Welcome! Historia is a brand new bi-monthly series that will be examining The Amazing Amazon’s rich history. The feature will span the war-haunted Golden Ages in which she was forged, through the sweeping currents of The Silver Age, the shifts of The Bronze Age, the trials of The Dark Age, all the way to The Renaissance and The Prismatic Age of the modern century.
We’ll be looking at and discussing the various influences and archetypal antecedents that underlie the Wonder Legend, the power of the conceits it upholds, the politics of the whole enterprise, the terrifying nature of myths and narratives, and how the character and property have changed, evolved, or even regressed. What is this curious little experiment that began under a polyamorous polymath psychologist that became an icon of the feminist movement and a vital corporate symbol? Let’s dig in.
The Rogues Gallery
Since we’ve properly established Diana’s foundations here with all her key allies, it’s now vital to see the opposition, as the title of this article alludes to. But you can’t quite know what your opposition is until you’ve understood what you are, so we went through all that surrounds Diana. With that in mind, let’s take a good look at all the ideologies and threats that plague our Amazing Amazon and what they represent and why they’re perhaps still vital, even if forgotten and ignored.
“If women gain power in war they’ll escape man’s domination completely! They will achieve a horrible independence! Women are the natural spoils of war! They must remain at home, helpless slaves for the victor! If women become warriors like the Amazons, they’ll grow stronger than men and put an end to war!”
We’ve previously discussed Mars, his context as a figure of suffrage cartoons and what he represents. So in this installment, let’s focus a bit more on his symbolic stature and how that trickles down and breaks off into various elements. If Aphrodite is the face of womanhood and the matriarchy, then Mars is very much the literal face of the patriarchy. He’s the big muscular oaf who cackles about his power like a petty bully. He’s Dudley turned up to a billion in psuedo-roman war gear. If that sounds like a mockery, it’s because it is. That’s the point. He’s a joke and he looks like an absolute idiot in virtually every image because Marston and Peter wanted you to know really clearly. To the team and to Wonder Woman, it wasn’t just vital that the dunce be beaten, but also mocked, because humor is a powerful thing.
But returning to the point, he is the face of the patriarchy that must be brought down and made to submit. He’s The God Of War, he’s the violence loving, power-hungry, control-seeking petty child who refuses to let go and thinks everything’s grand as the world is burning.
Men Of Mars:
Marston identified three key chieftains or fief lords of The Patriarchy, whom you can see above. He believed these three were the fundamental diseases which the patriarchy held power through, via which all its symptoms were caused. Let’s go through each of them.
Duke Of Deception- Propaganda
The Lord Of Fake News. He who will publish, print, spread anything and lie without remorse over and over, seeking publicity and disasters, all in the service of the patriarchy and its awfulness. The Duke Of Deception is a frail, sickly looking trickster and lord of illusions and lies, who weaponizes advertising, the news, the media in general and disseminates propaganda. That, tragically, is more relevant than ever. It seems comical in these strips, but dear god is the point being made absolutely true. It’s only gotten more true as time’s passed.
Wonder Woman as a political cartoon helps contextualize a lot about it and this is absolutely a display of that. There’s even an accursed Lie-O-Meter and in a world of Fox News, Bots and tons of messes due to false information, this feels horrifyingly powerful. Duke Of Deception is a powerful concept and one that cuts through to Marston’s heart as a psychologist, who observed that even among his patients, while consulting, deception was always at the root of almost all the problems. Whether it be deception of others or self-deception, he found it a cause of terrible problems across the board and so much of his career was spent on fixating over truth and lies, the veracity of things, so it makes sense that a symbol of truth such as Diana would face deception as a threat.
Deception is, of course, eternal. You can stop and subdue him, but he’ll always rear his stupid head back up again sometime. These figures are very much cosmic ideals, a bit like The Endless out of Sandman.
Lord Conquest- Colonialism
The Conquerer. The Pillager. The Invader. He who re-writes, re-shapes, appropriates, destroys, enslaves, humiliates, and endlessly justifies every sin as righteous. The Colonizer. Colonialism is clearly established as another problem of The Patriarchy. The obsession with conquest, of simply taking from others by force and sitting on that golden throne of skulls, that’s what’s being skewered here. Man’s desire and need to be the conquerer, to be the ‘better’ of his peers in all its toxicity, which infects everything and hurts everything. The way to war is with such ideals, as intervention evolves to invasion and propaganda rises to handwave away every crime and all voices are silenced. The price is paid for in blood, ash, tears and loss that can never even be accounted for, much less even described.
Even to this day, we’re still reeling from the impact of colonialism, so that’s pointed out to be a disease, made into a horrific cosmic ideal. Man’s vision of himself as emperor, pulled on by slaves, with a harem of slaves and wine is how Peter chooses to represent this.
Earl Of Greed- Capitalism
That’s capitalism after Wonder Woman beat it up.
Jokes aside, that’s basically what the Earl Of Greed is. He’s the cold, soulless, money-grubbing scumbag who loves nothing more than his materialistic wealth and privilege. The only thing he likes more is flaunting said wealth and privilege. He’s every scumbag rich guy you’ve ever been times a hundred, he’s all of them. He’s the very idea of them. The dude’s eyes jump out like a scene in Tom & Jerry when he sees wealth or any chance of it. And there is nothing he won’t put a price tag on.
He’s every wealth-hoarding person of power who only wields it in service of his cruel, callous self-interest. The Earl is the cold bastard who counts his notes as people die below him without healthcare. Marston and Peter envision him as a chubby coward who’s good for nothing except abusing people and treating them like trash. The very titles of these three, the Trinity Of Terribles, Earl, Lord, Duke, should tell you everything. They’re as empty and hollow as their titles.
Even now, the idea remains relevant, much like the other two, as the concept of capitalistic greed, in a world of monopolies, as things get worse and the rich get richer, is more powerful than ever.
Doctor Psycho- Misogyny
Marston, at college, worked with and under a man named Hugo Munsberg. Munsberg was infamous for his terrible views, such as opposition to women’s education and suffrage. The right to vote or be educated were not rights of women to Munsberg and he felt the only reason even the latter might be considered is apparently so that women may be more interesting wives. He had plenty more awful takes, but you get the idea.
Marston, of course, as we’ve tirelessly established, would disagree. Both his partners, Sadie Elizabeth Holloway and Olive Byrne, were well educated women who accomplished a lot in their own right. All this, of course, brings us to the terrible Doctor Psycho. He’s very much Munsberg as a Wonder Woman villain, if you couldn’t guess. He’s the absolute misogynist, with an array of odd psychic powers (owing to Marston’s interests in magical/psychic matters. Thus also Astral Planes), deputized by The Duke Of Deception.
A man of diminutive stature, he was a college man who was tricked into believing his wife cheated on him and got him locked up. She did neither of those things, of course, it was all a dude’s fault. But nevertheless, Psycho didn’t care and he used it all to justify his neverending relentless hatred of women. His design as a whole, especially for the period and its sensibilities, screams ‘evil’. And he is sort of the arch-foe of Diana, in a certain sense, as you have an evil academic figure, an evil psychologist and college man, both Munsberg and an evil mirror of Diana’s own creator, a psychologist.
His loathing and condescension for women knows no bounds. He employs illusions and will gaslight the hell out of you and he’s an abuser. Arguably no one is more abusive than Psycho, whose misogyny is off the charts.
Professor Manly and The Man’s World Party- MRA Nonsense
Marston and Peter were never much for subtlety, much like most of comics. That’s how you get ‘Professor Manly,’ the most blatantly-in-you-face name (and that’s deliberate) and his Man’s World Party, who claim that men are being oppressed by women and that they’re fighting for ‘true equality’ and thus men’s rights, even as they’re blatantly sexist scumbags with major entitlement issues. The ideologies and beliefs Wonder Woman must fight are numerous and if you’ve read thus far, you’re aware no less relevant and still absolutely worth fighting for even now, over 80 years later.
Paula Von Gunther- Forceful Submission
Paula Von Gunther begins as the first proper recurring antagonist of Wonder Woman. An austrian royal who took refuge in America, she was a Nazi spymistress who made slaves of ordinary girls, who often went missing off the streets. They’d all be sent to her Espionage School, where they’d train to spy for The Third Reich. Paula was a genius scientist, engineer and spy, who had mastery of spycraft beyond compare.
Her presence would mark the first time Marston and Peter tried to truly mirror and examine Amazonian ideals through contrast and comparison. The Espionage School was, of course, a perverted Nazi version of Paradise Island and its teachings, with Paula a corrupted Nazi Lyta. But this is also where Marston’s philosophy kicked in. He set up a recurring foe, a Red Skull of sorts for Diana, only to subvert that idea. He had to show Amazonian philosophy working and in play, make examples. So he chose the most extreme example, a Nazi who is saved and changed.
And so we get her origin story for the very first time, which reveals that her little daughter, Gerta, is being held in a concentration camp and unless Paula does her absolute best and does as is required of her position, her daughter will suffer and die. This is also where she reveals her hatred for the Nazis. This is where the book establishes how Paula is a take on submission as specific to Man’s World, that is to say, it is forced, it is cruel and it is done out of hatred and done by men, who are literal Nazis putting kids in camps.
So Diana does what she always does: she helps. She goes off and does the impossible, that is to say, she rescues Gerta from the camp, taking away the leverage of the Nazis and sticks with Paula, her first proper supervillain, her chief recurring foe, the spymistress and…changes her.
What happens next? Paula sacrifices herself to save Wonder Woman, swears loyalty to Aphrodite and the Amazon Ideal, alongside Gerta, faces trial for all she’s done and becomes one of Diana’s closest and eternally long lasting allies. She puts her scientific prowess to good use and becomes a trusted and renowned Amazonian scientist, with her iconic lab. She becomes a true Amazon, as does Gerta. She is so changed and transformed, in fact, that her very visage is altered, to reflect the shift and change in the person.
Any woman can become a Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman as an idea that can save anyone and everyone, no matter how lost, with the most extreme possible option as an example. This isn’t to say Diana looks at Nazis or terrible people and tries to reason with them or change them. She isn’t going to ever sit down and get Doctor Psycho to change, or Mars. But she will attempt to change and save whosoever she feels can be saved and most importantly is willing to be. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.
But in any case, for all that is said about and in regards to Wonder Woman rogues, it is worth keeping in mind that she took her first and most popular villain, the recurring arch-nemesis and she saved her. She changed her and made her an ally.
The Venturians- The Strawman Of The Amazons
We discussed Queen Eera and Princess Octavia, the Atlantean royals of Aurania with Diana’s allies. They’ve been constantly embroiled in a war with the Venturians, giant women who worship the goddess ‘Madra’ and warriors who enslave ‘manlings’ or men, if you will. They are also decidedly more medieval and akin to assumptions made about Amazons by most people. The echo of the wider popular myth against the reconstructed new fantastic myth, the Wonder Woman myth.
In using the myth of the Amazons and reinterpreting it for his purposes, Marston understands that he needs to also wrestle in some way within his construction with the most troubling of assumptions about the Amazons. Venturian Ideals represent a strawman vision of The Amazons and their myth, played as man-enslaving monsters who effectively replicate the patriarchal system of reversal just with a gender reversal. It’s not something Marston feels the Amazons are or should be or represent, as he wishes them to be more liberatory and radical. The Venturians are a clear and useful display of intent here.
And so we get a story where the Venturian leadership is toppled, with the ‘manlings’ that were under their heel taking over, showcasing just how decent (hint: not at all) they are. Having revealed the toxicity of this kind of cruel and oppressive system and thinking, Marston then writes a story where they’re toppled too, and at last replaced with Princess Octavia, who Diana trained, who’s an Amazon. And so the old myth which was acknowledged via almost a pastiche is dismantled and in its place is erected the new Amazon myth, because that’s how Marston rolls. The myth of the Wonder Woman saves all.
The Saturnians- Slavery
Now we come to Saturn, the realm where ‘Mephistopheles’ is worshiped as god, the way goddesses are on Paradise Island. Oh and it’s ruled by The-Totally-Not-Satan, because Saturn/Satan, get it? Saturn is a sort of Hell, in that sense, a world where sentiment is replaced with inhumanity, where slavery runs rampant and is ‘needed’ because the Saturnians have supposedly progressed so much that they hate doing any menial work and need others to do it for them. And so they traffic slaves away from Earth. They are the threat of slavers, with their emperor as an actual horned devil, mustache and all.
But when they come to fully invade, in a story kicking off in Wonder Woman #10, Wonder Woman stops their operatives and ultimately, by the end, gets even Mr.Not-Devil-Emperor who worships Mephisto to sign a peace treaty. Getting Satan-man to sign for peace, such is the power of Wonder Woman. Diana ends slavery and trafficking, at least on an official front by dealing with Satan, literally.
In today’s comics world, people know plenty of supervillain teams, from The Legion Of Doom, The Injustice League, The Masters Of Evil, The Brotherhood Of Evil Mutants, The Rogues, The Sinister Six, The Suicide Squad, so on and so forth. You name it, it’s out there. But what most don’t realize is (especially when critiquing Diana), the conceit of that came from her and Captain Marvel’s comics. The Monster Society Of Evil and Villainy Incorporated were both two of THE first. But alas, in the modern era, the star of both characters has waned, as their potential has been squandered over the decades. Nevertheless, their history here is still rich and worth looking at, as neither has ever been starved for ideas.
Villainy Incorporated was formed in Wonder Woman #28, as the rogue Eviless breaks out the prisoners of Reform/Transformation Island, setting off a riot and nearly defeating The Amazons and destroying Paradise. The team was made up of a specific roster and each represented an idea, much like the above opposition we’ve gone over.
Doctor Poison- Terrorism
Marina Maru, a terrorist figure designed for the 40’s war-stricken landscape. She’d produced a drug called ‘Reverso’ that would induce panic and rebellion among people. But more importantly, it’s a very Marston idea of a terrorist. The threat of Reverso was, if you were exposed to it, you would do the REVERSE of what you were told to do. You would do the opposite of whatever authority you had submitted yourself to, which is both hilarious and perfect for the Wonder Woman context. But nevertheless, in Maru you had, again, another princess (royalty is a common motif here) and a leader of a German spy ring, to aid the Nazis.
That she is the first Wonder Woman villain though, is notable, especially given the name. In his youth, Marston almost attempted suicide via poison, so the notion of him pitting his ultimate superheroine and idea to save humanity against the thing that almost killed him, against a foe dubbed ‘Doctor Poison’ feels, even if subconscious and unintentional, a choice worth remarking upon.
Cheetah, iconic villain, member of The Legion Of Doom. Set to be in a movie and bigger than ever in the current comics, thanks to a Greg Rucka/Liam Sharp revamp. Her origins here are fairly different from what we now have and they are, very much, two different characters. The original Cheetah, Priscilla Rich, was a rich socialite who had a Jekyll and Hyde deal, as noted above. Fundamentally though, Cheetah is built on the idea of self-loathing, which is the one thing consistent among interpretations.
And from that self-loathing, that feeling small, that inferior sense of self in relation to other women blooms envy, which then turns into jealousy, which ultimately morphs into hate. And that’s Cheetah. She’s the idea of ‘Diana’, that name, taken to a dark extreme. Diana is the goddess of the moon, the goddess of the hunt, of course. But if Amazonian ‘hunts’ done by Diana are playful festive sports for fun, The Cheetah is something else. It’s taking that idea of the ‘hunt’ very seriously and treating all others as prey. It’s predatory, abusive behavior towards other women. It’s about a woman who tears down other women and specifically women of power, any who she feels are in any way ‘better’ than her or feels even remotely envious of. She’s every individual who has to make someone who feels good feel terrible, so she can feel superior.
While there’s an almost cat-burglar-esque vibe to Cheetah in this period, with that specific suit and all, she’s not actually stealing the way Catwoman or Black Cat do. She’s doing everything possible to just ruin or hurt someone she has a petty dislike or grudge towards. That’s all her goal is. That’s all she wants, nothing more. And that behavior, that impulse, that dark thought of wanting to hurt someone who’s doing well, because you feel inferior, that must be fought at ever turn. And so Wonder Woman faces it and does her best to help Priscilla be better, even if she fails consistently. It’s just who Diana is, even in the face of what The Cheetah is.
Queen Clea- The Strawman Supreme
Venturians have been discussed, as has their leadership. Now it must be revealed who exactly their leader was, that leading lady of the broken strawman myth. It’s Queen Clea, of course. She’s everything about Lyta curdled and twisted. She’s the strawman Lyta, with a daughter, Pytra, who’s also a hollow echo of Diana. They’re a sad pair, as Clea just uses her daughter like an object and Pytra, being raised by Clea, is no good either. They’re both a tragic mess and Clea is that hollow echo of the myth that Marston blew up. Even if Diana saved Venturia from its oppressive system, Clea remains at large, ever the eternal Girl Boss.
Diana may have made the devil himself agree that slavery’s done for, but you can never stop remnant factions of extremists. And that’s precisely what Saturnian spy, assassin and officer Eviless is. Get it? Evil with a suffix of ‘ess’ which accompany female titles (like Countess, Duchess, etc). She’s worse than the devil himself, because he actually keeps his deal with Wonder Woman and is fair. Eviless however will pretend change, she will appeal to one’s better instincts and then having attained trust, will stab you in the back. She is the insidious nature of fascism, of right-wing lunacy, which slowly creeps in and explodes. She’s the aryan slaver from space out to impose her fascistic law on Paradise and every land past Paradise. And she is, obviously, the leader of Villainy Inc., who forms the team and breaks everyone out with her talents for deceit.
She is the terror that must be taken on, she is the insidious danger that must be faced, lest its terrible nature corrupt and destroy all one holds dear.
A female ape made into a woman, Giganta is the idea of a base savage, a cold beast, a monster in the form of a woman. She may look civil, but is not civil in the slightest and likes the brutal law of the jungle. She’s also against women working together and moving forward and is, quite literally, a regressive ape. She’s backwards as all hell is the point. She’s every ideology by older folks that ‘women shouldn’t do this, shouldn’t do that, back in my day…’, it’s all that harmful ingrained toxicity in one threat. A gigantic regressive monster who Diana must defeat every time if there is to be any hope.
Zara Of The Crimson Flame- Cultism
Zara is very much the idea of cults and cultism run loose, playing on the dark mirror notion of The Amazons as ‘cult’, through the structures of Man’s World. She’s every cult individual you may have ever come across, her peers are every person you’ve seen proclaim themselves a Scientologist and she is the shady chief-in-charge who holds power over all of them, with insane rituals and customs. Cultism and what it does and the cruelty and nature of that sort of culture, where power is held by highly shady people, is the threat here. And Diana must also face that, eternally, as she does so many things.
Playing on the mental fortitude aspect of Wonder Woman, given Mental Radios, mind-control as well as submission, Hypnota is a villain geared to be a specific kind of threat. Hypnota is the ultimate con-artist, employing their Blue Hypnotic Ray to control people. Hypnosis, trickery and control of people through careful performance is key here. But there’s also the aspect of what this is all in service towards and as is revealed, it’s in service of Human Trafficking, across an intergalactic scale.
Even as ‘officially’ slavery is banned and trafficking is punished, illegally, it all still occurs and few are as adept at providing slaves as an expert of hypnosis and mind-control. Hypnota is the flashy-looking terror that needs to be tackled, so that its true terrible nature can be revealed and people can be liberated. Trafficking, but on a cosmic scale, is a fittingly comic book way to deal with terrible villainous ideologies without attempting to be ‘grounded’ and ‘realistic’, as that usually ends up being way less so.
Blue Snowman- Cold Apathy
Snowman is a brilliant individual with technology to change the climate and alter the nature of the world, save it, even. But that is not at all what they do. Snowman doesn’t care. Snowman has only apathy. Who cares about others or anything beyond me? I’m just here to get mine! Is the idea. Snowman instead uses that technology to pettily make more money. The hunger for profit outweighs saving the planet or anything else remotely decent here.
Diana is no stranger to preaching messages and is very much about saving the planet and nature, especially given she can converse with animals, whether it be dolphins or sharks to tigers and lemurs. She’s an animal whisperer and her people work to preserve nature. So to see those who would wield technology that could and would help everyone at large, being used to extort more cold hard cash is the sort of depressingly human awfulness and apathy that Diana needs to confront. That smallness, that uncaring coldness and lack of thought for anyone but ones self, that self-serving ideology, it’s the most terrifyingly human part of people that Diana needs to wrestle with, so she can save people.
How do you inspire those who do not want to be inspired? How do you do anything with people who just simply do not care at all? That’s also at the heart of the Wonder Woman mission. All it takes for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing.
That about covers almost all her key threats and foes, what they represent, why and what that means and why all of that is still deeply relevant and worthwhile.
Reflecting on a Wonder
There is still so much here, in the pages of these 40’s comics, that feels so strikingly resonant, through all the dated aspects and problems. They are profoundly personal comics about something, in a way so many mainstream superhero comics, especially ones being built from scratch, almost never are. I don’t know that there’s ever been another mainstream effort of this kind, so personal, so specific to a creator, having struggled to work beyond them, none of it owned by them and now a fixture of a larger shared world, with the sole exception of Jack Kirby’s The Fourth World. There’s simply no other comparison.
There are just no other comics, especially superhero comics, like Golden Age Wonder Woman, as penned by Marston and penciled by Peter. It is this fascinating artifact, a curious relic of 20th Century that is as fascinating now as it was then. Even now, reading over it, there’s the sense of ‘DC would never do this now’ and that’s said not with dread, but with awe. This is a deeply political comic that made a powerful, blatant feminist statement, that openly educated its audience with its backups of Wonder Women Of History and accomplished so much.
And if you’ll notice, for a book about female supremacy and needing to submit to them, there’s a number of female antagonists in the book. In Wonder Woman, women could be anyone, anything. They could be good, evil, morally ambiguous, cruel, generous, they could play the role of a nurse, secretary, superhero, mother, sister, friend, they could be many things to many people. There were a multitude of women in these pages. And they were allowed to be all the things that so many men in stories were for ages, going through a gamut of experiences. It was a showcase of women which idealized them and spoke of how great they were, but also showcased a massive variety of women, especially relative to everything that surrounded it. That still feels astonishing, especially compared to the handling and treatment of so many female characters in comics since the 40’s. But of course, it couldn’t last.
At age 50, Marston was afflicted with Polio. And as WWII was coming to a close, Marston was hit with Infantile Paralysis. From there onwards, he was in a wheelchair, still writing, but with the help of Joye Hummel Murchison. Joye became the co-writer on the book from around 1945.
In 1947, William Moulton Marston was diagnosed with Lung Cancer. He died not long after, on May 2nd of 1947, having just recently written a final story. That final story is theorized to be the epic, a proper epic, Villainy Incorporated story of Wonder Woman #28. In the end, he passed the way he lived, in his Wonder World, surrounded by ideas of Amazons and Villainy, with almost all his characters up to that point assembling in that one story, that epic team formation narrative.
Wonder Woman would never be the same again after that. Something fundamentally was lost, the ‘person’ in the ‘personal’ was no more. The loss of Marston, it would turn out, was the real opposition for Wonder Woman, not Villainy Inc or Men Of Mars. As Editor and close family friend Sheldon Mayer put it, “That was the dirtiest trick Marston ever played on me, because when it came to writing Wonder Woman, there was just one right guy and he had the nerve to die and he shouldn’t have done it.”
The Marstons, however, still kept going. They managed. They continued to live together, raise their kids and were happy. Olive Byrne would live to be 81 and Elizabeth Holloway Marston would live to be 100. In the end, they were the true Wonder Women.