Wonder Woman, the comic strip heroine, comes from a long line of ancient mythological mothers and goddesses. When creator William Moulton Marston, aka Charles Moulton created her in 1941, he combined these ancient stories with his own ideas and gave her a biography.

Her immaculate birth occurred when her mother, Hippolyte, fashioned a clay statue and the earth mother Gaea enlivened it with a soul. Hippolyte named her Princess Diana and endowed her with gifts from the goddesses of Olympus. The Amazon nation, a race whose goal was the lead humanity in the ways of virtue, helped her mature. Diana possessed super-strength and powers, including phenomenal sensory abilities and immunity to diseases and poisons. She had incredible courage, leadership ability, and combat and rhetorical skills. In addition, she used magical weapons, such as the Golden Lasso of Truth, which forced anyone under its power to speak the truth. When the opportunity came to send an Amazon champion as an ambassador to the Man's World, Diana volunteered. She took the identity of Diana Prince, a demure army nurse, as her alias and began her career as Wonder Woman.

Throughout her adventures as Wonder Woman, Diana vanquished a variety of foes, joined the Justice Society of America, lost and regained her superpowers, and morphed from an Amazon to a married mortal to a virginal goddess along the way. Since 1941, she remains the image of--femininity.


When Moulton - the chap Bishop Spong would like to canonize - first conceived his female superhero, he reasoned: "It seemed to me, from a psychological angle, that the comics' worst offense was their blood-curdling masculinity. A male hero, at best, lacks the qualities of maternal love and tenderness which are as essential to the child as the breath of life." So, he created a superwoman, with a mission to an evil "man's world": to fight for virtue and justice. Not so different from the mission accepted by the Virgin Mary.

Hymns to the Virgin Mary in the Eastern Church claim she "possesses invincible might" and "sets us free from every calamity." Her weapon to repel evil is her integrity, reflected in her bodily virginity. In the ancient world, virginity represented not an absence of experience, but ripeness, a singleness of purpose, ready to be given to one man or to one cause. Women did not fragment their hearts and bodies and split their loyalties. Virginity offered led to fruit and fecundity, whether in marriage or another endeavor.

Offering her virginity to bear the God-man hardly was a passive, joyless exercise for Mary - even if one believes the event to be mythical rather than historical. Opening the door to salvation, despite personal risk and dishonor, despite the ire of a fiancé who had the power to stone her, seems incredibly brave. Letting a child walk the path marked out for him and watching him die as a criminal, while standing at the Cross, sounds courageous. Uttering a resounding "Let it be" so that the Creator might enter the world indicates power. Surrendering one's soul and body, one's will, so that the divine nature that lived in Jesus Christ might live in all human beings, sounds, well, heroic. Wonder Woman fought political battles, but the Mother of God fought in the battleground of the human heart. She serves as an example not just to women, but to all human beings.

Church tradition speaks to her boundless energy and activity, especially in evangelical work. The Menologian of St. Dimitri of Rostov (1651-1709) recounts her casting lots with the twelve apostles in order to choose a mission field: "And I want to take part in the preaching of the gospel and wish to cast my lot with you in order to receive the land which God will show." She ended up on the island of Mount Athos, where she persuaded the pagans who worshipped Apollo to accept Jesus Christ as Savior. This same work states that she "...worked many miracles there" and that "The gifts of the Holy Spirit were poured out on the most blessed Virgin in greater abundance than the holy Apostles..." It rivals "Sensation Comics" in describing her powers.

Spong's poke at her powerless intercession hardly would play well among Byzantine or Russian Christians, who celebrate feasts of her protection under actual military siege. According to several traditions, the Virgin used her veil to encompass entire cities during wartime. In her motherly kindness, she covered and comforted her afflicted children and repelled enemies. This image speaks more truthfully to women than Wonder Woman's lasinar morphing disks and flying sandals - which real women never will obtain. But women may learn the power of love and protection in the midst of crises and despair. They may learn to honor motherhood, an unexciting vocation to women, until some of them despair in the latter decades of life trying to bear a child.

Interestingly, Wonder Woman had some struggles along that line. In the September No. 9 1942 issue of "Sensation Comics," she had an exchange with Diana Prince, her alias. Miss Prince recently had married, and the two agreed that henceforth Wonder Woman would assume the name and identity of Diana Prince, while the newly married Diana would take her husband's name, "Diana White." Cartoonist Moulton filled in the balloon space from Wonder Woman's mouth with: "I'm glad to get my position back. But I envy you yours, as wife and mother."

Wonder Woman and the Virgin Mary don't have to be rivals. The legends and traditions surrounding both of them speak to a feminine battle against treachery and evil.

As a believer, of course, I prefer a relationship with the Virgin Mary, whom I consider my own Mother in Christ and an historical figure. Plus, she doesn't advocate the Wonder Woman hot pants outfit - which fits only imaginary women.

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