Thursday, June 1, 2017

My Big Fat Greek Origin Story

An Introduction to Wonder Woman, Part II
by Kerey McKenna.

Only hours left until the Wonder Woman movie premieres, and Mike, my editor, is still demanding background. Much as I want to tell him to do his own damn research, I suppose I am the resident expert on comics here at Nerds who Read.

In Part I of my Wonder Woman primer, I covered the origins of Diana of Themyscira and began describing some of the people in her life, specifically Steve Trevor, Diana’s sometime romantic interest who always seems to be in need of rescuing. If Steve is the Lois Lane in her life, then the Jimmy Olson is…

Etta Candy

At least I thought she was the Jimmy Olson. Boy, did I bite off more than I could chew. Trying to summarize and contextualize Etta Candy for this article almost broke me. She was part of the Wonder Woman comics’ lore of the Golden Age but I can’t think of another peripheral character that has had so many re-interpretations and different narrative roles in a superhero mythology.

Etta Candy first entered the narrative in the 1940’s as part of a gang of college co-eds that tagged along on Wonder Woman’s adventures. In stark contrast to the thin and graceful brunette Diana, Etta was blond, short, and rotund but brassy, vivacious and always rolling up her sleeves to brawl against enemy henchmen.

Since then, most adaptations have veered drastically away, in any number of directions in age, race, body type, and narrative function.

In some versions, such as the upcoming movie or the first season of the Lynda Carter Series, Etta is a co-worker of Steve and Diana in military intelligence and is just kind a of a wacky character from their office providing a bit of workplace comic relief.

In other versions she is a rival for Steve's romantic intentions and her proportions have been slimmed down from Rubenesque to fit and trim.

When David E. Kelly’s tried to adapt Wonder Woman to a TV series in 2011, Etta was changed to a meek and long suffering “Girl Friday” for Wonder Woman.

In yet other versions she is a capable intelligence officer in her own right and in charge of Steve Trevor’s spy agency. A bit like Amanda Waller in Suicide Squad, but competent.

Suffice to say, if the plot calls for a role for a woman in Diana and Steve’s life off the island there’s a good chance it will be filled by Etta, in one form or another.

If Etta’s back story seems confounding that’s nothing compared to…

Wonder Girl

Ms. Not-Appearing-in-this-Movie. If you’re really interested, see Wikipedia.

Who are her enemies?

Operating as long as she has, Wonder Woman has made her fair share of enemies, ranging from the mundane and mortal (Nazis and gangsters), to the mythic (gods and monsters), to the weird (mad scientists & aliens).

Ares, the God of War, is most likely to be Diana’s main antagonist in the movie. While Diana and her people are favored by most of the Greco-Roman Pantheon, Ares is often their sworn enemy. Amazons are wise in the ways of war (thanks to the patronage of Athena), but they are also wise in the ways of statecraft and do not seek out conflict. That puts them at odds with Ares, who feeds off man’s hatreds and works behind the scenes to fan the flames of war. As man’s capacity for destruction grows, Ares's efforts, left unchecked, might one day destroy the world.

What are her powers/abilities/equipment?

By virtue of her years of Amazon training, and the patronage of the Greco-Roman gods her people worship, Diana is as beautiful as Aphrodite, swifter than Hermes, and stronger than Hercules. She is a superb athlete and martial artist. Other powers tend to vary from adaptation to adaptation. She may be able to fly like Superman or speak any language, including the languages of the animals.

It’s hard to pin down how strong Wonder Woman is. Certainly strong enough to lift a car or a tank above her head. But can she, say, bench press more than Superman can? Can she beat Superman or Batman in a fight?

General consensus is that she isn’t as strong as Superman, but she’s a trained martial artist while Supes presumably only has a few tips imparted by Ol’ Pa Kent on how to throw a punch. Wonder Woman’s prowess in hand-to-hand or with melee weapons exceeds that of Batman, and as she has superhuman speed, endurance, and strength, she is one of the few people to have ever bested the Dark Knight in a fight. (Fight Superman, he cries, "Martha!" Fight Batman, he cries, "Uncle!")

Diana’s most iconic pieces of equipment are her wrist bracers and lasso. The metal bracers allow her to deflect not only hand-to-hand attacks but also arrows, bullets, lasers, and whatever else the bad guys throw her way. As for her lasso, it has the power to make anyone bound with it tell the truth—which proved rather embarrassing to Lois Lane.

But binding brings us to Wonder Woman's weakness: binding. If she is herself ensnared by a man (sometimes by her own lasso, sometimes by anything else), she loses access to her demigod powers. To re-earn the favor of her patron goddesses, she must be released, or even better, free herself using cunning and guile.

Another piece of iconic kit is her plane, a semi-magical aircraft that is invisible (but leaves her visible in the cockpit). Sometimes the invisible plane is contemporary to the setting, sometimes it is a highly advanced piece of technology beyond anything else in the world.

Wonder Woman’s costume has gone through some revisions over the years but has usually returned to a red, white, blue, and gold color scheme. It most often consists of red boots, a blue and white star spangled bottom, a red top with a gold eagle embellishment topped off with a tiara. The general evolution has moved from something a dancer or gymnast would wear, to something fittingly inspired by a hoplite warrior. About every 10 years or so there is an attempt to do something drastically different like a tracksuit/jumpsuit or a leather biker jacket but these major changes never seem to stick.


Well, hopefully this guide has given you some grounding for the lore of Wonder Woman before you head into the theater and my editor enough background to write his review. The bottom line: Wonder Woman lore is always in flux.

Wonder Woman premiered in a time when one of the greatest contributions women could make to the war effort was to take on administrative and industrial jobs so that men could go off and fight. She has been present through every subsequent wave of feminism and been with us as women’s role has changed in the military, in the workplace, and in the family. Many would argue she helped champion and inspire some of those changes in roles.

Further Reading

  • Wonder Woman’s creator, Dr. William Marston, his wife Elizabeth Olive, his live-in girlfriend Olive Bryne, and the open polyamorous relationship the three of them had would be worth an article in its own right. They’re covered in the Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Thorpe and Wonder Woman Unbound by Tim Hanley.
  • Since 2011 Wonder Woman’s monthly series have been entangled in reboots of her character and/or the greater DC Comics universe. Some of these stories are quite worthwhile, but as far as Wonder Woman adventures you don’t need to consult Wikipedia to understand, I recommend the collections Sensational Comics: Wonder Woman, Volumes 1 and 2, an anthology series not tied to any particular era or continuity.
  • Wonder Woman Earth One by Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette was an attempt by DC comics in 2016 to tell Wonder Woman’s story to a new audience. The authors actively resisted entangling her story with a greater DC universe.
  • Similarly, 2009’s direct to video animated Wonder Woman Movie does a great job of telling Diana’s origin story as a rip-roaring standalone adventure.

    Kerey McKenna is a contributing reviewer to Nerds who Read and SMOF for the annual Watch City Steampunk Festival in Waltham, Massachusetts. Check it out at

    Photo Credits: Costumes worn by Wonder Woman by BoyBlue

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