In the final moments of the Wonder Woman movie, the titular hero leaps into action and, from the perspective of the camera, it’s difficult to tell whether or not she’s meant to be flying.
This has revived some old fan debates about whether or not Wonder Woman can (or should) fly — and the answer is…complicated.
It seems pretty clear that in the universe of the movies, Wonder Woman cannot fly in the way audiences typically think of superhero flight. Rather, she appears to leap with great strength, distance, and accuracy, similar to the way the very earliest Superman comics featured a hero who could “leap tall buildings in a single bound” rather than fly. The Incredible Hulk can similarly use his strength to approximate flight with long leaps.
In the classic TV series, Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman could not fly, and instead used her invisible jet — which became one of the most well-known elements of Wonder Woman‘s mythology. Fans who watched the Super Friends cartoons will remember that she similarly used the invisible jet rather than flying under her own power. A generation or so later, fans who grew up watching Justice League and Justice League Unlimited likely remember that Wonder Woman could fly in that series.
Each of those previous iterations reflected the status quo of the main publishing line at DC at the time, except for this year’s movie, which seemingly removes her ability to fly at a time when she can fly in the comics.
(We…think. We’ll get to that in a minute.)
A qiuck rundown of Wonder Woman’s flight powers, as far as we can recall:
From the time of her creation through most of the Golden Age, Wonder Woman could not fly; it just wasn’t part of her power set. With relatively few superheroes existing at the time, and flight being a much more rare power in the Golden Age than it would soon become, this wasn’t too surprising.
In the late ’50s, Wonder Woman was suddenly able to “glide on air currents,” something that is relatively uncommon but not unheard-of, both in nature and in superhero comics. She could not fly under her own power, exactly, but it was a sight better than simply having powerful leaps, as she could harness her momentum and control her speed and descent more precisely. This power first reared its head in Wonder Woman #98 in 1958, and a Wonder Woman who could not fly, but who could approximate flight, has been the most common standard since.
Following the DC reboot that followed the Crisis on Infinite Earths, Wonder Woman’s origin was altered, and one of the changes they made was that she had been able to fly. She had been crafted from clay, and when she was brought to life, she was granted the power of flight by Hermes — it was one of a number of gifts bestowed upon her by the Greek pantheon.
Following the reboot that succeeded Flashpoint, DC again rebooted their universe, and again tweaked Wonder Woman’s origin: this time, like in the movie, she was the daughter of Hippolyta and Zeus, and the idea that she had come from clay was just something she was told for years. In this reality she wasn’t born with the ability to fly, but gained it during one of the stories, when Hermes scratched her with one of his feathers.
The events of DC Universe: Rebirth has cast doubt on exactly how much of Diana’s New 52 origin story is true, and the current, Rebirth-branded run in the comics has revised some of her history again slightly. A quick glance through the first two trade paperbacks of Greg Rucka, Nicola Scott, and Liam Sharp’s current Wonder Woman run as well as tomorrow’s Wonder Woman: Steve Trevor Special shows just one instance where Diana appears to clearly be flying. We assume, then, that she has retained her ability to fly but that, as something that isn’t a big part of the character’s iconography, it is not done as often as other characters more associated with flight might do it.
That might also explain the lack of flight powers in the DC Extended Universe: her ability to leap and glide, but not fly, makes her visually distinct in action scenes from both Superman and Wonder Woman, which is likely very important to filmmakers when the three characters are doing high-speed, computer-animated battle in a largely virtual environment against a virtual foe, as happened in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice‘s Doomsday battle.
Superman can sustain himself in the air, darting to and fro no matter where he is or what obstacles he faces, while Wonder Woman’s “flighs” are essentially silence, followed by impact when she lands on the other side of her leap. Batman has to use technology and guile, staying constantly moving, approximating flight to the best of his ability for moments like where he used his grappling gun to escape one of Doomsday’s blows.
The ability to have controlled leaps also enables Diana to do things like her standing leap into the steeple of a church where a gunman was trying to snipe her team, creating some cool, flight-like visuals without the storytelling cheat of Diana simply picking Steve up and flying off Themyscira, or from Londo to German High Command directly; she still has to have other means of transport, especially if she hopes to travel with friends.