Wonder Woman is a character I've fiddled with (mind out of the gutter) before on MetaFilter. The difference between that reboot and this one is that in former it was a reboot of just one character. Now, it's an entire universe.
I'm going to get one thing out of the way to start: it's hard for a guy to write about Wonder Woman. Heck, it's been hard for me to even read about Wonder Woman. I tend to read most of my comics in trade form, usually at a bar or coffee shop. I won't go out in public reading something whose cover is 95% cleavage. Power Girl exists only as a concept to me. But I say it's hard for a guy to write about Wonder Woman because of the way too easy and not all that realistic (or interesting) crutch of Themysciran Women Are All Man Haters. Look at Amazons Attack or whatever the hell is going on in pro-castration Flashpoint to see what I mean.
I don't like it not just because it's so damn predictable, but because it paints females literally as some other race, full of Secrets No Man Was Meant To Know. Blerf. Amazons are people too, actual characters with individual opinions, not some generic We Hate Wieners party line.
But coming from an island full of warrior women is a big part of Diana's background, so we better start there. Themyscira is a mystical island somewhere in the world. Its exact location moves, but originally it was off the shores of Greece. The island itself is populated by women. The reason for both these things are as follows.
So back in Ye Olden Timeopolis, Themyscira was the scene of a horrible tragedy. The island had always been a bountiful one and pretty happy. So of course, its jerk neighbors started to invade. And invade. And invade again. Sometimes invasions would overlap with invaders fighting invaders. The locals saw their island wrecked by this time and time again. So a pretty strong military movement began. Everyone, man and woman, was to be trained in the arts of war in order to defend their home. After a few stunning victories over the invaders, the bad guys started to get wise. Raids decreased and Themyscira started to relax. But what was really happening was the bad guys were getting organized, rallying around a Xerxes-like figure. The resulting invasion was unlike the ancient world had ever seen. The island put up a good fight, but eventually fell, its military wiped out and its citizens doomed for the chopping block.
With only a few dozen citizens, women all, remaining, the survivors prayed to Hera for the strength to save their people and their land. And they got it. Their god granted them strength and speed, each became the epoch of human ability. To use a Marvel reference, imagine a few dozen Captains America. The women escaped and began a guerrilla campaign against the occupiers. Furies who would strike in the night. But even once they freed their land, they knew they could not rest. So many tribes and kingdoms had participated in the invasion that surely in time one of them would seek to reclaim their prize. There were so many and they were so few, it would take lifetimes to wipe away the memory of Themyscira.
So they prayed again and received Hera's Second Gift: The women of Themyscira would each live lifetimes. The Furies sent out teams of women from the island, each tasked with erasing all memory of their home from the rest of mankind, with seeking vengeance against those that had assisted in the murder of their people, and to ensure that someday, they could live in peace again.
So the women went out and were successful. It was like some ancient world version of The Ring: learn about Themyscira and whoops, Fury at your door. It took years, but in time they did it, the existence of Themyscira reduced to a myth. Their job done, they came home, bringing with them people from all nations whom they had encountered on their journeys to help repopulate the island. Well, some did. Two factions started to develop: women who brought back those who through no fault of their own learned about the island and those who would just kill them.
Soon it was discovered that females born of these unions would also inherit Hera's Gifts. The men wouldn't. So while they would age normally, their sisters and mothers wouldn't. An Amazon can live hundreds of years, their age slowing down to a crawl once they hit their early 20s.
This lead to a bit of conflict on the island. Obviously, as the ones who were having children, the Eumenídes' numbers started to swell. The hard line Erinnýes on the other hand had no kids because they killed rather than bring back those that found out about the island. So they began to leave the island to conduct mating raids of their own (you can imagine what happened to the dad once the deed was done) in order to come back and increase their own numbers.
So a birthing arms race began, numbers growing and growing, as 50% of the babies didn't pass away of old age in 70 years. Conflict was inevitable, and civil war broke out. It was a horrible affair, women killing women, with the Erinnýes also attacking sons and husbands. After the bodycount stacked up too high, a truce was called. The leaders of both factions prayed to Hera for some way to protect their homes from the outside world.
And so Hera's Third Gift was given. The island would fade into the mists, safe for hundreds of years. And so it did. The surviving Themysciran formed a new government, a sort of constitutional monarchy lead by a queen. The queen would be one of the surviving original women. Sort of an Authority By Paradise and only these women would actually remember what things were like in the Good Old Days.
Things started off well, but in time the island's isolation meant that the menfolk would all die off, just bred out of existence. Luckily, the island would decloak off of some shoreline and the women could go out, meet some fellas, and ensure the survival of their race all before the island returned to the mists for another three to five hundred years.
But over time, this began to cause conflict as well. With half the population not dying off, the island began to struggle to support itself. Some called for a ban on leaving the island next time it appeared, but others demanded the right to have children or fall in love or even just travel that everyone had always enjoyed whenever the island appeared. (This is Ye Olde Myth Times, so don't worry about how long this goes on.) Eventually a compromise is set. There is a strict limit on the population of the island, so only so many women would be allowed to leave the island. This process would be done by lottery with the number of women allowed to go based on current population levels. The island stays uncloaked for a generation or so, so it's not like a Mad Mad World race to get off the island/
So people got some kids, the island floated around history, and zoom zoom zoom. The Amazons still aged, of course, and death could occur by accident or crime, so eventually the originals began to pass away. The last of the originals is the current queen, Hippolyta.
The island fades back into the world sometime during the Middle Ages. The traditional lottery was held, the lucky women head out (let's say to Camelot, why not?) have adventures, meet some new folks, and bring back a few new faces. Hippolyta didn't get the red bead in the lottery, so people are starting to wonder what the hell are they going to do without their queen, without their direct link to the past? Some are starting question why they even need to come back to the island in the first place. Still, maybe Hippolyta will meet someone brought back to their island or one of their grandkids and we'll have an heir, right?
Nope. She doesn't meet anyone that makes the grade. Obviously, given the origins of Themyscira the Queen just going out and assaulting some dude is pretty frowned upon. Word that the Queen of the Amazons is looking for someone better than human, the gods and half-gods (and even the guy who organized the initial conquest of the island in the first place) start to position themselves as possible fathers to future heirs. It's starting to become a big political to-do.
Worried about the strife and potential conflict if she does not produce an heir, Hippolyta prays to Hera again and asks for one last gift. Some way for her to have a daughter who can be her heir, who has the memory and ethos of the island's original inhabitants, and who can lead them into the future. And also, Hera, please, let her have a child to love.
So Hera bestows her Final Gift and guides Hippolyta in the creation of her daughter from love and clay, sand and tears.
A girl named Diana.
Wow. That's pretty long and we just got to the birth of Wonder Woman. Should I have explained about the time of dinosaurs who would eventually all die and turn into oil? Probably not. One of the neat things about Wonder Woman is that because she isn't widely known in popular culture outside of the Linda Carter TV show, there isn't as much set in stone. After the by the numbers versions of Supes and Bats, I couldn't help myself. So how does all this backstory fit in with an attempt to keep the continuity light? Read more in the next entry!