On October 21st, the United Nations named Wonder Woman their honorary ambassador for the empowerment of women and girls. Diana was cited for her decades long commitment to “justice, peace and equality,” all virtues which have defined the character since her 1941 debut. DC and their parent company Warner Brothers proudly celebrated the UN’s distinction, rolling the ceremony at the United Nations headquarters into another segment of their ongoing commemoration of Diana’s 75th Anniversary this year and promotion for her first solo film in 2017. Wonder Women past and present, Lynda Carter and Gal Gadot, were prominently featured at the festivities. Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins attended, as did DC artist/executive Jim Lee. Noticeably absent though were any decedents of Wonder Woman creators William Moulton Marston and Harry G. Peter. The lack of acknowledgement for their pioneering work should not come as surprise given DC’s decidedly mixed track record honoring their legacy.
However, there were more controversies roiling the halls than The Big Two’s continued stumbles with acknowledging creators and their families. Many criticized the organization’s choice of a fictional character to represent gender equality. Such a choice is not without precedent, as in the past Winnie the Pooh was chosen as ambassador of friendship, Red from Angry Birds ambassador of happiness and, in something that sounds like a rejected Grant Morrison Animal Man pitch, Tinker Bell ambassador of “green.” The more substantive compliant was leveled at Wonder Woman herself and whether her idealized figure was counterproductive in bolstering female self-esteem. Body image issues have long been a problem for the comics industry; anyone reading comics in the 90s could easily see how little effort it took to leap over the line dividing empowerment from objectification. In recent years, publishers have become more attentive to such concerns, as the voices of female fans and creators have grown stronger. Yet, the question remains: in a cultural moment marred by virulent sexism and rising teenage girl suicide rates, is a super-powered, sometimes demigod, heroine with a supermodel-like figure really the best role model? Does her appearance undercut those values she strives so hard to achieve? As is often the case with Wonder Woman, the best answer is found within the work of her creators.
“The next 100 years will see the beginning of an American matriarchy—a nation of amazons in the psychological rather than the physical sense. In 500 years, there will be a serious sex battle. And in 1,000 years women will definitely rule this country.”
-William Moulton Marston, 1937
William Moulton Marston was never one to shy away from publicity; indeed he reveled in it. In 1937 he held a two hour press conference during which he elaborated on his theories concerning the inevitably of an American matriarchy. He must have sounded convincing as a Los Angeles Times headline claimed “Feminine Rule Declared Fact.” All this hub-bub was to promote the release of his new book Try Living, in which he stated the secret to happiness was doing something you love. According to the Times, he offered up six individuals as exemplars for his theory. Ranking them in order of importance, he held Margaret Sanger as #2, right above the current president, Franklin D. Roosevelt. (For those playing along at home the first was Henry Ford, a reminder that Marston’s egalitarian views sadly did not extend to racial issues). Still, sweeping away the pseudo-psychological language Marston was so fond of, he was not entirely out on a limb on this matter. The changing role of women in society (what used to be called “The Woman Question”) was a serious political topic. Louis Howe, secretary to President Roosevelt, wrote that the election of a female president was a definite possibility at present, not in some distant future. Howe may have crouched his opinion in more cautious statements than Marston’s grand speechifying, but they were both speaking of the same cultural trends. In an era of Sanger and Eleanor Roosevelt, surely women could only expect further improvements in their status?
This year, Catwoman celebrates her 75th Anniversary. She has had a rich, eventful career as one of The Dark Knight’s greatest enemies and/or allies. Along the way, she has also become one of the most iconic female characters in comics. (Arguably only Wonder Woman or Supergirl have greater name recognition). Over the next two weeks, I shall be tracing the evolution of her original Golden Age persona, exploring how it set the framework for the stories which followed.
Like many aspects of The Caped Crusader’s early days, Bob Kane would later claim that the inspiration for The Catwoman at least partially came from the Silver Screen. He and Bill Finger were looking to spice up Batman’s adventures with some sex appeal, so Kane turned to the original Blonde Bombshell, Jean Harlow. Never mind that Catwoman’s hair has been dark since she first vamped her way into Batman’s life with a defiant “Well, what’s the matter? Haven’t you ever seen a pretty girl before?” Well, yes, the wealthy playboy had, but none like this. Bruce Wayne’s first female companion was generic eye candy, a plot device in need of rescuing. This new woman was something quite different. She was proud, clever, resourceful, as well as eye catching. In the end, she probably more resembles the dangerously seductive Rita Hayworth than the plucky Harlow. (Hayworth also had the darker tresses). Regardless, 75 years ago Finger and Kane created one of the most enduring, iconic member of Batman’s cast. Continue reading The Golden Age Catwoman, Part 1: Her Earliest Heists→