Title: Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine
Author: Tim Hanley
Star Rating: * * * *
Genre: Pop culture analysis, Superhero
Thanks to NetGalley and Chicago Review Press who provided me with a free copy of this book in return for a fair review.
Background and Synopsis
Wonder Woman is a very hot topic at the moment due to the immense popularity of superhero movies, and the unfortunate absence of female leads in any of these films. For Marvel, the conversation has been focused on Black Widow, a character that has at least gotten screen time. For DC, the heroine at the heart of these discussions is Wonder Woman, one of their “holy trinity” of main properties. However, despite the fact that she is supposedly one of the central DC characters, Wonder Woman is often ignored in terms of merchandise and non-comic appearance opportunities. This has led to a situation where most people could probably talk about the histories of Batman and Superman, but are largely ignorant of Wonder Woman’s origins and basic story premises.
Hanley published Wonder Woman Unbound to try and clear up some of the confusion regarding this iconic character. He painstakingly details her history, from the golden age to today, talking about how her stories have been affected by different authors and varying time periods. To those who think Wonder Woman is too confusing a character, Hanley proves them wrong by presenting Wonder Woman as a hero who has undergone extensive changes like all the other major superheroes of DC and Marvel, but she has multiple histories and origins that can be drawn upon to make a cohesive, interesting, and empowering whole.
If you are interested in an in-depth exploration of Wonder Woman’s history, buy and read this book. If you are interested in a well thought-out commentary on the status of women in comics in the 20th century, buy and read this book. If you are interested in intelligent and insightful pop culture analysis with an academic slant, buy and read this book. In sum, Wonder Woman Unbound is a great read, and I highly encourage those who have even a bit of an interest in the topic to pick it up!
Wonder Woman Unbound started its life as an academic paper, and you can see this origin in the construction and evidentiary support framework for the book. Make no mistake, this is not a dry, theoretical read, but a piece that has been carefully considered and supported much more than your average pop culture analysis. Hanley has managed to write an interesting and accessible book for the general public without losing his intellectual rigour. This is a very difficult feat, and for that I commend him.
I also appreciated the fact that Hanley doesn’t just talk about Wonder Woman. In order to understand her history and development, he explores the histories of other women from comics. Not only did this help contextualise Wonder Woman’s development, but it also allowed Hanley to talk more generally about the representation of women in comics. I felt that this broader focus added quite a bit to the narrative of Wonder Woman and helped make comprehensible the fact that she is often upheld as the most important or most feminist of female superheroes.
I had two critiques of Wonder Woman Unbound. The first that Hanley treated certain branches of feminism rather flippantly. Not to say that I particularly loved some of the feminisms that came up in the book, but I do think that being outwardly dismissive of a theoretical approach that you don’t like makes for weaker writing. Hanley obviously cares about gender-related issues, so this was definitely not an example of anti-feminism at work, but simply a failure in tone (at least to me, someone who is admittedly rather sensitive to tone in this area. Your mileage may vary, so to speak).
The other issue I had with this book is a bit more substantive. Hanley spends a significant amount of time talking about Wonder Woman in the gold and silver ages, but glosses over much of the modern age. While the modern age has been an extremely messy and often problematic time period in Wonder Woman’s canon, really interesting stories and character development have occurred during this time as well. In particular, I would have appreciated more of an extended discussion of Rucka’s volumes which are considered some of the best in the history of the comic. Additionally, Hanley said little about the current iteration of Wonder Woman, and I was genuinely curious to see his responses to the significant changes to Wonder Woman’s history and personality. He touched briefly on the most recent Superman/Wonder Woman book, but I would have loved to read a longer critique.
Wonder Woman Unbound is a fantastic book for those interested in this particular pop culture icon, as well as the representation of women in comic books. I will definitely be purchasing my own permanent copy of this book after its release, and I look forward to rereading parts of it as I make my way through the Wonder Woman canon.