This is a reprint of my "Star-Spangled Panties" column that originally appeared October 9th, 2009 at ComicBookResources.com.
Hola, Wonder campers! Everyone have their song books open? (cough) Mi mi mi...
How do you solve a problem like Steve Trevor?
How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?
I'm sorry, but the guys in the back who are singing falsetto are creeping me out, so let's just talk about Stevie, ‘kay?
Steve Trevor was one of the most brilliant concepts comics ever produced. That said, it's an equal bit of genius that he has effectively been written out as a romantic possibility for the modern Wonder Woman.
Wonder Woman is a female. That's pretty obvious. But in the comic book trade, particularly the superhero comics of the Forties, unless that female were presented as a sex kitten or dumbed down in some fashion—which Wondie was not—being female was a cause for cancellation.
The majority of readers of superhero comics were boys, and the majority of boys knew that girls had cooties. Our culture has a history of teaching that any feminine quality is an indicator of inferiority or something that should be shunned unless it is brought under the control of and/or in service to a man.
Yet the original concept of Wonder Woman taught female superiority. She gleefully celebrated women. Uh oh, this couldn't be good for sales!
In the very first panel of Wonder Woman's very first story we saw Steve Trevor's plane crash on Paradise Island, home of the Amazons. By panel three he was being rescued. Amazon Princess Diana fell in love with Steve and then contrived to win a special contest. This allowed her to take him back to his homeland and stay there to fight for America in the guise of Wonder Woman.
Thus many fans say that the romance with Steve forms the heart of the concept of Wonder Woman. Instead I'll counter with this: that a romantic excuse for Diana to hang around Steve for the important first ten-plus years of her run was what allowed "Wonder Woman" to become a top-selling superhero comic. The most important thing Steve brought with him was not romance, but readers.
The two talked about being in love with each other, but we never really saw it in action. I don't recall any kisses, any hand-holding, any exchange of confidences. (Granted, these were early comics and such was icky stuff for kids.) So what did happen?
Steve praised Wonder Woman.
Whenever you look at Steve, he's selling her to anyone who will hear. Most of his early appearances include a scene in which people cheer him for stopping that issue's dastardly plot. Every time he replies with some form of, "Aw shucks, it wasn't me; it was Wonder Woman who did it all!" To hear him speak, she's the most terrific hero around. She's beyond fabulous. He's proud of her and to be associated with her.
Hurry, hurry, hurry, folks! See the beautiful Amazon princess! Be amazed at her feats of daring! Thrill to the dangers she faces! All it costs is one thin dime, just one-tenth of a dollah!
If Steve Trevor liked Wonder Woman...could it be okay for a boy to read her adventures?
Steve didn't just praise Diana. He also fought side-by-side with her, demonstrating that she could keep up with and in fact surpass him without the least bit of injury to his male pride.
Steve Trevor was top of the macho meter for the times. Not only was he devastatingly handsome, an H.G. Peter precursor of Brad Pitt (siiiigh!), but Stevie was a soldier. Not just a soldier, but an officer. During a time of war. And best of all...
...He was a flyboy spy-catcher.
Jackpot! Top of the testosterone ladder! Bing bing bing bing! There was no job that could eclipse that kind of violent adventure. Steve was a blond, blue-eyed, all-American major in the US Army, a bigwig in Military Intelligence.
So if this epitome of machismo said Wonder Woman was not only okay for a chick, but the greatest hero of the war, it was all right to spend a dime to read her stories. If Major Trevor liked her, maybe she wasn't so bad.
Did he ever take her home to meet his parents? Did he ever buy her dinner? They hugged each other a handful of times at the end of various adventures. They called each other "darling." (Wonder Woman called everyone "darling.") If Steve was particularly badly injured he might get a kiss on the cheek.
Steve served as WW's best PR agent and reputed romantic object (if not her beard) up until the Comics Code was instituted and her creator's presence left her book. DC's solution to de-butchify Wondie was to make her less hands-on as a criminal-catcher and reverse her sermons about female superiority.
Now Steve tried to trick Diana into marrying him, knowing that she'd then have to give up her duties as WW because married women didn't work, doncha know. Whereas the Golden Age Steve had patience to wait for Diana to determine her work was done before they married, the early Silver Age Steve was going to make that decision for her no matter what she thought.
This was the era when I first latched onto "Wonder Woman" comics. I quickly learned to despise Steve Trevor. He was a sneaky bully. Worse yet, who could like WW when she took that kind of guff? (Thank goodness she had a wonderful family to read about.)
Luckily, Mike Sekowsky saw Steve in the same general light and had him killed off in the extremely enjoyable issue #180 (Jan-Feb ‘69), gunned down by Dr. Cyber's goons to die in Diana's arms. In a later lettercol, Sekowsky explained, "Steve Trevor was dull and boring and I didn't like him much so I disposed of him."
For Steve to have served his purpose as a bridge to male readers during this era, he'd have had to have been a top-of-the-charts rock star. Instead, he was a part of the Old-Fogy Warmongering Establishment.
Even when Steve was reincarnated—I think about the second time—as Steve "Howard," he didn't improve as much as he needed. He was now a modern beta kind of guy, a metrosexual back before they were called that. He was cool and could handle adventure, but he wasn't dangerous, though he did get to bed Diana at last (between panels). A few reincarnations on, he married Diana. They got one entire wedding night together before DC rebooted our plucky Amazon.
Diana rose in her Modern Era version as a reborn innocent who rescued an injured Steve Trevor on Paradise Island. But this Steve Trevor was older than she. Some fans lamented his geezerliness, that he must be 40 at least. Too old for our Amazon princess to romance! Instead Stevie eventually became enamored of Etta Candy and married her, and they remain married to this day. (Don't they make a cute couple!)
But a number of fans declare that this is a crime, insisting that Steve Trevor is the only man for Diana, even if he has to be called Steve Trevor, Jr. or Steve Trevor III. If not the man or the concept, the name at least must be ingrained within the mythos as Diana's True Love.
But to me, Stevie was never needed as a romantic interest. That was merely his excuse for hanging around Diana, spouting his PR lines to entice male readers. Over in "Superman," the Man of Steel needed Lois Lane because the entire concept was built around the sexual tension between Clark, Lois and Superman. When the Modern Era came along and Superman married Lois, it semi-worked because by that point Superman was so gosh-darned powerful that he needed Lois and the Kents as grounding lifelines to humanity. Lois is now essential because she's an important human for Supes. Their romance is needed to provide that importance.
Batman? Is he even able to have a relationship with a female that goes beyond the merely sexual? A relationship with someone of the opposite gender has nothing to do with his mission, origin or theme.
But Wonder Woman is DC's most human hero. As such, she needs all forms of human relationships in her life, including romantic ones. Yet in this modern era a Steve who HAS to be her one-and-only would only hold her back.
One of the drawbacks of a Lois Lane is that, during the times when Superman has made eyes at other women, readers always knew he'd return to Lois' arms. Why? Because she was always "Superman's Girlfriend, Lois Lane." Thus there was never any real romantic tension between Supes and anyone else. Even Lana Lang knew she never stood a chance.
Steve Trevor does not enjoy a Lois Lane kind of position in the mythos.
Look at female solo leads in continuing series of all kinds. TV's Buffy had two heroes who held her heart: Angel and Spike, plus a few other, much more mortal, lovers. In books, today's "kick-ass" heroines always have more than one man in their lives, providing all kinds of romantic conflict and leaving the reader wondering, "Who's she going to end up with?"
Janet Evanovich's wildly sales-successful bounty hunter, Stephanie Plum, enjoys being pursued by hunks Morelli, Ranger, and Diesel. Sookie Stackhouse, Anita Blake, even Scarlett O'Hara (oops, not a series there) have multiple concurrent love interests. Even Rachel Caine's married Weather Warden, Joanne Baldwin, has two men pulling at her emotions.
Your average "kick-ass" heroine can be found as a matter of course in today's best-selling urban fantasy genre, which often run as series. Every one of these heroines will have at least two men panting after her, and they'll be alpha males to out-alpha any other male in the area. If the heroine is human you can bet money her lovers won't be. Humans are just too, well, ordinary to interest today's K-A heroine.
And Wondie is the kickin'-est-ass heroine of ‘em all!
Thus, it is my contention that Steve Trevor is no longer needed—or WANTED—as Wonder Woman's love interest. As such he would bring inertia to a series that needs to intrigue its readers.
These days Nemesis (portrayed in the book as a pallid, though WW-adoring, man-boy) has dumped Diana, and Achilles (greatest warrior of ancient Greece) has proved himself anything but an alpha male. WW should think about collecting a harem of male admirers, not only of the extreme alpha type but, for variety, include a few gammas, those guys who combine alpha and beta characteristics. Not only would this give "Wonder Woman" a modern feel, but it would add spark to the series and keep the readers guessing as to who might wind up with Diana, even if for only the immediate night.
I think Diana might enjoy it as well.