Evil talking eggs. Sexist stereotypes. Bondage and dominance. Nazis destroying milk. There’s a whole lot of WTF moments to be found in Wonder Woman’s comic adventures.
Statistically, that’s inevitable. Save for a brief break in 1987, Wonder Woman has been in comics non-stop since 1941. In nearly 80 years, things are bound to get WTF every so often (just ask Batman). On top of that, the world’s most famous female superhero has been written and edited almost entirely by men. The first WW story by a woman appeared in 1986, and that was it for the 20th century.
In addition, Wonder Woman’s creator, William Marston, was an unusual man: feminist, polyamorous, a believer in female supremacy, fascinated by dominance and submission. As Jill Lepore's The Secret History of Wonder Woman shows, Marston's passions strongly influenced his writing. But don't think Wonder Woman's WTF factor is just a matter of old, dated attitudes — the 22 moments in this list (presented in roughly chronological order) run all the way to the present day. Some are good, some bad, some just bizarre, but they're all unforgettable.
Here are the 22 Most WTF Moments In Wonder Woman Comics.
Finding bondage in a Marston story is like finding saltwater in the Atlantic. Lepore says Marston drew on feminist iconography where chains symbolized oppression, but some of the bondage seemed to be pure kink. Case in point, Wonder Woman #4.
Corrupt manufacturer Ivan Torgson would sooner shut down his factories than use them to help the war effort. When Wonder Woman finds Torgson tying up his mistress Elva to kill her, Diana binds Torgson in her magic lasso and makes him untie Elva. On his knees. Using his teeth.
To make Torgson a better man, Wonder Woman has Elva imprison and enslave him. Alas, just when Torgson blossoms in his sub role, Elva’s “prehistoric feminine feelings” convince her to release him. Torgson reverts to jerk-hood. Clearly, only Wonder Woman is strong enough to dominate Ivar and his associates. The Amazons brainwash the men into accepting WW as their “commandress”, after which Diana sets them doing productive war work.
Selfish-to-patriotic was a conventional character arc for WWII fiction, but when Marston wrote it, it wasn’t so conventional.
Dr. Psycho was the perfect foil for Wonder Woman, a misogynist who believed in women’s subjugation as fiercely as the Amazons fought for their liberation. Women were taking over factory and military jobs while the men went to war, which made Psycho's blood boil. Egged on by the war-god Mars, Psycho schemed to destroy women's new independence.
Using his hypnotized wife Marva as a medium, Psycho collected ectoplasm he could use to disguise himself. In one seance, posing as George Washington’s ghost, he warned that women will destroy America “through weakness if not treachery.” With Psycho’s powers, it was simple to make the prophecy come true.
Wonder Woman, of course, exposed his scheme and freed Marva from her husband’s evil influence. The doctor would continue on in WW’s Rogue’s Gallery for decades, though none of his schemes were quite as memorable. Wonder Woman's most recent version drops the misogyny for generalized sadism, which is a shame — it's not as if Psycho's attitudes have vanished from 21st-century America.
Nazis in WWII comics would do just about anything to destroy America. In Sensation Comics #7, they came for our milk.
Diana stumbles onto the plot when she meets a grieving mother whose son died recently from malnutrition. Milk prices have risen to the unthinkable 26 cents a quart and poor families can’t afford it, even though their kids need milk’s health-giving properties. Diana discovers International Milk has bought up America’s entire supply and would sooner throw it away than sell for less.
Fears about "milk trusts" had cropped up several times in then-recent history, but there was more than greed at work here. It’s actually a long-term plan by Nazi agent Paula von Gunther to sap the vitality of America’s “milk-starved kids” so that “your rising generation will be weakened and dwarfed.” Two decades in the future, after Germany’s milk-guzzling children have grown up strong and fit, they will crush America at last!
Lucky for freedom that Wonder Woman saved America’s milk supply, ensuring healthy children today and “a safe happy America tomorrow!”
Did you ever wonder what WW was like as a wonder teenage? Or a wonder toddler?
Apparently, lots of Silver Age readers did. After Marston’s successor, Robert Kanigher, introduced teenage Diana in Wonder Woman #105, Wonder Girl stories became a backup feature for several years. And just as Superboy begat stories of Superbaby, so too did Wonder Girl begat the tales of Wonder Tot.
In #126, Wonder Tot assures her mother that she hasn’t done anything special that day, but Queen Hippolyta notices a diamond in Diana’s hair. Well yes, mommy, the toddler admits, I did kind of meet a genie and we did kind of become friends, and we did kind of go into outer space and get a piece of a falling star for a hair clip … but nothing really special.
Mr. Genie would appear several more times, invariably bemoaning the danger Wonder Tot was dragging him into. He has the distinction of being one of the rare Silver Age characters nobody’s ever tried to revive.
In Kanigher's stories, Wonder Woman routinely read her fan mail. That's how she learned, in #124, that thousands of readers wanted her to team up with Wonder Girl and Wonder Tot.
Impossible? Not for Queen Hippolyta. With some judicious editing of her home movies, she created a film of the Wonder Family — Woman, Girl, Tot, and Hippolyta herself as Wonder Queen — battling the shapeshifting Multiple Man together. It would seem obvious that events in the movie didn't happen, but at the end of the story Steve Trevor finds evidence that the battle really took place.
Readers apparently enjoyed the Wonder Family. For a couple of years in the early 1960s, about half the stories in Wonder Woman were Wonder Family adventures. While Kanigher labeled some “imaginary,” others left the impression that Diana actually had sisters. It’s probable that this is how the Teen Titans creators got the idea that Wonder Girl was a separate character they could use on the team.
Marston’s Wonder Woman origin is perfect for such an iconic female hero: sculpted from clay by an Amazon queen, brought to life by a Greek goddess, no men needed. Kanigher, however, didn’t seem too thrilled with it. In WW #105, the Amazons head to Paradise Island after their menfolk are killed in a war (a very different origin from Marston) and it’s implied that the list of dead includes Diana’s father.
Wonder Woman #152 topped that by telling readers of “Wonder Girl’s Mysterious Father," lost at sea years ago. This isn’t presented as a big reveal, though -- it’s tossed off casually as an established fact.
In the days when the mostly kid readership turned over pretty fast, maybe Kanigher figured nobody would remember Marston’s version. A missing father could have been a source of drama he could mine for later stories. Nevertheless, less than a year later, Kanigher gave Wonder Woman a soft reboot that brought back a lot of Golden Age elements, including Marston’s origin. Wonder Girl’s missing father was never mentioned again. It wouldn't be until the New 52 that Diana once again had a father.
Kanigher frequently used bizarre monsters in his WW stories, but none as bizarre as Egg Fu. You can’t get more WTF than an evil, super-genius, Communist Chinese giant egg that uses its (his?) long mustaches as tentacles. In Wonder Woman #157, the evil egghead (Kanigher's own words) builds a missile that will wipe out the US Pacific fleet with one shot. Can Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor defeat Egg Fu even though he's "steeped in oriental cunning?"
Too bad this gloriously insane concept is ingloriously racist. The story constantly warns us that the Chinese are callous fiends willing to sacrifice human lives as if they were cornflakes. Egg Fu is "comically" incapable of pronouncing the letter “r” (“They might just as well pless a tligger against their own blains!”), a stock trope for Asian characters.
Even so, Kanigher apparently thought he’d created something pretty cool. Although Wonder Woman destroyed Egg Fu, Kanigher later introduced his clone (Egg Fu the Fifth) and his twin brother (Dr. Yes).
For bonus WTFeckery, check out the way Steve Trevor treats Diana Prince in the same story.
WW #159 didn’t just break the fourth wall, it smashed it to rubble. With his Golden Age reboot about to begin, Robert Kanigher calls the series' cast into his office and fires Wonder Tot, Wonder Girl, and everyone else except Wonder Woman, Steve, and Hippolyta.
Knowing they’re getting the axe, recurring foes Angle Man and the Duke of Deception attempt to kill WW before getting their pink slip. The Duke takes his defeat with dignity; Angle Man, as you can see above, freaks out. The constant references to Kanigher's bow tie probably reflect the writer's indignation over a fanzine claiming he wore one (the story takes several shots at fanzine writing).
In some ways, the story seems like a prescient parody of Internet fandom, with angry mobs haranguing Kanigher and demanding he do Wonder Woman the right way. The Golden Age apparently wasn’t the right way, as he soon dropped that approach. Angle Man could have chilled if he’d known he’d return soon, after all.
Kanigher’s Steve Trevor/Diana read a lot like Lois Lane/Superman. Wonder Woman cared for Steve but refused to marry him until she’d put an end to crime. That was longer than Steve wanted to wait, so he tried several Lois-style schemes to change WW’s mind. In #167 he hit on a winner: bind Wonder Woman in her magic lasso, then command her to marry him (the lasso originally made people obey, rather than tell the truth).
Off they go to city hall (Steve seems confident nobody there will bat an eye), but gosh darn it, they keep running into emergencies and Steve has to let Wonder Woman help people. Can he keep his grip on the lasso or will he blow his big chance? After Steve does let the lasso slip, Wonder Woman laughs it off and promises they’ll be together some day. Steve replies that he’ll try and trap her again. Which, like everything else in the story, is meant to be cute and funny.
Of course, this was written when pop culture treated “all’s fair in love and war” as the eleventh commandment. It’s still creepy as hell.
Teaming Batgirl, Batman, and Wonder Woman gave Brave and Bold #78 a great cast. What happened to the female heroes was anything but great.
By the time the story opens, the villain Copperhead has been running rings around Batman. The Caped Crusader tries baiting him with a priceless Aztec relic, but Copperhead’s too canny to bite. Then Batgirl and Wonder Woman both start chasing Batman with protestations of love, keeping him constantly distracted, so Copperhead sees a window of opportunity.
Now Batman’s finally one up on Copperhead — the rivalry for his heart is a trick! The Dark Knight’s ready to take down his serpentine foe, but Batgirl and Wonder Woman suddenly realize they really do love him! He has to choose between them, NOW! They can’t think of anything else until they have his heart! Batman's so off-balance, Copperhead almost gets away with it.
In a way, it’s an impressive achievement. Lots of books have been written about the “women are just too emotional” stereotype, but Haney captured it perfectly in just 23 pages.
In Sensation Comics #8, Wonder Woman fought for exploited, underpaid department-store workers. In Wonder Woman #203, the “special women’s lib issue,” her attitude to exploited women is “screw them. I’ve got mine.”
The story took place after the Amazons’ departure from Earth had stripped Diana of her powers. After department store owner Grandee offers Diana a job as his spokesmodel, Diana’s feminist friend Cathy reveals the man is a sexist pig who exploits women. His supposedly upscale clothes are made by underpaid workers in local sweatshops. His store staff earn under the minimum wage.
Diana’s response is a shrug. This is a great deal for her, so why should she care? She has no interest in attending Cathy’s women’s lib meetings to hear counter-arguments — heck, she doesn’t even like women! Cathy lashes back with a sick burn: you are a woman, so you must hate yourself! Stunned, Diana realizes she's wrong, women's rights are important, and Grandee must pay for his actions.
Dear DC: if you publish a story that has Wonder Woman not caring about equality or women, you’re doing it wrong.
Following that special women’s lib issue, Kanigher returned as writer and brought back the Amazons. He inflicted Diana with amnesia, but the Amazons restore her memories and her powers. Diana also acquired: a black sister, Nubia, who claimed to be the real Wonder Woman; a new secret identity as Diana Prince, UN translator; and two new roommates, one Asian, one black. Three issues later, they were gone forever (except Nubia’s one appearance years later in Super-Friends).
Adding three women of color to the cast was presumably part of DC’s early Bronze Age efforts to create a more diverse comics universe. This attempt was so halfhearted we never even learned the roommates' names or, well, anything about them at all. It's true they disappeared because of Kanigher's next reboot, but the UN setting eventually returned. The women didn't.
It’s hard to imagine Wonder Woman worries much about what men think of her looks. If some random guy sneered that she was a loser because she’s so plain, what response could she give but an eye-roll? Certainly she wouldn’t cry about it … right?
Not according to WW #205, in which Diana’s boss, Keach, dismisses her to a colleague as a “plain jane.” In his view, such woman are pathetic — they hate men, hate other women, hate themselves. Diana assures herself she won’t let those cruel words hurt her, even as her lip quivers and she starts to cry ….
Romance comics expert Jacqueline Nodell says that starting in the late 1960s, Kanigher imported romance comics tropes into Wonder Woman, and this scene fits the theory. Unfortunately, it doesn’t fit Wonder Woman. It wouldn’t fit even if romance comics veteran Don Heck didn’t draw such a lovely Diana.
Perhaps it’s a blessing that the soft reboot in #207 got us away from the UN for a while.
Wonder Woman #207 was yet another reboot. No United Nations — in fact, no sign that Wonder Woman has any sort of day job. And Steve Trevor, who’d died quite dead five years earlier, was back in action without a word of explanation.
The reason? Wonder Woman had gone into reruns. Kanigher was recycling scripts he’d written twenty years earlier, though with new art and at least some minor changes to the stories. With older stories much harder to access back then than they are today, it was likely that most readers didn’t catch on, though Steve’s presence must have puzzled them.
It certainly bothered the creative team that took over with #212. In that issue, Diana discovered she had no memory of her powerless period or Steve’s death. It turns out that when the Amazons cured her amnesia, they couldn’t restore those memories, so they made up adventures to fill the blanks. It was a clunky retcon, but it fixed a clunky problem. And at least Wonder Woman would never have to remember that special women’s lib issue.
Long before Disney bought Marvel, DC’s Amazing Amazon found herself locked in a death struggle with Uncle Walt and Mickey Mouse, or reasonable facsimiles thereof.
After learning about her screwed up memory, Wonder Woman asked the Justice League to monitor her next twelve adventures for any other mental glitches. In the last of the "twelve trials", she discovered an animatronic double of herself lurking around the UN. Wonder Woman then traced the duplicate back to Dazzleland, the theme park created by the late Wade Dazzle.
After battling animatronic armies of Jerry Gerbils and Harriet Hamsters, Wonder Woman confronted "Uncle Wade's" own double. He explained that to sustain the real Wade in suspended animation (this is based on an urban legend about Walt Disney) required requires draining life from others; as an immortal Amazon, Wonder Woman will provide a permanent power source.
To the double's horror, Wonder Woman responded by destroying Wade's cryo unit. It wasn't murder, because WW had realized Dazzle's body was dead — his creations had been murdering people for no purpose. Batman, who'd been monitoring the final trial, confirmed that Diana had passed with flying colors.
The 1976-77 season of Lynda Carter's Wonder Woman series was set during World War II. Hoping to pick up the TV audience, Wonder Woman began running retcon stories set on Earth 2, the parallel world where Wonder Woman’s Golden Age adventures took place. TV fans who expected a 1940s Wonder Woman would find one.
With WWII three decades gone, the stories made Wonder Woman a little less red, white, and blue than she’d been originally. Wonder Woman was a peacemaker at heart; Gerry Conway, who wrote most of the retro-WWII run, showed her growing increasingly uncomfortable with the U.S. military's willingness to shoot first, negotiate later.
This came to a head in Superman vs. Wonder Woman, in which the Amazing Amazon attempted to shut down the Manhattan Project. For Diana, the threat of atomic weapons was too horrible to trust any nation with them. Superman saw things differently: he was American to the core, and if America needed the atom bomb, so be it. Eventually, they joined forces to stop the Axis from stealing American nuclear research, but Wonder Woman remained uneasy about the path America was on.
As any fan of The Fly knows, experiments in teleportation rarely work out well. Case in point, WW #247, where teleportation created Inversion, the inside-out man. Where Egg Fu is so bats*** he’s almost brilliant, Inversion’s just bats***. Nobody has ever attempted to reboot, revive, or reintroduce any version of him.
Shortly after Wonder Woman resumed present-day stories, Inversion attacked Wonder Woman to learn the secrets of the Justice League’s teleportation technology. His own experiments had rematerialized him with all his internal organs on the outside of his body. Now, he wanted to invert all of humanity in the same way, because...reasons! Or more accurately, no reasons! This is the kind of villain the term “mad scientist” was made for.
Wonder Woman eventually trapped Inversion between teleporter jumps, then stored his dematerialized essence on Paradise Island until she could find a cure. As she never did, he's presumably still there.
It’s not hard to see lesbian subtext in Marston’s Golden Age Amazons. When George Perez did a major WW reboot in the 1980s, he made the subtext into text — but there was still a sex act he didn’t want to discuss.
In a 1990 plot arc, the Amazons invite a gathering of religious leaders to Paradise Island (now renamed Themyscira) to discuss their different philosophies. In #38, after one of the guests says that the Amazons are missing out on sex, he's told that most of the Amazons are lesbians. Others practice the way of Narcissus — a euphemism for masturbation (Narcissus was a figure in Greek myth who fell in love with himself).
Despite having zero risk of pregnancy or STDs, masturbation has long been condemned for religious and secular reasons (some Victorians claimed it drained so much life energy it could cripple you). Perez joked in one interview that he could get away with lesbian Amazons easier than masturbating Amazons. He may have had a point: even though Wonder Woman herself is now bisexual, the way of Narcissus hasn’t been brought up again.
Getting rid of the Amazons has been DC’s default approach to shaking up Wonder Woman. The most entertaining shakeup was when they vanished during William Loebs' run on the book. At the time, Wonder Woman was serving as Themysciran ambassador. After the island disappeared, Wonder Woman found herself an unemployed nobody, living in a friend's basement. Finally, she landed a job — working at a local Taco Whiz restaurant.
A lot of superheroes moan about having a dead end job, but not Wonder Woman. Diana dedicates herself to becoming the most efficient and effective fast-food worker ever. When she shows up late because she had to save a few lives, she apologizes profusely and offers to work extra to make up for it. Eventually, things got back to normal, but her taco-serving stint may be the funnest WTF moment she's ever had.
It's a tale as old as time. Boy meets Amazon, boy falls for Amazon, boy learns Amazon only wants him to repopulate Themyscira.
Following the Infinite Crisis crossover event, readers got another Wonder reboot. For the first time since the 1980s Perez reboot, Wonder Woman adopted a secret identity. As Diana Prince, federal agent, she worked alongside Tom Tresser, the former superhero Nemesis. Tom thought his partner was okay, but Wonder Woman? She made him weak at the knees.
The attraction simmered along for a while, but when Gail Simone took over writing the series, she couldn't see it working out. In Wonder Woman #36, Tom learns that while Diana finds him attractive, she's less interested in love and kisses than in his potential to breed new Amazons (recent crossover events had badly depopulated Themyscira). That kills Tom's interest fast: he tells Diana that as a man in a dangerous, deadly line of work, the last thing he wants is to have kids. Their romance was over before it really began.
One of the staple “women’s lib” plots in 1970s TV and comics was to pit a firebrand feminist with an old-school sexist, as if both views deserved equal representation. When Jack Kirby’s warrior god Orion shows up in 2013's Wonder Woman #15, he talks and acts as if he'd grown up binge-watching that stuff.
This version of Orion’s most distinctive — well, only — character trait is being a sexist jerk. He slaps Wonder Woman’s butt. Refers to her as “legs” a lot. When she makes a plan of action and asks for feedback, Orion tells her he never pays attention to what she says. After all, she’s just a chick, right?
Kirby's Orion was a classic character. It's hard to see what this version brought to the table that justified the gratuitous sexism, or his presence in the book.
Marston’s Amazons often marveled at how much weaker women in “man’s world” were. Nevertheless, they were solidly supportive of their weaker sisters; several stories showed an ordinary woman could be Amazon-strong if she got Amazon training. In Grant Morrison's Wonder Woman: Earth One, the Amazons are less into support, more into fat-shaming.
The story introduces Etta Candy (a longtime member of the supporting cast) as a heavy but fun-loving sorority girl. When the Amazons meet Etta, her weight shocks them: “this girl is sick — her body mass grotesquely distorted.” Another Amazon refers to American women as deformed and "bloated." Even Diana thinks man’s world ruins women by letting them pack on pounds.
Possibly author Morrison thought this would dramatize the gap between Amazon attitudes and those of ordinary women. Instead, it comes off as cliched finger-wagging about how fat women should all get fit and stop being so fugly. The WTF Wonder Woman tradition continues.
There are plenty more WTF moments in Wonder Woman comics, so be sure to leave your favorites in the comments.
Wonder Woman opens in theaters on June 2nd, 2017.