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William Moulton Marston (May 9, 1893 – May 2, 1947), also known by the pen name Charles Moulton, was an American psychologist, feminist theorist, inventor and comic book writer who created the character Wonder Woman. Two women, his wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston and Olive Byrne (who lived with the couple in a polyamorous relationship), served as exemplars for the character and greatly influenced her creation.
Marston is credited as the creator of the systolic blood pressure test used in an attempt to detect deception, which became one component of the modern polygraph. According to their son, Marston's wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston was also involved in the development of the systolic blood-pressure test. It was Elizabeth, who suggested to William that "When she got mad or excited, her blood pressure seemed to climb" (Lamb, 2001). Although Elizabeth is not listed as Marston's collaborator in his early work; Lamb, Matte (1996), and others refer directly and indirectly to Elizabeth's own work on her husband's deception research. She also appears in a picture taken in his polygraph laboratory in the 1920s (reproduced by Marston, 1938). Some have linked this device to Wonder Woman's Lasso of Truth, but a direct connection is difficult to demonstrate.
From this psychological work, Marston had been convinced that women were more honest and reliable than men and could work faster and more accurately. During his lifetime, Marston championed the causes of the women of the day.
Marston was also a writer of essays in popular psychology. In 1928, he published Emotions of Normal People, which elaborated the DISC Theory. Marston viewed people behaving along two axes, with their attention being either passive or active; depending on the individual's perception of his or her environment as either favorable or antagonistic. By placing the axes at right angles, four quadrants form with each describing a behavioral pattern:
- Dominance produces activity in an antagonistic environment
- Inducement produces activity in a favourable environment
- Submission produces passivity in a favourable environment
- Compliance produces passivity in an antagonistic environment.
Marston posited that there is a male notion of freedom that is inherently anarchic and violent and an opposing female notion based on "Love Allure" that leads to an ideal state of submission to loving authority.
On October 25, 1940, an interview was conducted by former student Olive Byrne (under the pseudonym 'Olive Richard') and published in The Family Circle, titled "Don't Laugh at the Comics." Marston described in the article that he saw in the "great educational potential" of comic books. A follow-up article was published two years later in 1942. This article caught the attention of comics publisher Max Gaines, who hired Marston as an Educational Consultant for National Periodicals and All-American Publications, two of the companies that would later merge to form DC Comics.
In the early 1940s, the DC Comics line was dominated by super-power endowed male characters such as the Green Lantern, Superman (its flagship character), as well as Batman who became known for his high tech gadgets. According to the Fall 2001 issue of the Boston University alumni magazine, it was Marston's wife Elizabeth's idea to create a female superhero. Marston was struck by an idea for a new kind of superhero; one who would triumph not with fists or firepower, but with love. 'Fine,' said Elizabeth. 'But make her a woman."
Marston introduced the idea to Max Gaines, co-founder with Jack Liebowitz of All-American Publications. Given the go-ahead, Marston developed Wonder Woman, basing her character on both Elizabeth and Olive Byrne, to be the model of an conventional, liberated, powerful modern woman. Marston's pseudonym, Charles Moulton, combined his own and Gaines' middle names.
In a 1943 issue of "The American Scholar", Marston wrote: "Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. Not wanting to be girls, they don't want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women's strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. 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."
Marston's "Wonder Woman" is an early example of bondage themes that were entering popular culture in the 1930s. 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. These elements were softened by later writers of the series, who dropped such characters as the Nazi-like blond female slaver Eviless completely, despite her having formed the original Villany Inc. of WW's enemies (in Wonder Woman #28, the last by Marston).
Though Marston had described female nature as submissive, in his other writings and interviews he infamously referred to submission as a noble practice and did not shy away from the sexual implications, saying:
"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!"
However, Marston's interest in these themes was tempered by others, including restorative and transformative justice, rehabilitation, regret and its role in civilization, mind control used in a temporary way for good. These appeared often in his depiction of the near-ideal Amazon civilization of Paradise Island, and especially its Transformation Island penal colony, which played a central role in many stories, and was the "loving" alternative to retributive justice of the world run by men. These themes are particularly evident in his last story, in which prisoners freed by Eviless, who have responded to Amazon rehabilitation, stop her and restore the Amazons to power.
Some of these themes continued on in Silver Age characters who may have been influenced by Marston, notably Saturn Girl and Saturn Queen, who (like Eviless and her female army) are also from Saturn, also clad in tight dark red bodysuits, also blond or red-haired, and also have telepathic powers. Stories involving the latter have been especially focused on the emotions involved in changing sides from evil to good, or the use of power over minds even to do good. Wonder Woman's golden lasso and Girdle of Venus in particular were the focus of many of the early stories, and have the same capability to control people for good in the short term that Transformation Island offered in the longer term.