Wonder Woman, Justice League and Professor Marston – it’s been a bumper year for Diana Prince

Film expert, Dr Joan Ormrod, discusses the comic book icon

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Dr Joan Ormrod, Senior Lecturer in Film and Media Studies at Manchester Metropolitan University, talks about why it’s been a bumper year for Wonder Woman...

It has taken seventy-five years for Wonder Woman to reach the big screen but it was worth the wait. Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins, was released to positive reviews and the promise of sequels earlier this year.

This month alone, two films about or starring Wonder Woman are set to be released: Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (November 10) and Justice League (November 17).

Wonder Woman first appeared in a story tucked in the back of All Star Comics in December 1941, just as America entered World War Two. In January 1942, she appeared on the front cover of Sensation Comics #1 and starred in her own comic in the summer of that year.

Wonder Woman was created by William Moulton Marston, an academic who taught in Harvard and invented an early lie detector. His life is the topic of the Professor Marston and the Wonder Women film, which explores Marston’s complex life and the origins and inspirations for Wonder Woman.

Marston’s most influential book was The Emotions of Normal People (1928) in which he outlined his influential Domination Inducement Submission Compliance (DISC) model. Based upon human interaction, the DISC model was informed by Marston’s ideas about gender and his feminist agenda. He believed that women should rule the world.

He was also supported in his work by two remarkable women, his wife Elizabeth Holloway and his research assistant and lover, Olive Byrne. The three lived together with their extended family and both women were influential in the creation of Wonder Woman.

In the 1930s, Marston worked as a psychological consultant to the film industry and the comics industry. Wonder Woman was his window onto a world where a strong, beautiful woman could redeem humanity through love and become love leaders.

Wonder Woman was his model for a love leader, ‘with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman’. Her stories were filled with love leaders. The Goddess Aphrodite birthed the Amazons and ordered them to shun man’s world. When Hippolyta yearned for a child, Aphrodite ordered her to sculpt a clay statue and brought it to life to become Diana, Wonder Woman. The significance of her birth with Marston’s story was that, through this birth, no man has had a part in her conception. Aphrodite and Hippolyta trained Diana to become a love leader. When Wonder Woman came to America, she recruited an army of beautiful women in the Holliday Girls, led by the charismatic Etta Candy, to fight the Axis powers through seduction and love. Their battle cry, “If they’re men, we can catch them!”

Marston’s stories expounded his ideas about dominance and submission. Amazon rituals involved bondage, fetishism, spanking. Female-run prisons were joyful places of fun, as opposed to male-run prisons which were cruel. And they sold in the millions.

When Marston died in 1947, Wonder Woman’s fortunes fluctuated. Some creators did not know what to do with the character, or misunderstood Marston’s philosophy in his domination/submission themes running through the comics and either emphasised the kinky aspects of Marston’s stories, or wrote bland pot-boiler stories. There were notable exceptions such as George Pérez’s stories from 1987 which explored the spiritual beauty of the character, Gregg Rucka’s exploration of mass media surveillance in the early 21st century and Gail Simone’s stories about Amazon culture and hierarchies.

Wonder Woman is also influential outside of comics but her image is paradoxical. She is a feminist icon, appearing on the front of Ms, the flagship magazine for second wave feminism, 1972. She is popular in cosplay and sexual fantasy dressing up games. In 2016, Wonder Woman was nominated as an ‘Ambassador for the Empowerment of Girls’ by the UN - an accolade quickly withdrawn. Despite this, the character has always been a source of inspiration for minority and disadvantaged groups such as LQGBT communities, racial and, of course, women.

Notes to editor

Dr Joan Ormrod is a Senior Lecturer in Film and Media Studies at Manchester Metropolitan University and editor of The Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics. Her research focuses on women in comics and subcultural identities. She is currently writing a book on Wonder Woman which examines cultural, political and social influences upon the representation of the human body from the 1940s.

To arrange an interview with the researcher, please contact: Maryam Ahmed in the Manchester Metropolitan University press office on 0161 247 2181 or MAhmed@mmu.ac.uk 

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