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The History Of Wonder Woman's Themyscira Explained

Wonder Woman is unique among her early DC counterparts. Beyond the very obvious differences between her and say, Batman or Superman, the character exists very much at a remove from the rest of the world.

Batman wouldn't be the Dark Knight if he wasn't stalking the streets of Gotham City, fully invested in its day-to-day (and night-to-night) workings. Superman might be an alien, but he got his sense of himself on a farm in Kansas. He took that drive to do good to the big city and was further shaped by Metropolis. While Wonder Woman is no stranger to the larger world, she comes from a place removed from it by design. The Amazonian paradise of Themyscira is unlike anywhere else in the DC Universe, a mythical paradise hidden from the world of man and populated entirely by a race of superpowered demigod women.

In the same way that you have to grasp the Kents to know Superman, there's no wrapping your head around Wonder Woman without a firm understanding of the isolated island where she grew up. Without the lessons she learned in her matriarchal society, and her eventual decision to leave it behind to help protect the wider world, there is no Wonder Woman.

The why of Wonder Woman

Before diving into Wonder Woman's history on Themyscira, it's worth understanding why she was invented in the first place. Where many years of fan service from the entertainment industry might lead you to believe that Wonder Woman was a cash grab to capitalize on people who weren't buying Golden Age comics (namely young girls), the real origin of the character is considerably more idealistic.

William Moulton Marston created the character to put forward the idea of a feminist utopia, believing that a world led by women with the interests of women first would be a better one. The inventor and psychologist exaggerated the traits of the liberated women he saw around him (especially the two women he was in a polyamorous relationship with) and created a new kind of hero.

"Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. Not wanting to be girls, they don't want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women's strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness," he wrote in The American Scholar about his most famous creation. "The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman."

For the moral of Wonder Woman to land, she couldn't be an anomaly in her world. She had to come from an entire nation of powerful women, whose world proved Moulton's thesis of a better world built entirely by women. In short, Themyscira needed to be a paradise.

A land of many names

And so Wonder Woman's home was designed as an idyllic paradise, almost comically so. The original name of Themyscira — in that uniquely plainspoken language of Golden Age comics — was Paradise Island. Early issues made it very clear what they wanted readers to take away from the island overall. It was a perfect place — and it was perfect because of the exclusion of man. Other names floated during the early years of Wonder Woman were equally descriptive. The island was known as the Amazon Isles, because of its status as home of the Amazons. Occasionally it was known as the Paradise Isles, for reasons that are just as easy to guess. It didn't take on its name of Themyscira until decades after Wonder Woman first graced the page. The island of Themyscira came into existence in the fallout from the massive DC crossover event Crisis on Infinite Earths in the '80s. The landmark event was a way to cast off decades of canon and continuity, streamlining the DC universe under a series of new titles with clear backstories. So it was that Paradise Island became Themyscira.

An island paradise free from the world of man

According to the post-reboot continuity, Themyscira didn't begin its life as an island at all. Instead it was a city-state of Amazons near modern-day Turkey. The state was created by the gods themselves, molding the Amazons out of clay and tasking them with teaching traits like compassion to the wider world.

From the beginning of their time on Earth, the Amazons are depicted as being in contention with Ares, the God of War. As the Amazons spread ideas like good will and world peace, Ares corrupts humanity and steers them toward vengeance and anger. They square off with their bitter rival wherever they find him trying to steer the wider world toward destruction and they model their virtues in their own city-state, which is known to be a paradise.

The state of Themyscira is ruled over by Hippolyta and Antiope, monarchs and sisters. Ares eventually disrupts the idyllic capital of the Amazons by tricking Heracles into attacking the Amazons. His initial attack is unsuccessful, as the extremely powerful Amazons quickly defeat him. Hippolyta and Antiope live in a society that is largely free of rage and deceit, one that's built on forgiveness. Because of this, they invite the humiliated Heracles to a feast in their capital to embark on a new era of friendship.

Not as idyllic as it seems

Heracles has other things in mind, however. He attends the feast as a ruse to get his forces inside the city without resistance. At the feast, he drugs the Amazons and takes them prisoner.

The Amazons plead to the women of Mount Olympus and Athena finally responds to their cries, offering to free them from bondage if they agree not to seek revenge on the men who had enslaved them. Because Athena's goal is to foster creation, she views all destruction of life as evil. The Amazons agree, though not all among them actually hold feelings of forgiveness in their hearts: Athena uses her powers to break the chains holding the Amazons captive — and many of them proceed to slaughter the men who had held them.

This angers Athena, and she comes down hard on the Amazons, demanding that they pay penance for what they've done and sending them to an island — one they name after their former capital — that sits on top of the doorway to the underworld. Their role as guardians helps to pay back Athena by keeping destructive forces out of the world of man. In addition, the Amazons have to wear bracelets as reminders of the time they were tricked into slavery. Not all of them are entirely willing to go along with the plan, though.

A split among the ruling family

Though Hypolita and Antiope had ruled as co-leaders of the Amazons since time immemorial, the decision to retreat from the world of man and set up a peace-loving society on Themyscira doesn't sit right with one of them. Antiope disavows her fellow Amazons, taking with her a force of vengeful warriors who are entirely unwilling to forgive the men who had enslaved them.

Antiope sets out to destroy Heracles and his general Theseus. Though she does not get her revenge, she ends up falling in love with Theseus and starting a family. The exiled Amazons try to make peace with the Greek forces of Theseus, but most of them can't countenance fighting alongside the same men who invaded and enslaved them. Antiope is eventually killed by the vengeful ex-wife of Theseus, breaking the tenuous alliance between Theseus' army and the band of Amazons. The remaining Amazons promote Antiope's adopted daughter to be their leader, and they head out to a remote corner of the Earth. They set up shop in the deep desert of the Middle East, creating a colony at Bana-Mighdall while Themyscira carries on outside the world of man.

Invasions from the outside world

Though Themyscira is meant to be an island fortress separate from man's world, that would make for a remarkably boring story. Over the years, many intruders have landed on the island's shores, both intentionally and accidentally.

Everyone from random fighter pilots to Darkseid and Hercules have made their way to Themyscira over the years. The cosmic villain known as Darkseid invaded the island and wiped out half of its population. Hercules tried yet again to subdue the Amazons. Aliens have invaded from deep within the recesses of Jack Kirby's mind. Athena has turned on her Amazons, turning all but the queen into snakes. They've frequently been turned to stone, aesthetically in line with their classical Greek island. But because of the slippery nature of comic book continuity, where death rarely lasts, and the enduring passion of the Amazons, Themyscira always returns in some form or fashion.

An ambassador

All this history and ancient intrigue leads us to the rather odd birth of a classic DC superhero. 

Hippolyta formed her daughter Diana, who we come to know as Wonder Woman, from the dirt of the island of Themyscira. Destined to bring change to her native land, Diana objects to the isolation of Themyscira — and she eventually comes to serve as an ambassador between the necessarily sheltered world of superpowered women where she came into being and the world of man. Diana's sway in both worlds leads to an era of open borders, with visitors from the outside world stopping by with the welcome of the royal family for the first time in eons. As Diana becomes one of the protectors of the outside world through her work — both as a solo superhero and a member of the Justice League — many dignitaries and representatives want to know more about her hidden home.

An era of peace and a return to war

The Amazons are so committed to their new era of openness (and so far removed from the foundations of their hidden homeworld) that they destroy all of their armor to show how committed to the cause of peace and community they ultimately are. Unfortunately, this turns out to be a bit premature. The mythological witch (and regularly appearing DC supervillain) Circe launches a plot to start all the gods of Olympus and other pantheons fighting, and she begins by turning the world against the Amazons, committing a series of brutal murders and framing the islanders.

The so-called War of the Gods becomes so intense that Olympus is called down onto the surface of the Earth, very nearly destroying it in the process. Circe initially distracts Themyscira's champion and superhero by whipping up the gods and turning their Earthbound representative Captain Marvel on her. Eventually, Circe attacks the island of Themyscira and kills Wonder Woman by turning her back into clay.

The gods are finally shown that they've been manipulated by Circe. As they bear down on the witch, Wonder Woman is brought back to life. She destroys the ancient sorceress and reunites with her mother on Themyscira. The citizens of Earth apologize to the Amazons, and the island re-opens to representatives of the outside world.

Civil War and the end of Themyscira

No peace on Themyscira is lasting, and wars start and stop as comic writers demand. Some have longer lasting consequences than others. The civil war of the Amazons is one such fight.

Remember the lost tribe of Amazons who live in the Middle East? They're still around even through all these battles with Olympian gods and the outside world. They follow the guiding principles laid down by their long-dead leader Antiope and their reverence for the onetime queen leaves them vulnerable to manipulation. Antiope's murderer possesses the Amazonian witch Magala and convinces both sides through her that the other Amazonian tribe needs to be destroyed.

Quick note: Magala is one of the first women to become an Amazon. In the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths chronology of the Amazons, each woman who was reborn as an Amazon was originally a mortal woman who was killed at the hands of a man. Magala was a cave woman, who existed before the rise of homo sapiens. She was the only one of her kind on the island. Because of her difference, she hid away and became a mystic, trusted by the Amazons.

The war between the Bana Amazons (as the lost tribe was known) and the Themyscira Amazons destroyed the island, leaving their homeland in ruins. The two tribes, however, eventually united against a common enemy.

The creation of New Themyscira

Imperiex, the DC character who acts as a living embodiment of entropy, attacks Earth in the event dubbed Our Worlds at War, inadvertently uniting the two tribes. Their peace will mean little in the war, however. What's left of Themyscira is transported to outer space, and a large number of the Amazons of both tribes die in the process. Diana eventually has to lead a prayer to the remaining warriors that channels their collective energy to defeat Imperiex.

The Amazons need a new home, and characters from all over the DC cosmos chip in. New Themyscira is built with the help of Martian Manhunter, archaeologist Julie Kapatelis, and fighter pilot Steve Trevor. The new island uses alien technology to float through the air, traveling around the Earth rather than being locked in a hidden part of the ocean to symbolize their commitment to being of the world of man.

That openness carries over to their former rival tribeswomen: The Bana and Themyscirian Amazons reunite on the island, carrying on their civilization under two sets of gods, those from the desert tribe and the Greek ones that formed the basis of the original Themyscira.