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?
By Grant Morrison, Yanick Paquette & Nathan Fairbairn
The latest in DC’s line of Earth One original graphic novels arrived in stores this past week. Similar to its popular predecessors, Wonder Woman aims to take an iconic character and reimagine her origin story for contemporary readers. Standing outside continuity, Earth One grants creators the freedom to wholly reinvent elements of the subjects’ mythos. Given these circumstances, Grant Morrison would seem a natural fit for the project, as he often does his best workwhen he is not beholden to the constraints of continuity. Simply give a great artist (as he has here with Yanick Paquette) and let his imagination run wild. To a degree that is what happens in Wonder Woman, though the end result, while sometimes enjoyable, leaves a lot to be desired.