We tend to assume that most superheroes with ‘girl’ in their names are spin offs from better known male character, but it’s not always true, even in DC Comics. Wonder Girl is probably the most prominent and iconic of the ‘girl’ superheroes who isn’t spun off from a man.
There are several characters who have used this name in DC Comics continuity. The first, most straightforward version of Wonder Girl was found in the junior adventures of Wonder Woman herself, Diana, just as the original Superboy was the junior version of Superman – in the early days of comics, there was a lot of time jumping and indeed universe jumping without anyone worrying too much about continuity issues. Then there was the Wonder Girl of the Wonder Woman TV series: Drusilla, younger sister of Diana, played by Debra Winger. (Carolyn Jones AKA Morticia played their mother Hippolyta – how cool is that?)
Besides Diana herself, though, there are two iconic women in the comics who have been Wonder Girl: Donna Troy, and Cassie Sandsmark.
Her first run as a character was in the Teen Titans of the 60’s (in which it wasn’t explained for many years as to whether Wonder Girl was a young Diana or an original character) and was finally revealed to be Donna Troy, an orphan rescued by Diana and raised by the Amazons. The Teen Titans continued on and off through the 70’s, and were brought back as the incredibly popular New Teen Titans in the 80’s, with Donna playing a significant and often leading role in the team as Wonder Girl.
Her costume is usually far more red than Diana’s classic Wonder Woman outfit (which itself had been discarded for all white emmapeelers in the 70’s) with a gold star pattern, but no blue, which makes Wonder Girl appear far less representative of American patriotism.
The New Teen Titans 80’s Donna is the one I know best, a capable young woman who identifies as an Amazon thanks to her upbringing (and as Diana’s “sister” in the Amazonian sense), close friend to Starfire, Wally West (Kid Flash, later the Flash) and Nightwing, a young fiancee and then wife to older college professor Terry Long (he of the curly beard). She was brilliant – brave, strong, clever and loyal. She also had less crazy 80’s hair than everyone else, though she was rocking a red jumpsuit.
Even before Crisis of Infinite Earths, and the First Great Reworking of DC Continuity, Donna was characterised by her search for identity. At first this was because she was an orphan, searching out her birth family, but then it became far more confusing and problematic. After Crisis, Donna’s Amazonian heritage was removed from her backstory as part of the a campaign to make Wonder Woman young again and newly arrived from Themiscyra. Instead, she discovered that she was an alien Ancient Greek goddess Titan seed (um, yes) and took on a new superhero name: Troia, as well as new costumes: first an amazonian ensemble with armoured skirt, then a reflection of her original jumpsuit in all black with a constellation of stars across it.
Through the 90’s, Donna flipped back and forth between having powers, not having powers, having a baby, her marriage breaking up, etc. I missed most of this at the time. She was also associated with intergalactic police team the Darkstars, helped out sometimes with the Teen Titans in a mentor capacity, and had a romance with the 90’s new Green Lantern Kyle Rayner, which meant she sometimes turned up in Green Lantern comics too. The Zero Hour reboot made things even messier, and both ex-husband Terry and Donna’s son were killed off in a car accident.
In the late 90’s, Donna’s backstory was rebooted/updated yet again, and she finally got to be tied to the Amazons again, now as a magical clone sister created to be Diana’s playmate and friend on Paradise Island. (No, it doesn’t get any better) Rather than try to convince readers that yet another character reboot made sense, Donna’s storylines continued to be about the fact that her identity was confusing, and no one knew what was really going on with her. Her life and character history was literally rewritten, over and over in many variations, as part of the ongoing narrative.
But it got better in other ways. Donna’s associations with Paradise Island and Queen Hippolyta were strengthened, as was her friendship and relationship with Diana. She was often portrayed as a good friend and important mentor to the New New Teen Titans of the era, including the next Wonder Girl, Cassie. Donna was also portrayed as mighty: super strong, super fast and incredibly well trained.
She got killed off, but brought back, with greater powers.
Donna ultimately became the repository of knowledge about the multiverses and their fractured histories. After so many decades searching for her own identity, she became the only person who knew everything about who everyone was. She’s an Amazon and a Titan and a warrior and Troia, Troy, Wonder Girl, Donna. She’s mighty. She even briefly took on the mantle of Wonder Woman when Diana walked away to find herself – and when that ended, she decided to ditch the whole concept of superhero names. Donna Troy was enough for her.
Except she doesn’t exist any more, as far as we know. There have been many casualties of the recent New 52 reboot – and the characters who have disappeared from continuity are largely those like Donna and Wally West and several of the Batgirls: legacy characters whose complex history has been erased or deliberately ignored so that their mentors can be rebooted as youthful and free of baggage.
Donna’s Wonder Girl continues to be remembered, though – she’s there in Tiny Titans, as a miniature version of herself, complete with invisible tricycle and all her old friends. She didn’t make it into the Teen Titans animated series, but she features in the recent Super Best Friends Forever DC Shorts, representing the Wonder corner of the trinity along with Supergirl and Batgirl. This Wonder Girl, who speaks with an oddly Mexican/Spanish accent, wears Donna’s old red catsuit, and refers to Wonder Woman as her “sister”.
As far as the DC universe goes, though – well, it’s up to the creators. The current Wonder Woman storyline is all about Diana rescuing a young, troubled pregnant teen, and dealing with Amazon politics. Maybe there will be a little (or big) Donna along, one of these days. Until then… well, there’s always old New Teen Titans comics to reread. The hair is massive, and the costumes are eye-watering, but the stories hold up!
CASSANDRA “CASSIE” SANDSMARK
I entirely missed out on Cassie, the second (blonde) Wonder Girl. She appeared round about the time I stopped reading comics, in 1996, and I didn’t come across her at all until my daughter discovered Tiny Titans a couple of years ago. Tiny Titans is basically like the Peanuts version of the DC universe – and it includes every younger character you can imagine, as if they’re a bunch of kindergarten students. All the Batgirls. All the Robins. And all the Wonder Girls…
But in fact Tiny Titans only has one Wonder Girl (Donna, AKA the brunette one as she is never named) and one Cassie. There’s a running joke early on in the comics about Cassie’s costume, which is basically blue jeans with a slightly Amazonish tank top. She’s blonde, she’s sassy, she’s not going to wear a stupid skirt, and she punctures the whole problematic history of female superhero costumes with a couple of zingers. I liked her a lot.
So I started investigating, and discovered fifteen years of history. An epic romance with Superboy, and a slightly more awkward not-really-romance with Tim Drake (Boy Robin #3). A strained relationship with Wonder Woman. Mother problems. Team problems. A friendship and close attachment to her mentor and “sister” Donna Troy. An attachment to fighting crime in blue jeans. And, oh yes, she’s the daughter of Zeus.
She started out as a tomboy geek girl, daughter of a single mum archaeologist, who talked Wonder Woman into letting her be Wonder Girl. This version of Cassie was utterly goofy and adorable, a fangirl who assembles her own disguise (a black wig and glasses to fight crime in!) and after a few false starts and stuff ups, earns her place at Diana’s side. She fangirls Donna too, and while Donna gives her a version of her old costume, Cassie won’t wear it because she’s worried it will get damaged – her utterly practical attitude towards superhero clothes is awesome!
The revelation about her parenthood leads her to find her place among the Amazons too, and eventually Cassie glammed up her image somewhat (which is to say, she was drawn in a much more glamorous way rather than the scruffy kid we first saw in her introduction) and became an Amazonian superhero, a member of Young Justice and later a Teen Titan in her own right.
I did notice that there was an unfortunate tendency with Cassie in these later comics for the writers to make Diana absolutely appalling, in order to give Cassie something to rebel against. Which drove me a bit bonkers – you can create character conflict without character assassination!
But I really liked the Wonder Girl Spotlight trade in which Cassie teamed up with her brother Hercules and had to deal with Greek God Stuff (taking on the name ‘Drusilla,’ a reference to the 70’s TV Show Wonder Girl) and the fallout after the Amazon Attacks storyline, helping to clean up the mess left behind. I also liked her in the story about the Death and Life Again of Donna Troy, and I even liked her being a bit of a snarky bitch in a Ravager trade.
She’s often surrounded by women, and has many female friends. Cassie has been a leader as well as a team member in the various youth super teams, and she’s not always the smartest or nicest person in the room, but she’s tough and uncompromising and I really like that she (mostly) doesn’t wear a stupid skirt. Except when it’s an armoured skirt.
And then, you guessed it, along came the latest DC reboot, the New 52. Which… yeah. I read the latest (New New NEW) Teen Titans for quite a few issues and liked quite a bit about it, but apart from the fact that they were willing to depict Cassie as incredibly physically strong (something we don’t always get with female characters), the rest of her made little sense. She is now a thief, but a thief who dives around in a sports car and wears a shiny red hood and frankly bizarre outfit. She was so much more awesome when she wore jeans and a tank top and had actual character connections and history rather than coming out of nowhere…I have yet to spot to any reference to Cassie’s Greek mythological origins, apart from a few people referring to her as being Wonder Girl (she’s blatantly wearing Amazon signifiers) and her getting cranky about the name. Oh, and worth noting that the ‘daughter of Zeus’ schtick has now been imposed upon Wonder Woman, so presumably is no longer the case for Cassie… I haven’t seen Wonder Girl interact with Wonder Woman either, which is hardly surprising as the current Wonder Woman title seems to exist in a different universe to everything else, and of course Donna isn’t around to connect Cassie to the Amazons either. I don’t know where they’re going with her, or what her deal is, but she is drawn appallingly (hipbones regularly pointing in the opposite direction to her breasts) and I’ve yet to see any hint of the Cassie I knew and liked, beyond an all-red outfit, blonde hair and a temper.
Oh, and they cancelled Tiny Titans too. Boooooo! There’s not always a happy ending.