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In December 1941 comic book readers were introduced to a new superhero, one who preferred to conquer opponents with kindness rather than brute force. But, when required, this hero could exert levels of strength to rival Superman’s, and came equipped with bullet-deflecting bracelets and golden lasso that forced people to tell the truth.

Wonder Woman, originally named “Suprema, The Wonder Woman,” was created by William Moulton Marston, psychologist and inventor of the lie detector test. In 1940 Marston was interviewed for an article that appeared in Family Circle magazine titled “Don’t Laugh at the Comics,” in which he detailed the educational value children could receive from reading comic books. Max Gaines, co-publisher of National Periodicals and All American Publications (now DC Comics) hired Marston as an educational consultant.

Male heroes, in particular Batman and Superman, dominated comic books during World War II. At the suggestion of his wife, Elizabeth, Marston pitched the idea of a female superhero to Gaines. He is quoted as saying “Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power... The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.”

After Gaines’ approval, Marston got to work on developing the character, and shortly after, Wonder Woman made her first appearance in All Star Comics # 8 (December 1941). The following month she featured on the cover of Sensation Comics # 1 (January 1942), and by that summer, she was given her own comic book series that is still published today.

Despite being in print almost as long as Batman and Superman, memorabilia featuring Wonder Woman’s image was scarcely produced before the 1960s. Only a handful of items was released during the 1940s, including a valentine’s card, a small metal button and a postcard. Proceeds from their sale went to fighting infantile paralysis [polio].

Original art from this period of Wonder Woman’s career is extremely collectible and often commands huge sums of money. For example, H.G. Peter’s original concept sketch with handwritten notes by the artist and William Moulton Marston was auctioned in 2002 by Heritage Auction Galleries for $33,350. The auctioneer described this item as “an incredible piece of comic history.”

Twenty years after Wonder Woman’s comic book debut, Dessart Bros released a Wonder Woman costume as part of their “Adventure Costumes” line that included Batman & Robin, the Flash, Hawkman and Green Lantern. The costume, made from flame-retardant rayon, comes boxed with a plastic mask and can be considered one of the first Wonder Woman items available in stores.

When the Batman series debuted on television in the 1960s it sparked an international superhero craze and resulted in the production of mass amounts of superhero memorabilia. Aurora Plastics Corporation produced a 37-piece plastic model kit in 1964 featuring Wonder Woman in battle with an angry octopus. An original advertisement for the kit reads “The world’s strongest woman in an exciting new kit - Only 98¢.” These days, an example in mint condition with original box and instructions sells for $600-$800 depending on quality.

Ideal Toy Company produced a number of Wonder Woman items during this period including a vinyl hand puppet (1966), an extremely rare playset (1966) and a doll (1967) measuring just over 11 inches that came with nurse’s outfit and plastic shield. The doll was released as part of Ideal’s “Comic Heroines” line alongside other female heroes including Super Girl, Batgirl and Mera - Queen of Atlantis. In 2004, a collector from New York paid over $4,000 for a boxed example complete with original shrink-wrap.

In 1969 Wonder Woman experienced a radical change when writers took away her superpowers away and replaced the famed red, white and blue costume. Three years later, after realizing fans were unimpressed by the change, the character’s powers and original costume were restored. That year Wonder Woman appeared on the first cover of Ms. magazine in full costume, with the headline “Wonder Woman For President.”

Wonder Woman’s television debut came in 1972 in an episode of the animated Brady Kids series titled “It’s All Greek To Me,” but it was her appearance in the weekly Super Friends animated series that helped introduce Wonder Woman to a wider audience. The series, which premiered in 1973, teamed Wonder Woman with fellow heroes Superman, Batman, Robin and Aquaman, and was an instant hit with children all over the world.

The following year Cathy Lee Crosby was chosen to star as the first live-action Wonder Woman. Producers yet again altered the character’s classic image, which some say resulted in the poor ratings the film received. A year later, Warner Bros, convinced they could make Wonder Woman work for the small screen, hired former Miss USA Lynda Carter to star in a number of one-hour specials.

Instead of trying to modernize the character as they did with Crosby, producers matched Wonder Woman’s costume to the original comic book design and set the series in World War II. After the success of the specials producer Douglas Cramer was given the green light to develop a weekly series.

The majority of Wonder Woman items released in the 1970s came during the television series that ran from 1976-1979, however most of these collectibles did not feature Carter on the packaging, with the exception of a series of dolls by Mego, posters, and a handful of jigsaw puzzles. After the first round of 12-inch dolls in 1976, which also included characters Steve Trevor, Hippolyte and Nubia, Carter’s image was pulled from the packaging despite the box still reading “Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman.”

Some of the harder-to-find objects from the 1970s include a 14-inch ceramic cookie jar (California Originals, 1978), Fun Putty (Durham Industries, 1977), a canister of Crazy Foam (American Aerosol Corp., 1978) and a figural pen that lights up while writing (Larami, 1978). A prototype dog leash was produced in very small numbers for retailer consideration but never went into production due to a lack of interest in the product.

The success of the Super Friends cartoon series kept the merchandise rolling into the 1980s. Kenner, as part of their “Super Powers Collection,” released a line of 4-inch action figures in 1984 that included Wonder Woman. The detail on this action figure was a major improvement on previous action figures released during the 1970s, and featured “Power Action Deflector Bracelets.” When the figure’s legs were squeezed together, Wonder Woman would raise her arms and cross bracelets. The Columbian version of this figure, released in 1987 by Gulliver, did not contain the “Power Action” feature and had fewer points of articulation. This foreign version, on its original blister card containing different artwork from the U.S. version, is extremely hard to find.

During the early to mid 1990s there was a distinct lack of merchandising featuring Wonder Woman’s image. Two limited-edition porcelain statues were produced in 1995. The first, sculpted by Joe Devito, stands 9 inches high and shows Wonder Woman bursting through a cloud. The second, sculpted by Ron Lee, measures 6 inches and features Wonder Woman, lasso in hand, standing on an onyx base.

By the start of the new millennium DC Direct had firmly secured its place in the toy market and today is the foremost producer of Wonder Woman memorabilia, specializing in action figures and statues.

Tim Bruckner has sculpted many pieces for DC Direct including a statue based on the cover of Wonder Woman #72 (second series), a mini-bust and a statue of Wonder Woman fighting a three-headed serpent. Most would agree that one of Bruckner’s most stunning sculpts is the 13-inch “Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman” statue produced in 2007.

“It was a great honor to be given the task of sculpting Lynda, but was not a great deal of fun, only because of the responsibility I felt to her and her fans,” said Bruckner. “Not only was I sculpting her likeness but also trying to capture the emotional qualities she brought to the character.”

Over her many years in print, Wonder Woman has amassed countless fans and collectors from all corners of the globe, including Pete Marston, son of Wonder Woman’s creator William Moulton Marston. He recently created a museum in the basement of his home showcasing thousands of pieces of memorabilia.

“I started the museum because I had so many artifacts, it seemed that if they were not around, my family would have no idea of what they had inherited,” Marston said. “So I decided to catalog everything, establish some values and am currently in the process of creating a Web site.”

As the oldest living contributor to Wonder Woman’s early comic book adventures, Pete fondly remembers working with his father to create story ideas. “When I was a freshman in college I used to send my dad some Wonder Woman story synopses that I had written out in detail. He responded by sending me checks for spending money, which was always appreciated.”

At age 50 William Moulton Marston lost his battle with cancer, just six years after Wonder Woman’s debut. He had published books on psychology and enjoyed the challenge of working on many different projects but probably had no idea of the impact Wonder Woman would end up making, according to Pete.

“Remember that my father passed away long before Lynda Carter’s huge contribution to the perpetuation of the Wonder Woman persona,” Pete said. “I think that she put more magic into the world of Wonder Woman than any other person on earth, with the exception her creator.”

At almost 70 years of age, Wonder Woman shows no signs of slowing down. Many projects are planned for 2009, including the first Wonder Woman animated feature-length movie direct to DVD, voiced by Felicity’s Keri Russell; a new encyclopedia written by renowned artist Phil Jimenez, and an array of new action figures and statues from DC Direct.

In 2008 Australian supermodel Megan Gale was cast as Wonder Woman in George Miller’s live-action Justice League of America film scheduled for release in 2009. The project has been temporarily shelved for reasons unknown, but when it finally hits movie theatres, collectors can be assured of an avalanche of toys and products that feature the image of the world’s most famous superheroine.

Written by Kyall Coulton for Toy Collector Magazine

 
       
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