Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine by Tim Hanley

As the title proclaims, she’s the world’s most famous heroine.  She has survived World War II, Congressional scrutiny, cultural irrelevance, and quite literally every single threat a comic book character can possibly endure, including a few that were created specifically for her.

In spite of this, the general perception the world has very little idea of who Wonder Woman is.  Many can’t tell you her alter ego’s identity, and most can’t list off her powers.  Most will say she’s a “female version of Superman” or fondly remember Lynda Carter with a perhaps a reference to the bullet-deflecting bracelets.

Considering that this year marks her 75th anniversary as both a cultural and feminist touchstone, that’s just sad on levels I don’t know how to express.

The story of Wonder Woman is the story of the entire comics industry, be it the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Hers is the story of the successes, and sometimes the setbacks, of feminism and the women’s lib movement.  She’s a character unlike any other you’ll ever read in the pages of a comic book, with a creator unlike any other you’ll likely encounter.  She is the ultimate warrior, and once her story is known, she’s revealed to be the ultimate underdog.

Perhaps my only criticism is that once the book reaches Lynda Carter, the next four decades are glossed over as “mundane” with “a few high points.”  And I really can’t dispute that assessment.  My criticism comes from a very slim examination of those decades when compared to the rather detailed examination of her first decades.  It may also be a lack of resources that dictated this, as Wonder Woman has been, shall we say, largely neglected since Lynda Carter left the airwaves.  In other words, research would have to actually involve reading the comics (perish the thought!), and both Hanley and his team of researchers probably felt it wasn’t worth the bother outside of those “few high points.”  Even so, I am glad those higher points were discussed so well, however minimally.

As a longtime fan of Wonder Woman and of strong female characters in general, author Tim Hanley began this book first as an undergraduate paper, then as a thesis for his master’s degree, eventually transforming it into the book we have now.  It doesn’t read like a term paper.  When it comes to female characters in comics, the only other book I know of that goes into this kind of depth with this much passion is The Supergirls by Mike Madrid.  Excepting the above criticism, the research that went into this is awe-inspiring.  I’ve read a lot of history books on individual characters, especially DC’s Big 3, and most especially Wonder Woman.  This is easily one of the best on the market.  Most will give you the facts, but social relevance and critique will be minimal.  For this book, these insights go hand-in-hand with the character’s history, each informing the others.

I know that there are a number of people who follow my blog who are interested in comics, and a few notables who have become interested in Wonder Woman.  I heartily recommend this book to all of you.

5 stars

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