Steve Trevor is the rarest superhero love interests. First, he’s a man. Second, he’s an ordinary man with no powers. Third, as the first man Diana ever meets, he’s integral to her origin.
But, last and most important, Steve sets the template for Wonder Woman’s view of the “man’s world” outside Paradise Island.
For those familiar with the story, young Princess Diana is raised by the Amazons of Paradise Island until the day when a World War II pilot crashlands during a secret mission. When Diana rescues him, he considers her his “angel” and thus a great romance is born. That was the basis of the Wonder Woman television show of the 1970s, though it’s Steve Trevor Jr. in the later episodes set in the present day.
What does Diana see in an ordinary man, a mortal man at that? She sees a man fighting against the odds for his people, a man willing to risk death for his mission, and a man of high ideals fighting against evil. She also sees his compassion for the victims of the war. As originally conceived, Steve doesn’t care that Diana is better than him in so many ways. He admires her without feeling the least bit threatened by her strength.
Whenever I explain the relationship to others, I use the gender-flipped example of Captain America and Peggy Carter from the Marvel movies. Wonder Woman is often compared to Marvel’s Thor because of their mythic origins but her best analogue is Captain America: smart, idealistic, and compassionate. All those things Cap admires in Peggy, Diana admires them in Steve. And because Steve is the first man she meets, Diana decides that the outside world is worth saving.
Gender-flipping the roles makes for a great subversion of the “damsel in distress” trope. Steve Trevor wins the heart of his “angel” not because he’s an alpha male to match her but because his respect, his intelligence and his compassion win her heart.
However, not all comic book writers have seen Steve or the relationship in such a positive light. After William Moulton Marston passed, away, Steve’s role shifted over the decades. At first, he and Diana were eventually married on the alternate history Earth-2, where DC put most of its Golden Age heroes. They had a daughter, Lyta, who became the Fury.
Regular Earth-1 Steve Trevor fared much worse. He became obsessed with marrying Wonder Woman for a while and was killed off in 1968 when the title went in a new direction. He died two more times, only to be brought back to life both times, and then, when DC rebooted its entire comic book universe in 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, Steve lost his role in Wonder Woman’s origin.
Instead, it was his mother was the one who originally landed on Paradise Island. When Steve crashes there a generation later, he’s recognized as the son of the woman who inspired Diana, and she decides that it’s time to enter the outside world.
This added a feminist touch to Wonder Woman’s origin, though it excluded any romance between Steve and Diana. This version of Steve was older and instead married Etta Candy, another longstanding Wonder Woman supporting character who was revamped.
But that didn’t stick either. In 2005, DC rebooted again. Once more, Steve was given back his old role in Wonder Woman’s origin, except readers never saw their romance at all, only the aftermath of their break-up.
This Steve, the current version, is a special forces/superspy who has somewhat devolved from the original Steve, in that he feels the need to prove something to Diana, while one of the reasons she broke up with him is that he’s human and thus vulnerable to his enemies. I hate this trope when applied to the superhero boyfriend and his civilian girlfriend and I hate it with Steve and Diana, but at least their relationship held some possibilities for their future. Alas, instead she started dating Superman, a relationship that is all kinds of, well, boring.
It’s also a missed opportunity because when properly written, Steve and Diana have the same dynamic as Lois and Clark. Lois Lane fights for truth and justice with her pen, without superpowers. She’s Clark’s hero. Steve is Diana’s hero, the first one she ever meets. No wonder she imprints on him as the best of men.
One story in DC’s animated universe gets it right. In Justice League’s episode, “The Savage Time,” Wonder Woman is thrown back to World War II, and she saves Steve, who dubs her his “angel” again. She returns to the present day, he survives the war and Wonder Woman visits the elderly Steve in a scene very like the older Peggy Carter/Steve Rogers conversation in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
To Cap, Peggy is always his best girl. To Wonder Woman, Steve is always the best of men.
How will the upcoming Wonder Woman movie handle this relationship? Chris Pine has been cast as Steve Trevor, and casting such a big star tells me the story is going back to the roots of Trevor’s landing on Paradise Island and inspiring Diana to help the wider world. I hope this role is more along the lines of “stalwart Steve,” rather than his oddly creepy role in theWonder Woman animated movie.
If the movie gets it right, it’ll be continuing a romance that has been in effect, on and off, since 1941.
Corrina Lawson, Blogger