Wonder Woman (first series) 21, January-February 1947, cover
© DC Comics
Editor: Sheldon Mayer
Penciler: Harry G. Peter
Thanks to the popular 1970s television show starring Lynda Carter, Wonder Woman is the best-known comic-book superheroine. She, with Superman and Batman, is one of DC Comics' "Big Three."
Wonder Woman was created by Harvard-trained psychologist Dr. William Moulton Marston, who wrote the stories under the pseudonym Charles Moulton. Marston is also known as the inventor, or at least the most enthusiastic advocate, of the polygraph lie detector. Marston led a colorful and unconventional life. In his first of several popular psychology books, Emotions of Normal People (1928), he discussed emotional states in terms of "elementary behaviour units" in the activities of dominance, compliance, submission and inducement. Geoffrey C. Bunn, who has thoroughly studied Marston's works, comments about this book that, "Not only was he unable to prevent the political and sexual connotations of dominance and submission from emerging, but he even encouraged them." One study in Marston's book involves the "baby party," a strange sorority ritual held at Jackson College, sister school of Tufts University. Freshman initiates "were required to dress like babies," bound, prodded with sticks, and wrestled when they resisted. Among Marston's theories was that America would become a matriarchy, and in many of his writings he espoused the view that women could and would use sexual enslavement to achieve dominance over men. His ideas landed him the post of consulting psychologist for the women's magazine Family Circle. In an interview published in the October 25, 1940, issue of Family Circle he discussed the young, burgeoning comic book industry. His highly complimentary comments about publisher M. C. Gaines of All American Comics, sister company of DC Comics, led to an appointment to the Editorial Advisory Board of both lines of comic books. Marston submitted his first script about "Suprema, the Wonder Woman" to editor Sheldon Mayer in February 1941 under the pseudonym Charles Moulton. The Suprema name was quickly dropped, and Marston selected artist Harry Peter to draw the feature, over Mayer's objections. Wonder Woman made her first appearance in All Star Comics 8 (December 1941–January 1942), an origin story with an unusual combination of illustrations and text. She immediately took the lead story and cover spot in Sensation Comics 1 (January 1942). In Summer 1942, Wonder Woman 1 appeared on newsstands. Remarkably, she continued to make appearances in all three comic books, and also appeared with Green Lantern and Flash as a regular in Comic Cavalcade starting in Winter 1942-43.
Marston frequently returns to the themes mentioned above in his Wonder Woman stories. In fact, virtually all "Moulton" Wonder Woman stories included a full-length Wonder Woman in an oversized bondage panel . A scene remarkably similar to the "baby party" involving Wonder Woman's frequent supporting cast, the girls of Beeta Lamda [sic] sorority Holliday College, showed up in Sensation Comics 4 (April 1942). Remarkably, his research assistant on that study, Olive Byrne, was also the woman who, as Olive Richard, conducted the seminal interview published in Family Circle. In fact, Olive "Dotsie" Richard moved in with Marston and his wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston. William Marston fathered two children each by each woman, and the extended family lived together harmoniously! Apparently Olive bore a physical resemblance to Marston's Wonder Woman, right down to the heavy silver Indian bracelets worn on each of her wrists.
Wonder Woman 21, the cover of which is shown above, provides a good example of the bizarre, fanciful stories written by Marston and illustrated by long-time associate Harry G. Peter in the 1940s. A synopsis of the story and several more images can be found here. The atomic bomb blasts that ended World War II were clearly still on the minds of the American public in 1947.
Although Wonder Woman was ostensibly a comic book for girls, editor Sheldon Mayer commented that Marston "was writing a feminist book but not for women. He was dealing with a male audience." It is infrequently acknowledged that about 90% of the readership of Wonder Woman has always been male, despite the adoption of Wonder Woman as a strong role model for girls by feminists such as Gloria Steinem. Wonder Woman was featured on the cover of the first issue of Steinem's Ms. Magazine in July 1972.
Marston had more business savvy than many other early comics creators. He retained ownership of his character, as well as sole authorship of her stories until his death. Although his deal was actually with All American Comics, the feature moved to DC Comics in 1944 when M. C. Gaines sold out his interest in All American and the companies merged. The terms of his contract apparently compelled DC to continue publishing Wonder Woman (regardless of poor sales), even after his Marston's death, or ownership of the character would revert to the Marston estate. The Wonder Woman comic book totally ran out of steam with issue 329 in February 1986, an issue dedicated to Dr. Charles Moulton who never really existed! A stopgap, four-issue mini-series published from May to August 1986 kept the franchise alive while plans were made to revitalize the title. A new Wonder Woman 1 appeared in February 1987, and continues with renewed popularity.
Some of the information in this article was gathered from Wonder Woman, The Complete History: The Life and Times of the Amazon Princess by Les Daniels, illustrated by Chip Kidd, Chronicle Books LLC, San Francisco (2000), a remarkable resource for fans of Wonder Woman and popular culture.