A look at Wonder Woman’s past

Jill Lepore in the New Yorker observes:

Superman appeared in 1938, Batman in 1939, Wonder Woman in 1941. Of the hundreds of comic-book superheroes created in the nineteen-thirties and forties, only these three have lasted, uninterrupted, since they began. Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman have also been battling evil together since 1942, following a poll that asked readers, “Should Wonder Woman be allowed, even though a woman, to join the Justice Society?” (I once wrote a book called “The Secret History of Wonder Woman,” and so it is with the weighty burden of academic authority that I can report, for the record: 1,597 kids said yes and 203 said no; 197 of the naysayers were boys. I cannot fathom what those six girls were thinking.) But, in a foreshadowing of what was to come, Wonder Woman became the Justice Society’s secretary. “Good luck, boys!” she’d call after the men, while she stayed behind, at headquarters, answering mail. Ever since, she’s been the Cinderella of the family: overlooked and neglected, and yet plainly the best of them.

There have been nine movies about the Man of Steel and twelve about the Caped Crusader, not to mention dozens more featuring obscure, lesser, and better-left-forgotten male comic-book characters, including such cut-rate back-benchers as Ant-Man, Meteor Man, Doctor Strange, and Swamp Thing. But this is the first film ever made about the Princess of the Amazons, even though she’s the most popular female comic-book superhero of all time. “Suffering Sappho!” as Wonder Woman liked to say. Directed by Patty Jenkins, whose credits include the 2003 film “Monster,” which she both wrote and directed, but which do not include any superhero movies, and starring the relatively unknown but terrifically cast Israeli actress Gal Gadot, “Wonder Woman” starts off outnumbered by Superman and Batman, twenty-one to one. She is disadvantaged by the impossible standards and fixity of malice that attach to work by women entering fields dominated by men; and vulnerable, too, to the condemnation of women, whose complaints about the film have so far included something to do with armpit hair. Merciful Minerva.

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