Wonder Woman: Bondage By Frank Miller And Bill Sienkiewicz, And How Way Off It Would Have Been

Bleeding Cool ran this image today (first posted at DC Women Kicking Ass) of a bound Wonder Woman drawn by Bill Sienkiewicz.  It seems that Frank Miller and Sienkiewicz were talking about doing a Wonder Woman series called Wonder Woman: Bondage, inspired by the bondage themes in William Moulton Marston’s original Wonder Woman stories, and this was a test piece:

The date on the picture appears to be March 15, 2005, and the thought bubble reads: “I’ll bet Elektra never had to go thru this kind of humiliation… but I shouldn’t gloat.”

Sienkiewicz spoke to Bleeding Cool about the image, which was never meant to be seen by the public, and said:

[Wonder Woman’s] been simultaneously revered and handled poorly in some incarnations. To me she’s always been a ‘”symbol” more than a character that has been well-utilized in a story context. The most interesting stuff was the earliest – and felt the ripest for revisiting.

The fact that her creator William Marston also created the precursor to the lie detector and was into bondage lent a weird kinky vibe and made the idea of mucking with her and her origin a potentially fun trip.

The image was done by me to visually test the water, so to speak and my own comfort level, if not everyone else’s, about how far it could be pushed. I did some others that were far more extreme, no one has seen those, this one was relatively tame by comparison. Still it was perhaps a bit over the top, but I think Frank and I invited that.

I think Sienkiewicz pushed it too far.  Having spent three years researching Wonder Woman, I know way, way too much about her bondage-laden past and the theories/kinks behind it, but I still find the picture a little disconcerting.  Wonder Woman got tied up ALL the time, and even worse than in Sienkiewicz’s picture.  Check out this involved bondage scene from Wonder Woman #6:

She’s got a mask, a neck brace, tons of chains AND the golden lasso tied around her, plus after this she gets dropped in a big tank of water.  Sienkiewicz’s scenario seems like a bit of a tight spot, but Wonder Woman’s gotten out of worse.  The picture, however, is still very off-putting.

I think part of the problem is that we can’t see her face.  From the dialogue, it seems that she’s glad to be tied up, but a smile and a wink could go a long way here.  Wonder Woman was happy to be tied up lots of times:

Though she was also sad a lot, and those images don’t bother me as much as Sienkiewicz’s does.  Consider this panel from Wonder Woman #2 where a bound and crying Wonder Woman is taunted by her captor:

Now, this is not a fun image, but I don’t find it nearly as disturbing as the Sienkiewicz piece.  I think that ultimately, H.G. Peter’s artwork from the 1940s was much less visceral in two main ways.

First, Peter’s style was cartoonish.  He certainly had a unique style for the time… Wonder Woman and Sensation Comics looked rather different from anything else on the stands.  But it wasn’t anything near realistic.  Sienkiewicz, on the other hand, is certainly a very stylized artist, but with a far more realistic vibe. 

Second, this realism affects how we see the piece.  Sienkiewicz’s Wonder Woman is contorted and taut.  Her legs are bent back, her shoulders are pulled down… there’s a tightness to the piece that well communicates that her bonds have debilitated her.  With Peter, the layouts were far more basic.  Wonder Woman would be tied to a post, or chained to a table.  Her body was rarely twisted by her bonds.  Plus, it always felt like she could escape at any second… Peter’s Wonder Woman never seemed completely helpless.  Sienkiewicz’s picture looks like a really messed up murder scene, and Wonder Woman appears lifeless.  Peter’s art never sapped the life from the character.

I think this would have been a pretty terrible comic, as both men seem to be missing the tone/message of the original bondage entirely.  Bill Sienkiewicz is a fantastic artist, and Frank Miller is a great writer (I know a lot of Wonder Woman fans hate his take on the character in All Star Batman, but I think it’s far more hilarious and clever than people give it credit for), but they’re way off base.  I don’t know if Sienkiewicz or Miller came up with the dialogue for the image, but humiliation was absolutely not a part of Wonder Woman’s bondage past.

For Marston, what was good about bondage wasn’t a masochistic pleasure in being humiliated.  It was all about trusting the person who bound you, and being comfortable in giving control of yourself entirely to someone else.  It was a message of love and trust, and while super weird for a kid’s comic book, it’s kind of quaint and nice when you compare it to how we think about bondage today.  Marston believed that bondage went bad when this love and trust were removed and it became a dominance situation.  Rendering the bound party completely powerless or humiliated was a total perversion of how Marston thought bondage and submission should be.  When Wonder Woman was so bound, it was meant to illustrate the evils of our society. 

It all tied into his theories about how women should rule the world (bondage equals power; men tend to be dominant and cruel, while women tend to be loving and caring, thus we’d all be better off if we submitted to women and put them in charge), and it’s all very bizarre, but it’s a particular sort of bizarre.  Sienkiewicz and Miller’s interpretation of it, or at least what I can glean from this image, is WAY off the mark.  This image is bizarre in the wrong way.  Marston was certainly weird and kinky, and there are some serious problems with the way he presented his bondage theories, but Sienkiewicz seems to be operating from a far more modern concept of bondage and that’s not what the original comics were about.

So yeah, super off-putting picture.  I think that Sienkiewicz on a Wonder Woman book could be really cool, but maybe with a lighter sort of story.  Or at least dark in a different way.

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3 Responses to “Wonder Woman: Bondage By Frank Miller And Bill Sienkiewicz, And How Way Off It Would Have Been”

  1. AlexRiver Says:

    This is an interesting take. Looking back, those old Wonder Woman comics had a lot to do with how I viewed power dynamics between the sexes as I was growing up, and I think you’re right on about the old stuff equating bondage and trust.

    All that said, I still find the Sienkiewicz drawing hot enough to make me wish the “more extreme” versions had escaped to run wild on the internet.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Does she always have to have the same clothes on? Why not make her have a bikini or something to see her body more?

  3. Anonymous Says:

    With all the troubles and tribilations in this world. I ask this question ? Who has time too worry about a project that never got off the ground. Isn’t there more pressing issues in this world than an image of wonder women tied up? As William Shatner said too all those Trek fans that obsess over Star Trek the original series. “Get a life” I mean really the little picture A picture of Wonder Women tied up and global warming? Grow up people there is more too life then complaining about an image of some super hero who is tied up and that images is completly tame compared too some of the other stuff put on the web. (A comic geek from way back) A.L

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