Wonder Woman: The Golden Age by Les Daniels
Hardcover, 80 pages, Yard-sale find
Beautiful as Aphrodite, strong as Hercules, wise as Athena, and swift as Mercury, Wonder Woman is the most popular female comic book hero of all time. Created in 1941 by a maverick psychologist with a Ph.D. from Harvard and some revolutionary ideas about women, Wonder Woman was modeled after the mythological Amazon warrior and endowed with Olympian strength, a peacekeeping mission, and a golden lasso that could bend anyone to her will. Wonder Woman: The Golden Age celebrates her heyday, from 1941 to 1948. Packed with archival comic book art, photos, and more, this full-color book is a beautifully designed tribute to the super heroine who set out to “change your mind – and change the world!”
Disclaimer: my knowledge of – and interest in – U.S. comics is limited. Wonder Woman is the exception, though, and I picked this book up to learn more about the character, beyond what I know through pop culture osmosis.
This book has multiple official names; my edition is titled Wonder Woman: The Golden Age, Goodreads has it down as The Life and Times of the Amazon Princess, and I’ve noticed several other covers with subtitle The Complete History. The former is the best reflection of its content and “complete” history is a misnomer: this book is a light introduction to Wonder Woman’s inception and initial popularity, from 1941 to 1948, with a short biography of her (very eccentric) creator and some of the key players in the comic’s early publication.
This is a quick read at roughly 80 pages, many of which are dominated by reprints of panels, cover art, and Wonder Woman paraphernalia from the 1940s. Busy is the best way to describe it, with multiple illustrations, illustration notes, explanatory asides, and the main text crammed onto every page. Expect to do a lot of flipping around to read everything in an order that makes sense. I recommend focusing on the main text until the end of a paragraph or topic change, then go back to read everything else.
My personal favourite detail is how Daniels places comics in their cultural and wartime context. One section explains why so few comic publications remain from this time period, due to the push to salvage paper for wartime usage, with a full-page full-colour spread urging children to turn in their old comics and do their part. Another outlines the morality debate and discussion of Marston’s bondage imagery. This era’s extreme patriotism is also on full display. To quote Wonder Woman’s mother, Queen Hippolyte, in an origin story newspaper strip from 1944: “Mars has led his man-ruled world into war – the worst of all time! One nation alone fights for love – America! She must win! You Amazons must help America with your power of love and beauty!” Expect lots of panels of Wonder Woman punching Axis soldiers and celebrating the great nation of America.
Definitely worth a look if you’re interested in the WWII-era comics industry and the early days of this iconic character. The book contains reprints of rare illustrations – including page illustrations by original artist Harry Peter with visible correction marks and behind-the-scenes editor’s notes – that alone make it worth a read. The layout is confusing and hectic at times but the book is short enough that this isn’t a huge issue.
Next up is Adrienne Mayor’s The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women Across the Ancient World, described as “the first comprehensive account of warrior women in myth and history across the ancient world”. A good follow-up to a crash course on one of the most popular characters based on Amazonian myth.