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

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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 of Wonder 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 the Wonder Woman c 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 of Wonder 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 the Wonder Woman comics 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 early Wonder 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 Comics 1941-1948 reveals 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.


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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 of Wonder 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 the Wonder Woman c 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 of Wonder 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 the Wonder Woman comics 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 early Wonder 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 Comics 1941-1948 reveals 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.

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

  1. 4 out of 5

    Leah

    So the premise of this book is that this set of essays explores the original Marston/Peter comics and uses gender and queer theory to address themes of concern to Marston. Those themes include incest, bondage, gender roles, and sexual and gender orientation. Without a doubt this is an interesting read that offers up some great insights into the comics' themes and into the evolution of Wonder Woman over the decades. In the end, though, I was less than impressed with Berlatsky's analyses because th So the premise of this book is that this set of essays explores the original Marston/Peter comics and uses gender and queer theory to address themes of concern to Marston. Those themes include incest, bondage, gender roles, and sexual and gender orientation. Without a doubt this is an interesting read that offers up some great insights into the comics' themes and into the evolution of Wonder Woman over the decades. In the end, though, I was less than impressed with Berlatsky's analyses because they seem so fragmented without a clear systematic type of analysis or analytic framework. Berlatsky uses whatever theoretical framework advances his argument, and I was left with the feeling that he had cherry-picked theoretical constructs solely for the purpose of supporting his convictions, and that the themes were not so much Marston's concerns, but Berlatsky's. Often the analysis of pop culture suffer both from being ahistorical and disconnected from the lived experience of their creators. This analysis had the potential to systematically address both of these factors. Berlatsky doesn't ignore Marston's life and his take on gender and sexuality, but he doesn't systematically engage it, either. I feel like this book was a great opportunity that was poorly realized. This feels most true in Berlatsky's use of a psychosexual framework that makes of the tension in Freud's shift in viewing girls' experiences of forced sex as fantasy rather than reality. Berlatsky addresses Wonder Woman as addressing Oedipal impulses and congratulates Marston/Peter for making of that tension a dialectic of both experience and spectacle. I am left to wonder, however, why this framework was used and this theme addressed. Was this, in fact, a concern of Marston's? Did Berlatsky use the psychosexual framework as an influential set of signifiers that Marston likely used to communicate these concerns to a broad audience? These are unaddressed issues in the essays. Berlatsky is on firmer ground in his consideration of gender and sexuality, and here he uses Marston's own work to demonstrate his concerns with gender and sexuality. His use of theory across the decades, though, unmoors these essays from the notions of gender and sexuality contemporary with Marston's own, and unnecessarily weakens these essays. Berlatsky has made interesting points and brought to light a fascinating and unconventional set of comics that illuminate several aspects of gender and sexuality. I wish, though, that the analysis was more systematic and grounded in historical and lived experience.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Joshua

    I enjoyed thinking about Wonder Woman through the lenses of queerness, feminism, pacifism and bondage. This book is very heavy on the critical theory and I was using some muscles I hadn't in quite some time. During parts I felt like the author was going off on tangents that were only loosely associated with the main points, but they were interesting. May other times it was too dense for a leisure read. Overall though it was a very intellectual reading of an American Classic and if you're up for I enjoyed thinking about Wonder Woman through the lenses of queerness, feminism, pacifism and bondage. This book is very heavy on the critical theory and I was using some muscles I hadn't in quite some time. During parts I felt like the author was going off on tangents that were only loosely associated with the main points, but they were interesting. May other times it was too dense for a leisure read. Overall though it was a very intellectual reading of an American Classic and if you're up for some Foucault, Freud, and Butler then you'll enjoy it

  3. 4 out of 5

    Oliver Bateman

    berlatsky wrote a piece in the chronicle bitching about how jill lepore stole his thunder, a point he also mentions in passing in the book, but in terms of quality, there's no comparison: he blows her half-assed for-the-masses "life of marston" out of the water (he even appears to have read more of marston's dreadful "scholarship" than she had) with four gorgeous chapters that stretch the upper limits of cultural criticism. viz., berlatsky a) takes the text seriously, with close readings of impo berlatsky wrote a piece in the chronicle bitching about how jill lepore stole his thunder, a point he also mentions in passing in the book, but in terms of quality, there's no comparison: he blows her half-assed for-the-masses "life of marston" out of the water (he even appears to have read more of marston's dreadful "scholarship" than she had) with four gorgeous chapters that stretch the upper limits of cultural criticism. viz., berlatsky a) takes the text seriously, with close readings of important issues; b) selects excellent panels to reproduce; and c) engages with secondary literature of all kinds, even material with no obvious fit, and makes it work (the epistemology of the closet AND japanese education moms in the same book? u kno it!). just top shelf stuff here. highly recommended.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Christian Holub

    Berlatsky (whose work appears regularly on The Atlantic, Playboy, Esquire, and other sites) is one of my favorite cultural commentators. He writes academically and intelligently on pop cultural subjects often denied that treatment, and he's smart without ever being boring (always a difficult balancing act). This book, for instance, dives deep into feminism, Freud, and queer theory (among others) but makes it all understandable and enlightening. It'll enhance your views not only of Wonder Woman, Berlatsky (whose work appears regularly on The Atlantic, Playboy, Esquire, and other sites) is one of my favorite cultural commentators. He writes academically and intelligently on pop cultural subjects often denied that treatment, and he's smart without ever being boring (always a difficult balancing act). This book, for instance, dives deep into feminism, Freud, and queer theory (among others) but makes it all understandable and enlightening. It'll enhance your views not only of Wonder Woman, but of pop culture in general.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Nandi

    Not sure what I was expecting exactly, but I found it to be very dry. Had some interesting points to it.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Joe Higgins

    The difference between this book and Jill Lepore's book "Secret History of Wonder Woman", is that Berlatsky is a pop culture commentator/ historian, whereas LePore is simply a traditional academic cultural historian. Thus Berlatsky's book places WW not only in terms of its cultural context (the comic started in 1940), but also in terms of its status as a feminist text (however humble a 10 cent comic book may seem) and comics history phenomenon as well. Lepore's knowledge of, and interest in, com The difference between this book and Jill Lepore's book "Secret History of Wonder Woman", is that Berlatsky is a pop culture commentator/ historian, whereas LePore is simply a traditional academic cultural historian. Thus Berlatsky's book places WW not only in terms of its cultural context (the comic started in 1940), but also in terms of its status as a feminist text (however humble a 10 cent comic book may seem) and comics history phenomenon as well. Lepore's knowledge of, and interest in, comics is superficial, so that aspect is treated as a sidelight. Berlatsky's experience in the medium is extensive, so someone interested in a serious look at pioneering feminism in pop culture would be advised to read this one, as opposed to Lepore's more general survey, which treats the character and her creators as a sort of curiosity in the overall history of first wave feminism.

  7. 4 out of 5

    John Maler

    I went into this pretty excited, as I do love Marston & Peter's original run of Wonder Woman. Particularly the subversive ideas they placed in plain sight and the almost fever dream logic of their stories, but I found this essay to be too dry, rather tedious and quite dismissive of anyone and anything that didn't neatly conform to the author's thesis. Honesty it felt more like a long winded way of saying "They just don't make them like they used to"! I'd highly recommend Jill Lepore's The Secret I went into this pretty excited, as I do love Marston & Peter's original run of Wonder Woman. Particularly the subversive ideas they placed in plain sight and the almost fever dream logic of their stories, but I found this essay to be too dry, rather tedious and quite dismissive of anyone and anything that didn't neatly conform to the author's thesis. Honesty it felt more like a long winded way of saying "They just don't make them like they used to"! I'd highly recommend Jill Lepore's The Secret History of Wonder Woman over this

  8. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Hershberger

    Wonder Woman is my favorite comic book figure. She wasn't before I started reading this book, but she is now. William Marston's vision of a female-led utopia and a heroine who defeated people with love, not war, is amazing and radical and I had no idea how deep it went. Berlatsky does an excellent job outlining all the different social theories and psychological views informing and informed by the original Wonder Woman stories. There's no way a comic this subversive to the social order would be Wonder Woman is my favorite comic book figure. She wasn't before I started reading this book, but she is now. William Marston's vision of a female-led utopia and a heroine who defeated people with love, not war, is amazing and radical and I had no idea how deep it went. Berlatsky does an excellent job outlining all the different social theories and psychological views informing and informed by the original Wonder Woman stories. There's no way a comic this subversive to the social order would be published by a major today, so the mind boggles at how they got away with it in the 1940s! I was also inspired to purchase the DC Wonder Woman Chronicles, volumes that collect, in chronological order, all of the original Wonder Woman stories.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Patrick Stein

    I'm not really a comic book fan, but this was a really interesting tour through how Marston/Peters conveyed queer and feminist ideas (and ideologies) metaphorically and directly at a time when there was very open support of queerness or feminism. It did a good job, I felt, explaining how metaphors are conveyed in comic books. The book got a little overly-academic for my liking in some places, and beat the words "diegetic" and "parodic" into the ground. But, it did an interesting job pulling toget I'm not really a comic book fan, but this was a really interesting tour through how Marston/Peters conveyed queer and feminist ideas (and ideologies) metaphorically and directly at a time when there was very open support of queerness or feminism. It did a good job, I felt, explaining how metaphors are conveyed in comic books. The book got a little overly-academic for my liking in some places, and beat the words "diegetic" and "parodic" into the ground. But, it did an interesting job pulling together various other criticisms of the original Wonder Woman. (I'd have never realized there was already so much academic work about the character.)

  10. 5 out of 5

    Mills College Library

    741.5973 W8728 2015

  11. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    A really interesting take... mostly a close reading of the early Marston/Peter WW comics, through a feminist and queer theory lens. Something I will probably want to re-read and review carefully.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Myott

  13. 4 out of 5

    Erin Strawbridge

  14. 5 out of 5

    Amanda Boudreault

  15. 5 out of 5

    Whitney

  16. 4 out of 5

    Morgan

  17. 4 out of 5

    Chelsea Macgregor

  18. 4 out of 5

    Lauren A

  19. 5 out of 5

    Lauren Hummingbird

  20. 4 out of 5

    Bill

  21. 4 out of 5

    Christina

  22. 4 out of 5

    Peter Girvan

  23. 4 out of 5

    Teodora

  24. 4 out of 5

    Hatchet Mouth

  25. 4 out of 5

    Charissa

  26. 5 out of 5

    Robert Walker

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kristina

  28. 4 out of 5

    Luke

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sergey

  30. 4 out of 5

    Allison

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