Out of the Kiln, Into the Fire: How Important is Wonder Woman’s Origin?

Leading up to the publication of last month’s Wonder Woman #2, DC Comics heralded a fundamental change to Diana of Themyscira and her mythic origins. Amidst an horrific attack on Paradise Island by the goddess Strife, Diana learns that the tale of her birth, as she and her readers have understood it for decades, is actually a lie. She was originally introduced as an Amazonian born of a clay, an earthenware figure imbued with life’s breath and blessed with a demigod’s talents by the likes of Artemis, Demeter, and Hermes. Author Brian Azzarello now alters that origin, revealing Diana’s mother Hippolyta had fabricated this story to protect her daughter from a much more volatile truth. Diana is in fact the product of Hippolyta’s rigorous hate sex with the god Zeus (as detailed in this week’s Wonder Woman #3). On the narrative front, this news is dangerous because it positions Wonder Woman as a target for the notoriously vengeful Hera, Zeus’ long-suffering wife. But fan reaction may prove even more hairy.

By the looks of my Twitter-feed last night, the removal of Diana’s origin in clay registers as a clump of mud in the eye for a subset of the character’s diehards.

From Wonder Woman #3 by Brain Azzarello and Cliff Chiang

The story continues to progress and there may well be more complications to this renovation. It doesn’t seem like the kind of addition or retcon tailor-made for an easy reversal, but then again we are talking about comics. But let’s continue under the assumption that this isn’t some kind of mislead. Let’s concede that this new information is the truth of the story, that Diana never was a lump of clay dredged from the shores of Paradise, that her soul wasn’t ushered from the Cavern of Souls to inhabit a totem Pinocchio-style. If goddesses have a womb, that’s now where she gestated. And she isn’t simply a mystical gift delivered unto Hippolyta in her sleep, but also the spawn of the god king.

What does that mean, and can it be construed as a slight on either Wonder Woman, her ensemble or her readership?

Is it an insult to her importance in the hierarchy of DC heroes?

Is it reasonable to edit something as fundamental as an origin story for this character when it hasn’t been done for other icons like Superman or Batman? Is it even true that the narrative armature for those last two hasn’t been tweaked to this same extent?

Does Wonder Woman lose anything as a feminist icon through the knowledge that she was fathered and is not the direct spawn of Gaea? Alternatively, does being fatherless augment her purity as a force for feminine power?

Is there anything else inherent in this editorial or authorial decision that rings as unfair or petty? Or does it add worthwhile dimension? Is it too soon to tell?

I don’t know if I can answer any of these questions. But let’s talk about it.


  1. My two cents?

    I like it, and I don’t think it hurts her character.

    First, I have many years of WW comics in which she was born of clay, and those stories still exist.

    But beyond that, does the change fundamentally alter the core of the character? I say no. WW isn’t WW because she was made of clay. She’s WW because she was raised on an island of women outside of man’s world, and now she comes to man’s world with a unique set of values and skills and a mission. The fact that she was made by Hippolyta from clay is — to me — really irrelevant to all of this.

    What’s more, does the change lead to a good story? So far, I think it does. The clay story becomes a story told to keep her safe. I like that. And really… Diana’s story is often steeped in greek mythology — this just makes it more direct while actually giving her some emotional stakes and a fairly meaty story arc that could lead to a lot more interesting future tales using various aspects of her new extended family.

    So, yeah, for me personally? There’s no downside. The only downside would just be a bad story, and that will simply be forgotten or retconned out of existence in a few years. 😉

    • Haven’t read #3 yet, but I am in agreement here with daccampo. This is merely a matter of layering and richness.

      Consider “Batman: Year One”. No major reveals or retcons, but certainly extra details that I think long-time fans might not have been happy with. And on the Superman front, there was Byrne’s “Man of Steel” mini that re-introduced Superman, which was *far* more disruptive to the whole Kryptonian mythos than anything before or since (so far, anyways!) (Personally I loved that cold dystopian Krypton. )

      And yet the essence of the characters were untouched.

    • @Deccampo and @Anville: Great points.

    • Agreed. And honestly I don’t think I’ve heard that many people complain about the change.

    • I agree — it even makes more “sense,” whatever that means in a comic book universe. It reads as more classical and appropriate for a figure with this importance.

    • It’s definitely for the better, in my opinion. It keeps her tied to Greek Myth (more so, even), but sets up a natural arch villain in Hera. It connects her directly to the dysfunction of the Greek Gods–it instantly makes her world more textured and interesting. Brilliant stroke of ret-conning.

  2. Wasn’t her original reason for leaving Paradise Island because she fell in love with the first man to come along? Wouldn’t that count as a bigger blow to her “feminist cred”?

    I don’t mind the change. Don’t recall if the Greek Pantheon has been a major part of the DCU before, but Azzarello has talked about plans to make them a major force in Wonder Woman’s series, and possibly the larger DCU as well. He’s piqued my interest.

  3. No, I don’t think it drastically alters Diana’s character.

    She may believe it does and that’s where a good story comes in. It creates conflict within the character, something I think Wonder Woman’s been lacking. But she’s still dealing with it as Wonder Woman, as Diana. The story is coming from the revelation. I like it.

  4. They did a similar thing in JL: Unlimited the animated series where Wonder Woman’s father was suggested to be Ares. I actually thought that was pretty cool

    A lot of people are complaining because they think this is a ret-con when really it’s a different wonder woman from a different universe.

    • In fairness, it’s now the primary Wonder Woman. And if she exists elsewhere it’s in the background of things like Young Justice of other properties.

  5. Love the new Wonder Woman. I get some Neil Gaiman Sandman vibes occasionally while reading it.

    Hey, remember when Neil Gaiman wrote comics? or….anything for those about the age 12?

  6. I don’t think it matters at all, but only because I could barely bring myself to like her before this change. I always thought the clay thing was dumb anyway.

  7. I have no issue with Diana no longer being born of clay. If anything, being a half-deity better explains why she is different from the other Amazons and clearly explains where her powers come from. I think this origin story is much clearer and sets up a lot of potential sibling rivalries. The deception aspect also sets up trust issues between Diana and her mother.

    I also think that, from a storytelling perspective, WW / Diana should not be as powerful as the gods. In the past WW, could just about beat up anybody, which frankly is a little boring. Being half-god should mean that WW cannot stand toe-to-toe with the gods. They should strike fear in her heart because of their awesome power, of which she only has a fraction. There needs to be the possibility that she might lose for there to be any drama.

  8. Don’t care about the retcon. All I know is that WW #3 was the best comic starring the Amazon Princess that I’ve ever read, and I can’t wait for more.

  9. Something that always bugged me about Wonder Woman was how she’s never really experienced any of the bullshit that real women have to put up with. It seems strange that someone who’s hailed as a feminist icon has never actually had to struggle with any of the drawbacks of being a female.

    I haven’t read any of this yet, but it sounds like this is a step in the right direction to me.

    • Drawbacks like an absent dad or…?

    • I just meant drawbacks like all the usual stuff that women have had to historically put up with in this man’s world – less pay, less respect, fewer rights, sexual assault, etc., etc.

    • This would be something akin to…what, divorce, maybe? Abusive parent? Do we know the relationship between Zeus and Hippolyta now? At the very least it should make for some awkward family holiday get-togethers.

  10. I think as long as they can resist twisting her origin like they did to her (maybe) kid sister Donna Troy then it will work out fine.

  11. If Morrison revealed that Zod, not Jor-El, was Superman’s true biological father…would that be a problem? Is it as significant a change?

    • Definitely more significant. Superman’s origin is iconic. Poll 100 random people on the street and I’m confident at least 90 know at least some of the details. Most people don’t know Wonder Woman’s origin, which gives DC freedom to make changes.

    • In character terms, I think that would be pretty significant. Superman has a noble, science-based heritage. Changing his parentage to that of a soldier – criminal, even – would be a pretty drastic change, IMO.

    • Would it simply be “Zod is Superman’s father”? Or Lara cheating on Jor-El?

    • I would love to read that story, though! And while many fans would hate it, it would be a chance to re-affirm one of the great themes of the Superman mythos: Nature vs. Nurture, i.e. Krypton/Jor-El vs Earth/Pa Kent.

      I guess there are few different issues:
      1) What makes sense for a good story,
      2) What’s good for the greater “mythos” or continuity
      3) What is good for sales
      4) What the core fan reaction will be.

      I think in both the hypothetical Superman/Zod story and the Wonder Woman, the first three are satisfied. Honestly, I don’t care about the 4th. 🙂

    • i dont think its just the parentage thats the issue, its moreabout how she came to be. a change in biological father means little, as jor-el is not as relevant to the mythos as the “rocketed as a child from the exploding planet krypton” part. Jor-el isnt even mentioned in stories until the newspaper strip. if morrison revealed that superman is in fact a human being altered or mutated and the rocket is a scientist hoax and a lie, that would be a significant change, since it loses the immigrant elements, the moses parallels, the alienation and stranger in a strange land elements etc. Technically in the byrne reboot, jor-el isnt really a father as much as a genetic donor. he never actually sees or touches kal-el and i believe he barely knew lara, their dna was selected for intermingling as they were genetically compatible. no sex, no love, no family.

    • This change in Wonder Woman was about as significant to her origin as Byrne’s change in the 80s, where it was decided that Clark Kent was born on Earth the moment the Kents pulled him out of his matrix, rather than having him born on Krypton and rocketed to Earth as an infant.

      Interestingly enough, Azzarello has found a way to humanize Diana by essentially changing her from a golem to a demigod. It also puts her character more squarely in the camp of being an analog to Hercules.

  12. I don’t think its a big deal at all. Unlike other characters like Batman, Superman and even Green Lantern who’s origins have been engrained into pop culture, The specifics of Wonder Woman’s origin usually just boil down to “Amazonian Princess”. I honestly don’t even think a lot of people will even know there was a change. I wouldn’t have known if not for this article.

    Plus, the character has struggled to stay relevant, so if any character in the DCU really needed a complete overhaul its Wonder Woman.

  13. The only connection that I had to Wonder Woman’s clay origin was the Brian K Vaughan and Scott Kollins 2 issue Wonder Woman story, where that was an important factor. Otherwise, this story aspect never really meant much to me, so I really don’t mind if they change it.

  14. I’m no huge Wonder Woman fan, or have much history with the character. So I can’t speak for the long-term fans. But I always thought the whole made of clay thing was silly. I think it’s a good change.

  15. Of late I have become an anti-origin guy. I came to this realization when watching Batman: Year One last night. I thought, wow I am tired if having Batman’s parents die in every possible retelling of his story. Just tell me the relevant story and skip the details that 99.9% of readers or viewers already know. Origins are overrated, though not entirely unnecessary. Wolverine rose to prominence as one of the 4 or 5 best known characters in comics while having no meaningful origin for nearly 20 years. Origins are fine… for background… not for the main story.

  16. I don’t care, nor do I know the character that well… But doesn’t this change just make her a female Hercules? Barring personalities that is. Is the demigod thing special enough for Wonder Woman? Demigods are all over comics. The clay thing sounds a bit more unique and gives her purpose. Not that the lie she is told about her origin gives her any less purpose. Just kinda thinking while I’m typing.

    • Hmmm. Is Hippolyta straight-up mortal? Or is she a demigod? In mythology she’s the daughter of Ares, but I don’t think that’s the case here.

    • Demigods are all over comics, sure, but they’re also all over mythology. Doesn’t make all the characters Hercules. I mean, you could also say that there are aliens all over the DCU — but that doesn’t make ’em all Superman, right?

      So for me, it’s what I said above — what makes her different from Hercules isn’t the actual fact that she’s made from clay. Being raised by Hippolyta on Paradise Island gives her a unique POV and her purpose arises from that. I think that’s what makes her different.

      Now THAT said, thinking more on the clay thing… I guess maybe what might miff some people is the fact that Diana was essentially a gift from the gods (mostly female gods, at least in the Perez version) after the hardships she endured at the hands of men. So it establishes a very different relationship with the gods than a direct “genetic” (not even sure if genetics applies to gods) connection based on a physical relationship between Hippolyta and Zeus. I don’t think that one is better or worse than the other, but it does set a slightly different tone to each version of the character.

    • I was thinking of Hercules too, but in this case the first thing to come to mind is she is Hercules’ half-sister now, which I really do like because Hercules has such a prominent role in the Wonder Woman universe.

  17. We are talking about wonder woman. When is the last time that’s happened? Simply by making this post, you have shown that it was the right decision to revise her origin.

  18. I like that they didn’t just erase her origin, they revealed that the believed origin was false. This is classic in many stories… Everything you knew was a lie! It is great that we find out at the same time as Diana. We can watch her as she goes through the process to find out who she is. Perhaps the change has shaken you up, but it has shaken her up even more.

    Regarding the feminist thing; I’ve met a lot of feminists and I like a lot of feminists. Every single one of them has at lease a biological father and many of them love their father very much. I don’t know that the goal of all feminists is to rid the world of males or to aspire to form their own children out of clay. Was the reason you loved Wonder Woman only because she didn’t have a father?

    The female characters in this book are diverse and conflicted and amazing. I’m a guy and I’m picking up WW, Batwoman, Batgirl, Birds of Prey, Catwoman and borrowing Supergirl and each has different things to offer. I know that DC has caught some flack, but how many books does Marvel have that feature a female solo or an all female team cast. Not many.

  19. Seems most everyone’s pretty positive on the change.

  20. I didn’t know or had forgotten the made-of-clay thing. To my mind that makes her origin less “iconic.” Somehow, when describing Batman or Supes, I feel like you start with how they got there. To some extent, especially with Batman, his origin informs his character. When describing Wonder Woman, somehow it’s more about who she is. With any of the three, it’s their nurture, not their nature, that gives them their character. Would Batman’s origin story be trashed if we learned he was adopted? I don’t think so. It has zero impact on the events that shaped his life. Likewise with Wonder Woman, at some point there was a super-powered wonder baby being raised amongst the Amazons. That’s where her character starts to take shape, and that’s where “real” origin starts. The only downside is that it becomes increasingly less likely that a family reunion will be crashed by Clayface.

  21. I can understand feminists being upset. This was a character whose origin didn’t involve any men. She was purely a female character. In a way, yes, it matters. But in the long run, Azzarello is telling a great story and if he needs to change the origin in order to tell that story. I’m ok with it. Wonder Woman is being read by more people now than she’s ever had.

    • I don’t think there’s any reason for feminists to be upset about this, why would Diana being born without any men involved make her a more powerful female character???

      I’m pretty sure all great feminist icons had fathers

    • @SteenAR If you don’t mind me saying, your comment sounds like a very male perspective on feminism.

      The days of man hating feminists who might wish for such a story are long gone. Feminists these days seem much more interested in true equality rather than aspiring to some kind of separatist ethos.

      Her clay origin, although not an intentionally feminist story as far as I know, smacks of the kind of origin a man would come up with to appear feminist. Feminism is only relevant in a world where men play an active part in women’s lives. By giving Diana a father, particularly such a bad one as Zeus, Azarello makes her more of a feminist character, not less. More importantly it makes her more real and relatable (feminist or not), which has been her biggest downfall for years.

    • “I can understand feminists being upset.”

      Of course you can, its a day that ends in the letter Y & thats always been enough for feminists to be angry in the past. But the fact is, it doesn’t matter how many feminists are angry, because they weren’t purchasing this book to start with. This change to Wonder woman is for the better, maybe now we’ll have an internally consistent Wonder Woman.

      As for har13quin’s statement that giving Diana a father, particularly such a bad one as Zeus, Azarello makes her more of a feminist character, not less, is of course nonsense. Wonder Woman is not a feminist character, she’s just a character… Gynostar; thats a feminist character, but Wonder Woman is most assuredly not.

  22. this is a significant change to the characters meaning. From a big mythic perspective she was born of clay, much like adam. eve and all the women of the world were born from man. this has long been used as a rationale for the inferiority of women, they are almost a subset of man. As a creation of the earth she is symbolically equal to adam and therefore all men. She was also created by a woman with no male contribution and imbued with life and power by the cooperation of the gods. The non sexual birth has long been a symbol of purity, of being above the baser desires. Now she is just another of zeus’ illegitimate children. It destroys her uniqueness and her “purity” as a symbol of female power. from being a literal expression of the female creative cooperateive spirit, to a result of male sexual appetite and infidelity. quite a change.

    but this story goes to show how in the end, as far as the comics go, the story being told is far more important than the symbolic aspects of the origin story. This is one of the best of the new 52 in my opinion, and this change rather than being a retcon in the past, its a key story point in the present. the direction seems to be a deliberate move away from her her being a mythic feminist symbol and being more of a real believeable person. i think wonder woman has always been stronger when she is treated as a superhero in dramatic heroic situations (the way male characters are treated) rather than having to bear the weight of being a symbol for half the population.

    this is a big change, and a welcome for for me at least, but i certainly understand how it would bother people who really like wonder woman as a symbol first and formost.

    • Good analysis, however I would question whether any of the symbolism is relevant anymore? I personally never made the connection between Diana and Adam until you mentioned it. The mixture of Greek Myth and Biblical symbolism creates a very messy origin with very mixed messages. The purity of the Christian symbolism with the dark and explicit greek mythos is very contradictory, which thinking about it, is probably part of the reason WW never worked for me before.

      Much better to sink Diana right into the Greek myth that informs most of her world and create a real character with discernable motives and dramatic potential. Diana can also be a much more effective feminist icon as a real person acting in the world, earning her feminist credentials through action rather than heritage. Obviously we are in agreement in principle, the change is a good one. I just think anyone hanging on to the old origin needs to examine why and whether WW ever really benefitted from it.

  23. I don’t see the big deal to be honest. Change overall in a character is fine so long as it makes sense and serves the purpose of the stories being told. I for one like this direction and seems like everybody else her does too. If anything, it sets her up with new motivations and struggles that make you want to read more of her journey.

  24. Her origin feels a lot more classically Greek in this regard. Original story is a lie, truth is she’s sired by Zeus. I enjoy it a lot more. I never quite liked the closeness to the golem story that Diana’s original origin had. (Molded from clay, imbued by God(s) with sacred power, protector of a chosen people….).

    The only benefit of having the clay origin is the Man-less-ness of it. But, I rather like the idea of Wonder Woman being a Demigoddess. I think it adds more conflict to the story and involvement with the Gods/Goddess that isn’t just Ares being a creeper.

    Also, I feel like something like this was being hinted at in Rucka’s Wonder Woman run, with Zeus taking an increased interest in Diana.

  25. I like the way Paul stirs the pot!

  26. The question which was not posed in the last few paragraphs of the article but which I think trumps them all is this: Is the story good?

    • yes. very good. among the best wonder woman stories i have read, and i have tried EVERY wonder woman #1, every big relaunch, new creative direction etc, since 1986 and dropped all but byrne and perez runs in the first year. those i still dropped but i gave them longer as i am a fan of those creators.

  27. I think it’s a pretty interesting new back story, no more or less than her original one. It’s interesting because it both takes away her birthright and gives her a new one. She’s now got to prove herself as the absolute greatest female superhero of all time, and this time, she’s just like us (she has a father and a mother) instead of being the most perfect accumulation of female souls. She’s both less mythical and more mythical. I think it’s pretty exciting, and I’m psyched to see where B.A. and C.C. go with it.

    • P.S.–creators absolutely have the right to change a character’s origin, particularly if it’s a character that has struggled to keep readers interested for decades!

  28. There is a lot of subtext that is lost by discarding the “clay” origin, as others have mentioned. It makes her not born of “man,” without male biological input and influence, equal to men, above certain human impulses and behaviors, and more (what about the possibility that she is immortal due to the lack of Original Sin in her creation?). I imagine there are some people who place great value on this subtext that will be very upset. But I think those people are letting the subtext, which is all inferred, eclipse the character.

    But I, as a long-time reader, am not bothered in the least by this. It does make the story more in-line with Greek myth, which I think is a good thing, and with mythic archetypes in general (how many stories feature the “lost son” (or daughter) who discovers his heritage, who was lied to initially to protect them, etc?). This opens up additional story possibilities too.

    Let’s also remember that the clay origin was not added until 1959 in issue #105. Sure, it’s been around for a long time, but it wasn’t in the original incarnation of the character – it too was a change.

  29. Ive never been a fan of Wonder Woman and I’m not that versed in her history, but Ive been reading this run from issue 1 I thinks its been great. Reading issue 3 and the changes didnt register as negative to me because I don’t have that long history with the character. As the story goes I really enjoyed the direction that Brian is taking with the character and her true origin as it adds layers to her, her mother, Hera, and all the other amazons. Once again Ive never been a Wonder Woman reader but I am now, and wasn’t that the whole reason for the relaunch? Kudos to DC, Brian and Cliff, they’ve made me a fan and a new subscriber.

  30. I will be commenting on this tonight after work. It’s a great topic, but it seems I am in the minority on how this hurts Diana as a character.

  31. I dont think it affects her character negatively. If anything it adds another layer to her character. The majority of people who know about Wonder Woman only know that she comes form Paradise Island. Most people dont know she was formed out of clay and i always thought her ebing formed out of clay was a little silly

  32. I have been reading comics off and on for 20 years and I had no idea that the made out of clay thing was her origin. Now I have also never bought a WW comic before this new series before either but I think it is pretty clear it wasn’t an iconic part of the character outside of the core WW fans.

    As someone who is not one of the core fans I don’t really have any ground to stand on in terms of commenting on how this affects her essential character. What I do know is that there aren’t enough of those kinds of fans to sustain a WW book. So my vote is that if this is part of a recipe that makes the book a success then it is good for Wonder Woman and her fans in that there will finally be a thriving WW book. So like any story you have to wait and see how good it is.

  33. Ok, so I wrote my reasons why I think it harms her as a character, and I took into account some of the comments I saw on here. Unfortunately, I’m not sure this comment box is big enough to contain it all so I posted it here.


  34. Is it really recon if they never said she’s made of clay in DCnU?

  35. Where are her pants!?!?!?!

  36. Oh no DC have pissed off the 7 people who were previously buying Wonder Woman and are mostly thrilling the new much larger crowd… not much to worry about there then!

  37. The art and story are fantastic. Nothing else matters to me. I just know that I can enjoy WW for once in my life, which I’ve always wanted to do. She’s a great character.

  38. I’m glad no one is commenting on the feminist aspects of this change because as far as I can see, all of the posters bar two are male. Joss W, if you’re out there, we could use the insights you may have gained from your feminist studies degree.

    The clay thing is silly, but you have to ask why was that important to her creator? I think it was a way of distancing her from any affiliation with males. It’s even more than cutting yourself off on an island with a tribe of other women.

    Now, she’s at about the same level as other women by having a male connection. The philandering dog driving his wife into a murderous rage as father and her as his bastard child is probably not going to sit well with feminists.

  39. To be fair, if the origin isn’t important, then why change it at all.

  40. Wonder Woman being a demigod actually makes for a stronger origin in my opinion.