My favorite thing to do is point people to a really great book, and Wonder Woman Unbound is a really great book for anyone interested in comics and for anyone interested in how women are portrayed in media. It’s detailed, thought-provoking, and meticulously researched but also conversational and light in tone. I love this book!
Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine is a nonfiction book that explores Wonder Woman in comics and other media. Wonder Woman’s origins are complicated and fascinating, and much time is spent on her complex creator, William Marston. Yes, in case you’re wondering, we do get to find out why in the 1940’s, Wonder Woman spent so much time getting tied up.
Here’s a sampling of things you’ll learn from this book:
1. William Marston thought women were superior to men and would be taking over in politics, business, and other arenas soon – and he thought that was great.
2. Marston was in a long-term, apparently loving, relationship with two women, one of whom was a homemaker and one of whom worked full-time outside the home. Margaret Sanger was his mother-in-law.
3. During the first ten years of the Wonder Woman comics, each issue contained a nonfiction section, “Women of History”, which included information about racially and ethnically diverse women in a variety of roles including doctor, lawyer, and suffragette. This went on from roughly 1941 – 1953.
4. In the 1970’s, Wonder Woman was depowered. As Diana Prince, Wonder Woman learned martial arts and sought revenge for the murder of her boyfriend while she pined over a succession of men. You could all tell when I read this part of the book because my howls of rage could be heard all across the land.
5. Wonder Woman got her powers back largely thanks to Gloria Steinem. Thanks, Gloria!
I hope that one thing these five factoids will demonstrate is that this book might be of interest not only to comic book fans, but to people interested in the ways women are portrayed in media, and in the history of feminism in America. One of the most interesting things about Wonder Woman is that who she is changes with the times, and not always in the direction the times are going. In the 1940’s, Wonder Woman was intended to be a model of female superiority. In the 1970’s, just as feminism was becoming a household word, Wonder Woman lost her powers and all her story lines revolved around men. Thanks to Gloria Steinem and Ms. Magazine, Wonder Woman got her powers back, and we got a TV show. We’ll have the first big screen version of Wonder Woman in 2016, in Batman vs. Superman. Yes, we get Wonder Woman in a movie, but as third billing behind two men. Grrrrr.
Wonder Woman has persisted as a feminist icon whether she is taking over a Nazi U-boat, or getting excited about shopping and dating a new crush, or twirling around on our TV sets (I LOVED that show!). At her best and at her worst, she stands for justice and she always gets the bad guy. This book did a great job of tracing her history in an entertaining interesting way and I highly recommend it!
Incidentally, I enjoyed the illustrations in this book, most of which are in full color. These illustrations are truly worth a thousand words, showing Wonder Woman’s different personas and roles through the decades. Above all, I enjoyed the author’s voice. I never felt like I was reading an academic tome even though the content is quite detailed. I felt entertained and enlightened and excited.
And now, behold, I have links. First off, this link goes to an essay Lynda Carter wrote for dccomics.com. This is a lovely essay about the enduring legacy of Wonder Woman. Here’s a passage:
While I am forever identified with the role, Wonder Woman belongs to us all. She lives inside us. She’s the symbol of the extraordinary possibilities that inhabit us, hidden though they may be—that, I think, is the important gift Wonder Woman offers women. Perhaps our real challenge in the 21st century is to strive to reach our potential while embracing her values. Wonder Woman is fearless. She sees the good in everyone, convinced they are capable of change, compassion and generosity. She’s kindhearted and hopeful, and she has a great sense of humor. These are just some of the important gifts the Adaptable Empowered Feminine has to offer. In an age when femininity is casting off restraints around the world, Wonder Woman remains an important archetype.
Then, as a bonus, I have an interview with Tim Hanley at my site, Geek Girl In Love. He also has a great blog called Straightened Circumstances, where he writes about women in comics, both behind the scenes and in the pages.
I have now destroyed your productivity forever – you’re welcome!