I grew up watching the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman series in reruns and, at the age of 4, thought it was the most fabulous thing I ever saw. I hummed the theme song everywhere I went. I practiced the transformation twirl. My jump rope was a lasso and I fashioned bullet-proof bracelets out of aluminum foil. Sometimes I read Wonder Woman comics and I always watched the Super Friends.
Some of these memories are coming back to me because my son is at the same age now. He loves Superheroes. I love playing with him. I thought that by now there would be some female superheroes in addition to Wonder Woman who could hang with Batman and Superman and Spiderman. But there isn’t. The only major female superhero is still Wonder Woman. And even though my son has over 50 different superhero figures he still doesn’t have a Wonder Woman one because they don’t carry them in stores. To buy them online, a modest Wonder Woman figure costs over triple the price of a male superhero + 6.95 shipping. We have been reading some old comics instead and watching the same Super Friends shows I watched. They’re really goofy and that’s part of what makes them cool, what makes them unique, what makes Wonder Woman different from Batman and Superman and Spiderman. The other day, we were reading one from 1961 (long before I was born—I admit I went through a Wonder Woman phase about 10 years ago when I picked up some back issues).
The whole thing is so over the top crazy. It’s my son’s favorite Wonder Woman comic I’ve read him so far. Look! Wonder Woman’s world is truly multi-cultural: There’s a fire genie and a magic carpet. She’s calling on help from mother Goddess Hera. And she has a backstory about when she was Wonder Girl living on Paradise Island. For readers more attracted to cold things than hot, the issue provides a story of how Wonder Girl defeats the ice man as the backstory to how she defeats the fire genie. In the process, she saves mer-boy and all the mer-people. How? With the power of her Amazon trained finger-nails!
You’ll never see Batman saving Gotham with his fingernails. How different this silver-age Wonder Woman is from today’s George Perez Wonder Woman who is more a post-feminist version of the Super heroine. Does the whole idea of saving the world with one’s fingernails seem entirely plausible? Of course not. It’s a glorious excess of femininity that doesn’t really work. It’s camp. In Susan Sontag’s “Notes on Camp,” written three years after this Wonder Woman issue comes out, she notes that some qualities of camp include exaggeration, extravagance, artifice, and doubleness. All of these are qualities here in the above examples. Most importantly, though, is the earnestness that many Wonder Woman followers ascribe to Wonder Woman. Sontag notes that a large part of camp rests on “seriousness. A seriousness that fails.” Because Wonder Woman is the only major female super hero, there is a desire for her to be a model for woman. Few would say Superman is really a model for how men should actually conduct themselves, and yet there are countless testimonies about the importance of Wonder Woman as someone young girls should aspire to be. There is an earnestness that, really, does not work on the same level with that which it is intended. Would women’s liberation issues be improved if girls just trained their fingernails to be stronger? It’s too much. And because it’s too much it’s delightfully freeing.
When I was four and watching the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman tv series, what I was really doing was listening to the theme song, waiting for Diana Prince to transform into Wonder Woman by doing her slow motion twirl, and hoping that I would get to see her use her tiara as a weapon that would boomerang back to her. I also was waiting for any time she used her golden lasso, which, when the ropes tricks were actually being done, turned into a regular rope instead of one gilded in shiny fake gold.
Best line of course: “In your satin tights, fighting for your rights. And the old red, white, and blue.
Lynda Carter runs so beautifully! One never forgets she won Miss World USA.
Again, one never forgets she won Miss World USA.
Recent film and television attempts to bring Wonder Woman back keep failing and much of this failure seems to be centered around the inability to still have fun with the character, to play and be excessive. The goal should not be selling sex or proper role models. The goal should be love. Sontag writes “Camp taste is a kind of love, love for human nature. It relishes, rather than judges, the little triumphs and awkward intensities of “character.” . . . Camp taste identifies with what it is enjoying. People who share this sensibility are not laughing at the thing they label as “a camp,” they’re enjoying it. Camp is a tender feeling.”
Much love to all the creators of the silver-age Wonder Woman (the Lynda Carter series is a few years later, but in the same spirit) who continue to give me, and now my son, much joy.