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Saturday, April 25, 2009


The cheesy '70's glory of Wonder Woman's invisible plane, 1940's era version.

Vault reader Terence Ward writes in with the following question:

I've been out of the comic addiction for probably twenty years, although I try to keep aware of big developments. Just started watching the Justice League cartoon, and I was surprised to see Wonder Woman flying around, pretty as you please. What surprised me even more, though, was that my friends said to me, "Oh yeah, she could always fly!"

Now as a boy I watched Lynda Carter strut her stuff at my father's knee every week. I don't know if Dad enjoyed the adventures as much as I did, but he talked a lot about her "brass brassiere," whatever that was. Princess Diana performed feats of strength, ran in high heels, forced the truth out of evildoers, telepathically communicated with animals in a pinch, changed costumes when she needed to accessorize for scuba expeditions (which Dad really seemed to enjoy), and flew around in an invisible jet.

I remember the jet from the Super Friends too. Granted, it was the most dangerous vehicle ever conceived for obvious reasons, and probably should have been scrapped quicker, but it existed because Wonder Woman couldn't fly. I didn't follow DC comics as closely as a kid, but I know that if I was challenged to a game of "flight or no flight" I would have listed WW as a non-flier. Who gave her flight and when? Does she fly in comics now, or just cartoons? When was her first flying appearance? Do all Amazons fly? Did they explain her flight of fancy, or just act like she could do it all along?

And did they give up on that really sweet scuba outfit?

You're right, Terence, Wonder Woman could not fly for over four decades of her fictional existence, but there were some tweaks that kind of bent that rule along the way.

When she first showed up, Wonder Woman did indeed get around in an invisible plane and that vehicle has remained one of her trademarks, showing up most recently in the excellent Wonder Woman animated movie that was made for DVD.

The invisible plane in action, c. 1942.

As Wonder Woman moved into the 1950's, her plane took on a more sleek design, reflecting the jet technology of the period, and so it remained in the comics until the 1980's. But during that era the Amazing Amazon was also depicted as being able to "glide on air currents" without her plane, and I dunno what you think, but that sounds like flying to my way of thinking! I guess they wrote it as "gliding" to make it sound more delicate and feminine, or some such bullshit, but that comes as no surprise since that was also around the time when efforts were being made to make Diana more in line with a 1950's American sensibility about a woman's "place" in society. During those dire times, Diana became more willowy and downright "girly" than her athletically-built WWII incarnation, probably because her pro-matriarchy creator, William Moulton Marston, had died in 1947 and his take on the character pretty much gave up the ghost along with him. Thus came an Amazon Princess whose adventures had less to do with the awesomeness of "woman power" than treacly tales of her mooning over that stiff Steve Trevor or, in the Wonder Girl stories of her youth on Paradise island, falling in love with young, mythologically-tinged swains, such as the thankfully-forgotten Ronno the Mer-Boy.

A teenage Princess Diana rescues the hapless Ronno the Mer-Boy, an acceptable boyfriend for the young Wonder Woman since he didn't have a wang.

This new Wonder Woman was boringly docile when compared to her wartime template, and even her sisters back on the island were more like a bunch of fashion models on vacation rather than a society of smart and capable warriors who could fuck you up six ways to Sunday while still earnestly preaching a philosophy of love and compassion.

Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman: an indelible '70's icon and perhaps what comes to mind for most people when they think of the character.

Ignoring Denny O'Neil's de-powered, Emma Peel-esque take on the character in the late-1960's/early-1970's (not out of any dislike for it, but due to it not being relevant to this discussion), we move on to the Seventies and perhaps Wonder Woman's biggest cultural splash to date. When Lynda Carter took on the role of the Amazon princess for three years on television, it was as though everything that made the character great had walked, living and breathing, straight off the comics pages and into our living rooms. Of Irish-American, Mexican and Spanish ancestry, Carter was a stop-you-in-your-tracks stunning and statuesque beauty of universally-agreed-upon goddesslike thermonuclear magnitude who effortlessly got across the sweet kindness the character displayed up to that time, and she made an indelible mark on the kids of my generation. (In my opinion, the only women who were as letter perfect as Lynda carter in bringing comics characters to life were Julie Newmar as Catwoman and Irish McCalla as Sheena, Queen of the Jungle.)

Lynda Carter in regular gear. Sweet jumpin' Jesus in a basket of chicken...

I'd be lying my beige ass off if I said I never had "impure" thoughts about Carter's Wonder Woman, but the truth is that I and the majority of her fans really liked how nice she made the character's personality; Wonder Woman was a sweetheart, and even when she was handing out family-friendly ass-kickings she was always polite and the very definition of a "lady," which is no easy feat to pull off when you're a total bombshell in what amounts to an eagle-emblazoned bustiere, star-spangled hot pants, and fetish boots.

During Carter's three years as Wonder Woman the invisible plane was frequently seen (?), first in the endearingly cheesy WWII-ear version that looked suspiciously like a toy (shown at the top of this post), and later in a more up-to-date jet fighter model (see below), but no gliding on air currents or otherwise unassisted soaring through the skies.

If the U.S. had a squadron of these, we could have confused the shit out of the enemy and won the Viet Nam conflict in a week.

But who gave a shit about her not being able to fly when Wonder Woman was ready for just about anything with a transformation-triggering twirl of her luscious body? In addition to her standard red, white and blue togs, we got:

Biker Wonder Woman!

Skate-boardin' Wonder Woman! (Seriously, fuck Tony Hawk!)

Westsuit Wonder Woman!

And, as is quite evident from the above photos, the Westsuit and Biker looks were differentiated only by a motorcycle helmet, and my guess is that these goofy getups were designed to generate a Barbie-like wardrobe for the Wonder Woman doll line put out by Mego at the time.

Then came the 1980's and DC's continuity-wide enema, CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, a massive "event" book that sought to untangle, eliminate, and/or consolidate the eleventy-jillion versions of characters that had been populating the company's equally numerous alternate worlds (Earth-2, et cetera). As that cosmic bit of housecleaning unfolded, the versions of Wonder Woman that had come before were essentially flushed out of existence (read "continuity"), leaving room for illustrator George Perez to, rather appropriately, rebuild the character from whole clay (for those who don't know, Wonder Woman was sculpted from clay and brought to life by six members of the Greek pantheon since there was little likelihood of her coming into the world in the usual way due to Themiscyra's complete and utter lack of males). With the DC Universe now consolidated and pretty much rebooting from day one, it was time to re-introduce the Amazon princess and Perez's take on her was by far the most mythologically well-researched ever, and he retained Dina's inability to fly and her need for the invisible plane, but during the course of her Perez-guided years, she received a pair of winged sandals from the Greek god Hermes that allowed her to take to the air sans inviso-jet. At first used solely to allow her easy back and forth access between the mortal plane and the realm of myth, Diana was soon sporting the winged sandals whenever she needed to fly at all, and it was somewhere around that time when she began taking flight without her enchanted footwear. To be completely honest, I'm at a loss as to exactly when this occurred, but it's now an accepted fact as one of the character's abilities and I have no idea if flight was a late-addition gift from the Olympians. (Wikipedia says she was gifted with flight by Hermes and that may be the case, but I don't remember reading that; she was flightless — when not rocking the sandals — for at least the first twenty-some-odd issues of the rebooted series. But then again, Wikipedia is not known for ironclad accuracy.)

George Perez's Wonder Woman flies the friendly skies.

I'd say Diana's been regularly depicted as straight-up flying since at least the early-1990's, and while it looks cool, especially when animated, I think it kind of robs her of a bit of her warrior coolness. Sure, Diana was gifted by the gods with beauty, wisdom, strength and some cool accessories, but her skills as a hero were hard-earned modern applications of her culture's ancient fighting arts and strategies, while the gift of flight makes her too much like Superman in my book. Diana is an Amazon first and a superhero second; other than her great strength and superhuman physical resilience, she would be able to fit in as just one among the Themiscyran populace, albeit with a trained prodigy's above-the-norm excellence (think of Bruce Lee in comparison to most other martial artists). And to get back to directly answering Terence's questions, no, the rest of the Amazons cannot fly; barring their immortality, all of the Amazons have the same physical abilities as any normal woman, only with the benefit of about two thousand years or so of intense physical and mental training that does render them a nation of super-women (though not as super as their princess, not by a long shot).

And I'm not one-hundred percent certain, but I think the wetsuit has turned up once or twice in the comics, during Phil Jimenez's run if I'm not mistaken. Jiminez is not only hugely and obviously influenced by Perez's work, he's also an admitted freak for the Lynda carter version, so the harking back to her '70's wardrobe would be no surprise.

This replica of Wonder Woman's invisible plane can be yours...for a mere $249.95. No, seriously!!!

The Wonder Westsuit, this time with cameltoe!

And one last note regarding Lynda Carter's indispensable presence during the Seventies: I already dug La Linda as Wonder Woman, but I think what really pushed me over the edge into full-blown puberty was the image of her emerging sopping wet from that swimming pool during the 1976 BATTLE OF THE NETWORK STARS. Her lovely, smiling face and those incredible curves in that blue one-piece swimsuit, accented by a cute little white cap, were incredible enough, but when she came out of the water her swimsuit clung to her like a second skin and I'll be damned if you couldn't see an impressive display of good ol' '70's bush, somewhat compressed by the confines of the suit into something resembling the most alluring bit of steel wool I've ever seen. The fact that she wasn't actually nude was utterly beside the point because we all knew the FCC would never have allowed that — vile puppets of the Phallocracy!!! — but this was certainly the next best thing and I swear I felt like I had just witnessed Aphrodite rising newly-born from the ocean foam in that gigantic clam shell. I remember it like it was yesterday and it's a memory I will cherish until the day I die, and I thank VH1 and those horrendous I LOVE THE (FILL IN 20th CENTURY DECADE HERE) shows for resurrecting that particular piece of footage. Man, am I glad I had the presence of mind to tape that episode!


Manysounds said...

Well done! Thanks for the details.

TPW said...

You went above and beyond there - thanks! At least I know for sure that they just kinda slipped her full flight powers in when no one was looking now!

Declan Shalvey said...

Thanks for the details....

.....and the Linda Carter photos. God damn!

Stopheles said...

What about the screentest for a 1967 version that didn't even end up getting a full pilot filmed?

Much as I think Linda Carter had possibly the most beautiful face in TV history, I'm currently sort of fascinated by the Borscht-Belt henpecked Jewess version of Wonder Woman...

Bunche (pop culture ronin) said...

You do know the actress in that hideous pilot later went on to screen immortality as Nova in PLANET OF THE APES, right?

Unknown said...

I was always most intrigued by the tv series - when W W did her crazy change to superhero spin she not only got a completely new wardrobe with accessories to boot, SHE GOT A PERM!

Damian said...

Bunche, your explanation is flawless & hilarious with your expert snarkiness shining thru like Vice magazine doing a dissertation on comic hero history.

My two cents:

I think today's writers in the comics and animation gave Wonder Woman's her flight ability because she always seems to end up with his luv-Vah! And she really is the logical choice as far as relationships go--and you can't have Supes carry her around likes she's Lois or Lana or some filthy whore he picked up at the Legion of Doom's watering hole. That's just demeaning. WW has to be Superman's equal. Therefore. ta-da! Wonder Woman takes to the skies. And meets Superman in his own element.

Jim Browski said...

I always thought it a bit absurd to have an Invisible Airplane, with a completely un-invisible pilot!