Dr. William Moulton Marston (May 9, 1893–May 2, 1947) was a psychologist, feminist theorist, creator of the "Wonder Woman" character and comic book writer. Born in Cliftondale , Massachusetts, he obtained a law degree in 1918 and graduated from Harvard with a Ph.D. in Psychology in 1921. After teaching at American University in Washington D.C. Marston traveled to Universal Studios in California in 1929, where he spent a year as Director of Public Services.
Credited with inventing an early form of the "lie detector" (specifically the notion of testing systolic blood pressure to detect deception, which became one component of the polygraph), Marston was also a writer of essays in popular psychology. His best known theory was that there is a male notion of freedom that is inherently anarchic and violent, and an opposing female notion based on "Love Allure" which leads to an ideal state of submission to loving authority. His concerns about the effects of gender stereotyping in popular culture were expressed in a 1943 article:
- Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power... 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.
He was married to Elizabeth Holloway, but lived in a polygamous/polyamorous relationship with a former student of his at Tufts College, Olive Byrne [used pseudonym Olive Richard]. Marston had two children with each woman, and the four children and three parents lived together happily. In fact, he and Elizabeth adopted his two sons by Olive.
In an October 25, 1940 interview conducted by Olive and published in Family Circle, titled "Don't Laugh at the Comics", Marston described what he saw as the great educational potential of comic books. This article caught the attention of comics publisher Max Gaines, who hired Marston as an educational consultant for Detective Comics (now DC Comics). Gaines encouraged Marston to create a female comic book hero. Marston came back with a synopsis for a character called "Suprema, the Wonder Woman."
Marston's intentions for the character were plain: he planned to introduce a character who would be "tender, submissive, peaceloving as good women are," combining "all the strength of a Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman." His character was a native of an all-female utopia who became a crime-fighting U.S. government agent, using her superhuman strength and agility, and her ability to force villains to tell the truth by binding them with her magic lasso. Her appearance, including her heavy silver bracelets (which she used to deflect bullets), was based somewhat on Olive Richard.
Comics editor Sheldon Mayer cut the name "Suprema", sticking with "Wonder Woman" as the name of the feature and title character instead. In December 1941, Wonder Woman made her debut in All Star Comics #8. The character's next appearance was in Sensation Comics #1 (January 1942), and six months later the character's eponymous comic book began publication. Wonder Woman has been in print ever since. The stories were initially written by Marston (under the pseudonym Charles Moulton) and illustrated by newspaper artist Harry Peter . During his life Marston had written many articles and books on psychological topics, but his last six years of writing were devoted to his comics creation.
Marston's Wonder Woman is often cited as an early example of sexual bondage themes entering popular culture: physical submission appears again and again throughout Marston's comics work, with Wonder Woman and her criminal opponents frequently being tied up or otherwise restrained, and her Amazonian friends engaging in frequent wrestling and bondage play (possibly based on Marston's earlier research studies on sorority initiations). These elements were softened by later writers of the series. Though Marston had described female nature as submissive, in his other writings and interviews he referred to submission to women as a noble and potentially world-saving practice, leading ideally to the establishment of a matriarchy, and did not shy away from the sexual implications of this:
- 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.
About male readers, he later wrote: "Give them an alluring woman stronger than themselves to submit to, and they'll be proud to become her willing slaves!"
William Moulton Marston died of cancer on May 2, 1947 in Rye, New York. After his death, Elizabeth and Olive continued to live together until Olive's death in the late 1980s; Elizabeth died in 1993, aged 100.
Due to shrewd contract negotiations, Marston may be the first comic book creator to have gained significant royalty rights from a major comic book publisher. (It took a highly publicized lawsuit in 1975 for Siegel & Shuster to gain creator rights of Superman from DC Comics.) Negotiated before his death in 1947, his heirs retain small royalties from all Wonder Woman related creations and merchandise. Also there is a reversion of rights clause that states if DC Comics does not publish for one month any Wonder Woman comic book, the rights to the Wonder Woman character and related merchandise, past, current, and future revert to his family. Effectively, this means that if DC Comics became so poor that they could only publish one comic book a month, it would have to be Wonder Woman, or else they would lose her to Marston's family. Presumably though, this has been extended to the creation and distribution of other Wonder Woman merchandise.
- (1999; originally published 1928) Emotions of Normal People. Taylor & Francis Ltd. ISBN 0415210763
- Daniels, Les, and Chip Kidd. (2000). Wonder Woman: A Complete History. Chronicle Books. ISBN 0811829138