Wonder Woman's Dirty Secrets


Photo courtesy DC Comics

There are certain secrets that the nerds of this world keep under lock-and-key. A nerd's vault of secrets is seven times stronger than that of an ordinary human. Some pundits argue this offsets the burden of having to be a nerd.

Stuffo stumbled upon two of those secrets while rummaging around in a top drawer for our favorite pen. One of them was Superman's favorite food. It's Gerber baby food carrots. The other was where Wonder Woman came from.

In this article, you'll learn all about Wonder Woman's obsession with bondage, her sorority pal Etta, and her all-but-forgotten hipster minimalist phase. Read on as Stuffo reveals more than it should about America's favorite invisible jet pilot including her origins, the source of her powers and the changes she underwent through her 60+ years on the job.

The Beginnings

Photo courtesy DC Comics

In 2005, Warner Brothers announced that Joss Whedon (Buffy, Angel) would write and direct a big-screen adaptation of the Wonder Woman story in 2006. That didn't happen, but for a while, Whedon was slated to write it with another writer -- William M. Marston. He created Wonder Woman back in 1941, but was also an attorney, a psychologist, an educational consultant and an inventor. Among other things, he can claim a leading role in the development of the polygraph lie detector and the systolic blood pressure test.

Marston's psychological specialty was gender theory, and he held some views which would be as radical today as they were in the 1940s. Depending on your perspective, you might consider him a crackpot or a proto-feminist.

The Wonder Woman Pages puts it this way:


"During his lifetime, Marston championed the causes of women of the day."

Another source puts it a bit differently:


"Among Marston's theories was that America would become a Matriarchy, and in many of his writings he espoused the view that women could and would use sexual enslavement to achieve dominance over men."

Truth, Dominance and the American Way

Wonder Woman #1
Wonder Woman #1
Photo courtesy DC Comics

Before he created Wonder Woman, William Marston worked as a researching and consulting psychologist. He wrote extensively about what he perceived to be psychological differences between the sexes. Marston believed that women are inherently more honest, giving and trustworthy than men. Some of his work focused on the influence of dominance and submission on emotional states, including a study of sorority initiation rituals. Many of these ideas found their way into the Wonder Woman comics in one form or another. More on this later.

Marston invented the DISC test, which is still used by psychologists and counselors today to measure things like stress and social compatibility. There is some dispute about what role he played in the invention of the polygraph and the systolic blood pressure test. According to biographies, he was a pioneer in the basic idea of the polygraph -- of testing truth-telling by hooking someone up to a blood pressure machine while they are asked a series of questions. He never perfected the invention, but he was responsible for pushing the concept in the field.

He created the character of Wonder Woman during a stint on the editorial advisory boards of Detective Comics, Inc. (now D.C. Comics) and All American Comics. The editor-in-chief approached Marston looking to develop a new female character along the lines of Batman, Superman and the other super heroes of the day. In response he wrote a story called "Suprema, The Wonder Woman" which gave rise to the new Wonder Woman character (minus the name Suprema) in All Star Comics, Sensation Comics and Detective Comics. She earned her own comic book title in the summer of 1942, which moved exclusively to DC Comics in 1944. Marston wrote all of the Wonder Woman comics until his death in 1947.

Wonder Woman's Special Powers and Weapons

Marston's Wonder Woman is an Amazon princess who grew up on an island called Paradise Island, or Themyscira. She gained the title of Wonder Woman when she won a ceremonial contest and was declared the most skilled and intelligent member of her tribe. When an Air Force pilot named Steve Trevor crash-lands on Themyscira, the tribe sends their Wonder Woman to heal his wounds and accompany him back to "man's world" (the area outside of the island) as an ambassador. Back in man's world she takes on the identity of Diana Prince to hide her true nature.

Wonder Woman embodied Marston's vision of woman as intelligent, honest and kind. She had great powers of persuasion. As an Amazon, she was skilled in hand-to-hand combat. Unlike other super heroes, her mission wasn't just to stop crime, but to reform the criminals into upright citizens as well.

Here's a breakdown of her special powers and weapons:

  • Lasso of Truth - When bound with her lasso, criminals have no choice but to tell the truth. The lasso is unbreakable and infinitely stretchable. It was made by the Greek blacksmith god Hephaestus from the girdle of goddess Aphrodite.
  • Magic bracelets - In the story, all Amazons wear special bulletproof bracelets that are symbolic of their temporary enslavement to Hercules in Greek mythological history. When Amazons lose their bracelets they go insane with rage. Additionally, if a villain fuses them together, they weaken the wearer, like kryptonite to Superman.
  • Invisible plane - The invisible (or really so translucent as to appear invisible) plane doesn't get an origin until after Marston died. There are several conflicting explanations in the comics over the years - it's either an incarnation of Pegasus the flying unicorn or a morphing robotic substance she calls "Dome." As real-world technology advances, the invisible plane becomes an invisible jet.

The two other characters to last through all of the Wonder Woman comic series' from 1941 to today were Steve Trevor and Etta Candy, Wonder Woman's sorority girlfriend. Etta had a propensity to overuse her "Woo woo!" catch phrase. She was an all-purpose hero's best friend, inadvertently luring the hero into trouble one week, and giving her a hand with a difficult mission the next.

Makes You Wonder...

..she's all tied up at the moment..
..she's all tied up at the moment..
Photo courtesy DC Comics

The imprint of Marston's research and his personal life is all over the Wonder Woman comics he penned. Most obviously, it seems fitting that the developer of the polygraph test would outfit his super hero with a lasso of truth.

Several sources point out that in almost all of Marston's Wonder Woman comics, there can be found a full-sized panel of Wonder Woman in a bondage situation. Many of the covers during Marston's career featured men holding Wonder Woman in chains or shackles, or bound with rope. Situations involving Etta Candy and her sorority sisters, the Holliday Girls, have been compared to Marston's writings and research on sorority hazing rituals.

There's even speculation that Wonder Woman's physical appearance was based on Marston's live-in mistress and research assistant Olive "Dotsie" Richard. Marston had two children with his wife Elizabeth and two children with Olive Richard, and the seven of them (the four children, two moms, and dad) all lived together as one big family.

Wonder Woman 2.0: After Marston

Wonder Woman completes an unassisted triple play.
Wonder Woman completes an unassisted triple play.
Photo courtesy DC Comics

William Marston passed away in 1947. He left behind a contract that gave DC Comics the right to exclusively publish Wonder Woman comics as long as they continued to keep the title going. If they ever stopped publishing it, the ownership would permanently revert to Marston's estate. This has made Wonder Woman one of the longest-running super hero comics in history.

A series of writers including Robert Kanigher and Denny O'Neil took over the writing responsibilities after Marston's death. With the new writers in the late 40s and 50s, Wonder Woman went through many changes. Her feminism was toned down, her origin stories were revisited and deepened, and she was given some new toys to play with. Here are some of the highlights:

  • New love interest: She develops a significant crush on Steve Trevor. This opens the floodgates for future super hero suitors and eventually Wonder Woman also falls for Birdman, Mer-man, and possibly Superman (depending on which nerd you ask about it).
  • New weapons and abilities: Turns out her tiara is a magic boomerang, and her earrings allow her to breathe in oxygen-free environments like outer space. Her bracelets form a communications link with Themyscira.
  • Origins, origins, origins: Writer Robert Kanigher takes a page from the Superman book and rolls out Wonder Girl and Wonder Tot stories, to show what Wonder Woman was like at different times in history. One story line called "Impossible Tales" presents what would happen if all four Wonders -- Woman, Tot, Girl, and Queen (her mom), existed in the same place and time. But hilarity ensues when a new writer, Bob Haney, misinterprets the four as completely separate characters. Haney messes up the continuity of the overall story and somehow makes it so that Wonder Woman is her own sidekick, as Wonder Girl. He proceeds to write Wonder Girl into the Teen Titans comic, which includes young super hero sidekicks like Batman's Robin. These continuity problems wouldn't get cleared up until the overall DC Comics housecleaning effort known as "Crisis on Infinite Earths."

Wonder Woman 3.0: The Mod 60's and High Karate

Photo courtesy DC Comics

Throughout the 1960s, the popularity of super hero-type comic books across the board was ebbing. DC decided to revamp the Wonder Woman line and capitalize on the burgeoning secret agent fad characterized by British television shows like The Avengers and The Prisoner. Wonder Woman was given a drastic makeover.

Here's how we get there: The other Amazons are headed to a parallel dimension to get their mojo (ok, their powers) back. Rather than leave "man's world," Wonder Woman elects to stay without her powers, and becomes the proprietor of a hip clothing boutique. Her formerly patriotic and super-heroic tiara and red, white and blue getup is replaced with the coolest jump suits and miniskirts the 1960s had to offer. She's schooled in the martial arts by a mysterious Asian chap named I Ching, and her missions are stealthy and political. Steve Trevor is killed off for the first time in this period. It's a very different Wonder Woman.

This version only lasted a few years. One of the events that eventually pulled Wonder Woman back to something closer to her roots was feminist Gloria Steinem's groundbreaking essay on the subject in the first issue of Ms. Magazine. But 60s mod Wonder Woman had a lasting influence on future comics and television adaptations.

Infinity Earths and Beyond

Wonder Woman at the height of the Crisis
Wonder Woman at the height of the Crisis
Photo courtesy DC Comics

Through the 70s and early 80s Wonder Woman comics fell victim to the same problems that affected the other DC comic lines. There were a growing number of "parallel universes" that had been formed to smooth over continuity errors like conflicting histories and false origin stories. Any time a writer wanted to change a character's past or ignore part of their story line, he or she would just do so and then explain that the next ten issues took place on "Earth-3" instead of regular Earth. The roots of this practice can be seen in the earlier "Impossible Tales" where Wonder Tot, Wonder Woman and Wonder Girl all existed in the same story.

It was a handy device until all of the plot lines and character histories were so fragmented and confused that nobody could keep track of the truth anymore. DC eventually realized this and created the "Crisis on Infinite Earths" series where they killed off all of the old parallel worlds (and characters) leaving but one, and rewrote a canonical version of each character's history that could not be changed. As part of this house-cleaning, Wonder Woman was killed off to be brought back in a new series.

Like the other DC Characters, Wonder Woman's history was rewritten after The Crisis. Writer George Perez created the new series with an emphasis on Greek mythology and the conflicts between the gods. New Wonder Woman came to man's world speaking only Ancient Greek with no knowledge of the current civilization. Though she was physically similar, the new Etta Candy was no longer a sorority girl; in the post-Crisis world she was now a military officer. Steve Trevor was a fair bit older than he was in the old stories. As a result, his love interest was now Etta instead of Wonder Woman.

Here's the origin of the current DC Comics version of Wonder Woman, from their site. They've taken the general outline of the original William Marston story and made it into something a little different:


She is the reincarnated spirit of a human child who died in her mother's womb almost 30,000 years ago, brought to life by several Greek goddesses to combat the schemes of Ares, God of War ... These Greek goddesses, as well as Hermes the messenger god, funneled the spirit into a clay sculpture crafted by Hippolyta, bringing it to life. Given special powers by each of these Olympians, Diana secretly entered a tournament designed to find the worthiest Amazon, who would go forth and confront the War God's evil. She won and, as Themyscira's champion, defeated Ares before he could bring about a nuclear holocaust.

TV Shows and Cartoons

The classic Wonder Woman: Lynda Carter
The classic Wonder Woman: Lynda Carter
Photo courtesy Amazon.com

Most pop culture fans have seen or at least heard of the 70s Wonder Woman television show starring Lynda Carter. For many, Lynda Carter is Wonder Woman. But that was not the first attempt to bring the character to the small screen.

  • In 1967, Greenway Productions developed a short pilot of a comedic Wonder Woman show along the lines of the popular live-action Batman, starring Ellie Wood Walker as the title character. It never went anywhere.
  • Cathy Lee Crosby starred as Wonder Woman in a now all-but-forgotten 1974 made-for-TV movie. Although the comic book had moved on, it featured the mod, 1960s Wonder Woman as opposed to the bold, super hero version Lynda Carter made popular a few years later.
  • Lynda Carter's Wonder Woman television show ran from 1976-1979. In its first season it was set at the time when the first Wonder Woman comics took place, in the early 1940s with World War II as a major theme. It was somewhat faithful to the comic book, but focused more on military missions and less on fantastic tales and mythology. Though it maintained good ratings, it was cancelled after the first season and then resurrected on a new network, CBS instead of ABC. The New Adventures of Wonder Woman, as it was called, was an action/adventure show that took place in the then-present day 1970s.
  • There have been various cartoons, from an appearance on The Brady Kids in 1972 to regular spots on Super Friends in the 1970s and 80s, and Justice League today.

What's next for Wonder Woman? Interviews with Joss Whedon suggested he wouldn't be staying faithful to the older comic books -- and his movie never really made off the ground. In 2011, NBC had its own set of troubles related to a pilot for a "Wonder Woman" series -- particularly, that fans didn't like the title heroine's costume. Later shots from the set revealed a slightly different look, but, in the end, the series wasn't picked up.

Sources