Friday, January 18, 2008

Special Agent, Department of Metahuman Affairs

Min Jin Lee considers Jodi Picoult's new Wonder Woman installment (this sounds great, I must get it):
Wonder Woman's creator, Dr William Moulton Marston, a Harvard-educated psychologist, might have appreciated this new self-awareness of an ambivalent superhero. Marston invented the first functional polygraph machine (forerunner of the Lasso of Truth) and maintained a polyamorous household with his wife Elizabeth and lover Olive, who each bore him two children.

An eccentric intellectual who believed in the moral superiority of women, Marston wagered that comics could serve as “psychological propaganda”. In 1943, he wrote in The American Scholar that “the picture-story fantasy cuts loose the hampering debris of art and artifice and touches the tender spots of universal human desires and aspirations, hidden customarily beneath long accumulated protective coverings of indirection and disguise. Comics speak, without qualm or sophistication, to the innermost ears of the wishful self”.
I am sorry to confess I was never a comic-book reader, but at the age of five I was very much in thrall to the television series. At Montessori school, where we were invited to choose a new name for ourselves if we did not like our actual ones, I wrote "Wonder Girl" optimistically on the name line on my exercise book (I cannot say it stuck!); and though I cannot remember for sure, I have a strong suspicion that the actress in question was responsible for my first guinea pig (a very handsome brown-and-white one) being called Linda...


  1. I'm all in favor of athletic women in tight-fighting costumes fighting crime--believe me, if you knew how much in favor of it I am you'd be ashamed that you'd ever met me--but Wonder Woman has never done a lot for me. (She's no Halo Jones or Elektra, put it that way. Feel free to google those.) For years the character as written had a kind of obligatory feel to her, as if the company felt they had to keep her on the roster but she was nobody's first choice of a superhero to work on, and she's never really shucked thst off. I haven't read Picout's issues, though, and now that I know they exist, I probably will.

    On the other hand, I'd be up for a comic book about William Moulton Marston in a heartbeat. (You laugh, but I just finished Rick Geary's new comic book biography of J. Edgar Hoover, so why not?) That article fails to note that there are photos of him with his live-in girlfriend where she's wearing big clunky-looking bracelets on her upper arms, much like the ones that WW used to deflect bullets. (Did she have a lasso of truth in the closet?) And after the good doctor died in 1947, his wife and girlfriend continued living together for another forty years.

  2. Comics speak, without qualm or sophistication, to the innermost ears of the wishful self.

    Am I the only one who notice the frequent bondage imagery when it comes to the beloved Amazon?

    Lasso of Truth? It's a Freudian mind-field.

    Jodi Picoult's take on Wonder Woman isn't always popular among her fans though. In trying to humanise Diana, some writers forget that she has NEVER human to begin with. She is a superhuman gifted by the Greek gods with Beauty, Wisdom, Intelligence, Speed and everything nice.

    Writer Greg Rucka's take on her was to emphasize her "uber-humanness" (my unfortunate choice of word). He draws from the Greek plays, where characters such as Medea and Antigone are governed by passions that would feel excessive and alien to us -- yet reasonable within their own logic. He portrays a Wonder Woman governed by rules similarly alien to us, and he is one of the few writers who truly left a "fingerprint" on the Amazon Princess.

    Picoult's attempt at making Wonder Woman seem out of touch with humanity sadly makes her look like a fool.

    But this is just an opinion from someone who is really too old to have a Wonder Woman poster on her wall. ;p

    But on a sidenote -- I'm sure Linda must have been a lovely guinea pig. :)

  3. "Am I the only one who notice the frequent bondage imagery when it comes to the beloved Amazon?"

    Not by a long shot. Frederic Wertham, the shrink who wrote "Seduction of the Innocent", the book that led to Congressional hearings into comic-book depravity and the creation of the Comics Code Authority, was obsessed with the B & D theme he detected running through Wonder Woman's adventures. It might have been his second favorite topic of study. (His first was his insistence that child services ought to make an unannounced drop-in visit at stately Wayne Manor and make sure that Batman and Robin were sleeping in separate beds.)