Book Review

Review: Wonder Woman Unbound by Tim Hanley

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Title: Wonder Woman Unbound
Author: Tim Hanley
Publication Info: Chicago Review Press 2014
ISBN: 978-1-61374-909-8
Genre: Nonfiction

Book Wonder Woman Unbound 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!


This book is available from Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Kobo | All Romance eBooks.

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  1. 1
    jimthered says:

    This sounds like a very interesting read.  Wonder Woman is a very paradoxical character.  She’s one of DC’s “Big Three” (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman), she’s one of the most powerful characters in the DC universe (even if it’s weird that she can go toe-to-toe with Superman but still has to deflect bullets), and she’s *not* one of the characters that started as a female version of a popular male character.  At the same time, she had definitely kinky origins (the original character became helpless if her wrists were bound by a man; plus she was tying up men all the time, PLUS she came from an island populated solely by women and would often exclaim “Suffering Sappho!”) and one of the most revealing superhero costumes there was.  Do a Google Images search for “Wonder Woman bondage” and you’ll get innumerable results.

    And ironically, the “depowering” of her in the 1970s was intended to be empowering—to show how women with no superhuman powers could be effective and make a difference—but most people took it as reducing one of comics’ most powerful female characters.  And, as with most major changes to major characters, it didn’t last.

    Now if they could just settle on an origin for her…

  2. 2
    kkw says:

    I’ve always heard we’re not supposed to get a Wonder Woman movie because her origin is too complicated, but I do not understand why we need an origin story. How did she get here? From where? Why? I don’t know and I don’t care. It’s a mystery. Ta da!
    I don’t need to know how James Bond was trained to watch him kick ass. I do not want to see him as a bumbling adolescent or witness his training montages.
    With all possible love to Lewis Carroll, one needn’t begin at the beginning. The Odyssey starts in the middle. And it does, yes, go back to the beginning eventually: but to the beginning of the conflict. We never learn what Odysseus was like as a baby. He’s clever, and badass. So clever and badass that he interests the gods. How he got that way is so much less important than getting to see him be that way.
    This does sound like a very interesting read. But what I really want is a Wonder Woman movie!

  3. 3

    I haven’t read this book (but it’s definitely on my list now!), but recently watched the documentary Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines on Netflix. There’s interview footage with Lynda Carter where she talks about just how revolutionary the show was at the time. It also goes into other superheroines, but mostly sticks to Wonder Woman as its main subject. I found the story behind WW fascinating and at times uplifting (there are clips of girls/women explaining why WW has been important in their lives).  But it was also sad to see how WW has been depicted at times over the decades; and especially to realize that a big Hollywood film has not come out yet, when we’ve had just about every other superhero under the sun with his own movie.

    My school years were in the 80s, and I remember watching Wonder Woman religiously (it was in constant reruns by then, since I believe the series ran until ‘79). I can’t describe what an absolute goddess she seemed to me, and what an incredible role model for a painfully shy, bookish immigrant girl trying to make sense of a new country and language. I really hope a Wonder Woman movie is eventually made, instead of the umpteenth reboot of Superman et al.

  4. 4
    denise says:

    fascinating…I grew up with the Superfriends on Saturday morning, and the Lynda Carter version…

    I used to have two matching cuff bracelets, and I wore them when playing “wonder woman” to deflect the bullets. While she may have been “depowered,” on TV, girls in the 70s used her “girl power” when playing, and we became empowered! We were the career girls starting out in the late 80s and early 90s. By then, we had the big shoulder pads. ;)

  5. 5
    DarthClavie says:

    Here I go into the realm of non-fiction

  6. 6
    DonnaMarie says:

    This has been on the tbr pile since I started hearing so many positive reviews. If I may make a WW suggestion: I have a deep affection for “Wonder Woman: Spirit of Truth” by Paul Dini with absolutely amazing art by Alex Ross.  My niece unearthed it from the pile of magazines on my coffee table when she was three or four, and it started a long lasting mania for all things WW. And I am nothing if not an indulgent aunt.

    Oh, and the seven panel origin it contains would use up maybe five minutes of a movie, and tell you everything you need to know. There are no good excuses.

  7. 7
    John says:

    This is getting picked up.

    I actually read a spread of Wonder Woman comics from original to one of the more recent (as in mid-2000’s) incarnations for a class on Lethal Girls and Lady Knights: Feminism in Science Fiction and Fantasy last semester.  Wonder Woman’s origins in regards to her creator and his interests actually sparked a midterm research paper on the connection between the portrayal of bondage, the moral superiority of the female figure, and Wonder Woman as a female dominatrix to reinforce said moral superiority.  It’s probably my most favorite academic piece.  *_*  Female super heroes are all-around fascinating, and I will gobble up anything discussing them.

  8. 8
    Kathleen says:

    For a really good movie version of Wonder Woman, check out the DC Universe animated film Wonder Woman from 2009!  Keri Russell does the voicework for Wonder Woman, and there is a great voice cast:  Virginia Madsen as Hippolyta, Alfred Molina as the villainous Ares, Rosario Dawson as an Amazon military commander, and Nathan Filion as Steve Trevor.  Gail Simone, who did some of the most interesting Wonder Woman stories, cowrote the script.

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