A brief history of Wonder Woman's golden armor

A lot has changed for Gal Gadot‘s Diana Prince since the year 1971. As shown in the first Wonder Woman movie, the Amazon warrior left her home of Themyscira, waged war against the God of War himself during World War I, (seemingly) lost the love of her life in an aircraft explosion, and found out she’s part deity herself. Now, in the upcoming sequel, Wonder Woman 1984, a lot more changes are coming, including one major visual transformation.

Diana trades her traditional red-white-and-blue battle gear for something with a bit more gleam: golden armor that comes with a helmet in the likeness of the eagle that emblazons her belt and gigantic metallic wings that allow her to pierce the sky. Those familiar with DC comic book lore know this as the character’s Golden Eagle Armor and it’s making its live-action debut in theaters with the movie this June 5.

Here’s a brief look at the armor’s history in the comics and why it’s so important to Diana’s story.

Thy Kingdom Come

Diana first suited up as her own specialized winged victory in the third issue of Elseworlds: Kingdom Come, a four-issue series published from Alex Ross and Mark Waid in 1996. The comic book event took place in a not-so-distant future when Superman put himself out of retirement in light of a tragedy. That’s when a faction of newer, younger metahumans rise up, bringing with them a violent, volatile approach to heroism that exists in stark opposition to the more traditional views of the Justice League. Their compromised, reckless morals blur the line between hero and villain, and end up hurting innocents in the process. When a catastrophic event kills millions of Americans, Superman returns to reform the League and wage war against the brash, out-of-control new protectors of earth.

All this is important in understanding the stakes at play that would make Wonder Woman bust out her new suit.

Alex Ross for DC Comics
Alex Ross for DC Comics

When Superman returns, he and Diana have different ideas about how to handle the rising threat. Hanging on her wall in the Watch Tower are a pair of golden wings and a golden eagle helmet. When their prison for supervillains breaks out in a riot, she’s ready to drop the hammer — more specifically, her sword made by the god Hephaestus so sharp that it can cut atoms and even Superman’s skin. The armor is a symbol of war. When Diana puts it on, she’s ready to embrace her Spartan side and enter the throes of battle. It’s a side Superman says he’s not comfortable seeing. “I expect to be a soldier,” she says in the comic. So, she must dress the part. It’s only later, as Diana comes around to accepting Superman’s more peaceful way of thinking, that she sheds the armor. The Wonder Woman costume we’ve come to know signifies the hero of the Amazons, someone who’s compassionate, fierce, and avoids battle if possible. The golden armor notes someone who seeks battle out.

A weapon of war

While Kingdom Come was more of an event series, future DC writers and artists would incorporate the golden armor into various canonized storylines, specifically when Diana found herself in the throes of a grand battle and needed to pack some additional heat. The heroine doesn’t wear a lot of armor in most depictions. It’s her otherworldly reflexes and bullet-deflecting gauntlets that lay down the most protection. So, when you see Diana now suited up head to toe, you know things just got serious.

DC Comics
DC Comics

In 1999’s Wonder Woman #144 from writer Eric Luke, penciler Yanick Paquette, and inker Bob McLeod (shown above), Diana bounces back after a defeat from Devastation, a dark version of Wonder Woman created by the Titan Cronus to match the champion of Themyscira. In 2001’s Our Worlds at War, Diana wore the armor again, this time to fight Imperiex, a cosmic entity with the nasty habit of decimating entire universes only to rebuild new ones from the ashes.

Multiple other versions of the golden get-up were used throughout comic book history, though Diana’s remained largely the same. Hippolyta, Diana’s mother, had one made in the likeness of her daughter’s gear at one point — wings included. The battle against Genocide, a henchman of Ares, in Gail Simone’s Rise of an Olympian story arc from 2009 gave two other Amazons eagle armor, one silver and one bronze to complement Diana’s gold.

The year is 1984

Bringing this iconography to life on the screen, costume designer Lindy Hemming referenced Ancient Roman soldiers for the look, which went through multiple iterations before landing on the version we see in Wonder Woman 1984. “In the light it’s always liquid, moving,” she tells EW of the wings. “There’s a feeling of non-flatness… Because in the comics, she does fight her mightiest battles in the golden suit.”

Warner Bros. Pictures
Warner Bros. Pictures

The specific ways in which director Patty Jenkins weaves in the armor into the story in the Hollywood blockbuster sequel is still unknown, but Diana will have multiple villains to contend with.

In the year 1984, the immortal warrior finds herself living a lonely life in Washington, D.C., working at the Natural History Museum. Her colleague is Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), an awkward gemologist. A friend turns into an enemy, however, when Barbara begins her transformation into the Cheetah, a ferocious, supernatural cat-human hybrid. It’s during the beginnings of this change that she meets Maxwell Lord, a mogul who deals in gold, oil, and the like. “Max is a dream-seller,” actor Pedro Pascal says. “It’s this character who encompasses a component of the era which is, you know, ‘Get whatever want, however you can. You’re entitled to it!’ And at any cost, ultimately, which represents a huge part of our culture and this kind of unabashed — it’s greed. It’s f—ing greed, of course. But it’s also about ‘How do you be your best self? How do you win?’ So he’s definitely the face of that version of success.”

No wonder Wonder Woman needs a little backup.

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