Wonder Woman isn’t even American; she’s an Amazonian Princess – Jim Lee
If we’re going to listen, and believe anyone about who, and what Wonder Woman is, it’s going to be Jim Lee.
The chief creative officer and publisher (the industry’s way of saying that he’s the big dog in the yard) of DC Comics spent a pretty significant amount of time during his career as an artist, drawing Wonder Woman, and is probably more familiar with the character than anyone else involved in the four-color world.
First and foremost, Wonder Woman is a Princess of Themyscira, the daughter of Queen Hippolyta, the ruler of the Amazons.
But does her position as Amazonian royalty mean that she’s a god, a demi-god, or is she something new, something that no one had ever seen before she made her comic book debut?
It isn’t her place in society that makes Diana Prince what she is, it’s her origin story and that’s where things tend to get a little complicated.
Who Is Wonder Woman?
Created in nineteen forty-one by American psychologist William Moulton Marsten and artist Harry G. Peter, Wonder Woman was a reflection of, and embodied Marsten’s belief in early feminism.
She was a character invented to challenge the dated way in which early twentieth-century society viewed the role of gender and the idea that men were superior to women, which Marsten, a pioneer of DISC theory (an emotional and behavioral therapy tool) rightly saw as being ridiculous.
An unconventional man, the development of his world-famous character was in part shaped by his home life, which he shared with his wife Elizabeth Marsten and their life partner, Olive Byrne.
His private life, while being seen as scandalous for the period, did little to affect the popularity of Wonder Woman, who began to grace the pages of DC Comics in the same year as her creation and has been published by the same company ever since.
And her mythology, unlike that of a lot of other characters, remained largely unchanged for seventy years until DC decided to retcon her origin, for reasons known only to themselves (although we suspect that it had something to do with the publisher wanting to establish a more “realistic” backstory for Diana) in two thousand and eleven.
But as every comic book fan knows, if you change a character’s origin story, you fundamentally change who they are, and by changing who they are, you change what they are.
So, did the reinvention of Diana Prince, or as she’s more commonly known Wonder Woman, irrevocably alter the character? Yes and no.
It changed who she was, but thanks to some quick and imaginative thinking and clever writing, it didn’t change what she was. Confused? Don’t worry, it’ll all become clear soon.
Wonder Woman’s Bronze Age Backstory
Partially led by Marsten’s belief in the feminist ideal and driven by the idea that Wonder Woman, as a female superhero vying for the same credibility as her male counterparts during the war years, Diana Prince’s original backstory story could have been drawn directly from Greek mythology.
Martsen’s vision saw his hero being sculpted from clay and given life by her mother, Hippolyta, and given her powers by the Gods of Olympus. While it remained in place for seven decades, Diana’s origin did pose a simple problem.
Was she mortal or immortal, and as she was created rather than born, was she human, god, or something else?
The traditional answer to the awkward and inconvenient question was that she was a demi-god, a mortal (because she was given the gift of life, in much the same way that Pinocchio was when he became a “real” boy) who had the powers and abilities of a god and would be granted, on their death, because unlike deities demi-gods aren’t truly immortal, divine status.
As an origin story goes Wonder Woman’s was and is a little clunky and relied heavily on her audience’s ability to just roll with whatever magical hocus pocus was being thrown their way by a writer, but it also possessed a naive and almost innocent charm that is all too often lacking in modern storytelling.
The Reinvention Of Wonder Woman
Having already established that she was a demi-god, DC needed their retcon to adhere to a similar playbook, and while it would change who Wonder Woman was, it wouldn’t change what she was.
With this in mind, DC followed Marsten’s lead and drew from the same mythology that he had used to create the character. Instead of Wonder Woman being given her powers by the gods, in her retconned original she inherited them directly from her father.
Keeping the story as simple as they possibly could without deviating too much from the established timeline, Wonder Woman became the daughter of Zeus who was raised by her mother Hippolyta, and fellow Amazons, Menalippe and Antiope.
As the daughter of the King of Olympus, Diana was a demi-god by virtue of her parentage and birth rather than receiving her powers as divine gifts.
The Changing Role Of A Demi-God
Life is rarely simple or straightforward for any comic book character, and as one of the leading lights in the DC Universe, Wonder Woman has experienced more than her fair share of turmoil and change.
As a way of making her character more grounded and gritty during the late nineteen sixties, Diana was stripped of her powers, and for a brief period of time (as far as comics are concerned), she became entirely mortal.
And, not content with having made her mortal, DC also decided to elevate her to Olympus and, again for an all too brief moment, Wonder Woman traded her demi-god status for that of full godhood, and during her tenure as a deity was replaced by her mother Hippolyta, who assumed her daughter’s heroic identity.
While who she is might have changed with the passage of time and the way society has evolved and now views her, the one thing that, usually, remains constant is what Wonder Woman is. She was, is, and always will be a demi-god.