Wonder Woman is a fascinating character not just because she’s an iconic hero, but because her narrative has always been stuffed full of symbolism — which is par for the course, for the first female superhero. William Marston, the creator of Wonder Woman, deliberately imbued the early comics with tons of feminist rhetoric, queer themes, and barely-veiled BDSM subtext.
The long years of Wonder Woman’s published history have seen the Amazon hero undergo tons of alterations, retcons, and drastic personality changes, as subsequent writers worked out what to do with her. It’s difficult to strike the balance between Wonder Woman’s role as a hero and a symbol, as well as staying to the core values of the original comics (but dispensing with the odd occasional racism).
It’s no surprise then, that Wonder Woman is one of DC’s most contentious heroes, as fans take issue with the different versions of the character. While the recent Sensation Comics anthology, and the current AU Bombshells comic have managed to strike gold as far as Diana’s characterization goes, the New 52 continuity reset ushered in the most problematic era for Wonder Woman.
This version of the hero is radically more war-like, and while her series started out strong, Diana rapidly became more bloodthirsty and grim, . For those who loved , this era was divisive to say the least. And it was her origin story that really sparked debate.
Free From Men — Until She Wasn’t
Diana’s home of Themiscyra, or Paradise Island, is commonly envisioned as a utopian civilization free from the influence of men. Because Wonder Woman was conceived to be the epitome of a female hero, her birth was similarly free from male involvment: In the classic version of the tale, Diana is molded from clay by Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, then given life by Aphrodite. This mirrors the myth of Galatea, because a good Wonder Woman story always has a hefty dose of Greek mythology.
This origin story was ever so slightly altered in later iterations, with Diana’s superheroic powers granted by the Gods of Olympus as they chose her to be their Earthly champion. And this was how the origin story stayed… until the New 52. New scribe Brian Azzarello decided that Diana needed a father figure to rail against, retconning the story so that Diana was the daughter of Zeus. You know, that guy from Greek mythology known for his philandering and sexual abuse. Well, at least Diana was now elevated to demigod status.
Needless to say, this was somewhat contentious, as Wonder Woman was originally conceived as a symbol of hope that transcended the struggle against patriarchy. But despite the debates, this origin stuck around — in his new Earth One origin for Diana, Grant Morrison decided to keep the father but switched it to Hercules, demoting Diana from demi to semi-god.
Morrison argued to The Daily Beast that the father figure was essential to Diana’s story.
“I wanted Diana to have some kind of masculine element because I thought, well, most girls have a dad. It is quite important.”
This seems to be a huge step backwards, considering the point of Wonder Woman is to say that no, having a man in a child’s life is not important at all — what’s important is how that child is loved. And considering the queer undertones of Themiscyra — a civilization formed solely of women but not lacking in romance or love — Morrison statement feels incongruous with the point of Diana’s story.
Changes In The DCEU
But that’s the backstory — what about the new film? Gal Gadot’s Diana talks about her origin in the trailer, name dropping Zeus but stating obliquely that she has no father.
Forget the New 52: This idea of Diana’s origin seems to have more in common with the second version of her story. It seems as though Gadot’s Wonder Woman was made from clay by Hippolyta, with Zeus stepping in to grant Diana life — and possibly her powers as well. This lines up with the champion version of the story, with Zeus taking the role of the gods of Olympus in choosing Diana to be the protector of humanity.
This is a good solution to the origin problem — as Diana’s life, and powers, were granted by Zeus this does make her a demigod of sorts, and explains her longevity. And yet, director Patty Jenkins does seem to be switching Aphrodite out in favor of Zeus, as the original version of the story had Aphrodite give Diana life. So is this because Diana needs a man in her life from the beginning? Or is this to incorporate some aspect of the New 52 origin to reach a new equilibrium? The fact that Zeus is known to be the king of the Greek gods probably doesn’t hurt, and having him choose Diana as a champion does have a sense of power and authority to it.
Themiscyra also seems to be more utopian in Wonder Woman than the straw-feminist warrior culture of the New 52, with gorgeous beaches, a diplomatic senate — and of course Diana’s loving mother Hippolyta, who warns her daughter than humanity does not deserve her. Which let’s face it, is probably true.
If Zeus is present we certainly don’t see him, and that’s all to the good. Jenkins seems to have struck that balance perfectly, allowing Diana to be compassionate and idealistic, but also a fearsome warrior. And as for father figures to rail against, it seems as though Wonder Woman will be stubbornly bereft of these — New 52 be damned. And that’s all to the good as far as I’m concerned.
Which of Diana’s origin stories do you think is best?
MP staff writer and editor. I talk about superheroes a lot. Sometimes I’m paid for it.