NPR from Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Issues at WGLT's transmitter site are temporarily limiting our broadcast signal to low power. Thanks for your patience as we make repairs.

Wonder Woman: Heroic Complexity

Laura Kennedy

One of the most enduring characters in comic book history is Wonder Woman, and a new book lets us take a look behind the cuffs and tiara to gain a deeper understanding of the popular superhero,

Seventy-five years ago, the character of Wonder Woman stormed into the DC Comics universe.  The demigoddess Amazonian princess displayed a moral complexity that revealed her as not simply a warrior, but a peace ambassador, as well.  The struggle between these identities is highlighted in a chapter of the new book, Wonder Woman Psychology:  Lassoing the Truth, edited by Travis Langly and Mara Wood.  

Credit Laura Kennedy / WGLT
Emilio Lobato (back), Eric Wesselmann (l) and Scott Jordan shine a new light on Wonder Woman.

Eric Wesselmann and Scott Jordan are professors in the Psychology Department at Illinois State University, and Emilio Lobato is a graduate student in the department.  Together, they researched and authored Balancing the Warrior and the Peace Ambassador:  Self-Concepts and Moral Complexity.  The three wanted to focus on a particular moral conundrum that Wonder Woman faced in a recent story arc in order to better explain her complex nature. 

"Wonder Woman has to decide whether to kill a villain and save countless lives -- or not," explained Wesselmann.  

And she did the deed, drawing condemnation from Batman and Superman, explained Jordan. "They have very strict views against killing human beings.  Different superheroes have different moral codes about killing. She does decide to kill the villain, but she doesn't regret it. " 

"Wonder Woman is very honest about being a person of contradiction," said Lobato. "She's balancing being a peace ambassador with a warrior, for whom violence is not off the table.  It's still an option when addressing conflict." 

"Everybody has complicated aspects to the self," said Wesselmann, "we have personal characteristics, we have our social relationships and we have culture that influences the way we view ourselves. And how we make moral decisions are often times trying to balance these aspects.  In the case of Wonder Woman, she is a peace ambassador, but she's also an Amazonian warrior.  She's trained all of her live in the art of war, yet yearns for peace. So it's this constant balance of when to use aggressive means in order to achieve a peaceful outcome that she struggles with."

Of the three --- Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman -- she seems the most aware of her complexity, noted Jordan. "I would also argue that her way of dealing with her dichotomy is not unlike how military officers are trained. "

The complexity of Wonder Woman might have contributed to the character's longevity in the comic book world.  "Characters of Superman and bataman represent a degree of wish fulfillment on the part of the reader, " said Lobato. "They are these larger than life characters that can handle anything and always seem prepared for the situation. Wonder Woman, to a degree, represents that, as well.  But her creators never shied away from exploring that complexity of how to navigate life. She represents a point of view and a way of living that's atypical for the typical comic book reader. 

WGLT depends on financial support from users to bring you stories and interviews like this one. As someone who values experienced, knowledgeable, and award-winning journalists covering meaningful stories in central Illinois, please consider making a contribution.

Reporter, content producer and former All Things Considered host, Laura Kennedy is a native of the Midwest who occasionally affects an English accent just for the heck of it. Related to two U.S. presidents, Kennedy appalled her family by going into show business.