Posts Tagged ‘William Moulton Marston’

“America’s Silver Age,” My Piece On Gender And Race In Silver Age Wonder Woman Comics For The Los Angeles Review Of Books

April 14, 2014

This weekend, a piece I wrote about Wonder Woman’s Silver Age comics went up at the Los Angeles Review of Books. We really could have called it “Ugh, White Men, Am I Right?” but “America’s Silver Age” is a classier title choice. Ostensibly a review of Wonder Woman: The Amazon Princess Archives, Volume 1, which came out a while ago, the piece looks at the depiction of women and people of colour (or rather, the lack thereof) in Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru, and Mike Esposito’s revision of Wonder Woman that began in 1958.

In the Golden Age, William Moulton Marston and H.G. Peter’s Wonder Woman was all about female strength and superiority. It was also a fairly racially diverse comic for the time, though these depictions of people of colour ran the gamut from moderately positive to offensive stereotypes. Marston himself wasn’t nearly as forward thinking about race as he was about gender; in his psychological writing he frowned on interracial relationships, and he had a number of connections with known eugenics supporters and sympathizers, including his de facto aunt, Margaret Sanger. Nonetheless, the early years of Wonder Woman actually portrayed people of colour at least, however problematically.

When Kanigher, Andru, and Esposito began their new take on Wonder Woman in 1958, Marston’s feminist messages went out the window, as did people of colour. In the thirteen issues collected in this first Silver Age Wonder Woman Archive volume, there are only three very brief instances that feature people of colour. This panel from Wonder Woman #103, featuring Inuits fleeing a glacier, was the most any non-white characters spoke in the book:

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It was a whitewashed book, removing race all together at a time when race was a daily issue in American society as the Civil Rights Movement continually gained momentum.

You can read the full piece over at the Los Angeles Review of Books, and of course learn more about Wonder Woman’s history generally in my book, Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine.

Wonder Woman Unbound Preview #8: Suffering Sappho!

March 3, 2014

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Every Monday until Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine comes out this April, we’re taking a look at a comic panel that captures a key moment in Wonder Woman’s history and highlights an important point from each chapter.

Wonder Woman had a colourful array of divinely inspired expressions she’d exclaim to punctuate her dialogue in the Silver Age.  “Merciful Minerva!”, “Great Hera!”, and “Thunderbolts of Jove!” were but a few of her Rob Burgundy-esque catchphrases.  But she had another common expression that didn’t reference a deity at all: “Suffering Sappho!”

Today we’re going to look at four panels, all from the same issue, that illustrate how widespread this expression was.  The panels are from Wonder Woman #115 in July 1960:

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That’s a lot of “Suffering Sappho!”  Sappho was an ancient Greek poet who is best known for poems where women professed their affection for other women; the name of her home, the island of Lesbos, is the basis for the term lesbian.  To mention Sappho is to make a very specific reference, and Kanigher did so often in the Silver Age.  Wonder Woman #115’s four times in one issue wasn’t even a record.

With all of the marriage-centric, romantic shenanigans in the Silver Age, it’s possible to read “Suffering Sappho!” as a subversion of this marital focus that hinted at Wonder Woman’s true lesbian leanings.  Lesbian inclinations were a part of Wonder Woman from the very beginning of the series, and William Moulton Marston’s psychological work broke with the trends of the time and was firmly in favour of sexual relations between women.  There was a lot going on between the lines in the first few decades of Wonder Woman.

To read more, you’ll have to wait until Wonder Woman Unbound comes out this April!  Be sure to come back next Monday, when we’ll look at Wonder Woman’s mod era, and also check out the seventh installment of my Wonder Woman interview series this Wednesday; we’ll be talking with some great Wonder Woman artists!

Wonder Unbound Unbound is available for pre-order now, online or at your local comic shop.

Wonder Woman Unbound Preview #4: Bound And Determined

February 3, 2014

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Every Monday until Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine comes out this April, we’re taking a look at a comic panel that captures a key moment in Wonder Woman’s history and highlights an important point from each chapter.

Wonder Woman was a hero far ahead of her time, advocating for the strength and superiority of women.  The utopian Paradise Island showcased the benefits of matriarchal rule, but William Moulton Marston chose an unusual metaphor; the most common activity on Paradise Island was bondage games, like in this panel from Wonder Woman #13:

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Bondage imagery made up a significant portion of Wonder Woman’s Golden Age comic books, and it had a specific purpose.  On Paradise Island, being controlled by women was a fun, pleasant activity.  Everyone in the panel above is clearly having a good time.  But out in the world of men, bondage became a harsh critique of patriarchy.  Being controlled by a man was always unpleasant and oppressive for Wonder Woman and her friends.

This bondage metaphor, while odd for a children’s comic, holds up in theory.  In practice, however, there were certain fixations in Marston’s employment of the metaphor that complicated the message.  The feminism was wrapped up in a fetishism that occasionally took a dark turn and clouded Wonder Woman’s progressive aims.

To read more, you’ll have to wait until Wonder Woman Unbound comes out this April!  Be sure to come back next Monday, when we’ll look at some Wonder Women, plural, and also check out the third installment of my interview series this Wednesday; we’ll be talking with Janelle Asselin!

Wonder Unbound Unbound is available for pre-order now, online or at your local comic shop.

Wonder Woman Unbound Preview #2: Utopian Origins

January 20, 2014

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Every Monday until Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine comes out this April, we’re taking a look at a comic panel that captures a key moment in Wonder Woman’s history and highlights an important point from each chapter.

Last week we saw a brutal Superman threatening to kill a bad guy.  This week, we see an alternative approach to superheroics with this panel from the very first appearance of Wonder Woman in All-Star Comics #8 in December 1941:

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While the origins of male superheroes featured destroyed planets, dead parents, and a whole host of anger and abandonment issues, Wonder Woman came from a feminist utopia.  The Amazons were an advanced race who lived on a peaceful island that provided them with everything they could possibly need, and their utopian existence made them all as strong and as capable as superheroes.  Paradise Island illustrated William Moulton Marston’s belief that a matriarchal society would be far superior to patriarchy.

Wonder Woman was the product of this feminist paradise, and its values led her to a new approach to crimefighting that made her markedly different from her superhero peers.  She traded anger and aggression for love and compassion, modeling the feminist ideals of her home to improve the outside world.

To read more, you’ll have to wait until Wonder Woman Unbound comes out this April!  But there are still lots of sneak peeks to come, and next week we’ll look at a couple of damsels in distress.

Wonder Woman Unbound Preview #1: The Status Quo

January 13, 2014

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Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine is set to hit bookstores this April, so I thought it would be fun to take a peek at what’s in the book.  Every Monday until the book comes out, I’ll put up a comic panel that captures a key moment in Wonder Woman’s history and highlights an important point from each chapter.

When the book was announced in December we saw a panel that is discussed in the very first sentence of the introduction, Diana trying on dresses in Wonder Woman #182, but for Chapter One we go back to a time before Wonder Woman was created with this panel from Action Comics #2 in July 1938:

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This is not the Superman we all know and love.  Threatening to kill a bad guy and circumventing the law by meting out his own punishment is not what we’re used to seeing from the Big Blue Boy Scout, but Superman had a darker edge in his early years.  And he wasn’t the only one; Batman carried a gun and “accidentally” killed several villains, Captain America had a high body count as well, and threats, violence, and death were the norm for most superhero comics at the dawn of the Golden Age.  All of these heroes would soon develop a kinder code of conduct, but it took a few years.

It was in this environment of violence and aggression that Wonder Woman first appeared.  William Moulton Marston wanted to counter the “blood-curdling masculinity” of the superhero genre and so he created a female hero who was motivated by love and a belief that everyone could be a better person, not by anger and violence.

To read more, you’ll have to wait until Wonder Woman Unbound comes out in April!  Next Monday, we’ll take a look at a panel from Wonder Woman’s very first appearance in All-Star Comics #8.

The Smithsonian Names “Wonder Woman Comic” One Of The 101 Objects That Made America

October 30, 2013

The Smithsonian Institute has a new book called “The Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects”, a collection of important American artifacts.  The Smithsonian houses a ridiculous amount of historical items, including a lot of comic book memorabilia, but one comic was singled out as one of the objects that made America:

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The entry states:

“Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength and power,” psychologist William Moulton Marston wrote in 1943. He had already modeled a new archetype on his wife and fellow psychologist, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, and Olive Byrne, a homemaker who lived with the Marstons in a relationship that included shared children. Wonder Woman, a magic-lasso-toting dispenser of justice, broke the superhero glass ceiling in All Star Comics in December 1941.

I love this choice.  And not just because I love Wonder Woman, but because it recognizes the historical impact of a female superhero.  The Wonder Woman entry is listed in the “Power” section alongside Abraham Lincoln’s top hat, Susan B. Anthony’s gavel, and the lunch counter that held the first anti-segregation sit-in in Greensboro, North Carolina.  These objects represent significant growth in the advancement of equality, and while Wonder Woman may not be quite as impactful as Abraham Lincoln (he’s already had several movies), Wonder Woman is certainly a well known and powerful symbol for female strength.  She is the archetypical strong woman, an icon whose impact has resonated for nearly 75 years.

The Smithsonian has an excellent Wonder Woman collection, particularly in terms of the Golden Age, and I’ve been lucky enough to see a lot of it.  There are great letters between William Moulton Marston and his publisher, M.C. Gaines; notes for Wonder Woman issues; an assortment of Marston’s articles; and many other odd and interesting things.  The Smithsonian is a fantastic resource for researching Wonder Woman, and a lot of the items have been digitized so you can get access to them (after filling in the proper forms) without actually having to travel to the Smithsonian itself.  I highly recommend checking it out.

It’s good to see the Smithsonian recognizing Wonder Woman as the important, beloved icon that she is.  The company that owns her often doesn’t seem to much appreciate her worth, so there’s some nice consolation when someone else does.

Wired Says We Don’t Need A Wonder Woman Movie OR I Disagree Entirely

July 23, 2013

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Today Wired put up an article entitled “We Don’t Need No Stinking Wonder Woman Movie” by Noah Berlatsky where he argues, obviously, against a Wonder Woman film.  I generally enjoy Berlatsky’s stuff, but I disagree with him completely on this.  The argument boils down to the fact that originally Wonder Woman had a very specific and fascinating creative vision rooted in bondage and lesbian feminism, which Warner Bros. will never make into a movie.  Furthermore, every version of the character that’s followed the Golden Age Wonder Woman has been dull, uninteresting, and watered down in comparison, so basically Berlatsky says “Why bother?”

Berlatsky is generally correct.  Yeah, the original Wonder Woman is pretty bonkers and fascinatingly so, so much that later incarnations are certainly less interesting and often less entertaining.  And yeah, there will never ever be a movie based on that.  But I disagree that there’s no way to capture Wonder Woman on film in a meaningful, interesting, and entertaining way.

Saying that the original Wonder Woman is the only version of the character that matters is ignoring the fact that the character has been evolving for decades.  I’d agree with Berlatsky that there haven’t been a lot of great takes on Wonder Woman over the decades, but there definitely have been some good runs and angles on Wonder Woman that could be used or combined to create a cool film version.  There’s a reason people still love the character; not all Wonder Woman fans are Marston enthusiasts.  Some people love Rucka, some love Simone, or Cooke, or Jimenez, or Perez.  There’s a lot to work with.  There’s no one singular take on the character to point to and say “Here, do this”, but guess what?  There’s no such thing for any other superhero movie.  Iron Man, Batman Begins, The Avengers; none of these are direct adaptations of any one particular vision or comic run.  Instead, they combine the good parts of many versions of the characters to create something new.  That’s the beauty of superhero movies: There’s so much to draw from.

I agree with Berlatsky that a specific artistic vision is good, but by focusing only on Marston’s vision as the be all end all we don’t allow someone else to develop their own vision.  Wonder Woman needs someone who can take the best bits of her incarnations and create a modern, relevant, feminist take on the character, drawing from the past while injecting their own ideas as well.  A strong artistic vision is what makes other superhero movies great.  If Frank Miller was our be all end all for Batman, then there’d be no point in Christopher Nolan doing his Batman movies.  If we held up Stan Lee or Brian Michael Bendis as some Platonic ideal of how to do the Avengers, then we’d have denied Joss Whedon a crack at the characters.  Just because someone has a clear, fascinating vision for a character doesn’t mean that someone else can’t have a clear, fascinating, but somewhat different vision as well.

Whenever Grant Morrison gets interviewed about his Wonder Woman: Earth One graphic novel, I get annoyed because it sounds like he’s just trying to ape Marston’s approach to Wonder Woman instead of doing his own thing.  The bondage and lesbian feminism in the Golden Age Wonder Woman is SO organically Marston.  These themes are part of everything Marston ever wrote, and while a lot of it is in intentional, there’s also a lot that’s just Marston’s beliefs and kinks bleeding through unintentionally.  Another comic book writer or filmmaker trying to capture that is just silly; Marston LIVED that stuff.  Creators today need to draw from what they live, from what’s relevant to feminism and womanhood today.  Yes, Marston’s bizarre vision was the genesis of Wonder Woman, but that doesn’t mean that no one else can never create another great version of the character.

No one wants a bad Wonder Woman movie.  On that, Wonder Woman fans seem universally agreed; we’d all rather a good movie later than a bad movie now, and given Warner Bros.’ track record it’s logical to be leery of what they might do with her.  But a winning formula has been established: Find a talented director with a strong vision for the character, let him or her build on the character’s history while establishing something new, and voila you’ve got a billion dollars and a damn good film.  It’s not a perfect formula (I’m looking at you, Zach Snyder), but the track record is solid.  We’ll never get a bondage infused lesbian Wonder Woman movie, but that doesn’t mean that someone else’s vision for Wonder Woman can’t be compelling and fun.


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