The History of Wonder Woman's Secret Comic Book Identity
Sure, everyone knows Wonder Woman — she's the superhero who, in the words of the iconic theme music from her 1970s TV show, is constantly "in [her] satin tights/fighting for your rights/and the old red white and blue" — but what about Diana Prince? Wonder Woman's secret identity remains a mystery to many, and with good reason. Unlike Clark Kent or Bruce Wayne, what Wonder Woman does when she's not fighting crime has been in flux for much of the character's 75-year history.
In many ways, Wonder Woman's secret identity is one of the least important things about the character. For one thing, she's operated for a significant stretch of her career without a civilian identity — the fan-favorite 1980s reboot of her comic book mythology by George Perez ditched it entirely, and it wasn't fully restored for 20 years — with Wonder Woman's first appearance in 1941's All-Star Comics No. 8 differentiating her from other heroes by doing away with the idea of a second identity. "She is known only as Wonder Woman," the opening caption exclaims, "but who she is, or whence she came, nobody knows!"
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That changed almost immediately; in 1942's Sensation Comics No. 1, Wonder Woman — whose real name is Diana, Princess of the Amazons — adopts the identity of Diana Prince after running into the "real" Prince outside a hospital she's trying to sneak into. "I just noticed — with these glasses off, you look a lot like me!" she tells the nurse. "I have an idea! If I gave you money, would you sell me your credentials?" Yes, Wonder Woman's secret identity is the result of a strange scam. Impressively, a scam that works; Diana not only manages to get into the hospital, but remains in the Diana Prince identity as she transferred careers to a secretary at the Office of Strategic Services, which really should have had better security screening for its employees.
This was basically the status quo for Wonder Woman for the next four decades — Diana Prince rose through the ranks of the OSS (and later, a more generic "U.S. military intelligence" structure), eventually becoming a Major herself, while also sneaking off to fight crime as Wonder Woman. The original "real" Prince returned at one point, only to reveal that she'd married her sweetheart and was calling herself Diana White now, thereby allowing Wonder Woman to keep using her unmarried name as long as she wanted. Times were simpler back then.
Things changed significantly in 1968, when the combination of changing audience tastes, falling sales and a new editorial regime led to a sweeping revamp of Wonder Woman as a comic book series and concept. Inspired by the TV show The Avengers, Wonder Woman was depowered and separated from her Amazon heritage, and given a new "mod" look in Wonder Woman No. 178, shifting away from superheroics and towards a more grounded adventure fiction that saw the series temporarily re-titled Diana Prince: Wonder Woman.
The makeover, however, didn't last; by 1972, Wonder Woman's powers were restored, and Diana Prince was reactivated as a secret identity, albeit one whose career would change depending on the writer at the time. Over the next 13 years, Prince would, at various times, be a translator at the United Nations, an agent of the U.N. Crisis Bureau, an astronaut for NASA, an Air Force officer and part of a special Pentagon task force dedicated to prevent global disasters.
Admittedly, that makes for an impressive resume, but also a somewhat confused status quo for readers to come to grips with — with each successive change, Prince became more a pair of glasses for Wonder Woman to hide behind than any kind of coherent second identity; whereas Clark Kent got to remain a journalist despite his career changes, and Bruce Wayne would remain a rich layabout, Diana Prince was eventually reduced to "wears a suit, is in the military or maybe the United Nations or the intelligence services, who knows?"
(It could be worse; Green Lantern Hal Jordan went from a test pilot to a traveling salesman in the 1970s. Times were hard.)
By 1986, a complicated career history was the least of Diana Prince's problems. Following DC's Crisis on Infinite Earths comic book series, which rewrote its core mythology, Diana Prince was abandoned completely, with Wonder Woman choosing to remain Diana, Amazon Princess (and, later, official ambassador) full-time. That lasted until the first storyline of 2006's Wonder Woman Vol. 3, which introduced "Agent Diana Prince of the Department of Metahuman Affairs" — a new alias, created with the assistance of Batman, to help Diana interact with humanity undercover while also having an excuse to get involved in superhuman trouble.
Unfortunately, Diana Prince's rebirth was relatively short-lived; as of DC's 2011 New 52 line wide reboot, her secret identity was once again jettisoned, and with good reason — in DC's current mythology, Wonder Woman isn't just a superhero, she's also the God of War and Queen of the Amazons. That kind of thing really cuts down on one's ability to hold down a day job.
Yet Diana Prince hasn't been entirely abandoned; she will appear in the upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, with screenwriter Chris Terrio saying that audiences will see Gal Gadot as Diana Prince before she shows up as Wonder Woman. "She’s a mysterious woman interested in the same things Bruce Wayne is," he told The Wall Street Journal. "The fun of it is if you don’t immediately reveal her in superhero guise. You get to revel in the moment when she finally does reveal herself."
The question now is, just which Diana Prince will show up onscreen?
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