February 5, 2014


Spy Vibers who watched Linda Carter in Wonder Woman (1975-1979) may be surprised to hear the character spent some time as a Mod agent in the 1960s. Riding the wave of swinging spies led by Emma Peel of The Avengers and Streranko's Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., DC writer Denny O'Neil redefined Wonder Woman for the times. According to DC Wiki, the character "surrendered her powers to remain in 'Man's World' (partly to assist Steve Trevor, who was facing criminal charges) rather than accompany her fellow Amazons into another dimension so they could 'restore their magic.' Now a mod boutique owner, the powerless Diana Prince soon came under the wing of a Chinese mentor known as I-Ching. Under I-Ching's guidance, Diana was trained to use her body as a weapon, learning martial arts and weapons skills, and proceeded to undertake secret agent-style adventures." The makeover made its debut in 1968 and sported some very groovy art. The first issue cover below echoed the Op Art set design in Casino Royale (1967). And with her Mod-striped jumpsuits, Wonder Woman could have borrowed one of Diana Rigg's "Emma Peelers." Story continues. 

Activist and writer Gloria Steinem criticized the new comic series and lobbied DC to return the character to its rightful place as a strong role-model for girls. Steinem spoke out publicly and put Wonder Woman on the cover of the first issue of Ms Magazine, essentially reclaiming her as a symbol for the feminist movement. Gloria Steinem later published a compilation of selected Wonder Woman stories in 1977, a collection of cover art in 1995, and took part in the 2012 documentary, Wonder Woman: The Untold Story of American SuperheroinesI was one of the backers of the film. IMDB page here.  

In the documentary Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comicswriter Denny O'Neil admitted his decision to reinvent Wonder Woman was ill-conceived. Where he thought he was empowering Wonder Woman by making her a powerful human, he came to realize he actually crippled DC's female hero by making her dependent on a male leader for skills and missions, and by giving her male-centric models of power and conflict resolution. "Boy did I screw that up," O'Neil said humbly. "My thinking, such as it was, was this: She is a superbeing beholden to a male god. Let us make her somebody who achieves on her own. What I did, in effect, was take the feminist icon and depower her, dial her way down. And then to compound the sin, give her a mentor who is male… I thought I was on the side of feminism. Sorry." O'Neil, who later became executive editor and editor of the Batman titles, was otherwise a champion in modernizing the DC universe and taking on hard topics. Together with artist Neil Adams, Denny O'Neil worked to expose societal issues like racism, hypocrisy, and drug addiction in the pages of superhero comics. Perhaps he didn't quite get Wonder Woman, but the style they created was certainly of its time and continues to serve as a fun time-capsule. 

Learn more: Wonder Woman: The Complete HistoryWonder Woman: Feminism and Superheroes, A Golden Thread: An Unofficial Critical History of Wonder Woman, Wonder Woman Unbound, Wonder Woman: Amazon. Hero. Icon. Below are some memorable covers, including the Avengers-influenced fashion for issue #182. Enjoy!

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