By Antoinette Rahn
A lot has changed since Wonder Woman first appeared on the scene in 1941. Yet, some things
haven’t changed or have circled back to what once was. The character was revolutionary when she first appeared in the pages of Sensation Comics, and remains relevant today; perhaps more relevant than ever before, given the response to the “Wonder Woman” film. The response has been tremendous, and it has come from a broad audience. Those eagerly awaiting Wonder Woman’s original story to be told on the big screen, and those who may not have realized the need or possibility of a modern-day heroine with steadfast strength, substance of character and a message of hope.
More Than a Character
That may seem like a tall order or a rosy-colored view. I mean to some, it's ‘just another comic book movie.’ However, it’s more than that. Wonder Woman is and has always has been more than what is expected. She was among the earliest comic book super heroines. At 75 years and still going strong, she is immersed in what may be one of her finest hours. She is the inspiration of a mindset.
These sentiments are easy for me to share, because I am a proud participant of Wonder Woman fandom; having spent years (somewhat patiently) for her emergence on the big screen. It’s been an opportunity to witness the modern telling of the story of Princess Diana of Themyscira, the daughter of Hippolyte, Queen of the Amazons. In addition, it’s given global attention to the message of being appreciative and eager to experience whatever the future brings. It also sheds a greater light on the act of practicing utmost reverence for those who came before and set forth a path.
Wonder Woman: Unmatched in Staying Power
In terms of being someone who paved the way as a comic book action figure heroine, there is no
comparison to Wonder Woman, states both Jerry Stephan, Comic Grader/Consignment Director at Heritage Auctions, and Maggie Thompson, pioneer (with her late husband Don) of comic book fandom and co-founder of Comics Buyer’s Guide (now defunct), and currently the author of the Maggie’s World blog for Comic-Con International: San Diego.
“She has no peers. Many (heroines) have come and gone,” Stephan says. “Some have hung around as supporting characters; (and) only one — Spider-Girl — reached 100 issues (about 8 1/2 years). Wonder Woman has been in print non-stop for 75 years.”
From Humble Beginnings Come Heroines
Although super heroine skills, traits and story lines varied, the arrival of Wonder Woman laid the groundwork for others, Thompson explains. This includes characters such as Mary Marvel, Supergirl, Batgirl, Hawkgirl, Black Canary, Phantom Lady, and Moon Girl. However, none of these characters possessed the staying power and ability to evolve with the times quite like Wonder Woman.
When William Moulton Marston created the character of Wonder Woman most comic books were developed by men. There was a push in the mid-20th century to draw more girls into reading comic books. The initial belief during the 1930s and 1940s was to appeal to the potential female audience’s likely interest in fashions and hairstyles, Thompson explains. The development of a character not focused entirely on those assumptions, and one that was instead “an action adventure super heroine” was very deliberate on Marston’s part. “The character accomplished everything Marston set out to do,” Thompson adds.
With that being said, to paraphrase Thompson, the character did those things set forth by Marston, but the early presentation of Wonder Woman and regular situations in which she was depicted were not all about Amazonian paradise, bracelets that deflected bullets or magic lassos that could draw the truth out of the most villainous of liars. Marston, whose personal life was the subject of much speculation, attracted criticism for story lines sometimes seen as quite perverse, with grotesque illustrations, extensive violence and an unfamiliar presentation of the female role in all of this.
Rapt Attention Among Early Admirers
Upon the recommendation of Thompson, I spent some time reading the article “Of (Super) Human
Bondage” by Juanita Coulson, that appears in “The Comic-Book Book,” published in 1973. In it, Coulson shares her take on the arrival of action figure heroines, showcasing, but not limited to Wonder Woman. As a baby of the Depression Era, Coulson writes that she like many of her friends “cut my first permanent teeth on comic heroes like Batman and Superman.”
Then came Wonder Woman.
“Until that time women in comic books had either been spear carriers for the superheroes, or that abomination, ‘girl friends.’ These were fragile creatures whose raison d’etre were screaming, fainting, being captured, and being rescued; all very embarrassing to read, if one were a girl. Being a kid was tough enough; at least one expected some solace from one’s dream world. The costumed wonder (you, in clever plastic disguise) could bend metal, outrace a pursuit plane, and toss enemies around like paper dolls.
Idealized and Identifiable
“Imagining oneself in her place was a pleasant respite from the tedium of spelling exams, cleaning up one’s room, and taking a skinned knee without bawling. But even in my most wishful thinking, I couldn’t envision myself as Batman or Captain America: I’d had the misfortune to be born a girl. But Wonder Woman! Didn’t I just dream of growing up to be an Amazon! Yeah!”
Remember, Wonder Woman arrived in 1941, a time when World War II was well underway and the U.S. was entering the conflict following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. For many in my generation (babies in the 1970s), that is a time unknown except through history books and photos, and words shared by family and friends who lived it. Although it was a long time ago, for many of you who may also have lived it, memories are longer lasting and run deep.
Universal and Timeless Message
Perhaps that’s one of the reasons Wonder Woman is garnering so much admiration and interest in 2017, the message set forth all those years ago by Marston and illustrated by Henry G. Peters. A message of ‘love being good and peace being better than war,’ still holds true for many. In the film, Wonder Woman (aka Diana Prince) discovers more about the many manifestations of this philosophy, which she learned while living on Themyscira. When faced with incidents during the film that put that philosophy in jeopardy, Wonder Woman gains a greater awareness of the complexity of evil and the unfathomable power of love and goodness.
Speaking of the movie, in case you haven’t heard, it is quite popular and record setting, in a few ways. As a fan and collector of Wonder Woman items, in my estimation the film was definitely worth the wait. However, among my first thoughts after seeing it was how would comic book purists view it, and what could it mean in the long run for Wonder Woman fandom and related collectibles.
According to Thompson, the film was impressive on a few different levels. This comes from a person whose love of comic books dates to her childhood. From early on, the dime allowance she earned from her parents would often be spent on a comic book.
Holding To the 'Truths'
“I went to the film ready for whatever — and was impressed by the devices employed to fix the idiocies and revamp the origin and the character’s history to appeal to today’s audiences, and to me.”
She adds that the film “accomplished the fantastic job of walking the tight rope” of telling the story, while not being out of date.
From the casting, which was “great,” to the director (Patty Jenkins) who “blew it out of the water,” the film produced many positives that may carry through in various ways, according to Thompson.
Collecting Impact and Influence
Stephan echoes those sentiments, speaking to the impact on the collecting market, as a result of Wonder Woman’s popularity.
“When movies are announced, interest in first appearances always puts upward pressure on the price. Many level off or decline slightly after the movie’s release but some hits like Iron Man keep the price rising,” he states. “We’ve seen the price of Wonder Woman’s first appearance triple in recent years and the movie is successful, so we see no reason for the value to retreat.
“On the collectibles front, DC has been promoting her pretty aggressively since her 1987 reboot, and I’m sure I’m sure they will be creating more statues and story collections than ever before.”
Stephan’s observations regarding Wonder Woman memorabilia is reflected in prices realized at auction in recent years.
Collectors Drop Serious Dollars
A Wonder Woman #1 (DC, 1942) graded CGC VF-7.5 realized $95,600 during Heritage Auctions’
May 18-20, 2017 Comics, Comic Art & Animation Art Auction. According to the lot description, the comic has sold for more than list in the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide. In fact, the 2016 Overstreet Guide lists Wonder Woman #1 CGC VF 8.0 with a value of $35,000.
Although comic books remain a significant focus for many, there are other items to be had and appreciated. Case in point, the 1967 Wonder Woman board game from Hasbro, which realized $2,153 during Hake’s Americana & Collectibles’ March 17, 2017 auction. The game, which was still factory sealed, was one of a series of three featuring members of the Justice League. The game includes a game board with playing spaces in the shape of the letter “W”. Within the board are scenes of Justice League members fighting various foes — with Wonder Woman at the center. A sticker with the original retail price (97 cents) also appears on the front cover of the box.
Of course there's a flurry of Wonder Woman merchandise to be unveiled. It’s nearly impossible to say if these items will become ‘collectibles of the future.' However, if you or someone you know is a fan of Wonder Woman, I believe you’ll rarely be disappointed if you acquire these items solely because you love the item and what they represent. In fact, I’m still considering the purchase of a pair of Wonder Woman sneakers. I never know when they may come in handy, and I think they are simply cool.
Friend or No, Still Consider the Message
I realize to some Wonder Woman is not fascinating nor an example of someone to emulate. However, I do believe what is applicable is the message the character puts forth and the mindset she embodies. Whether seven or 75, the desire to believe in good, fight for what matters, and hope for peace is universal.
So too is the appreciation for items we collect. Be it folk art, estate jewelry, mid-century furniture, vintage kitchen utensils, baseball cards, vinyl records, stoneware, comic books, coins or any countless other items, acquiring what inspires and appeals to you is a sound investment, always. You will most certainly learn something. You will gain unexpected rewards. And you will become a steward of history.
There is a lot more that can be said, and has been said about Wonder Woman. However, one of the best statements I’ve come across is courtesy of George Pérez. His statements are in the foreword for, “Wonder Woman: Amazon • Hero • Icon,” by Robert Greenberger.
More Than Expected, Always Appreciated
Pérez took over writing and artistic duties of DC Comics’ “Wonder Woman” series in 1987, following the reboot. He writes:
“To her fans, Wonder Woman has become more than a character. She is the sum of many parts.
She is an Amazon, a super heroine, an ambassador, a spy, and a warrior.
An avatar of truth, champion of the gods, and an emissary of peace.
A loving daughter, trusted friend, steadfast protector, and formidable foe.
She is Diana, Princess of Themyscira.
Seems to me there’s an opportunity for all of us to embrace a little of the attributes of Wonder Woman.
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