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At 75, Wonder Woman is ready to return to the superhero spotlight

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By Rick Bentley, The Fresno Bee

She may not look it, but Wonder Woman is celebrating her 75th birthday this year.

DC Comics launched Superman and Batman before Wonder Woman, but many argue she’s more important than the crime-stopping guys. Not only did Wonder Woman continue the action-packed ways of her fellow superheroes, she became one of the first female heroes to join the male-dominated comic-book world.

“Wonder Woman has long stood with Batman and Superman in the trinity of DC’s most iconic superheroes, but she also stands alone as a symbol of equality, justice and female empowerment and is more relevant today than ever,” says Diane Nelson, president of DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. consumer products chief content officer of Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. “With her roots in Greek mythology and American feminism, Wonder Woman is one of the most unique and compelling characters in comic-book history.”

HER BEGINNING

Wonder Woman is the creation of William Moulton Marston, a psychologist best known as the inventor of the lie detector who used the pen name Charles Moulton. His idea was to create a hero who counted more on wisdom and compassion than her fists.

That story began to unfold in October 1941 in “All Star Comics” No. 8 and the following year, Wonder Woman got her own comic book with Sensation Comics.

Readers learned about Wonder Woman’s origins and Amazon roots, a big difference from Superman and Batman. The Man of Steel dealt with the pain and sorrow of his entire planet being wiped out, while Batman’s dark angst came from seeing his parents gunned down. Wonder Woman’s decision to leave her Amazon world came out of a pure desire to help.

Artist-writer Renae De Liz has taken a close look at Wonder Woman’s origin for the comic book series “The Legend of Wonder Woman.” What she’s tried to convey in the series is that Wonder Woman represents a bigger picture.

“Diana is the world, made from the earth she protects and has a deep love for everyone that drives her at all times. While she is a person underneath the hero, she feels at home as Wonder Woman,” De Liz says. “Combining her strong perseverance to protect, her humanitarian values given by her childhood amongst the Amazons, and power originating from the ancient light of the universe, in my opinion, places her first in terms of power and status.”

She’s at the top of the list with DC Comics, which is celebrating her 75th anniversary. There are new lines of comics, a new commemorative logo and a scene-stealing appearance in the feature film “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” that foreshadows her own movie to be released in 2017. Look for new graphic novels, convention panels and consumer products, including apparel, toys and other exclusive merchandise.

Dave Allread, owner of Heroes Comics in Fresno, has seen the merchandising trigger an interest in the comics.

“We have seen a bump in interest in Wonder Woman with women because there is so much merchandise,” Allread says. “They will buy a Wonder Woman purse or another item and then look for the comics.”

There is also attention because of Wonder Woman’s place in the DC Universe.

Kevin Tsujihara, CEO of Warner Bros., calls Wonder Woman “a legend around the world and one of the most valuable franchises at our studio.”

Getting to this place wasn’t easy. Wonder Woman had to deal with censorship requests, confusion over how to treat her abilities, and multiple attempts to get her the TV and film attention that Superman and Batman have enjoyed.

Some suggested the early Wonder Woman stories and drawings represented bondage and S&M practices. Fredric Wertham, a German American psychiatrist, wrote the book “Seduction of the Innocent” in 1954 that called comic books a negative form of literature that promoted juvenile delinquency. Wonder Woman was one of his primary targets.

That passed but there were other bumps. While Batman and Superman thrived on TV and in films, the only success Wonder Woman had was the ‘70s TV series starring Lynda Carter and in Saturday morning cartoons. Before the current comic book craze on TV, NBC tried to launch a Wonder Woman series in 2011 with Adrianne Palicki in the starring role. The show was canceled before it got on the air.

Palicki grew up a comic book fan, especially those featuring Supergirl, thanks to her older brother, Eric, who is a comic-book writer.

“Some of the strongest female characters can be found in comic books. Some of the females in comics are even stronger than the men, which I love,” Palicki says. “I was devastated. I loved the show. I loved the cast and the crew. I loved my costume.”

NEW LIFE

Television wasn’t the only trouble spot for Wonder Woman. Over the years, writers would often take Wonder Woman from the battlefield and put her in odd situations, such as a run for the White House and working at a fast food restaurant. The biggest change was in the late ‘60s when Wonder Woman gave up her powers and seemed more focused on fashion than fighting crime.

Wonder Woman is in good hands these days with Greg Rucka writing the 75th anniversary series “Wonder Woman” series, which has returned to the basics. It’s not his first time writing the character; his relationship with Wonder Woman dates back to 2002 when he wrote the graphic novel “Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia.” Rucka then wrote for the Wonder Woman comic book series from 2003-06.

“I think Wonder Woman is No.1 among the heroes. Diana is so unique. She is proactive in a way no other superhero is,” Rucka says.

That’s high praise from experienced hands. Rucka has worked on a long list of titles featuring Superman and Batman, including Action Comics and Detective Comics.

The reason he believes Wonder Woman hasn’t received the respect she deserves starts with the pathos of the characters. It’s easier for the reader to understand the pathos of parents being killed or being at the center of a very unique immigrant story.

Rucka says Wonder Woman’s story is a little muddier. Part of that comes from the retelling and changing of her origin over the years. What Rucka is doing with the new series is to make the 75th anniversary the year that the story of the Amazon princess becomes well-defined.

“In the past the reader didn’t understand what she stands for. With the current run, I am focusing on what makes her most spectacular. All of the heroes kick a— and take names, but Wonder Woman shows us there is a better way to live and treat each other,” Rucka says. “She is the warrior princess who comes to bring peace. She never looks for a fight but she never shies away.”

The reason Rucka is so concerned with making this series so strong is that he has talked to many Wonder Woman fans. The only fans he has found more passionate are those who worship “Star Wars.”

The idea with the new series is to make the Wonder Woman legend as clear as possible and give readers some definitive answers, while making sure Wonder Woman remains heroic.

“That has to be on display. She has to be aspirational in that she can suffer loss and setbacks but still remain heroic,” Rucka says.

Even with all the highs and lows, Wonder Woman has reached a comic book milestone in a 75th anniversary that few have matched. And there doesn’t appear to be a reason that number will stop growing.

De Liz describes Wonder Woman as the most timeless character in the DC Universe because the nature of her story means she could belong to any era and the things she stands and fights for will always be important: “Superman and Batman are timeless in their own ways, but Wonder Woman is like the iron pillar holding the rest of them up.”

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