She’s the Amazonian superhero who changed the world when she first emerged in late 1941. Shirking the passive portrayal of women as typists, librarians, or young girls in love (at least most of the time), she was a butt-kicking, take-charge champion of justice who very quickly became a star and holds her place next to the likes of Superman and Batman as one of the longest running superhero characters of all time. And she recently turned 75 years old. So Mental Floss asked DC Comics to dig deep into her history for some fascinating facts about the warrior goddess who deflects bullets with her gauntlets, wields the golden Lasso of Truth, and fights all manner of man and beast in her globe-spanning adventures. The woman who left her Amazonian home on Paradise Island to look after military officer Steve Trevor and aid him in his fight against the Nazis has grown through some amazing adventures since then.
When Wonder Woman debuted in All-Star Comics #8 (dated December 1941, released in October 1941), she took the comics world by storm. But her then-publisher All-American Publications knew that they had something great. Her next appearance followed just a few weeks later in Sensation Comics #1 (dated January 1942), and she was one of the first superhero characters to get her own book, in the summer of 1942. “Superman was first, Batman was second, and Wonder Woman did it in less than a year from the moment she was first created,” DC Comics archivist and librarian Benjamin LeClear tells mental_floss. “It’s just mind-boggling.” She initially had psychic powers like telepathy and astral projection, and she became invulnerable to electric shocks.
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While several images make it look like she is wearing a skirt, they are actually culottes, split pants that vary from thigh to knee length. “It was never a skirt,” LeClear says. “But it’s so flowy and loose on the bottom that it flows in the early versions very much like a skirt.” Over time, and on more than one occasion, the garment was shortened. “Sometimes it’s because of taste, and other times because it’s a lot easier to draw. It really did start out as a form of elaborate shorts,” LeClear says.
LeClear adds that the original costume design “had a fully Grecian look with sandals” that was rejected by both the character’s creator, William Moulton Marston, and his wife Elizabeth, upon whom she was based. She thought a skirt was impractical for combat, and he insisted on boots over the sandals that had been suggested. Interestingly enough, sandals eventually showed up on the cover of a 1951 issue when she got an image makeover.
William Moulton Marston
invented one of the first “modern” lie detector tests after realizing how people’s blood pressure changed when they were lying. He constructed the first version in 1915 and published his findings in 1917. Beyond his involvement with the police and government, Marston was also an early champion of women’s rights, so it’s no surprise that he created Wonder Woman while pulling from his extensive knowledge of Greek and Roman mythology.
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Originally, Wonder Woman was made of clay by her mother, Queen Hippolyta, and then brought to life. Later writers would add that the Olympian deities gave her powers reflecting her original description: “Beautiful as Aphrodite, wise as Athena, stronger than Hercules, and swifter than Mercury.” In the post-New 52 era of the past few years, Wonder Woman became the daughter of Zeus proper, but as part of the ongoing Rebirth storyline she has learned that her past is a lie and is setting out to discover the truth.
In the early days of superheroes, before the Comics Code Authority and censorship hit the comics industry in the mid-1950s, Batman had guns and Superman was hanging criminals by their ankles over the edge of buildings. Wonder Woman’s creator felt that his beloved character was made of sterner moral fabric. She also was not going to kill people. (That would change many, many years later.) “She had this thing that other superheroes didn’t do in her era—she was looking to reform them,” LeClear says. “Especially [with] the female super villains, she takes them over to Reform Island [also known as Transformation Island] and tries to get them rehabilitated back to their true nature of women, which Marston believed was a superior nature and, like many suffragettes, thought was the only recipe for peace—women being in charge of society.”
6. SHE’S THE ORIGINAL WONDER GIRL.
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Back in the 1950s, DC Comics decided to tell some teenage stories of Wonder Woman, much in the same way that Superman’s early years were explored through the Superboy series. The Wonder Girl idea was so well received that the company receded another generation and created Wonder Tot. “She’s adorable,” says LeClear. “It’s Wonder Woman as a baby, just a little kid in a costume. They wanted to show all three of them together, so the writer Robert Kanigher came up with a weird idea where her mother was able to splice film together and show all three of them at the same time. It was an imaginary tale as if all three ages of Wonder Woman had an adventure together.”
This triage actually confused other DC writers, who assumed one of them was Wonder Woman’s sister. “The later Donna Troy was created from that internal misunderstanding about who the first Wonder Girl was,” LeClear explains. “Wonder Girl had a skirt, but Wonder Woman did not. It’s much later that she gets that armored skirt that she has in the [recent Batman v Superman] film, which is starting to become her new predominant look. It does throw back to the flowiness of the original costume, but has this other military strength aspect to her that we’ve come to expect out of her in the last 30 years.”
In an unusual narrative twist, Wonder Woman surrendered her powers in 1968. She wanted to stay in Man’s World and look after Steve Trevor (who, ironically, was killed off), rather than join her Amazonian sisters in traveling to another dimension. She opened a mod clothing boutique, dressed in the fashion of the time, and learned martial arts. “The mod years have some great looks for her, but no real fixed costume,” LeClear says. “She had a white jumpsuit with a W on it, but she wore all kinds of glamorous clothes in that period.” The Cathy Lee Crosby TV movie, which aired in 1974—one year before the Lynda Carter series—was inspired by this incarnation of Wonder Woman.
8. GLORIA STEINEM GOT WONDER WOMAN’S POWERS BACK.
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The famed feminist grew up loving Wonder Woman, and after she got Ms. magazine rolling in December 1971, she got permission from DC to put her favorite childhood icon on the July 1972 cover with the tagline “Wonder Woman for President.” (She had previously run for the Oval Office in a storyline set 1000 years in the future, published back in the 1940s.)
“Gloria Steinem put her on the cover in her classic bathing suit and tiara look and asked DC what was going on with Wonder Woman at the time,” LeClear recalls. “She was horrified to find out she had no superpowers. She said that could not stand. Girls and women needed to know about the strength and power that was Wonder Woman as a superhero, so based on that we put her back [into her classic mode].” The classic costume also returned with the emergence of the TV series starring Lynda Carter in 1975.
Steinem also gets credit for collecting all of Wonder Woman’s Golden Age adventures into a book many years before the graphic novel trend set in. She commissioned and paid for it.
9. DIANA PRINCE HAS HELD A VARIETY OF JOBS.
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As the Wonder Woman/Diana Prince storylines and continuities have mutated over the years, she has held a variety of different positions, from being Steve Trevor’s assistant to being a spy to being a romance editor in the 1950s. She also worked in fast food and as a singer. (In real life, Lynda Carter has successfully toured in recent years as a jazz and pop vocalist. She recorded an EP of songs for the Fallout 4 video game soundtrack last year.)
Perhaps the most notorious gig was Wonder Woman herself serving in the Justice Society of America as their secretary, which reflected the sexism of the time.
“There was a great questionnaire in the back of All-Star Comics #11,” according to LeClear, “and it said: ‘Should Wonder Woman be allowed, even though a woman, to become a member of the Justice Society?’ So they put it up to the kids to vote, and what’s crazy is that by an 8-to-1 margin they all voted in favor of it. And of course they put her in as secretary.”
While Diana is the Wonder Woman, there have been other stand-ins during various phases throughout her history. Orana challenged her for the title in 1978 and won, but she later died “because of her brashness,” says LeClear. Artemis later challenged Wonder Woman for her title in 1994, won, took her power, then also passed away. “So the lesson is don’t beat Wonder Woman in a contest; it doesn’t work out well for you.”
Donna Troy, the most famous Wonder Girl, filled in for Wonder Woman at a certain point “because there have been points where Wonder Woman has disappeared through death or Multiverse transformation or travel,” says LeClear. Another replacement was Nubia, “a brief character who was a sister of hers who’d been raised by Mars instead, who really had an equal claim and challenged her for it,” LeClear says. “She died and has been erased by later Multiverse continuity changes.” Nubia first emerged in 1973.
In one storyline, Diana died and was granted divinity as the Goddess of Truth. While her daughter served as a god in Olympus, Diana’s mother Queen Hippolyta actually became Wonder Woman for a time, and DC liked the idea so much they had her travel back in time to join the Justice Society of America in the 1940s. It was after “that whole Multiverse trick that we did where they put the original Golden Age comics as just existing back [in] another world,” notes LeClear. “She was able to travel to that and fill in the part as Wonder Woman.”
11. WONDER WOMAN GAINED THE ABILITY TO FLY.
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When she originally emerged, Wonder Woman wore a tiara that doubled as a boomerang-like weapon, had gauntlets that could deflect bullets, and wielded the golden Lasso of Truth. The Invisible Plane first emerged (powered by an invisible propeller) in Sensation Comics #1 and it was later changed to the Invisible Jet as real-life technology evolved. She first gained the ability to glide on air currents in Wonder Woman #98 (May 1958), and in 1985 her origin was rebooted and she has been able to fly ever since. In recent years, the Invisible Jet has taken a reduced role given her natural abilities—although, depending upon the writer, her flight skills vary.
“When I worked on Superman: For Tomorrow, in which Wonder Woman played a pretty big role for several issues, she went to the Fortress of Solitude,” says Jim Lee, artist, writer, and publisher of DC Comics. “When you show her flying, it begs the question: what is the Invisible Jet for? I wanted to draw the Invisible Jet and thought it was a cool part of the mythology. It looked a little more militaristic and futuristic, then she dropped out of the jet and kind of flew in on her own powers. In my mind as creator, she had the power of flight for short periods of time. So the jet was for more long-range purposes.”
While Steve Trevor has been the perennial love of her life, DC shook things up when they rebooted their major heroes with the launch of The New 52 line in 2011. Wonder Woman got a more super powered paramour. “One of the interesting things about New 52 was that it allowed us to nullify the marriage between Superman and Lois Lane and restore that classic love triangle between Superman, Clark Kent, and Lois Lane,” explains Lee. “That also allowed us to do some different creative material that had never been more fully explored. That Superman-Wonder Woman relationship was well received, and we were able to build a little franchise out of it.” But with the 2016 DC re-launch of the Rebirth line, the classic Wonder Woman-Steve Trevor relationship is back on.
For some reason, Wonder Woman had a slow start making it to television. Unlike Batman or Superman, who appeared in 1940s serials, the first attempt at a Wonder Woman series was a botched attempt in 1967 to portray her as the young daughter of a traditional matriarch who does not understand why she does not want to just settle down with a man. Watch the teaser; it’s awkward.
Cathy Lee Crosby starred in the 1974 TV movie, which took its lead from the power-less Wonder Woman of the mod era, giving her a star spangled jumpsuit and sending her after villain Abner Smith (Ricardo Montalban), who stole code books from the American government. The special actually did decently, but ABC decided to retool their approach, which paved the way for Lynda Carter and the well-known series of the late 1970s.
The original pilot in November 1975 was a success, followed by two one-hour specials in the spring of 1976. Then 11 episodes comprised the first full season in 1976-1977. While a ratings success, the show switched networks to CBS, who reduced the period piece budgetary costs by shifting it from the WWII era to the 1970s, where Diana Prince—now a full-fledged government agent—was working with Steve Trevor’s lookalike son. The show lasted until 1979.
Since that time, efforts to bring Wonder Woman back to TV or the movies have not been so valiant. A 2011 TV series created by David E. Kelley starred Adrianne Palicki in the titular role. Diana Prince was CEO of Themyscira Industries (a nod to the renamed Paradise Island from the comics), her privately run, crime-fighting organization. Her identity was not so secret, her plane was highly visible, and her lasso was used as a normal weapon, not as a truth-telling device. The pilot was never aired and the show never got its wings.
Finally, the goddess superhero has gotten her own movie after appearing in Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice. The Wonder Woman movie, which hits theaters on June 2, stars Gal Gadot in the title role and is already poised to kick butt at the box office.
The DC series Wonder Woman ’77, which is a comic book recreation of the famed TV series, pitted the two women against each other when the Carter version developed amnesia and found herself in the alternate universe of the Crosby continuities. As she started to sort out all of the craziness, the two engaged in an urban rumble. This is probably the only time the two TV characters have officially crossed paths. “That’s a nod to the past that’s done in a very entertaining, clever, innovative way,” says Lee.
15. THE NEW WONDER WOMAN SERIES HAS TWO STORY ARCS.
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The re-launch of Wonder Woman is a biweekly series that alternates between a retelling of her origin and a more modern storyline that starts with a jungle adventure involving her, Steve Trevor, and her old nemesis Cheetah. “I think the aim [of the current creators] is an abnormal one, which is to take all the disparate takes on Wonder Woman and try to synthesize them into a whole,” explains Lee.