My interest in Wonder Woman has always been lukewarm, with a back issue collection ranging somewhere between Dazzler and She-Hulk. This essay was the result of an invite from Noah Berlatsky over at the Hooded Utilitarian who's currently working on a book devoted to William Marston and Harry Peter's Golden Age run on Wonder Woman (they created the character). Noah had blogged his way through every issue of the comic, and was celebrating with a roundtable on the final issue (#28). Since it was clear that I pretty much loathed Marston's ideas, Noah figured it would be fun to get a negative take, and the following was what I delivered. At one time, the bondage theme had led me to try a volume from the DC Archive editions, but the mind-numbing repetition of “oh, you’ve bound my bracelets” and “now, I have you tied up with my lasso” only proved what I thought impossible: how meek and boring sadomasochism could be. I imagine what Suehiro Maruo might do with the character -- questionable as feminism, true, but free of tedium. This is a roundabout way of saying I prefer my feminist icons with teeth. And Marston wasn’t interested in artistic ambiguity, but propaganda:
[That w]omen are exciting for this one reason — it is the secret of women’s allure — women enjoy submission, being bound [was] the only truly great contribution of my Wonder Woman strip to the moral education of the young. The only hope for peace is to teach people who are full of pep and unbound force to enjoy being bound. … Only when the control of self by others is more pleasant than the unbound assertion of self in human relationships can we hope for a stable, peaceful human society. [quote from p. 210, Jones]
Submission as an essential quality of womanhood might sound dubiously feminist, too, if not for Marston’s insistence that what is woman’s by nature should be a virtue for man to follow. There was no Sadean intent for us perverts. Submission was Marston’s end to violence, not a subset. When moralizing critics of his day objected to the overtly fetishistic nature of Wonder Woman, Marston’s response was that bondage is a painless way of showing the hero under duress. Unfortunately, he was correct: his and Peter’s depiction is about as troublingly kinky as the traps laid for Batman in his sixties TV show. As issue 28 indicates, even the villains use physical force only to subdue the heroines, never for torture: When Princess Diana and her mom are bound by burning chains, Eviless makes it clear that the flames don’t actually burn. [p. 20] As fetish or drama, this is about as flaccid as it gets.