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Wonder Woman
A group of brave women in ancient times, after being betrayed by men, leave to establish their own ideal society on the remote PARADISE ISLAND.  Desiring a child, their queen molds a baby out of clay, magically brings her to life, and with the help of Greek GODS and GODDESSES endows her with superhuman strength and wisdom.  After reaching adulthood, her daughter returns to the world of men where, sometimes assisted by a band of female friends, she struggles to help them win a world war against evil men and MARS, the god of war who is ultimately responsible for their deeds.  One of her weapons is a MAGIC lasso that forces all men encircled by it to obey her commands; meanwhile, on the sidelines, her ineffectual boyfriend watches in admiration as she performs her heroic deeds.  All in all, this sounds like the perfect feminist fable; and that is exactly what psychologist William Moulton had in mind when he created the COMIC BOOK heroine Wonder Woman in 1942 as an inspiration and role model for young girls.  And in 1972, introducing a collection of her early adventures, Wonder Woman, none other than Gloria Steinem embraced WW as a pioneering feminist heroine.

            However, there was also a sicker side to this character in her World War II days.  While WW herself looked reasonably feminine, her regular companionship with the fat and mannish Etta Candy and her equally unattractive friends suggested, by the visual iconography of the times, a lesbian relationship.  Even worse, WW had a strange propensity for getting tied up, locked in chains, and trapped in other positions suggesting male BONDAGE fantasies, though she always triumphed in the end.  It seems, then, that the character remarkably succeeded by simultaneously appealing to a female desire to dominate men and a male desire to dominate women.

            After World War II, Rosie the Riveter returned to the kitchen, and while WW was one of the few characters to survive the anti-comics hysteria of the 1950s, she also lost much of her emotional if not physical strength.  WW now spent less time with the Greek gods and her mother and countrywomen on Paradise Island, weakening the mythological resonances that one helped to empower the character.  She was sometimes depicted as a lovesick girl swooning over the strong and handsome Steve Trevor; one 1960s cover painting showed WW standing helplessly in the middle while Trevor and a MERMAN vied for her affections.  Associations with male heroes always placed her in subordinate positions: even at the height of her powers in the 1940s, she served the Justice Society of America only as its "secretary," often assigned to wait at headquarters while the men did all the fighting, and in the later Justice League of America, she assumed leadership of the League only during its annual housecleaning.  In an attempt to restore her sagging popularity, WW briefly became in the late 1960s a non-super, karate-chopping heroine blatantly modeled on Diana Rigg's Mrs. Peel in the television series The Avengers before regaining her original costume and powers, as well as, to an extent, her original air of authority.

            In the 1970s, WW temporarily achieved great popularity because of the same event that had originally energized the comic book field in the 1940s: World War II.  For the producers of the television series Wonder Woman (1975-1979), starring Lynda Carter, initially decided to set their story against that background, and the comic book WW soon shifted back to the 1940s as well; the series later moved the character back to the present before being cancelled.  But in the 1980s, without a series to maintain interest in WW, she gradually faded from view and now appears only sporadically.  One might imagine that in an era so earnestly devoted to promoting feminist values, WW would be a popular and widely respected mother-figure to a new generation of women warriors; conversely, though, at a time when there are many more sophisticated role models available, Moulton's creation may no longer be necessary.

            In comic books, WW regularly appeared in her own comic, briefly in World's Finest, with the Justice Society of America in All-Star Comics, with the Justice League of America in their own comic, and in two special comics where she memorably instructed Supergirl on the problems of being a super-heroine, and battled against SUPERMAN.  A girl from Paradise Island served as her younger counterpart, Wonder Girl, in the original Teen Titans.  In other media, in addition to the Carter series, there was a radically different television movie, Wonder Woman (1974), featuring Cathy Lee Crosby, and WW was one star of the children's CARTOON series Super Friends.

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