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Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the…

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

by Noah Berlatsky

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In Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics, 1941-1948, Noah Berlatsky argues, “Wonder Woman, the original comic, was much more interesting, beautiful, and worthwhile than Wonder Woman the popular icon” (pg. 187). He draws upon queer theory, performance theory, and gender theory in his analysis with comparisons to other examples of media targeted to women, such as Twilight and gothic literature. Bertlasky focuses specifically on the comics written by Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston and illustrator Harry G. Peter. While many modern interpretations of the original comics attempt to downplay or explain away the themes of bondage and lesbianism, Berlatsky argues, “To ignore the bondage in Marston and Peter then, is to miss the comic’s appeal not only to men but to women – and is also to ignore an important part of the feminist message” (pg. 23). The stories offer a parallel to women’s own sense of metaphorical bondage in a patriarchal society while offering a message of hope through Wonder Woman’s escapes. Discussing themes of lesbianism in Marston’s work, Berlatsky argues, “I do not see how it is possible to see the lesbian romance and lesbian play in Wonder Woman as anything but intentional” (pg. 153). Further, Berlatsky continues, “Marston…included lesbianism in both his academic work and in his fiction. He saw lesbianism as normal, healthy, and even ideal” (pg. 149). He draws comparisons to Marston’s living arrangement with Elizabeth Holloway and Olive Byrne, arguing based on the appearance of these themes in Marston’s work that Holloway and Byrne were lovers. Jill Lepore, in her book The Secret History of Wonder Woman, examined the same living situation without coming to that conclusion based on the extant evidence. Bertlasky, while conceding “to some degree those questions are unanswerable,” insists that his assumption is correct (pg. 151). While it would be interesting if it were, he argues without evidence beyond his literary interpretation. I fundamentally disagree with Berlatsky’s conclusion that the iterations of Wonder Woman following Marston and Peter’s run is superfluous. While some of the storylines and interpretations were undoubtedly weak or flawed, each successive generation of readers and writers reworked the character to meet the demands of their time, much like the Greek myths on which Marston and Peter drew for the character. His goal that his book will encourage others to read Marston and Peter’s comics to discover a “work created in the spirit of feminism, of peace, of queerness, and of love” is noble, but some of his conclusions could use more evidence (pg. 215). ( )
  DarthDeverell | Jun 11, 2017 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0813564182, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:23 -0400)

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