years. It is absurd to think that everyone would not know everyone else. They would immediately know who the masked one was, if only by a process of elimination.
21. in Golden Age continuity each of these items is quested for separately.
22. though not as unprepared as Orana in #250 who is so utterly clueless that she mistakes policemen for villains.
23. issue #172.
24. the story glosses over this part.
25. she must have a soft spot for I-Ching, who is allowed to visit in #198 without any problems; unless he is secretly a female transvestite or had a sex change


Blogger T. said...

The bribery scene is my favorite part of this thing. Love the Silver Age!

3:27 pm  
Anonymous Ernesto Ribeiro said...

hehehe ... it's my favorite part too..

so far, the BEST ORIGIN in Comics History EVER.

Thank you, Dr. William Marston... you're a genius...

6:04 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

11. it's a disc.

That's what makes it Magic!

1:22 pm  

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