Book Review: Wonder Woman Unbound

wonderwoman“She isn’t a great character despite her contradictions but because of them. Wonder Woman has so many facets and incarnations, and within them lies a character who is both bizarre and brilliant. To forget her past is to miss what makes Wonder Woman such a great hero.”

 From Wonder Woman Unbound.

 I grew up on Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman. The Wonder Woman of my youth was strong, confident, smart, beautiful, and kind. She was, in truth, the role model my generation needed. She encouraged us to take care of ourselves, but also to take care of each other. And like many of my generation, I’ve lamented Hollywood’s inability to produce a Wonder Woman movie (or, to be honest, any decent female superhero movie.)

Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine is an entertaining and thoughtful history of the creation and evolution of the most iconic female character is comics. The author begins where all good comic book stories begin: the origin story. In 1941, psychologist and inventor William Moulton Marston (the creator of the systolic blood pressure test, the precursor of the polygraph test) set out to create a comic book heroine that not only would appeal to women, but also prepare young men for a feminist future. Marston’s philosophy was strongly rooted in the belief of female superiority, and he believed that one day women would take their place as the leaders of the world.  Wonder Woman, then, was originally meant as a guide to teach boys to submit to female authority.

Author Tim Hanley does a marvelous job of digging not only into the history of Wonder Woman, but the mindset of her creator. If it hard to truly understand the Golden Age era of Wonder Woman without understanding Marston’s own views on feminism, sexuality, and gender relations. Marston’s worldview was complex, nuanced, and reflected his own sexual fetishes. It is no wonder future creators would so horribly convolute and diminish the original intent of the comics.

After an extensive discussion of Marston’s complicated philosophy and how it related to the stories depicted in the comics, Hanley turns his attention to those who took over the task of breathing life into our heroine in later incarnations. Oddly, as the women’s movement began to catch on and women began fighting for their rights and gaining new opportunities, the Princess of the Amazon’s began a strange descent into compliance that ended with her abandoning her powers in favor of traditionally female activities. The heroine who was supposed to serve as an equal alongside Batman and Superman was reduced to a minor figure of no consequence.

Fortunately, Wonder Woman experienced a revival in the ’70s. Again, Hanley does a great job of providing social context to the changes our heroine underwent during the time period.  Then finally we glimpse into the modern era and wonder together where Woman Woman will end up in this new comic age.

Wonder Woman Unbound is a great read even if you aren’t a die-hard comic book fan. Her influence in pop culture is unquestioned. Understanding her history highlights how extraordinary she truly is.

 

Reviewer Note: I was given a complimentary copy of this title for review purposes.

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