Wonder Woman‘s 75-year anniversary celebrations are in full swing. There are hardcover collections, playlists, new clothing, promotion campaigns, even stamps. But while Superman‘s girlfriend, Lois Lane, got her own book for his 75th anniversary, Wonder Woman’s (sorta) boyfriend, Steve Trevor, won’t get such an honor.
Throughout the 75 years of his history, writers have always had issues with writing compelling stories for Steve. They have to have a reason to be in love, and for a long time, it was just “he was the first man she saw”. He crashes on Paradise Island and Wonder Woman had to bring him back. But they really had nothing in common or anything to complement each other. Steve was a military intelligence officer and Wonder Woman was his nurse friend. That only worked in the war, though; after the war, women went back to their old roles as girlfriends and annoying little sisters, no longer the intrepid reporter gals and femme fatales they were during the war.
Girls had always been avid comic book readers. In the fifties, they read young romance titles or career-minded comics like Millie the Model, Torchy, and Nellie the Nurse. Black Canary and Liberty Belle, the other heroines of the war, faded into obscurity. Wonder Woman stayed in vogue — albeit as a romance novel. Steve Trevor’s role in this era is somewhat questionable. He wants to marry her, but she won’t as she has her mission. He’s incredibly jealous she associated with other men and sometimes uses trickery and secret government equipment to get his way.
In the early sixties, there was simply no place for Steve Trevor. He was no longer the reason she came to man’s world, that changed to a wager by the gods. Wonder Woman — and her time-displaced younger version Wonder Girl — had romantic triangles with a merman and a winged boy who were so generic they were actually just called Mer-Boy and Wingo. For good reason, they’re explicitly non-canon now. Steve returned and all was boring and normal, so in order to be interesting… he had to die. Wonder Woman gave up her powers and Queen Hippolyta decided to wipe her daughter’s memory of Steve to stop her grief. Diana spent the next years in an oft-maligned mod dress, being a discount Mrs. Peel.
After regaining her powers, Wonder Woman went through a weird period where writers made her do all kind of things and then be completely different 5 issues later. There were even less solid story ideas without Steve then there were with. So they revived him. Aphrodite created “Steve Howard,” a brunette superspy, from the body of Steve and some essence of Eros. But even he didn’t last long: he was killed by negligible villain Dark Commander. Two years later, a new Steve Trevor appeared. He was actually from an alternate universe. It sounds silly, but it worked. In the early 1980s, Wonder Woman had one of her most stable periods. Diana discovered her mother messed with her memories and confronted her. Aphrodite restored original Steve Trevor’s mind in the alternate universe Trevor’s mind. No one cared what happened to this guy. And all was back to normal.
Until Crisis on Infinite Earths, that is. Geroge Perez took the quick decision to remove Steve out of the picture. Sure, he was still vital to her origin, but he was about 20 years her senior. He hooked up with his aide, Etta Candy, instead. They married, but he barely showed up again. He left the air force to become a consultant, and later served as Deputy Secretary of Defense in the Jonathan Horne administration. Diana had several other boyfriends — Trevor Barnes, Alcmaeon, and even Batman.
The New 52 gave writers the chance to reinsert Steve back in Diana’s life. It barely happened, though. Wonder Woman’s own title was one solid storyline that cared little about the bigger universe. Steve only showed up in the Justice League title, where he was the failed boyfriend who was replaced by Superman. Diana’s origin was only covered in one issue, and it featured Steve only briefly. In flashback, with no lines, in the background of one panel. The whole connection the two had with her saving him was never addressed. In Rebirth, DC’s new reinvention, there’s an attempt to restore that. And it looks like it’s going to improve; Steve is still a government operative (more Marine than Air Force, though), but Diana has a connection to him again.
The main issue with the two characters was that connection, or rather, the lack of it. She saved him and nursed him back to health and he was a reason for coming to America, but for the rest, they had little in common. Recent versions outside the main continuity seek to change that. In Morrison’s Wonder Woman: Earth One, Steve is African-American and his family’s past in slavery is used to strike a bond. Marguerite Bennet’s DC Bombshells makes him a shell-shocked veteran who teaches her humanity. In Renae de Liz’s The Legend of Wonder Woman, he is the path to her maturity and challenging the established order.
Steve Trevor only works if he serves a purpose beyond being her Call to Adventure – if he can teach her something. Here’s to hoping Chris Pine’s version in Wonder Woman has something to offer in that department.