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Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics, 1941-1948

Noah Berlatsky
Series: Comics Culture
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Wonder Woman
    Book Description:

    William Marston was an unusual man-a psychologist, a soft-porn pulp novelist, more than a bit of a carny, and the (self-declared) inventor of the lie detector. He was also the creator ofWonder Woman, the comic that he used to express two of his greatest passions: feminism and women in bondage.

    Comics expert Noah Berlatsky takes us on a wild ride through theWonder Womancomics of the 1940s, vividly illustrating how Marston's many quirks and contradictions, along with the odd disproportionate composition created by illustrator Harry Peter, produced a comic that was radically ahead of its time in terms of its bold presentation of female power and sexuality. Himself a committed polyamorist, Marston created a universe that was friendly to queer sexualities and lifestyles, from kink to lesbianism to cross-dressing. Written with a deep affection for the fantastically pulpy elements of the earlyWonder Womancomics, from invisible jets to giant multi-lunged space kangaroos, the book also reveals how the comic addressed serious, even taboo issues like rape and incest.

    Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics1941-1948reveals how illustrator and writer came together to create a unique, visionary work of art, filled with bizarre ambition, revolutionary fervor, and love, far different from the action hero symbol of the feminist movement many of us recall from television.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-6420-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-2)
    (pp. 3-12)

    Everybody knows about Wonder Woman, but not many people know aboutWonder Woman.

    Wonder Woman, of course, is the superhero. Most people are familiar with her from the 1970s television show, in which Lynda Carter put out her arms and spun herself into a big ball of light and a star-spangled swimsuit. Others may have seen her in theJustice League Unlimitedtelevision series, on the MAC cosmetics line, or (much less likely) in her own comics. She occasionally gets referenced on television shows suchas Bones(where wonder sleuth Temperance Brennan dresses up as Wonder Woman for Halloween) or...

    (pp. 13-73)

    The Marston/PeterWonder Womancomics were both feminist and filled with bondage imagery. This chapter tries to explain how that was possible. Though some critics and feminists see fetishized bondage as disempowering to women, I point out that representations of disempowerment are popular in women’s genre literature such as the romance and the gothic. Images of disempowerment, then, may be popular with women because they mirror women’s actual disempowerment.

    I then discussWonder Woman #16, perhaps the greatest Marston/Peter story (co-written by Joye Murchison).Wonder Woman #16is in many ways a gothic story. It also deals directly with women’s...

    (pp. 74-127)

    For Marston and Peter, Wonder Woman was both a mighty, battling Amazon and an avatar of peace. This chapter explores the logic and paradoxes of a hero who literally fights for pacifism. It is split into four parts. In the first part, “Just Warriors,” I examine the way in which superhero comics typically handle pacifism and violence, looking specifically at the use of the Amish inThe Nailand at the conflation of gender and violence in Spider-Man’s origin story to create an iconic male Just Warrior, in whom the good and the powerful are one.

    In the second part,...

    (pp. 128-186)

    Wonder Woman has often been seen as a queer or lesbian figure. This chapter begins by questioning Marston’s involvement in, and knowledge of, this queerness and discusses how questions of knowledge are tied to the closet. I then look at Marston’s psychological and fiction writing to argue that he was very conversant with, and approving of, lesbian relationships. This has implications for the reading of Marston’s own polyamorous relationship and for the comics, which can be seen as deliberately and consciously advocating lesbianism.

    The chapter moves on to discuss the contested relationship between men and lesbianism, looking at the figure...

    (pp. 187-216)

    In the introduction, I argued thatWonder Woman, the original comic, was much more interesting, beautiful, and worthwhile than Wonder Woman the popular icon. I have tried in the bulk of the book to show why I value Marston/Peter so much. In this conclusion, I want to briefly explain why I feel that most other versions of the character are—let’s be kind and say “superfluous.”

    The three chapters of this book focus on three of Marston/Peter’s major concerns: feminism (or bondage), pacifism (or violence), and gayness (or heterosexuality). For this conclusion, I have selected for discussion one iteration of...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 217-228)
    (pp. 229-240)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 241-251)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 252-252)