Philip Sanidfers unauthorized history of Wonder Woman is a must have for anyone who loves the character and anyone who is interested in the history of Western comics themselves. A book that spends time on the important eras, runs, and people in the life of the Amazing Amazon who has shaped her into what she has become. A book that is, as advertised on the cover, a critical history. This book pulls no punches and calls out problematic aspects of its creators work as well as feminist icon Gloria Steinems on certain topics.
The book kicks off with a brief introduction before setting off to December 1941, the month in which Wonder Woman debut in All Star Comics #8. The first six chapters dig in the creator, controversial William Moulton Marston as well as artist Harry G. Peter as well as analyzing their years and work on Diana herself. These chapters are extremely important as it speaks in depth about Moutlon’s goals with Diana more so than anything else I have ever seen. We have always known WW to be a feminist icon with a proto-feminist story but learning about Marstons DISC theory. DISC is a terrible acronym for what it really stands for Dominance and Compliance, Inducement (or marketed as Influence) and Submission (marketed as Steadiness). The idea that dominance leading to compliance is less effective than the alternative-this is what those old Loving Submission ideas in WW was essentially about. The book gets into the idea of Utopianism as a process and Marstons own vision of where feminism was heading during the age of WWII. These sections also elaborate on why Harry G. Peter got the gig even though his style was unlike any superhero books of the era. The meat itself is of course the analysis on several actual comics including how her debut came off, how different her book was from all the superhero books of the era and the failings in the work itself. Marston and Peter’s racial characterizations or simply the fact this feminist idea of Wonder Woman still glorified her as an object.
The book pushes forward with a scathing critique of Robert Kanigher’s era which also takes shots at how some aspects of fandom contributed to further the problems with Kanighers work down the line. It speaks about the importance of the so-called I Ching era. Most outsiders see this as the controversial “Emma Peel” depowered years that pissed off feminist icon Gloria Steinem. Philip Sandifers book speaks highly about aspects of the change which were welcome after Kanighers work and even talking about how the book was much more feminist in this age including brief writer Samuel R. Delany-a famous science fiction author who was preparing an arc about a battle over an abortion clinic (a radical subject at the time) before he and others were sacked in the wake of Steinem’s complaints.
Philip goes after Steinem. Discussing how she, by all accounts, never actually read any stories from this era of Wonder Woman and probably was unfamiliar with the tone of the previous work before this era which was more anti-feminist. I knew little about Gloria before this other than her importance to the feminist movement but after this book I know I don’t like her for reasons in regards to transphobia, marginalizing the women of color, and an at time classism attitude. Philip also talks about a sort of revisionist attitude that Steinem (and indy cartoonist Trina Robbins) have toward the original Marston work. A nostalgia that misses the point of the BDSM (something that certain second wave feminist like Steinem rejects) and the ideas Marston was trying to push.
The book of course gets in WW’s sales, constant rotating creators, and the stories leading up to the big relaunch in the wake of COIE. All these are important to know in the ever inconsistent world of Dianas book but I’m sure most fans were interested in Philips statements about the George Perez headed relaunch. Its interesting to me here because I’ve read people online criticize aspects that Perez and his co-writers changed versus the Marston original. Philip Sandifer does not do that here, mostly praising Perez’s work. Changes include more engagement with the gods, her role in mans world, removing Steve Trevor permanently as a love interest and more. George Perez’s Wonder Woman stint was well received and put WW book back into the spotlight-somewhere it had not been since the original 40s comics.
The book pushes through into the William Messner-Loebs run which produced the first solo Wonder Woman book I read. Philip is a fan of the majority of it until Mike Deodato Jr. comes in as artist and the book attempts to pursue an Image comics style. I have really only ever read that section and I like it fine, but I understand his problems with it. It does make me curious about Messner-Loebs run in its entirety by DC has a way of not collecting a lot of Wonder Womans material. The book moves through a transitioning time (including what many say is a forgettable run by legend John Byrne, the author of this book included) to the heralded work by Greg Rucka. The examination on the graphic novella Hiketea makes me want to reread the work. Philips on discussion about Ruckas WW run echoes a lot of my own feeling including the unfinished aspect of what was a great work all for DC to do a unnecessary reboot. the Infinite Crisis forced reboot would have gotten a much meaner reaction from me then Philip if I had written this. However we both agree it was not useful.
I was a bit surprised at his opinions on Gail Simones work. I’ve seen a certain quote (paraphrased though) popping up on tumblr that’s quoted in the book and the writer here dismisses it. Saying that it again primarily defines Wonder Womans role in DCU by other male superheroes. The writer here also doesn’t like Gail Simones notion of Amazons as purely a Warrior Culture and also takes issue with how the promising romance that Simone scripted turned out in the end. Not to say Philip hated the work, he says its a mass improvement on what came before and enjoyed the humor as well as the weird aspects like her talking gorilla roommates. That I would love to see again.
The book glosses over the JMS aborted Odyssey, seeing it as pretty trivial perhaps. I would have liked a larger look at this and feel that its a missed opportunity. It ends with a brief look at the current New 52 comic, sans the more recent pairing with Superman. Some of the concerns and criticisms seen online are shared here but Sandifer also states that despite this the book is being crafted with talent.
This was an excellent insight into WW publication history. Reading through it i have an urge to go back and reread my Archives and Greg Ruckas run (I wonder where my single issues are). It puts a lot of information forth and shows that one of DC’s biggest opponents in selling Wonder Woman has been itself. It has also shown that fandom at times can hurt a characters position. While Philip Sandifer missed a few opportunities I think, I was not disappointed in him giving little time for certain sections of Diana’s book. I also don’t agree with his opinion on a few works but hey-opinions right? The book is a quick read but provide lots of information without bogging the reader down. There’s a couple weird typing errors but nothing bothersome.
I recommend this to all Wonder Woman fans. Must read.