For as long as there’s been a Wonder Woman, she’s had her magic bracelets. First appearing in 1941’s “All Star Comics” #8, she’s known for three tools in her fight against injustice: her invisible plane, her magic lasso and her bulletproof bracelets. We’ll be talking about the bracelets today.
Wonder Woman’s bracelets have been a source of strength and weakness, given her power and kept her power in check. They’ve been her shield and literally her sword, and they’re part of what makes Wonder Woman so… well, wonderful. As we’ve seen from the trailers and her cameo in “Batman v Superman,” 2017’s solo “Wonder Woman” movie will be showing a lot of those bracelets, so let’s find out more about them. Here are 15 things you probably didn’t know.
15. THE NAME
Wonder Woman’s bracelets have been kind of like Captain America’s shield or Wolverine’s claws; they’re known more for who’s using them than the objects themselves. You probably wouldn’t expect to find out Wolverine’s claws are named Larry, Moe and Curly or that Captain America’s shield is named Hubert (they’re not, by the way). In the same way, the mystical bracelets Wonder Woman wears have been almost universally called “Wonder Woman’s bracelets” among both hardcore and passing fans alike, but there’s actually a real name for them.
From the beginning, the bracelets were known as the Bracelets of Submission, and the capitals need to be in there. The name comes from how the bracelets affect Wonder Woman and the other Amazons, which we’ll get to in a moment. Even in the comics, though, the bracelets are usually just called “bracelets.” That’s why we’ll just be calling them Wonder Woman’s bracelets for most of this article.
14. THE REAL BRACELETS
There’s an in-universe origin for the bracelets which we’ll get to in a minute, but let’s talk about the reason for the superheroine’s bracelets in the real world, because there’s a pretty interesting story behind them. Wonder Woman was created by psychiatrist William Moulton Marston and artist Harry G. Peter in 1941 as one of the first female superheroes in comic books, but her appearance was partially based on Olive Byrne.
Byrne was a former student and assistant of Marston who was involved in a polygamous relationship with Marston and his wife. The three of them lived together, and Marston had children with his wife and Byrne. She liked to wear heavy silver bracelets, and Marston decided he wanted Wonder Woman to wear them, too. If you look at photos of Byrne and the Golden Age Wonder Woman, the bracelets match almost exactly. The jewelry was more about his attraction to Byrne than superpowers, but the bracelets have turned out to be great for Wonder Woman as well.
One thing almost anyone who knows anything about Wonder Woman knows is that her bracelets are bulletproof, and she uses them as shields to protect herself. A common pose for Wonder Woman is holding up her arms while bullets bounce off her bracelets. In fact, the bracelets don’t just stop bullets: they’re almost indestructible. She’s repelled all sorts of attacks with her bracelets, including Darkseid’s Omega beams and Superboy’s heat vision. The only objects that have ever broken them have been magical in nature.
For instance, in 1983’s “Wonder Woman” #307 (written by Dan Mishkin and pencilled by Don Heck), Wonder Woman fought Niko Aegeus, a Greek terrorist who got hold of weapons of the gods including the daggers of Vulcan, which are invulnerable and were able to cut her magic lasso and shatter one of her bracelets. That makes them more than a match for any conventional weapon.
In the Golden Age of Comics, Wonder Woman was strong, agile and confident with only one real weakness, and it was a weakness tied to her bracelets. If any man chained the bracelets together, she would become as “weak as a kitten” (as she put it). In “Sensation Comics” #4 (William Moulton Marston, Harry G. Peter), it was revealed that when Aphrodite cast her spell on the bracelets, she also added a curse that Amazons would lose their strength if their wrists were chained by a man. Later on, this changed so that any binding of Wonder Woman’s wrists by a man would weaken her.
This led to a lot of pages of Wonder Woman being tied up in the early comics, which caused plenty of snickering about the idea of showing a scantily-clad woman in bondage, all of which are entirely justified (Marston was openly into BDSM), but that weakness was removed in the post-Crisis era. In the modern age, trying to tie up Wonder Woman just gets you some broken chains and a punch in the face.
For Marston, the bracelets were more than just a piece of jewelry, a way for Wonder Woman to defend herself or a tribute to his lover. There was a greater symbolism about the use of strength over protection. The analogy was explained in 1946’s “Comic Cavalcade” #14 (William Moulton Marston, Harry G. Peter). In that story, a young woman was frustrated with her problems on a sports team, so Wonder Woman took her to Paradise Island for training as an Amazon.
The first step in training was to be bound with Aphrodite’s bracelets, which gave the woman superhuman strength and agility. After a while, she took the bracelets off and became cruel, abusing her strength. Wonder Woman explained that people who are strong will abuse their strength unless they’re bound by love. To Marston, the bracelets represented the need to balance strength with love. Emotions, he said, are stronger than physical power. Quite a lot to pack into a couple of metal bracelets.
10. GOING BERSERK
We already know there are a lot of reasons to keep the bracelets on, but what happens if you take them off? That’s actually a complicated question because the answer has been “it depends.” In the Golden and Silver Age of comics, if the bracelets were removed, it would literally drive an Amazon insane. Remember that story we mentioned earlier where a woman was adopted as an honorary Amazon and was driven to evil by removing her bracelets? Well, the same thing would happen to Wonder Woman or any other Amazon if her bracelets were removed. She would be consumed by a “berserker” rage, making her stronger and more dangerous.
Marston wrote the character this way, because he wanted this side effect to be an analogy of how people had to keep emotions in check. The bracelets were a symbol of love, and without love (according to Marston) people would become insane and animalistic.
Now that we’ve talked about the past, let’s talk about the present. In modern stories, the bracelets don’t keep her from going insane; they keep her from getting too strong. In recent times, Wonder Woman is a demigod, the daughter of Zeus. Her bracelets now hold back her awesome power. To see what happens when she takes them off, we can look at 2012’s “Wonder Woman” #12 by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang.
In the story, Wonder Woman faced off against Artemis, the sister of Apollo. As she prepared to fight, Wonder Woman took off her bracelets. At first, Artemis mocked her, asking what she could do against a god without her bracelets to protect her. As Wonder woman glowed with power, she revealed the cuffs weren’t to protect her but to protect Artemis, and proceeded to give the goddess a beatdown. Yes, Wonder Woman’s bracelets aren’t to protect her from anyone else, but to protect us from her.
8. APHRODITE’S CURSE
Wonder Woman’s bracelets are unique, but not exactly one-of-a-kind. There are quite a few other women in the DC universe who wear bracelets, and that includes the entire Amazon race. All Amazons wear the bracelets, part of a pact with Aphrodite. In the lore of Wonder Woman, the Amazons were once the greatest nation on Earth, but were tricked and enslaved by Hercules. When they were freed, Aphrodite ordered them to move to Paradise Island and wear the bracelets as a symbol of their submission to her. In the Golden Age, all the bracelets worn by Amazons were indestructible, and all had the same weakness to make them helpless if bound together.
In the post-Crisis era, the Amazons were created by the gods to unite all humanity with their love and compassion. The Amazons still wear bracelets to symbolize their enslavement to Hercules, but also to show penance for their failure to reform mankind. Wonder Woman’s are some of the only indestructible ones.
7. OTHER BRACELETS
There are a few more women who wear the indestructible bracelets. Donna Troy made her first appearance as Wonder Girl in 1965’s “The Brave and the Bold” #60, created by Robert Kanigher. Her origin has evolved over the years from being an orphan child, rescued and taken to Paradise Island by Wonder Woman, to Troy’s origin as a mystic twin of Wonder Woman created by an evil sorceress. She wore her own less powerful version of the bracelets.
In 1996’s “Wonder Woman” #105 by John Byrne, Cassie Sandmark was introduced as a new Wonder Girl, the daughter of an archaeologist and daughter of Zeus. She wore the Gauntlet of Atlas, which gave her super-strength. Sandmark was later reintroduced in the New 52 reboot as a thief with enchanted armor that gives her superhuman strength and durability, and includes her own bracelets. There’s also Wonder Woman’s mother, Hippolyta, who was retconned as the Wonder Woman of World War II with her own set of bracelets to fight evil. Still, none of them were as powerful as Diana’s.
Wonder Woman’s first appearance explained a lot about her tools, including her magic lasso that forced people to tell the truth and her Bracelets of Submission, but one thing “All Star Comics” #8 didn’t explain was what the bracelets were made of. That didn’t change until “Wonder Woman” #52 (by Robert Kanigher and Harry G. Peter) in 1952, where it was explained the bracelets were made of “amazonium,” an indestructible metal from her home island blessed by a spell from the goddess Aphrodite. To reflect bullets, Wonder Woman had to use incredible speed and agility.
After the events of 1985’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” the origin of Wonder Woman’s bracelets changed. The bracelets were now forged from the Aegis, a legendary and unbreakable shield of Zeus made from the hide of the Olympian she-goat Amalthea. Instead of just bouncing bullets off the bracelets, the bracelets now generated a force field in front of her that would reflect any attacks. The force field was retconned, but the origin remained.
In 1976, the live-action TV show introduced a new source for the bracelets, forged from a metal called feminum that could only be found on Paradise Island. With a story by Barbara Avedon and Barbara Corday, a teleplay by Jimmy Sangster, and directed by Herb Wallerstein, the two-part episode “The Feminum Mystique” involved Wonder Girl, the bracelets and Nazis, so it’s worth getting into more detail.
In the episode, Wonder Woman’s sister Drusilla was sent to get Wonder Woman to return to Paradise Island, but ends up captured by Nazis. She transforms into Wonder Girl, and the Nazis analyzed her bracelets to discover they were made of an alien ore called “feminum.” Wonder Girl accidentally revealed the location of Paradise Island, and the Nazis tried to capture the Amazons and mine the feminum, but Wonder Woman saved the day. Feminum never appeared again in the comics or any other media, so it was kind of a one-hit wonder.
4. BOUNCING BULLETS
Speaking of the 1970s TV show, we should talk about it here, because the Bracelets of Submission were a big part of it. Lynda Carter played the Amazonian princess on that series, and almost never missed an episode without someone shooting at her and bouncing bullets off her bracelets. Like all other versions of Wonder Woman, the bulletproof bracelets were a big part of her epic character, but they had to use some fancy (for the time) special effects to do it.
On the TV show, the impact of the bullets was made by putting tiny explosive charges (called squibs) on her bracelets before the take. They gave a remote to Carter, who would trigger the charges with a push of a button, so it would look like the explosions were caused by gunshot impacts. The sparks and flashes that followed always looked great, and were a whole lot safer than actual bullets.
2010’s “Wonder Woman” #600 (by Geoff Johns and Scott Kolins) introduced a new version of the superhero where her history was mysteriously changed. Wonder Woman lost her memory, Paradise Island was destroyed and she was redesigned with a new costume and new abilities. Her star-spangled bikini was replaced with long black leggings and a red corset, her bracelets became true gauntlets, and her top changed to include a jacket. Her bracelets also gained a new power, which was to brand her enemies.
In the new design, her bracelet had a “W” stamped on them. When she hit someone with her bracelets, it would leave the mark of a “W” on their skin, sort of like branding them. Unfortunately, fans didn’t take to the idea of her new costume, and they especially didn’t like the idea of Wonder Woman branding people with wrist-punches, so that went away along with her long pants.
2. THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
Now that we’ve talked about the past, let’s talk more about the present-day Wonder Woman whose bracelets have more power than ever before. One of the biggest changes to her recent history has been the revelation that she’s a demi-goddess, and has powers from her father Zeus. In 2009’s “Wonder Woman” #34 by Gail Simone and Aaron Lopresti, she learned that by clashing her bracelets together, she can summon lightning bolts straight from Olympus at her enemies.
Another cool trick she’s gained from her bracelets is the ability to create shockwaves by smashing them together. In 2005’s “Wonder Woman” #219 (Greg Rucka, Tom Derenick, Georges Jeanty, Karl Kerschl, David Lopez and Rags Morales), Maxwell Lord used his mind control powers to make Superman fight Wonder Woman, thinking she was his enemy Doomsday. During their fight, Wonder Woman slammed her bracelets together on his head, and the shockwaves were strong enough to burst Superman’s eardrums.
There’s one more power her bracelets have gotten in recent years, which some fans hope will be in the new “Wonder Woman” movie. Some of the people who saw 2016’s “Batman v Superman” might have been surprised to see Wonder Woman with a sword and shield, but those weapons have been around for years in the comics, one of many changes to the classic character. In recent years, she can call her sword straight out of her bracelets.
In “Wonder Woman” #15, Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang, Hephaestus altered the bracelets so she could magically create swords from them right into her hands. Her Wolverine-like power gets better, because the bracelets can make any weapon she wants (including arrows, bows and spears) from thin air. When she’s done with the weapons, they disappear in a flash back into her bracelets, ready for next time. That sure beats keeping her swords on her belt or in her forearms.
What do you think of Wonder Woman’s bracelets? Let us know in the comments!