Whatever happened to Steve Trevor?
Many of you may not have heard of Steve, but comic book aficionados, along with everyone who watched the old TV show remember him as Wonder Woman’s one and only steady boyfriend, and one of the most prominent members of her supporting cast. On top of being the love of Wonder Woman’s life, Steve was also the reason Diana became Wonder Woman in the first place. And yet, the character has barely seen publication in the last few decades. A surprising number of comic book fans are unaware that he ever existed at all, and those that are aware regard him as nothing more than a silly relic of Wonder Woman’s earlier days. So what happened to Steve Trevor? Why is such an important character, one vital to the character’s origin story, so ignored by the comics of today?
Under Kanigher’s new direction, Steve suddenly started complaining about feeling small and threatened by how powerful Wonder Woman was.
First a little backstory. Thanks to The Escapist’s own Moviebob, many of you are probably aware of the strange lifestyle and beliefs of Wonder Woman’s creator, Dr. William Moulton Marston, specifically his theory about the superiority of the female gender. Given that, it’s unsurprising that he would take the rescuer/rescuee dynamic of Superman and Lois Lane and switch it around. First appearing in 1942, Steve was an Air Force pilot who inadvertently crash-landed on the island of Themyscira, home of the Amazons. Princess Diana fell in love with him and volunteered to take him back home, as well as become the Amazons’ ambassador to the rest of the world. She took up a secret identity as a nurse at the Air Force base were Steve worked, and the two fell into the usual Clark and Lois routine: Diana Prince wore glasses and was in love with Steve, but Steve was only interested in her alter ego and constantly got into jams only to be saved by Wonder Woman.
Then in 1947, Dr. Marston passed away. Famed Sgt. Rock creator Robert Kanigher took over writing the Wonder Woman books, and with Marston out of the picture, it soon became apparent that nobody else really liked Steve Trevor … at all. Under Kanigher’s new direction, Steve suddenly started complaining about feeling small and threatened by how powerful Wonder Woman was. Worse still, rather than telling Steve to get over his insecurities, Diana almost seemed to feel guilty about it, as if her boyfriend’s insecurities were somehow her fault. It was clear that no other writer at the time was really comfortable with Marston’s “superior woman” philosophy, and as such had no idea what to do with Steve, a character so heavily influenced by those ideas.
After about 11 years of this, they finally killed him off outright … then brought him back, then killed him off and brought him back again. Eventually, when DC Comics’ Crisis on Infinite Earths intercompany crossover event rolled around, they took the opportunity to erase him from the picture completely. He still existed – after all, Diana wouldn’t have left the island otherwise – he’d just never been romantically connected to her. Wonder Woman has been single ever since. She enjoyed an occasional romance once in a blue moon, but none that ever lasted very long, certainly none that anybody remembers.
It’s not as though Diana needs a man in her life; we are talking about a feminist icon, after all. But at the same time, it seems sexist that she’s never allowed to have any lasting love interests of her own. Most other major superheroes have huge supporting casts of memorable love interests and several have at least two primary girlfriends they bounce back and forth between, à la Betty and Veronica. Yet Wonder Woman hasn’t had a lasting, memorable relationship in years. The closest thing she’s had to a well-known boyfriend is Superman and even that’s largely confined to non-canon stories.
It seems like comics are only comfortable when female superheroes date other superheroes. Black Canary has Green Arrow, the Invisible Woman has Mr. Fantastic, Hawkgirl has Hawkman, Jean Grey has Cyclops, Ice has Guy Gardner, Starfire has Robin, Scarlet Witch has the Vision, Wonder Girl has Superboy, Storm has Black Panther; the list goes on. There have been exceptions in the past, such as Batgirl’s romance with Jason Bard, but those relationships were ended decades ago and never revisited. And yet male superheroes date civilian women all the time. They even seem to prefer them. Lois Lane, Mary-Jane Watson, Carol Ferris, Iris West have been the primary love interests of A-list superheroes since Issue One.
When the woman is the one saving the man, it suddenly makes us uncomfortable.
So apparently the industry has no problem with pairing super-powered men with human women, but a huge problem with pairing super-powered women with human men. After that realization, it becomes uncomfortably obvious why no one likes Steve Trevor: He’s a threat to our manhood. It’s fine for a woman to be an ordinary civilian, constantly reliant on her super strong boyfriend to save the day, but when the woman is the one saving the man, it suddenly makes us uncomfortable. Despite how enlightened we think we are it seems that the idea of strong women still scares the living hell out of us. When Lois is flown out of danger in Superman’s arms, it fits with our traditional view of women as the inherently weaker sex, but when Wonder Woman carries Steve Trevor in her arms, it makes him weak because we have this outdated idea that being male means you have a responsibility to be physically superior to women. We see Steve Trevor’s plot-driven need toto constantly be rescued by a girl as emasculating. But if Wonder Woman’s boyfriend is Superman it’s no problem if she saves his bacon a few times because we know he’s still stronger than she.
Aren’t we supposed to be past this already? When people discuss sexism in comics, the fact that Wonder Woman walks around in a bathing suit gets brought up far more than the fact that she can only date men that can beat her at arm wrestling. We rebut damsel-in-distress accusations against characters like Lois Lane by pointing out that she’s a strong, independent woman who’s had combat training, and so forth, but those arguments look pretty hollow when we aren’t willing to reverse the roles. Steve was a decorated war veteran and skilled Air Force pilot, but that still wasn’t enough to make up for being saved by a woman, even one with superpowers.
If we really want comics to be taken seriously as an art form, we’ve got to get beyond this tiresome double standard. It’s a serious issue that limits the industry and does a disservice to its female readers. Keep the busty women in revealing outfits; sure, it’s juvenile but we can live with it. The real problem is our need to offset the intimidating presence of powerful women with male counterparts of equal or greater strength, just so we can feel secure in our manhood. The Wonder Woman animated film proved pretty definitively that Steve Trevor can work as a long-term love interest for Diana, and besides that, he’s a classic element of her mythology who deserves to return to his rightful place by her side. Steve was an idea ahead of his time. Perhaps his time has finally come.