Tying the Knot

Written for a nonfiction anthology on Wonder Woman in the popular culture which since fell through, this column debuts here to my readers as a courtesy. 

Why She Will Never Wed Steve Trevor


Diana Trevor.

Somehow, that name does not have the same authentic ring as Mrs. Lois Kent.

The mental picture of Steve Trevor sweeping the Wonder Woman off her feet and carrying her over the threshold seems comical, not sweet. In contrast, the picture of Lois Lane being carried up, up and away in the arms of her super-strong lover has a certain majesty and inevitability to it: many a girl wants to be swept off her feet and carried into the clouds. Let us look into the matter.

To do this, we must look at what the character of Wonder Woman was meant to be, what she symbolized to her creator, and what later writers have altered her to be, as the verdict of three generations of readers influenced the direction of the comic. We need to note what makes for good drama in a love triangle. A contrast with other romantic melodrama in comics might be instructive. And we need to analyze how the romantic tension in Wonder Woman falls short. Perhaps we can even be so bold as to suggest a remedy.


I know what you are probably thinking.

YOU: “But, James! Not only is the Steve Trevor of Earth-2 married to his version of Wonder Woman, but Steve and Diana tied the knot in the last episode of the first series, #329…”

ME: “First, my name is John, not James, fanboy, and second, if you have the numbers of the issues memorized, you should get a life.”

YOU: “But I am not really a reader of this book, merely a convenient mouthpiece you invented for rhetorical purposes, which means, first, that you forgot your own name, and second, that you have the numbers of the issues memorized. Who is the fanboy here? Who is the one writing articles about Wonder Woman for book publication?”

ME (defensively): “Naturally, my interest is from a highly intellectual point of…”

YOU: “How many pictures of Linda Carter do you have on your hard-drive, anyway?”

ME: “…”

YOU: “In any case, my objection stands. Your article is called ‘Why She Will Never Wed Steve Trevor’ but, in fact, she has. Twice!”

It is a good objection. The only problem is both those marriages were ret-conned out of existence. They did not grip the public imagination. They didn’t stick. The question is: why not?


As the character of Wonder Woman has played out across three generations of readership, a natural selection has taken place.

Comics and soap operas and pulp adventures have in common that they are meant to be episodes in a permanent story. The basic story is not meant to change, or, if it does, only gradually, and no change can stick if the fans object.

Each episode is supposed to be merely that: An episode. Today the Lone Ranger foils the Butch Cavendish gang at Haunted Gulch; last week he foiled a gang of Army deserters holed up at Mystery Ranch. He does not get old or die, marry or suffer permanent wounds as long as his legend is loyally believed by his faithful fans. In this respect the serial hero or heroine is like Tinkerbell. As long as sufficient paying customers clap, the fairytale cannot perish.

So, unlike all other forms of fiction, comic books evolve, suffering mutations and die-backs, and, no matter what ideas the writers themselves have, certain mutations survive and others fail. We can take this as a rough estimate of the persistent qualities hiding in the human psyche, called for by human drama.

Whatever satisfies three generations of comic book fans has some sort of truth to it, or, at least, story-telling power.

This natural selection has not been kind to Steve Trevor. The reason is because the natural dramatic tension between male and female is not gender-neutral.


It might be thought that Wonder Woman was meant to be a female Superman, and Steve Trevor was meant to be a male Lois Lane.

Notice the difference in their popularity. Lois Lane’s role has grown over the years, even to the point where she was an equal part and partner in the successful television show THE ADVENTURES OF LOIS AND CLARK—notice she has top billing in the title. In more than one strand of continuity, she and Clark do indeed wed. On the other hand, Steve Trevor has been killed off at least twice. Had the Linda Carter television show continued, he was slated for removal in the next season. Steve Trevor has no romantic role in the modern continuity of the comic book.

Lois grew and Steve shrunk away.

This is because the roles cannot be reversed so easily: A knight in white armor rescuing a helpless damsel in distress has a different dynamic, sets up a different sort of drama, as an Amazonian princess rescuing a helpless bachelor in distress.

Wonder Woman cannot be swept off her feet by a man weaker than she is. From the start, the whole point of the Steve Trevor character was that he was weaker than his woman.

In “Lawbreaker’s League” (Sensation Comics #46) Steve Trevor is exposed to an electronic globe that releases his brain energy to make his muscles stronger (see below: this was also given originally as the source of Diana’s superior strength). He roughly grabs the curvaceous Amazon and demands she marry him.

While she is pinned helpless by his superior strength, she thinks: “Some girls love to have a man stronger than they are make them do things. Do I like it? I don’t know—it’s sort of thrilling—but isn’t it more fun to make the man obey?”

Later, she tells him she can never love a dominant man whose stronger than she is, to which he gamely replies “If you prefer me weaker than you, to heck with this gadget!” breaking the globe and ensuring her superiority over him.

So there is something going on here that is simply not present in the Superman dynamic. Wonder Woman represents an innovation in adventure heroines, a new theory.


Wonder Woman, at least in her earliest incarnation, was powerless when bound by a man. It was not stealing her Amazonian girdle that robbed the “The Ambassador of Peace” of her Herculean strength—that was an invention of the television show starring the beautiful Linda Carter—her special weakness, her kryptonite, was to have her “bracelets of submission” fettered together.

As Etta Candy would say: Woo-woo!

It was not a gender-neutral vulnerability. The act of surrender to a man, the act of adopting the traditional subservient role of the woman, was the only thing that could rob her of her innate feminine power. Not subtly, this was called Aphrodite’s Law.

The symbolism here is not hard to guess. The bonds being discussed are the bonds of matrimony.

Symbols are slippery things. If the creator of Wonder Woman had been writing a comic whose only point was that girls should not get married, it would have been as short-lived and easily-forgotten as, say, NELVANA OF THE NORTHERN LIGHTS. He is making a deeper point than that.

In certain of the older comics, it is not being bound by a man which robs Wonder Woman of her Amazonian strength, but being snared in the coils of her own magical lasso. And what is this lasso? Instead of speculation, let us go to the source: we have at hand the testimony of Dr. William Moulton Marston in his secret identity as Charles Moulton (I almost wrote, “Charles Moulton, the creator of Wonder Woman”, but I have to assume you would not have picked up this book if you did not know who he is).

This is Moulton from this article appearing in the Aug 14th, 1942 FAMILY CIRCLE:

Her magic lasso is merely a symbol of feminine charm, allure, oomph, attraction every woman … uses … on people of both sexes whom she wants to influence or control in any way. Instead of tossing a rope, the average woman tosses words, glances, gestures, laughter, and vivacious behavior. If her aim is accurate, she snares the attention of her would-be victim, man or woman, and proceeds to bind him or her with her charm.

Pretty straightforward, for a psychologist. It is not physical strength but the mental act of surrender that defeats the female superhuman. Women assume submissive roles not because they are physically dominated, but because they mentally allow themselves to be.

Also, in her earliest incarnation, Wonder Woman’s strength did not come from a blessing by the gods, nor because she was a clay golem risen to artificial life.

“I’m often asked the secret of my Amazon strength,” she explains to an astonished theater audience in a syndicated comic strip from the week of December 8th of 1945, “The human brain contains enough energy to blow up mountains. Amazon girls are trained to direct their brain power into their muscles. My muscles are no larger than a normal girl’s should be.”

Again, the symbolism is direct: Moulton was saying women could unleash their strength (by which he meant spiritual strength as thinkers, teachers and leaders, as the shapers of events and rulers of society) once their brains no longer accepted the idea of subservience. With this idea was gone from their thinking, the women could break the fetters of male-dominated society.

Moulton was a psychologist. The strength and the fetters with which he is concerned are entirely psychological: strength of the spirit and fetters of the mind.

And again, Wonder Woman’s lasso is unbreakable because it is a spiritual rather than a physical restraint. It represents the ideas that bind and restrain a person, or make him obedient to certain ideas. Whoever controls your golden lasso, that is, whoever controls the central assumptions of your philosophy and psychology, can lead you where he wills.

Writing during World War Two, Moulton was aware that Hitler’s unearthly ability to turn the highly civilized and respected German people into a race of slaughtering monsters was based on ideas, on rhetoric, on a mastery of psychology. The unbreakable lasso of which he speaks is quite real. Moulton, in his own way, is attempting to loop his readers in his.


Moulton was not, despite that this is often said, a feminist. Feminists believe in equality between the sexes. Moulton was a female supremacist. He believed men would be better off, and man’s world as well, once he surrendered to a woman, once womanhood was supreme.

There is no need to speculate on what the writer intended, if we have his own words to tell us:

Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world. There isn’t love enough in the male organism to run this planet peacefully. Woman’s body contains twice as many love generating organs and endocrine mechanisms as the male. What woman lacks is the dominance or self assertive power to put over and enforce her love desires. I have given Wonder Woman this dominant force but have kept her loving, tender, maternal and feminine in every other way.

By no coincidence, his creation was originally named Suprema.

His ideas did not stick.

The concept of the weak male who wins his true love by being weaker than she is, while Charles Moulton may have liked it, is not a concept with any truth or drama or staying power behind it. It does not reflect the normal experience of the majority over time.

As often happens with writers, Moulton created a character with more depth and more meaning than his propaganda purposes. No matter what she represented to him, to the readers Wonder Woman represented a paradox, one that reflected one of the paradoxes of real life that surround romance and womanhood.

My theory is that she represents not one, but three symbols, each containing that particular tension of opposing ideas, that paradox, which makes for good drama and memorable character conflict. Over the years, as the audience’s notions of ideal femininity changed, Wonder Woman changed.

The first symbol she represented, during her “Golden Age” (1941-47) under the pen of Charles Moulton, Wonder Woman was a figure of female supremacy, who overcame her foes through love, not violence. Paradoxically, she was drawn into Man’s World by what amounted to a helpless schoolgirl crush on Steve Trevor.

After a bland period best passed over in silence, the character was restored to her old glory starting with in the “Silver Age” in the mid-60’s, and leading up to the Crisis On Infinite Earths. By this middle period, she was fighting spies and alien invaders like every other super-powered female, like Supergirl, like Mary Marvel. She was presented as a symbol now of feminine equality, the All-American girl, a soaring symbol of freedom. Her paradox was that the devotion of romance clashes with her feminist liberty, her frail-seeming femininity is at odds with her Herculean strength.

The modern incarnation is not of an All-American Girl but of a Warrior Princess. There are two changes to note: the first is that Wonder Woman is tougher and more warlike, and the second is that she is drawn in a more sensuous and curvaceous style. She is now a cross between a glamour model and a female weightlifter. She is both more masculine and more feminine than her previous incarnations. The romance angle has dropped out entirely, but now a moral dimension is added to the character. This more serious version of the character is freighted with the weight of the world, including the sin of murder.

To support these points, we need to put them in context. We need to say something about the nature of paradox and its role in drama; and to contrast Wonder Woman with other famous distaff crime fighters; and to say a word about love and romance. We need to look at the mechanisms of the war between the sexes, if not the way it works in real life, the way it works in a comic book drama to maintain reader interest over generations.


Let us dwell a moment on why certain characters grip the public imagination. The three most popular and enduring characters of DC comics, the ones who will be in print as long as superhero comics are in print, each embrace a paradox:

Superman is the mild-mannered Kansas farmboy, who beneath his shirt and tie and wimpy eyeglasses is not even a human being, but a modern Hercules sent to earth from heaven. He is both the humblest and the greatest.

Batman is debonair millionaire Bruce Wayne, but who dresses like a villain in a fright mask and black cloak, a creature of the night who strikes terror into the heart of evildoers. Adorned with wealth and position and fame, the Batman is both the most favored son of society, but he is also the society’s darkest outcast.

And Wonder Woman is an Amazon, the most female and least feminine of females.

Moulton first came to the attention of William Gaines, the publisher, because of an article in Family Circle Magazine expression disapproval of the psychological meaning of the Superman, which he saw as a mere boyhood power fantasy.

Now, it just so happens that Moulton, despite that he was a psychologist (or perhaps because he was) missed the psychological and dramatic point of the character invented by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

The whole point of the Superman character is not a power fantasy, but the opposite. Doctor Doom is a power fantasy: so is Darkseid; so is Supreme, that ugly take-off of Superman from Image Comics. Hitler and Stalin are real-life power fantasies, men who thought that raw power would solve their problems, the power to rule men’s lives would have allowed them to remake the world into their own image. Siegel and Shuster were contemporary with the totalitarian fantasies of real-world supermen and master-races: their creation, the American version of Nietzschean power-fantasy, was to have power and renounce it; to be the Superman, the evolutionary step beyond mankind, and use that power humbly, in disguise, to serve others, accepting no pay and no reward.

Superman is not about power, he is about abnegation.

The myth of Superman, the reason why he is an icon, is because he is Clark Kent, mild-mannered farm-boy from Smallville, USA. There is a famous scene in one of the very earliest comics of Superman, where Clark and Lois Lane go to a dance, and a masher cuts in, shoving Clark aside and, over her protests, stealing a dance with her: he does nothing, and she calls him a coward.

So when he is sitting in traffic jams, even though he could pick up and carry off the highway, or when he is humiliated by a masher at a dance, because he cannot display his true power in public, Clark Kent becomes a symbol of almost mystic import: all religions speak of the secret and immortal soul we each have hidden in us, masked in a frail and humble human body. We all have a hidden strength, or wish we did. All boys hope that if we could also tear open the shirt of our fears and conformities, there would be a blazing red “S” on the brawny and invulnerable chest beneath, the heart of the hero.

Superman’s cousin from Argo City (or from the planet Argo, take your pick) is in truth a female Superman. The paradox of her character is the same as his. Supergirl is a human Kansas farm-girl, as much of a super-Girl-Scout as Clark is a super-Boy-Scout. Linda Lee (as she was originally called) if anything lived a life more humble (and humiliating) than even Clark, dwelling in Midvale Orphanage, being on call as Superman’s “secret weapon” and never appearing in public. In the early days, she actually had to discourage parents from adopting her, lest they discover her secret: a miserable existence, for the sole teen girl survivor of shattered world.


It must be mentioned in passing that Supergirl, following the Superman formula, also had a male version of Lois Lane, a guy named Dick Malverne, whose point in the drama was to come close to revealing her secret identity. For many of the same reasons that make Steve Trevor a marginal character, we will not soon be seeing a popular television show called THE ADVENTURES OF DICK AND LINDA.

Even though I personally like Supergirl more than I like Superman, I doubt she will ever achieve the eternal, iconic status of her cousin from Krypton. The paradox of her character is less poignant. The sad fact is that in real life, girls get humiliated more than boys, and deal with it better. Female pride is a fluid thing, it can retreat when need be, and return without loss and in full strength when need be. Male pride is a brittle thing. Men shatter like oak trees when women bend like the reed in the storm and return to stand tall once the storm passes. The drama of Clark Kent putting up with being ignored as the mild-mannered nobody is greater, because his male pride is hurt more. Young boy readers wince and wonder how he can put up with it. His self-control must be beyond belief!

But there is no scene in Supergirl where a female masher pulls her boyfriend away at a dance so that Dirk Malverne thinks her a coward for not being manly enough to intercede: the concept does not even make any sense. Men, at least in simpler times, were thought to fight for the honor of their women. It is poignant when Clark in his dumb glasses stands there and does not defend Lois. It is simply not as poignant when Linda Lee puts on her glasses: readers don’t wince.


Let us compare Wonder Woman with a superheroine nearly as long-lasting.

Most couples back in the Golden Age of comics formed love triangles between the girl and the guy and his secret identity. This was the original idea of Superman, and everyone copied it. For example, Hal Jordan was in love with Carol Ferris, his boss at the aircraft company, who was also secretly, unknown even to herself, Star Sapphire, the arch-foe of Green Lantern, whom in her other identity she in love with.

Let’s face it. Golden Age and Silver Age superheroes had miserable love lives.

There was an exception: Carter and Shiera Hall.

Hawkman and Hawkgirl were reincarnated Egyptian royalty, a happily married couple— who happily left a trail of corpses behind them wherever they went. The perfectly normal nature of Carter and Shiera Hall’s relationship with each other (a happy marriage) and their relative lack of superpowers (they had flying harnesses made of a mysterious ninth metal) make for a striking contrast to Moulton’s Wonder Woman.

Also in contrast is the relative severity of their treatment of crooks: Hawkman’s arch foe Hastor, the reincarnation of evil Egyptian priest Hath-Set, is summarily dispatched by a crossbow bolt to the chest in episode #1 of the comic—imagine all the woes Superman would have been spared if he had killed Lex back when he had hair.

I am not arguing here that Carter and Shiera got along because he was a stone cold killer: but I am pointing out that Hawkman did not have Charles Mouton’s philosophy that females were superior to men due to their greater capacity for love. Hawkman was more an action story, something like The Shadow or Doc Savage: and the view of womanhood was something more traditional—at least, as traditional as Margo Lane, or Nyoka of the Jungle, or the other nonsuperpowered Mystery Women of the pulp era. Mouton was attempting something different, even radical, and trying to make a statement about how love and peace should work in the world.

Wonder Woman was here to cure the world of men of their machismo, pride, male ego and male evil. She did not kill: evildoers were spirited away to Transformation Island, a secret spot not far from Paradise Island, where they were reformed by magic or Amazonian technology. Instead of bashing foes with a mace or impaling them with spear or arrow, she lassoed them, a weapon meant specifically to ensnare, not to harm.

She was not merely a Mystery Woman in a red-white-and-blue bathing suit, but a true superhero. Diana had the strength of Hercules, the speed of Mercury, and the wisdom of Athena. She was not the humble Linda Lee, nor the happily married she-warrior Shiera Hall, Wonder Woman was neither the traditional maiden nor the traditional matron, but, at least in her Golden Age incarnation, something new.

And her love life was far from normal. No happy marriage for her.

10. LOVE

The paradox of the character in her earliest incarnation revolves around love.

From ALL-STAR COMICS #8 (December 1941 – January 1942), “So Diana, the Wonder Woman, giving up her heritage and her right to eternal life, leaves paradise island to take the man she loves back to America, the land she learns to love and protect, and adopts as her own!”

Again, note the contrast. Superman’s world was destroyed, and all his race. Batman’s parents were gunned down before his very eyes as a boy. Those are the things that compelled these heroes to become the legends they are. Wonder Woman gave up eternal life to volunteer to come to Man’s world. This point has almost never been emphasized in recent comics, and I am not sure if it is even part of the modern continuity.

She gave up eternal life, and left Eden. She did it for love.

It must be noted that the original Wonder Woman was completely, entirely, heart-sick in love with Steve Trevor, so much so that she is giddy with joy when he (still delirious from his wounds) stirs in his sleep calls her an angel. “He remembers me!” she sighs.

This kind of sighing and swooning appears frequently in the oldest versions, and not at all in the modern ones.

For the most part, the character of Steve Trevor is just too wimpy a man to win the affection of the Amazonian princess. He is not good enough to marry her. Her swooning never seemed right, and this is why later writers dropped it.

One exception worth mentioning, when Steve Trevor acted with proper manliness, is the rather well-done JUSTICE LEAGUE animated cartoon: in the episode “The Savage Time” Diana time-travels back to World War Two, and rescues a confident Steve Trevor, a government agent working behind enemy lines against the Nazis. He steals a kiss from her and leaves her flustered. But even this manly version of Steve is not anything more than a cameo. When she returns to our present day, he is an old man in a retirement home, and they are just friends.

In the Perez post-Crisis continuity, Steve is older and is never a love interest. He ends up marrying Etta Candy. We must pause to reflect on how diminished the character is. When the romantic interest ends up wedded to the comedy relief sidekick, he is hardly the romantic interest any more. As if Lois Lane ended up marrying Jimmy Olsen.


Why can’t a weak man win the heart of the strongest woman on Earth? To answer that question, we have to look, if not at real life, then at least at how romantic tension plays out in stories.

The basic truth is that this mating game is and must be a matter of bluff and misdirection, a thing of mystery and intrigue. It will never be rational, or reasonable, or tame. It will always be dramatic.

Why? Because men are jerks. It is built into us at a fundamental level. Women have to separate true and faithful suitors from untrue pleasure-seekers.

The Untrue Lover is a natural polygamist: whether he knows it or not, he wants to spread his seed far and wide. The woman is wise (not to mention also enjoys a Darwinian advantage) only to accept a True Lover, a man who will stay and raise the offspring. His attraction to her should and must be irrational attraction, because if he merely rationally decides she is an attractive mate, he will be rationally tempted to abandon her once another more attractive mate is in view. Hence the woman’s whole strategy must be to differentiate between Untrue and True lovers, between mere infatuation, and absolute irrational devotion.

She cannot simply ask the man what his feelings are. Both Untrue and True suitors will claim to be True. The Untrue Suitor might even believe, in the heat of youth, that he is True. The True Lover might not know or admit he is in love because he does not realize it (even if his beloved does). He cannot tell her the truth because he does not know it himself.

The woman cannot pursue, because the first man she runs after might be Untrue. She must allure and be indirect. She must separate the True from the Untrue, the cads from the dads. He must surmount obstacles that would deter a man possessed by anything less than irrational and total devotion. He must slay dragons for her.

So she has to test him. She has to show him enough favor to allure and encourage, but not so much that he achieves. She must be coy: she cannot tell the boy she likes that she likes him.

She must wait to see if he is sincere, and the utmost sincerity of which fallen man is capable appears, if at all, at the altar: when you are about to vow eternal fidelity, and oath backed by sanctions both legal and personal, and say you love this girl so much that you will cleave to her in all events, forsaking all others, you have vowed as clear and as ultimate a vow as can be. In the days before no-fault divorce, this vow actually had an irreversible character. Even now, when it is a vow almost no one takes seriously, it is still phrased in terms of an absolute abiding and eternal love, and the irreversibility of it still symbolically exists.

The vow is meant to scare the cads away. Because the vow is unbreakable, the drama here is that once the man vows, he cannot wander away. (There is another type of drama associated with adultery, but we are talking superhero comics now, not romantic tearjerkers) This means that even a scheming woman, like early, Pandora-like version of Lois Lane, who allures and even traps the man into taking the vow, has won him to her; because the whole point of the vow that it cannot be escaped afterward.

Indeed, were it not for the drama of an inescapable vow, we would not have the stereotype of the scheming Lois Lane: it is noteworthy that the more modern versions of Lois (in the age when relationships are assumed to have no binding power beyond the will of the couple) have dropped that stereotype entirely. Lois Lane is portrayed for the last two decades as an admirable woman the Clark Kent pursues, wins her heart, and marries.

Here is the one-line sum-up of the mating dance: men find mates by pursuing them, women by alluring them.

Wonder Woman cannot fit into this psychology, because the psychologist who invented her did not seem to know anything about human psychology.

As hinted above, Moulton did not realize what he’d invented.


During the second period of her evolution, from the Silver Age to the Modern, Wonder Woman became a symbol of woman’s strength and woman’s independence, wrapped in the American flag because she defends the nation that, above all other nations in history, offers the fullest support for the freedom and equal rights for women. Under writers after Mouton, this is the image and the symbol she grew into.

The whole romantic angle diminished through the years, until finally it was dropped after the Crisis on Infinite Earths, along with the “bracelets of submission” and “Aphrodite’s Law” and the emphasis on being bound and breaking bonds.

And she flew. Perhaps it was done merely because cartoonists did not like panels where all the other members of the Justice League are soaring through the air, and she is sitting on her well-shaped fanny in her invisible jet. Perhaps.

But I like to think that it is no coincidence that Wonder Woman learned how to fly during this period. That is what a symbol of freedom should do. Free women should fly. They should soar.


Let us recap the evolution of the character:

In the Golden Age, the paradox, the central character conflict of Wonder Woman was this: she was meant to be a symbol of female supremacy, from an all-female utopia; but her motive for exile to Man’s World was love, and, it must be noted, a submissive “Some girls love to have a man stronger than they are make them do things. Do I like it? I don’t know—it’s sort of thrilling” and “He remembers me!” sort of love at that. The Wonder Woman from this period, superior to a man, could not have married Steve Trevor, because, in Moulton’s theory, marriage meant subservience.

In the Silver Age period and after, just before the Crisis on Infinite Earths, Wonder Woman grew into something like Supergirl: a sweet and feminine version of Superman. It should be noted that she was at her lowest ebb of popularity, and the publishers gave serious consideration to killing off her character once and for all.

In the Silver Age she was given a new origin story and new emphasis. Instead of her great strength being due to her trained brain-power, it was a gift from the gods. She was no longer “tender and maternal.” In the Golden Age, Wonder Woman was maternal: her rogue’s gallery of villains in those days included the split-personality Cheetah, or the walking inferiority complex of Dr. Pyscho, and these villains tended be to overcome by stern motherly love. The Silver Age Wonder Woman used instead a swift right hook.

The helpless-when-bound limitation on her powers was ignored for many years, and unambiguously dropped when George Perez rebooted the series after the Crisis On Infinite Earths. Wisely so: the image of the Amazonian Princess bound hand and foot every issue or so, which might have seemed innocent enough back in the days when damsels in distress were routinely tied to railroad tracks, looks like something more perverse to modern eyes. No matter what the original intent, it was too reminiscent of a sexual fetish.

(And there was no real need for her to have this Achilles heel. She can be knocked out with sleeping gas, for example: you cannot parry a cloud with a bracelet.)

In the Silver Age and early Modern period, as a symbol of female freedom, Wonder Woman does not really need a love interest, certainly not among the mere mortals of Man’s World. Her fawning and sighing over Steve Trevor, in these middle days, were not only a clash with her new feminist symbolism, but a betrayal of it. The traditional role of marriage was not even supposed to be a temptation to the new version.

Marriage may no longer be regarded as a subservient role for women: few brides these days vow to love, honor and obey.

But, no matter how it is regarded, marriage and motherhood make particular demands on a woman more severe than any sacrifice demanded of fathers and husbands.

A man can have a career and regard himself as free, because such ambitions are fundamentally self-centered; a woman who rears children is not doing something self-centered. It is an act of love sustained over decades, a continual self-sacrifice on behalf of her children. While it is far more satisfactory and significant than any mere money-making, it cannot be called a symbol of freedom.

Devotion and freedom are not compatible concepts. Wonder Woman was a woman and Supergirl was a girl: a maiden can be a symbol of freedom, but a matron cannot.

During the Silver Age, when the meaning of Wonder Woman changed to a symbol of female liberty, the whole angle of romance, which is about devotion, became less and less significant.

Ever since the dark days of the 80’s, when brutality and realism crept into comics, and Batman became the Dark Knight, Wonder Woman was pressured to become as dark and menacing as all the other anti-heroes of that most anti-heroic of eras. The Silver Age ended and the Dark Ages began.

At the same time, the audience idea of what is acceptable in the portrayal of women has changed. Modern girls are neither gentle nor shy, and so Wonder Woman can be both as tough as a marine, and as shamelessly voluptuous as the pin-up girl on a marine’s locker door.

Now she appears more often in armor, and carrying a sword: a symbol not of feminist equality but of the warrior-virtue we expect from a Spartan queen.

The modern audience accepts the idea that the blatant sex appeal of busty bathing beauties is empowering, rather than tacky, and so artists now exploit the “cheesecake” angle of the character. Armed with modern color techniques that allow for greater subtlety than mere four-color separation, artists made Wonder Woman more curvaceous and sensual.

She is also less like a real human girl and more like a playboy model. Her feminine side can show only in showing off her shapely limbs Not even the chaste schoolgirlish romances of her Silver Age days have survived. By no coincidence, her origin also was once more changed, so the character is not human at all, but a figure brought to life from clay.

Over time, she grew ever less like sunny Supergirl and more like the Golden Age Hawkgirl, armed with ancient weapons, and willing to bruise and maim.

This trend culminated when she kills Maxwell Lord in Wonder Woman #219. In the Infinite Crisis miniseries, she justifies herself with “necessity, the tyrant’s plea.”

The days of darkness are not over for comic books, but there is a ray of light: at least the deed is treated as a severe and irreversible breech of the heroic moral code, and it ends up disbanding the Justice League and forcing Diana into retirement.

Fans of the original idea of Wonder Woman should be outraged. The whole point of the Ambassador of Peace was that she did not kill. In the early days, as mentioned above, when Hawkman was crossbowing thugs without a qualm and the Batman was tossing crooks off skyscrapers, her stance was brave and unusual. It was not until the Silver Age that this gentler approach was the norm, and not until the Dark Days that it was rejected as a cliché. (Personally, I am sure Maxwell Lord would have responded to the treatments of Transformation Island.)

But the idea that women are gentler than men is one the modern generation has no reason to believe. We have seen woman politicians lead their nations in war and we have even seen female terrorists. Margaret Thatcher and Hillary Clinton, no matter what the opinion of various political partisans about these lady leaders, we can at least agree these national figures cannot be said to be gentler and kinder than their male counterparts.

After Diana retires, Donna Troy the Wonder Girl takes up the red white and blue bathing suit to be Wonder Woman, and her appearance is Xena-like to the point of carrying a sword. Her bustier and boots are now given a metallic sheen, as breastplate and greaves, and she becomes a classical figure of the warrior woman, an Athena.

This is more in keeping with the modern sensibility. In an age when we have real women in the military facing combat, it seems out of step for Wonder Woman not to be armed like a statue of Winged Victory.

But now we come to the modern paradox of the character. If she has evolved from symbol of female supremacy, into a symbol of female freedom, and then into a symbol of female warrior-virtue, where is there room in her character concept for love and romance?

Once the dominance and submission that obsessed Moulton are out of the picture, Wonder Woman’s relationships with men no longer seem much of an issue. Under Perez, she was like Miranda, Prospero’s Daughter, a girl from a remote island astonished at the brave, new world where there were men and children and old age and disease, and so much suffering to cure, so many villains to thwart. Perez cleverly made her main opposition divine: the Greek Gods took an active role in his main story lines during his run.

At this point, Steve Trevor, normal mortal, is simply out of his league. The dynamic of the War between the Sexes does not allow for him to play the alpha male, the attractive mate, in a world where Wonder Woman is not in love with him, where he is not the first male she ever saw. The symbol of female freedom is not going to settle down and live for her husband and children, not with Steve Trevor, not with anyone.

A recognition that the Greek Goddess version of Wonder Woman needed someone bigger and more masculine than Steve Trevor made for an interesting romantic motif: she and Superman were making eyes at each other in more than one episode. But another element of the romantic puzzle is missing with Superman: first, competing with Lois Lane is something of an affront to the most ancient myth in comicbookland; second, Superman does not have any problems the love of a woman is needed to solve.

If Wonder Woman is, in her modern incarnation, a figure like Xena warrior princess, only a man more bold and warlike, braver or craftier than she is, can be admired as marriage material. In the warrior age, only a knight darker than the white knight will do as a romantic foil. Steve is just too bland, too much of a nice guy for the warrior-queen modern version of Wonder Woman to marry.


All the comic would need to do to reintroduce the romantic angle of the Wonder Woman mythology, would be to make Steve Trevor, mentally and not physically, as strong and interesting a character as the Batman. Good luck with that: I think it is impossible.

One of the delightful threads in the animated JUSTICE LEAGUE was the growing romance between Batman and Wonder Woman. Here is a bit of dialog where she signals her interest in him. They are on a stakeout, watching as an amorous couple leaves a nightclub.

Wonder Woman:

I’m talking about going down there and having some fun. Maybe… maybe with someone special. [pause] No. No dating for the Batman. It might cut into your brooding time.


One: Dating within the team always leads to disaster. Two: You’re a princess from a society of immortal warriors. I’m a rich kid with issues… lots of issues. And three: If my enemies knew I had someone special, they wouldn’t rest until they’d gotten to me through her.

Wonder Woman:

[crushes the head of a gargoyle with her hand] Next!


What does Batman have that Steve Trevor doesn’t have? Well, I cannot even type the question without pausing to giggle. Batman has scope; he has stage presence; he has drama and gravity. He is one of the Big Dogs, the Heavy Hitters. He is the Dark Knight, the Most Dangerous Man Alive.

(And Batman would be good father material, a bit stern and dark, perhaps, but he has raised his youthful ward, Dick Grayson, to be a dark and brooding Nightwing figure like himself: I am sure Diana would not overlook this aspect.)

And Bats has emotional problems any woman, especially a wonder woman, would think could be cured with a little good love. That is, once he surrendered to her, and she lassoed him with the Law of Aphrodite, and he got her in the bat-cuffs of love.


I am merely using Batman as an example: my point is that Diana Prince needs a man at least as impressive as she herself as her love interest, if the love interest is to remain interesting to the readers.

Steve Trevor was not the right man for her, because, in terms of drama, he did not form a sufficiently serious temptation to cause her conflict in her heart.

Certainly this is true of the tough-as-nails modern Wonder Woman, because she is too tough; certainly this is true of the sunny Silver Age Wonder Woman, because she was too free to be snared by a man; and most certainly of all this was true of the Golden Age “female supremacist” Wonder Woman originally envisioned by Charles Moulton.

Charles Moulton was right that women did not and do not need to accept a subservient position. But he was wrong about the idea that woman are, or should be, attracted to weak men, to male versions of scheming Lois Lanes.

Charles Moulton was wrong, not just about the symbolism, but about the basic dynamics of relationships.

Marriage is not an enslavement for women. Symbolically, the wedding ring is not “the fetters of Aphrodite” to bind our Wonder Woman and render her weak: she becomes the mistress of her own house and hearth, queen of her children in a rule so absolute that tyrants would envy.

A better symbol is to say that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.

The sexual tension between men and women is not about power and dominion, not about submission and weakness: this is frankly a childish and shallow way of looking at the sexes.

Power and dominion is not a healthy basis for a relationship, and a world where every strong Diana governs and dominates a weak Steve, is not any healthier, no matter how many love-generating organs she may have.

It simply does not make for a good story: the early Wonder Woman comics cannot be read without a twinge of discomfort.

When a relationship works right (and how rarely it works right!) marriage is a symbiosis, with each partner supplying the defects of the other, each adapting to the other.

While it is not true in all cases, even a cursory look at the male-female dynamic reveals certain general patterns, which form the basis for those tensions that produce good drama.

As men win mates by pursuit, and woman by allure, so husbands run households by mastery, directly, and women run households by nurture, by nourishment, indirectly.

A father commands his children; a mother raises them to command themselves.

A man simply tries to get things done: he concentrates on the task.

A woman tries to get character developed: she concentrates on the task-doers, she wants them to want to do the task right.

Motherhood is the task of shaping character: of course women are always going to be more interested in task-doers than in tasks; they need to know, not what you are going to do, but why you want to do it.

The direct and masculine approach is not particularly superior or inferior to the indirect and feminine approach. They seem to be shaped for different tasks and different types of psychology. Each needs the other.

This is why men and women drive each other crazy. This is also why we are crazy for each other. Because, like it or not, the drama and the mystery of romance, the strangeness of the opposite sex, can never fully be explained or understood, and can never fully be settled.

And one of the things women do when they wed— and the mere fact that this is a cliché tells you that there must be something behind it— is domesticate their husbands, making them into fathers and breadwinners and pillars of the community. Marriage is in no way the fetters of submission for woman or man, but, rather, the crown of life.

It is what we need to live.

Men if left to their own devices would no doubt live like Spartans or fraternity brothers: a prospect too ghastly to imagine.

We all need a Wonder Woman.

I know I do.