The origin of Wonder Woman has had many tweaks over the years, including her upcoming solo movie, which recently confirmed that it will set Diana’s arrival in man’s world during World War One. But not every change to her origin has worked (or even made sense)! Here’s some of our favorites, as well as a few that never quite hit their mark.
Sometimes, the originals really are the best. When William Moulton Marston’ had the radical idea of a female superhero that triumphed through love and compassion, he rooted her in ancient Greek mythology, and had her raised in a society of women that loved and supported her. This is the Diana that, against her mother’s wishes, fought for the right to escort the crash-landed Steve Trevor back to the world of men before realizing that her powers were needed to help turn the tide of World War II. TShe was made out of clay, a twist of the Galatea Myth that set Diana apart as some special even in her already special society. It’s a classic for a reason, and still holds up when read today.
When Robert Kanigher took over Wonder Woman in the Silver Age of comics, he modified Diana’s background by making her powers more explicitly granted by the Gods of Olympus, but the focus remained on her loving upbringing in a society of noble, caring women, just has Marston had originally imagined.
The Wonder Woman of the DC Animated Universe is introduced in exceedingly quick terms; she, like the rest of the Justice League, has her origin rapidly condensed into the three-part opening to the show, “Secret Origins.” It’s similar to Wonder Woman’s comic book origin, but with a minor but crucial change.
This version of Diana didn’t find herself thrust into helping the world of Man by an intrusion to her island home as she did in many other incarnations. Instead, she was a woman who, having grown up cut off from the world, chooses to actively go out and help it in its darkest hour anyway. When the Imperium (an alien race loosely based on the White Martians of the comics) invades Earth, Diana dons the ceremonial outfit and weapons of the Amazons and chooses to stand and fight for the whole world against her mother’s wishes, rather than sit in peace and safety on her island utopia. It speaks to her trademark compassion that she is a Wonder Woman driven to action out of a sense of duty and care, rather than because of extraneous circumstances.
George Perez, Len Wein and Greg Potter’s post-Crisis on Infinite Earths update of Wonder Woman is still the gold standard of rebooting a classic comic book character. They removed Diana from the history that tied her into World War II and updated her origin to be leaner and yet still faithful to Marston’s original.
Perez leaned heavily into Kanigher’s decision to have Diana’s powers linked to the Gods of Olympus, but the real strength of this update was the reworking done to the backstory of the Amazons themselves. No longer were they just old female warriors, but re-incarnations of women from across history killed by the horrors of war at men’s hands, or through tragic misunderstandings. It’s a seemingly minor choice, but the idea of a hero being born out of a race created out of women who had faced great injustice felt totally right for a moralistic, hopeful hero like Wonder Woman.
Typically, the time spent exploring Wonder Woman’s origins before she dons her superheroic identity is minimal. But this recent digital-first comic series from Renae De Liz and Ray Dillon focuses almost solely on Diana’s life as a young woman on Themyscira.
It takes the traditional origin of the Perez and Marston comic runs and, thanks to its deeper focus, spends a lot of time exploring Diana’s evolution from girl to woman to eventual hero, as well as her relationship with her mother. Her outcast nature is much more emphasized as she is the only mortal in a society of immortals, but throughout, the interplay between Diana’s duty as the Princess of the Amazons and her desire to do more and see more beyond the boundaries of her home creates for a fascinating sense of growth that you rarely got to see in other incarnations of the character.
This DC original animated movie was co-written by then-Wonder Woman series writer Gail Simone, and loosely based on the second arc of the Perez/Wein/Potter reboot in 1987, which saw Diana introduced to the world of Man and forced to battle Ares, the god of War, after he had been freed from imprisonment on Themyscira for thousands of years.
Although condensed for the brevity of a 70-minute animated film, the movie captures a lot of the classic beats of Diana’s story, right down to her disguising herself to take part in the contest deciding Themyscira’s ambassador to the world of Men. It also adds more focus on Diana’s relationship with her mother Hippolyta, directly contrasted with the relationship Hippolyta had with Ares before the creation of the Amazonian society.
The 1975 Lynda Carter series remains the most iconic live-action adaptation of the character, but it was by no means the first. The series’ predecessor, a TV movie made by ABC starring Cathy Lee Crosby, managed to miss pretty much everything about Diana’s origins other than the fact that she used Wonder Woman as an alternate identity.
Much like the Wonder Woman comics of the ‘60s turned Diana from a superhero into a spy, Crosby’s Wonder Woman wore no traditional costume (she had a jacket instead decked out in the usual red, blue, and white stars), had no superpowers, and worked as Steve Trevor’s assistant to help hunt down someone stealing government secrets. The ratings for the pilot movie weren’t exactly great, and after the success of the much more faithful Lynda Carter series, ABC admitted attempting to update Wonder Woman like this was a mistake.
DC’s company-wide reboot in 2011—named after the 52 comic book series it launched with—was controversial for a lot of reasons. But one of the biggest was the complete reworking of Wonder Woman’s origins in Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s new ongoing series. No longer the caring, compassionate hero molded out of clay by her mother, Diana was now a demi-god, the child of Zeus and a warrior among a much more hostile race of Amazons. The lack of a supporting network in the Amazons and the decision to ostracize Diana from her people even further, as well as the increased importance of masculine roles in her origins (besides having Zeus as a father, Diana trained heavily under Ares), lead fans to decry this major rework to the character’s extremely long history. Even though this new direction has brought us some compelling stories during her ongoing series, it’s also lead to the Wonder Woman of the comics being in a bit of a restless, awkward place at the moment.
When NBC revealed that they were making a Wonder Woman television series, there was a lot of excitement—after all, this was before Arrow arrived and kickstarted a golden age of superhero TV, and people were desperate for more live-action heroes. But then the script leaked, and it was terrible. Then the horrifying latex costume was revealed (although that got better).
David E. Kelley’s pilot was pulled from schedules and the series canceled, but a rough cut hit the internet, revealing its version of Diana: a modern CEO completely removed from her Amazonian legacy who spent more time worrying about her single life than being a hero. Even when she was a hero, she was violent and murderous and nothing like the compassionate hero of the comics.
When she watched the leaked pilot, Charlie Jane Anders described it as being “bad in the ways that we were all expecting, but also bad in other, more fundamental, ways.” Ouch.
Even before the 1970s, producers tried to bring the character to TV—and it certainly would’ve been one of the weirdest takes on the character if it ever advanced beyond the pitch stage. Who’s Afraid of Diana Prince? only exists as a four-minute test scene, and bizarrely imagined Diana, played by Ellie Wood Walker, as a housewife who could look in a mirror and see her reflection as Wonder Woman, played by Linda Harrison—with the implication that Diana was basically going insane and Wonder Woman didn’t really exist. Weird.
There was almost a Wonder Woman show in the ‘90s. In 1997, NBC tasked Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman writer Deborah Joy Levine with creating a series based around the character. Unlike the 2011 series, the show didn’t make it far, as producers couldn’t find an actress that could top Lynda Carter’s performance. Although nothing came of the series, it’s hard to imagine it would’ve been an impressive take on Wonder Woman’s origins—Diana would’ve been a Greek History professor, and according to Levine, spent most of her time wondering about her private life:
It’s like, ‘I’ll save the world, come home, pop a Lean Cuisine in the oven, and watch the soap I taped this afternoon.’ In many ways, she’s like a real woman, a real person.
I think this is not a show that’s totally about her fighting bad guys, and certainly not, as it was in the comic books, where she has to fight monsters. No monsters here.
A real woman maybe, but definitely not a Wonder Woman.