This post is part of A Year Of Wonder, How to Love Comics’ big celebration of Wonder Woman’s 80th anniversary. Find out more and read other posts in this series.
This year Wonder Woman will be turning 80 years old. To celebrate How to Love Comics will be exploring her comic book history from different angles. And there’s no better place to start than right at the beginning. So let’s travel back eight decades to 1941’s All-Star Comics #8 to take a look at Wonder Woman’s first appearance by William Moulton Marston and Harry G Peter.
By exploring her first appearance, we’ll see what Wonder Woman was like 80 years ago. Which elements of the character were there from the start? Which ones are different? Is it worth reading? Let’s unpack this 9-page story and find out!
The comic uses the golden age tool of using the first panel to entice readers to continue reading. Readers see a large image of Wonder Woman in action, running towards the reader as if she was about to burst off the page. Marston accompanies it with a block of text and positions her as a mystery while at the same time sells her astounding abilities.
I think that this would be exciting readers back in 1941. While Wonder Woman wasn’t the first female hero, the idea was still fresh and open up to many possibilities. The fact that the first image we see of her if full of energy also works means that readers will stand-up and take attention too. This is elevated further by Marston’s accompanying text. It’s vague enough for intrigue and paints an image in the mind of a woman who can do amazing feats akin to Superman.
The image also reveals Wonder Woman’s costume for the first time. It’s not too far removed from other iconic looks that we know of today. The core colour scheme is present, she has her tiara with a star in the centre, the thick bracelets, boots, and the eagle imagery. The same can be said for her hair, which is long and black but sports the curls and rolls that were very popular in the early 40s. As the years and decades went by, these elements would remain but incrementally improved upon to align with fashions of the day or art’s drawing preferences.
While retellings of Wonder Woman’s origin have gone on to give meaning to her costume, there don’t seem to be a storytelling reason here. In fact, it’s given to her by her mother quite casually, with Wonder Woman remarking “Why Mother, it’s lovely!” I can only assume that it’s inspired by wartime patriotism since the US was close to being involved with World War II at the time.
As for how the rest of the Amazon’s are dressed, their outfits are a mix of Ancient Greece meets Flash Gordon. Although, that mostly comprises of chocker bikini tops and miniskirts. Some of this I put down to Marston subtly putting his kinks into the comic, something that he did throughout his time on Wonder Woman. (Marston’s scripts would also elaborately describe how Wonder Woman should be tied up when taken prisoner.) It could also be that Marston wanted to show off the Amazon’s muscular physique and required less clothing than the more conservative dress of the day.
You’ll have a general idea of how this story plays out if you’re familiar with the Wonder Woman origin. Here’s a brief recap for anyone who needs it.
- Steve Trevor’s plane crashes on the Amazon’s home of Paradise Island.
- The Amazonian Princess (she wouldn’t be referred to as Diana in this story) discovers him and takes him to the Amazonian society to be healed up.
- It’s revealed that he’s a spy, who desperately needs to complete his mission to prevent attacks on the US.
- Queen Hippolyte understands the importance of this mission and sets up a competition to choose which Amazon will take Steve back to Man’s World.
- The Princess is banned from competing. Instead, she enters the competition in disguise and wins. (If you think that Clark Kent disguise is unconvincing then you won’t find this one any better)
- She’s given the Wonder Woman costume and is told that if she leaves Paradise Island that she can never return.
As you can see, much of the foundations of the Wonder Woman story are there from the very beginning. Some of the names are a bit different, such as Paradise Island (it wouldn’t be known as Themyscira until 1987) and Wonder Woman’s mother is initially referred to as Hippolyte instead of Hippolyta. Otherwise, most of the core ideas are there from the start.
Future iterations of this story would keep true to the foundation, but add their own twist to them. Many of the moments have since been elaborated on, instead of being merely a handful of panels. Scenes have also been inserted in between these events, which give much-needed character development and emotional stakes.
This nine-page story is tightly compressed, with everything moves at a brisk pace. As a result, the pages are densely packed to hit all of the key concepts. While it achieves a lot in a short amount of space, feasible due to prose sections, the story feels like a series of events one after another.
You’ll know that this story-centric storytelling is commonplace if you’ve read comics from this era before. The medium was still in its infancy 80 at the time and still working the best ways to tell stories with it. It would’ve been a more satisfying read if there was time to slow down so that the characters can react to the situations that they were in. For instance, Woman is not given any time to process the fact she can never return to Paradise Island. She simply accepts it. And with that, the story is over.
Returning to the opening page one more time, it includes fine print that states “trade mark pending approval.” It’s clear that the publisher had a lot of confidence in the character and that she would be used regularly enough in the future.
That’s precisely what happened, with the heroine headlining Sensation Comics #1, which sees her venture into Man’s World. (Eagle-eyed readers will also notice that the cover for Sensation Comics #1 would repurpose and refine this story’s opening image.)
The foundations of what we know about Wonder Woman’s origin are present in her debut story. They might be under a different name or have a different look, but readers can see how it became the ancestor to future iterations. So is it worth a read? While subsequent recounts of this story are superior, it’s still worth your time as a curiosity. To see how Wonder Woman was first presented 80 years ago and how to see how these strong foundations were formed.