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Why the 1980s Were WONDER WOMAN’s Greatest Era

Why the 1980s Were WONDER WOMAN’s Greatest Era

Recently it has been rumored that the sequel to this summer’s smash hit Wonder Woman from director Patty Jenkins will not take place in the present day, but would be a “Cold War era adventure” set during the 1980s. So why is this a good idea, aside from the glorious hair, wardrobe and soundtrack choices this shift in time periods could provide us? Well, you might not realize it, but the ’80s was an absolutely glorious decade for our Amazing Amazon.

In fact, the modern version of Wonder Woman, which has been reflected not only in Gal Gadot’s performance but also in other recent incarnations like the Justice League Unlimited animated series, owes almost everything  to the 1986 Wonder Woman reboot by George Perez. If the 1940s was Wonder Woman’s “Golden Age”, then the ’80s were definitely the second golden age for Diana.

After the death of her creator William Moulton Marston in 1947, the character of Wonder Woman struggled. With Marston gone, so was much of the radical feminism that was the magic that made that comic work. But DC Comics had to publish Wonder Woman, or the rights would revert back to the Marston estate, and she was simply too valuable a property to allow that to happen. Over the next few decades, the character had a rough go of it, although her big splash in the mainstream media thanks to the Lynda Carter TV show and the Super Friends cartoons definitely helped her comics sales for awhile in the ’70s.

But when the live-action show ended, the sales plummeted again, and the character felt more passé than ever. This same exact thing happened to Batman after the 1966 series ended. In fact, almost all of DC Comics in the early ’80s were in bad shape sales wise, with almost everything Marvel Comics put out routinely kicking their asses in that department. (Except for Teen Titans, which I’ve already written about!) Something had to be done.

So in 1985, DC Comics restructured and rebooted their entire universe with the event comic Crisis on Infinite Earths.  And the character that got the biggest overhaul? Wonder Woman. The creative team of Greg Potter, Len Wein, and artist George Perez (who very quickly took the creative reins of the comic) were not afraid to remove elements of Diana’s longstanding mythology that had become dated. Gone was Wonder Woman’s secret identity of Diana Prince, her invisible plane, and having Steve Trevor be her love interest, although he remained part of her supporting cast. At the same time, the Greek mythology aspect of Wonder Woman’s mythos was elevated more than ever.

George Perez wrote and drew Wonder Woman for the series’ first 24 issues, but continued writing her, with art being provided by female artists like Jill Thompson and Colleen Doran, for a full five years. Perez left an indelible mark on the character going forward. Under his care, Princess Diana was not a crime fighter in the same sense as other superheroes, but instead she was an ambassador, someone whose primary job it was to spread the Amazonian ideals of peace and harmony. Above all else, she was a teacher.

Perez’ penciling style made locations like Themyscira and Olympus seem glorious in their intricate detail, in a way they never had before. Olympus especially was a true work of genius, a place that defied physics and logic, and was something of a Grecian version of an MC Escher painting. Perez upped Diana’s power levels to make her as strong as Superman, and finally gave her the ability to fly. And Perez took iconic (but kind of lame) villains from Wonder Woman’s rouge’s gallery and gave them all makeovers – under his watch, characters like Cheetah, Circe, Silver Swan, Doctor Psycho, and especially Ares became truly worthy of being Diana’s enemies.

Maybe most importantly, Perez brought the feminism back to the pages of Wonder Woman. Ever since 1941, Diana’s primary human relationship was her romantic one with Steve Trevor. In the 40’s, she also had a female sidekick in the form of Etta Candy, but after Marston’s death she was pretty much kicked to the curb. Although Perez would retain the “Steve Trevor crashes on Paradise Island” portion of Diana’s origin story, Diana’s primary relationships were not romantic ones now, they were familial. Diana found a surrogate mother in “our” world with Professor Julia Kapatelis, a teacher of Greek mythology, and a sort of younger sister in Julia’s teenage daughter Vanessa. Through the Perez years, the bond with the Kapatelis family was the most important one in Diana’s life.

But they weren’t the only ones. Wonder Woman also had a publicist, a go-getter “business woman of the ’80s” named Myndi Mayer, who was ruthless when it came to getting Wonder Woman’s name out to the public and making her a household word, but underneath it all, had her heart in the right place. She helped Diana form the Wonder Woman Foundation, an organization whose goal it was to help women, especially those in domestic violence situations. Myndi was 100% different from the altruistic Amazons Diana grew up with, but she formed a real bond with her all the same. Eventually, we were introduced to the character of Myndi’s younger gay brother Kevin, who was outcast from his family except by his sister. It was one of the first times homophobia had ever been directly addressed in a mainstream superhero comic.

So what can be used by Jenkins from these great ’80s stories? Well, Diana’s reintroduction to the DCU had her stopping Ares from manipulating a nuclear war between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., which could be the basis for the “Cold War era” adventure we’ve been hearing about. A greater emphasis on the mythology in this second film would be welcome as well, but here’s hoping it’s the bonds with other women that Diana had during this era that really get to shine through in Wonder Wonder 2. In Patty Jenkins I trust.

What do you think of the ’80s Perez era tales of Wonder Woman? And how do you think they should influence a sequel film? Let us know down below in the comments.

Images: DC Comics

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