All-American Comics

Wonder Woman: All About Bondage

1943 letter re: use of chains in Wonder Woman comics (click for bigimification)

With a brand new Wonder Woman TV series being produced by David E. Kelley, and the ensuing panic over the show’s costume(s), it’s sometimes helpful to get a bit of historic perspective.

Take the document on the right for example. This 1943 letter was reprinted in the Chronicle Books publication from 2000, Wonder Woman: The Complete History by Les Daniels, and was recently brought online by the Hey Oscar Wilde! tumblr site.

Wonder Woman comics publisher All-American Comics thought that the character’s writer and creator, Dr. William Moulton Marston, ought to maybe tone down the use of chains in his stories of the Amazon Princess. Chains for tying Wonder Woman and other characters up. Apparently, they had received a letter from a reader or reader’s parent concerned about how often this particular plot device was popping up.

This may sound like a reader overreacting, but the truth is that early Wonder Woman comics invariably depicted the main character getting tied up, locked down, or maybe disciplined with a good spanking. Or all three.

Yes it was the 1940s. But this was also the same publisher that released Picture Stories from the Bible. So maybe time to reign things in a bit. A bit, of course, translating to specifically “50 to 75%” less chains minimum.

Another thing to note is that at most there had only been 5 or 6 issues of Wonder Woman released up to this point. The comic book series was barely over a year old, with a quarterly release schedule. And people were already thinking “enough already with the chains!”.

Never one to leave his creators without guidance, All-American Comics president Max C. Gaines provided Dr. Marston with a helpful list of alternative “methods which can be used to keep women confined or enclosed”. For story purposes! Nothing else. The list was “hastily dashed off” by a female assistance, so she would know I guess. Gaines reassures that substituting chains would not interfere “with the excitement of the story or the sales of the books”.

Nothing kinky going on here

At this point, it might seem like Dr. Marston had some issues. Well, yeah maybe. But to be fair, he had a lot going on in his life. He had invented a crucial element of the modern polygraph (lie detector). He was a Harvard educated psychologist whose work led to a behavioral model still used today. He created one of the most instantly recognizable and globally known comic book icons in history, and was among the earliest proponents of the educational power of comics. He lived with his wife (psychologist Elizabeth Holloway Marston) and another woman (Olive Byrne) for years in a polygamous relationship. Both women inspired and should probably be considered co-creators of his work. His studies led him to early feminist theories printed in popular magazines of the time. We’ve all got stuff going on. Right?

Some quotes from the good doctor (some represented last year by, some from Wikipedia):

Wonder Woman-and the trend toward male acceptance of female love power which she represents indicates that the first psychological step has actually been taken. Boys, young and old, satisfy their wish thoughts by reading comics. If they go crazy over Wonder Woman, it means they’re longing for a beautiful, exciting girl who’s stronger than they are. By their comics tastes ye shall know them! Tell me anybody’s preference in story strips and I’ll tell you his subconscious desires. These simple, highly imaginative picture stories satisfy longings that ordinary daily life thwarts and denies. Superman and the army of male comics characters who resemble him satisfy the simple desire to be stronger and more powerful than anybody else. Wonder Woman satisfies the subconscious, elaborately disguised desire of males to be mastered by a woman who loves them.” – Dr. William Moulton Marston, Family Circle, 1942

“Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. Not wanting to be girls, they don’t want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.” – Dr. William Moulton Marston, The American Scholar, 1943

“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. … Giving to others, being controlled by them, submitting to other people cannot possibly be enjoyable without a strong erotic element” – Dr. William Moulton Marston, source unknown

“Give them an alluring woman stronger than themselves to submit to, and they’ll be proud to become her willing slaves!” – Dr. William Moulton Marston, source unknown