By Dom Cioffi
In 2006, a tinted piece of paper with a rushed sketch of a comic book character sold for $75,000. The image was the work of illustrator H.G. Peter and featured the first recorded drawing of Wonder Woman. (Google this to take a look; the rendering is very close to the superhero we know today.)
The sketch also included side notes scribbled by the artist and another gentleman: Dr. William Moulton Marston.
Besides being the inventor of the polygraph (lie detector) test, Dr. Marston was also a well-known psychologist, having made a name for himself as a guest speaker on the university circuit.
During one lecture, Dr. Marston asserted that “The next 100 years will see the beginning of an American matriarchy—a nation of Amazons in the psychological rather than physical sense. In 500 years, there will be a serious sex battle. And in 1,000 years, women will definitely rule this country.”
Dr. Marston also argued that the current feminine archetype lacked force, strength and power and instead focused on tender, loving, affectionate attributes. He felt that the future combination of these two categories would propel women into a dominant role within society.
Before long, Dr. Marston’s intellectual opinions were picked up by major media sources, gaining him nationwide attention.
On Oct. 24, 1940, Marston was interviewed by The Family Circle magazine in an article entitled, “Don’t Laugh at the Comics.” In the article, Dr. Marston spoke positively of the comics and how they fueled positive psychological profiles for young readers.
One reader of this article was Max Gaines (publisher of All-American comics, a precursor to DC Comics) who was looking to bring legitimacy to his productions. The common theme of the day was that comic books were disruptive to malleable young minds, so Gaines figured that adding a scholarly psychologist as an educational consultant would be a positive move.
One of Dr. Marston’s first tasks was to come up with a new character based on his unique ideas. His proposition was to create a feminine character with all the strength and power of Superman, but with the added allure of a beautiful, sensitive woman.
Dr. Marston’s idea was met with loud protests, with other writers asserting that women characters traditionally failed. Dr. Marston countered that other female characters had failed because they weren’t stronger than men. His character would be overtly dominant, causing men to willingly submit. This character would also lure in female readers who would be drawn to such a strong, positive role model.
Apparently his psychology was correct. Wonder Woman first appeared in “All Star Comics #8,” published in October of 1941, and was an immediate success.
Interestingly, Dr. Marston’s inspiration for the look of Wonder Woman came from Olive Byrne, his one-time student research assistant and eventual domestic partner. Dr. Marston was married to Elizabeth Marston, a successful lawyer and psychologist in her own right and willing participant in the threesome’s polyamorous arrangement. The three happily cohabitated, with both women bearing multiple children to Marston. After Marston died from cancer in 1947, the two woman remained together, raising all of their children and seeing them through to college.
Wonder Woman has remained in nearly in constant publication since the 1940s despite a brief break in 1986. In 2016, during the film “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” actress Gal Gadot made a surprise appearance as Wonder Woman, setting the stage for her own motion picture franchise.
Last week, Gadot returned in “Wonder Woman,” garnering great praise from viewers and critics and a 93 percent rating from Rotten Tomatoes.
In this film, we learn about the origins of Wonder Woman and her alter ego, Diana Prince, and how she will eventually work her way into the Justice League.
There is no doubt that young women will find this picture immensely appealing and a positive source of inspiration. But kudos must be given to the writers for not alienating male viewers. Instead this is an all-inclusive story with characters that appeal across the sexes.
Check this one out if you’re a fan of the superhero genre. It’s just as good as any of the other male-dominated pictures with the added allure of a strong, sexy, female lead character. Dr. Marston would be proud!
An amazonian “B+” for “Wonder Woman.”
Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at [email protected]