In A Golden Thread: An Unofficial Critical History of Wonder Woman Phil Sandifer tackles the difficult task of recounting the twinned histories of feminism and Wonder Woman, the superhero most often tasked with enacting feminisms goals. Those familiar with his website essays will be prepared for the scrupulous care with which he examines both Wonder Woman and her cultural surroundings. The Golden Thread begins with Charles Moulton, Wonder Woman’s creator, and finishes with Brian Azzarello’s run from 2011-2013.
Sandifer’s position is “there is no such thing as an ideal feminism, and all feminist progress is necessarily messy, morally compromised and problematic,” (64), just as any human endeavor is. Wonder Woman, then, never quite fulfils any idea. Ideally she engages with the real world in solid, recognizable ways. Thus, Sandifer praises the I-Ching era (1968-1727) for removing her powers because it “refocused her on the concerns of real women, a strong turn from the endless treadmill of absurd action stories,” (106) allowing her to engage in real-world concerns in a way readers could recognize and potentially emulate. Here, Sandifer argues that feminists–most especially Gloria Steinem–misunderstood the thrust of the era and brought a premature end to a promising era in which the Amazon’s engagement with the real world was at its strongest. Sandifer, then, examines Wonder Woman’s development as she—messily—enacts varying forms of feminism, looking back to Marston Moulton’s initial ideal of a utopia where men submitted to strong, loving women and onward as differing writers attempted to grapple with a complex figure who never quite left her utopian roots behind.
Overall, it is an optimistic book as Sandifer sees Wonder Woman as consistently pushing at the boundaries, exploring possibilities, even with the most conservative of writers. By the end, Azzarello may not be producing the perfect books, but, as he says repeatedly “progress is making new mistakes” and “The Azzarello run is making them” (244).
A Golden Thread is a deeply thoughtful book, carefully reasoned and written by someone who both knows and loves his subject. Whether all readers will agree with all portions is unlikely, but it stands as a strong entry in the history of comics and as a valuable part of an ongoing conversation we need to have about this most difficult (or “tricky”) of heroines, her sisters, and the society they represent for us.
A Golden Thread is available now. Look for it on Amazon.