The 6 Essential Wonder Woman Comic Books to Read

We've compiled your source-material primer for the origin story of Wonder Woman, and the comic history of Diana Prince

The reviews are in, and it appears Wonder Woman, introduced in Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman, is one of the most promising aspects of DC’s cinematic universe. Wonder Woman’s first solo film, slated for a June 2017 debut, has already begun its campaign with the release of its first promotional image. Figuring out exactly who these women are, and what to expect from a Wonder Woman film, requires a visit to her long history of comic book appearances. We’ve compiled the high (and low) points for you below, in a handy guide to over 70 years of comic-book adventures.

Entertainment Weekly

Wonder Woman’s first appearance

Wonder Woman first appeared in comic books in December 1941, as a minor character in All-Star Comics, issue 8. Right out the gate, Wonder Woman’s shtick was a direct comment on men. The first sentence ever published on her character was “At last, in a world torn by the hatreds and wars of men, appears a woman to whom the problems and feats of men are mere child’s play.” Subsequent panels revealed Wonder Woman’s superhuman strength and her role on Paradise Island as the queen, Hippolyte’s only daughter.

Wonder Woman saves a man, despite never having seen one before, and falls in love with him while he lies vulnerable, in a hospital bed. Alarmed, Hippolyte tells Wonder Woman a long story about how men enslaved women for centuries, before Hippolyte and her friends escaped by sea to Paradise Island. The story, given that it was written and published in the early 40s, is markedly interesting for its straightforward reading of feminism — which hangs its hat on overthrowing the oppressive patriarchy and putting women in masculine-typical societal roles. It’s notable that many of the characters on Paradise Island, including the queen and doctor, are dressed in sexy clothing. Hippolyte doesn’t look like a Queen, so much as a young coed wearing a vinyl “sexy-royal” costume to a frat party. She even has cone breasts!

Now that the men are gone, we are free to wear our restrictive metal bras and strange S&M medical uniforms!

It’s easy to mock rudimentary gender politics in fiction, but Wonder Woman’s debut was, at the time, a milestone for diversity in superhero stories. The heroes who came before her were men, and chugged along in storylines to emulate a Christian definition of male martyrdom. Before Wonder Woman, the only conceivable superheroe way was to dedicate one’s every move to justice and Americanism. Wonder Woman was the first superhero to enter contemporary society and question the status quo.

Wonder Woman appeared in a follow up issue of Sensation Comics in 1942, and in that same year, her very first solo comic book hit stands.

Wonder Woman #1

Evidenced on the 1942 cover, Wonder Woman has been an equestrian since the beginning. That’s another great little easter egg from Batman v Superman, which featured Diana on horseback nodding to her long history.

In her first solo issue, Wonder Woman takes Steve Trevor, the injured dude from All Star Comics, back to the United States and drops him off at the hospital. Comically, she accidentally leaves behind a bit of parchment that explains her backstory. When a bystander reads the historical parchment (which turns out to be super long), we get Diana’s full backstory. It’s the same story Hippolyta told her daughter in All Star Comics, but it’s rendered with more emotional detail.

Diana, like Marvel’s Thor and his Norse figures, is very aware of the Greek gods and the power they have on Earth. After Mars wills men on earth to enslave women, Aphrodite helps many women escape to an island by showing Hippolyte the way. After landing on Paradise Island, Hippolyte crafts herself a daughter out of clay, and Aphrodite breathes life into her. Such was the birth of Wonder Woman. Notable here is that she doesn’t have a father. Diana, unlike Superman, maintains all of her powers — strength, speed, beauty, wisdom — no matter where she is.

The comic then returns to the present, as Diana learns from Steve Trevor that the Axis powers — Germany, Italy, and Japan — threaten to consume the world. Aphrodite tells Diana’s mother that “Man’s World”, as the Amazons have come to call it, will be lost entirely unless one of the female champions returns to help the Allies. Diana volunteers, gets her Lasso of Truth from her mother, and dons the red, white and blue of the United States to make her WWII allegiance crystal clear.

Other notable details from Wonder Woman’s debut volume include: Diana’s “mental radio,” an old-fashioned radio Diana attaches to her head with a metal ring; and Diana’s strong suspicion of both Germans and the Japanese.

Wonder Woman’s very first Justice Society role

In 1942, DC debuted the first-ever superhero team with the Justice Society of America, of which Wonder Woman was an early member. Though she was arguably as strong as the other, male, members of the society, Diana accepted her assigned role as the team’s secretary. On several occasions, Diana hung back from the action, admitting that she was only an “honorary” member and therefore not equipped for actual combat.

In 1948, Wonder Woman, having become a full member of the Society, welcomed the team’s second female member, a poorly drawn Black Canary. When The Justice Society of America’s comics folded in 1951, Wonder Woman was the only character whose solo comics survived. She finished out what comic nerds call The Golden Age (late 1930s to early 1950s) defeating America’s heroes and promoting a non-violent approach to warfare.

The Silver and Bronze Age

In the late 1950s, Wonder Woman’s origin story was rewritten. Unattached to “Man’s World” this time, Diana trained as a superhero among her own (female) people, readying herself for a Hunger-Games style showdown as “Pallias-Athena.” Since her own mother was appointed as judge of these proceedings, Diana suggested all the Amazons wear masks and costumes made to look like hers.

Diana wins, obviously, and her mother gives her a penny and tells her she will only win the contest if she can turn that penny into a million dollars, in 24 hours — so that money can be donated to a children’s charity. Yep.

Steve Trevor appears again, Wonder Woman saves him, and the two travel to St. Paul, Minneapolis for some reason. After a series of ridiculous stunts with animals and destroying children’s beach parties, Diana realizes she can use her super strength to mold her single penny into an entire bridge connecting the Twin Cities. The mayor gives her a check for a million dollars as a thank you, and she wins her title back home.

In Wonder Woman comics published in the 1960s, Diana gives up her super powers in order to live among normal humans in “Man’s World,” and she trains in martial arts and espionage. In the 1970s, Wonder Woman comics saw the central character join the The Justice League of America and revisit the WWII-era time period.

Contemporary comics

Wonder Woman’s comics, before DC’s revamp — otherwise known as the “New 52” collection — were marked by otherworldly sequences involving portals, alternate dimensions and angry gods.

She picked up a protege in Wonder Girl, and her imagery got sexual; gone was the marketing to young girls. Suddenly, Diana was rendered with the male comic collector’s gaze in mind, and in some cases, appeared virtually naked.

When she wasn’t posing in suggestive panels as eye candy, she was written as a maternal figure to DC’s growing pantheon of young, brash superheroes. During the late 90s and early 2000s, DC expanded its universe beyond the central heroes, hoping to snag every reader possible. Wonder Woman remained a staple, but she was often paired with young lookalikes or fighting female heroes.

New 52, Wonder Woman as she stands now

In 2011, DC revamped all of its primary characters, Wonder Woman among them. No longer a child made out of clay and the intention of two women, Diana was born to Hippolyta and Zeus. No longer virtuous, the new Wonder Woman was definitively rebellious, and earned a nickname: The Goddess of War.

This new storyline opened Wonder Woman’s life up to half-siblings, including Lennox Sandsmark, eventual father to Wonder Woman’s niece, Wonder Girl. Wonder Woman’s first villain in her new series was Zeus’s eldest son by Hera, his lawful wife.

Wonder Woman’s storylines underwent a lot of tumultuous rearranging — of sex, lineage, and violence. Rather than a blessed daughter of a goddess, Diana was now the bastard daughter of the OG god, Zeus, and many characters from her home-world resented her. She also learned of corruption in her female society, and the dark underbelly of how Paradise Island continued existing: as it turned out, the Amazons were raping and killing male soldiers, drowning any sons they had through this process and celebrating their daughters.

In 2013, DC comics introduced Diana’s daughter, Fury, in an alternate dimension the publisher calls “Earth 2”.

How all of this will affect the film

We know from early marketing that Wonder Woman’s first live-action feature film will include her relationship with Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). Conflicts will arise among the Amazons (played by Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright), and between Diana herself (Gal Gadot) and Ares, who has yet to be cast.

Time period will be a crucial choice for Warner Bros., who featured Wonder Woman in their present-day Batman v Superman film, although she’s typically enmeshed in WWII-era politics in her comic books. CinemaBlend reported a year ago that Diana’s origin film was to be set in the 1920s, but they reversed their position five months ago, stating the film was likely to include WWI-era flashbacks, but will ultimately bind to BvS’s timeline.

No matter where Diana happens to be in time, it’s likely her core values, defined in the vast majority of her comics as empathy, wisdom and truth, will prevail. She’s not quite the curmudgeon that Batman has become, but she certainly has a more nuanced and skeptical view of humanity than Superman.

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