WW at this point seems to have gone back to being 4 times a year, after an issue or two of pretending to be 6 times a year. I couldn’t figure out how Peter was going to draw a page a day plus, and apparently neither could he.
That’s the Marston/Peter cover for Wonder Woman #7. And this is the cover of the first issue of Ms. Magazine:
I talked about the Ms. Magazine cover here and here already, so I won’t go into what I see as its weaknesses. In any case, this isn’t necessarily the best Harry G. Peter cover ever either….though I do like a lot of the details. The stylized curlicues of the women’s hair in the foreground, for instance, and the tension lines in the fabric of the banner at the corners, and the frills on the architecture int he back, and the way WW’s fist at the center of the composition is too small, making the whole perspective go vertiginously kablooey.
But what I really wanted to point out was how different the two visions are. The Ms. Magazine cover sees a female presidency as a violent, weirdly monstrous event — the female president is a kind of King Kong, laying waste to man’s world. For Marston and Peter, a female president seems much more natural (albeit 1000 years in the future.) WW isn’t destroying MegaTokyo; she’s giving a campaign speech, which is more or less what you’d expect a Presidential candidate to do (though maybe not dressed in a swimsuit.) Moreover, there are men in that audience cheering her on — a reminder again that Marston sees female empowerment as benefiting men as much as (or maybe more than) women.
As the cover suggests, this is the most explicitly political Marston effort yet. Hippolyta, it seems, has a magic sphere, which allows her to see into the future. (There’s some hard deterministic nonsense about how the future is set ineluctably by the past, but I think it’s just a plot device rather than actual sincere crankery.) And in the future, it turns out, everyone will realize that women are better than men, and so women will rule the world by common acclamation, spreading peace and prosperity and the end of war. Plus, as a bonus, there will be one-world government. It’s Dave Sim’s worst nightmare, basically…though ultimately I think Marston’s future visions are even nuttier than Sims’. Or at least, they’re more entertaining:
Yes, in the future, liberated secretaries will dress in mini-skirts and submit themselves to routine mind control. Because “when women choose their own styles they’re bound to be picturesque and alluring,” and because when women choose their own career they’ll prefer to be turned into male-voice-controlled automatons.
I’m always a sucker for futures past, and Marston’s particular vision of a 1930s feminist future is hard to resist. On the one hand, gender roles remain the same as ever; Diana has been a secretary for 1000 years, and doesn’t really seem to have any ambition to do anything else. And yet, on the other hand….when forced, and almost despite herself, she goes right from being a secretary to running for President, with Etta as her VP. And she’s successful too, since, as Marston tells us, “Diana’s able speeches and Etta’s humor appeal equally to men and women.”
Diana is forced to run for president because the current office-holder, “Mistress President”, refuses to run against Steve Trevor, who has been nominated by the men’s party. Steve comes off worse here than anytime so far in the series, I think. Not that he’s evil at all…but he’s a completely brainless bimbo, who sticks a pipe in his mouth to prevent himself from absent-mindedly drooling all over his ripppling muscles.
Thanks to the mooning-women vote, and to ballot stuffing, Steve wins…but soon falls out with his crooked vice-President, who is named, rather inevitably, Manly. Manly catches Steve and puts him in some cryogenic death trap, which is especially uncomfortable because Trevor’s wearing short-shorts.
That outfit Peter has desinged for Steve, let me just emphasize again, couldn’t be much more ridiculous. It’s obviously a super-hero suit, with the US emblazoned on it…almost a Robin costume, actually. But the way Steve’s standing, straight and stiff, emphasizes the discomfort and awkwardness and, indeed, the vulnerability of it. Which is to say…I think Marston and Peter are fetishizing him. He’s supposed to be a sex symbol, and his predicament, I think, is supposed to be sexy. If Marston had a women trapped in that way in that position, it would be deliberately provocative — and I think it’s supposed to be here, as well.
You see some of the same impulse in this drawing:
This is at the end of this segment of the story; WW has freed Steve and Diana has been acknowledged as the victor of the Presidential race. Nobody blames Steve for his actions, because he’s so dumb and so cute — and in this image, he really does look dumb and cute. He’s still wearing that outfit, which is the only one he has, and he’s off to the side, appearing (through Peter’s weird use of scale) significantly smaller than Diana. Indeed, with the scale and the shorts, and the oddly blank, expectant expression on his face, he really seems like a child waiting for his mother. The two women, on the other hand, are both impossibly thin and decked out in flattering, elegant dresses. Diana looks, frankly, hot, and extremely in control — which is, I believe, intended to make her even more hot (I think Peter gets the effect in part by making her shoulders too wide; it makes her seem bigger and stronger than life.) But I think the scene is designed to fetishize Steve too; his childishness, awkwardness, and vulnerability, make him appealing, manipulable, in need of protection — his extreme stupidity is part of his charm. Men are like children, who need to be controlled by mothering women. Maybe I’m completely off-base, but it seems like girls might quite enjoy this vision of an elliptically sexualized romantic object/child surrogate. Certainly Marston does, anyway.
The back and forth between mother/child relationships and female political authority runs throughout the issue. It’s most charming right at the beginning of the book, when WW’s Mom asks her to come back to Paradise Island for the Harvest Festival (that’s Thanksgiving for you non-pagans.) WW decides to surprise her mom by appearing in her Diana Prince outfit. Her mother is indeed, surprised, and then delighted:
I think that’s just a really charming panel. Not least because it echoes the last one in this sequence from WWs origin in WW#1:
Hippolyta lifts her adult daughter as if she were a child (and again, Peter adjusts scale, so that Diana seems far smaller than her mother.) The intimacy and joy there taps into the adult desire to see the child remain a child…and into the pride in seeing her grow up. The decision to have WW dressed as Diana is inspired, and emphasizes the way in which Diana, who dresses in real clothes and has a real job, is much more grown-up than WW is.
This is, incidentally, one of the first times I’ve seen Marston do anything interesting with the secret identity. With male heroes, the secret identity division is often about male bifurcation; the distance between ideal masculine and individual male. Here, though, the split seems to be about child and adult; Wonder Woman is like a kid playing dress-up. In this sense, Diana may be as fun a fantasy object as WW; a kid can imagine being powerful and admired like WW, and can also imagine working and being a regular adult like…well, like Mom. I also love Hippolyta’s dialogue: “You little mischief!..I didn’t recognize you until you laughed!” I presume the main point is that the laughter let her know something was amiss…but when I read it first I took it to mean that she recognized her daughter by WW’s individual laugh.
After that very sweet scene, we move right on to major fucking weirdness. Hippolyta shows WW the future in the magic crystal…and the first thing she shows her is the death-bed scene of Etta Candy’s mother, Sugar Candy (believe it or not.) Etta has turned herself into a chemistry whiz in an effort to cure her mother, but all to no avail. So WW brings out some of the water of life. This only affects Amazons, but Etta, using her newfound scientific knowhow, drops some candy into it, releasing vitamin L-3, and — hey-presto! — the aged mother is filled with vim and vigor and there’s a little birdy singing outside the window:
By replicating the figure and especially the dress, you get a panel that’s all frills and folds and lace, conveying a kind of oversaturated voluptuous girlishness. The fact that Sugar’s first thought is for her husband so she can go “dancing” is certainly a subliminally sexual. On the one hand, the life-potion is a gimmick, to allow all of WW’s supporting characters to live on into the future storyline. But Marston also ties it back into his own fetishes; mothers for Marston are sexy, and the scene is about the excitement of releasing that sensuality.
Here’s another bizarre moment:
That’s Mistress President being tied up by former prisoners. But look at the prisoners tieing her up. They’re misshapen alien children out of something like Junko Mizuno. The panel is fetishizing, not just B&D, but specifically mother/child masochistic play.
As I think I’ve mentioned before, psychoanalysts often argue that all masochism is tied up (as it were) in a mother-child dynamic. Masochists are thought to be identifying with their mother in a confused Oedipal dynamic. For Marston, certainly, the idea of “loving authority” is a fairly explicit maternal alternative to the male paradigm of authority-as-law. You can see that pretty clearly in the sequence below:
Paula’s “loving submission” to mother Hippolyta is followed by an explanation that woman are more fit to rule because they “are more ready to serve others selflessly.” The model of authority is feminine and maternal, with ruler as mother and subjects as children.
Of course, bad mothers are quite exciting too.
No, we never learn what she did to the dog-woman to break her will. Maybe she made her stare at the pattern on that yellow pillow behind her. I could look at that for a good long while myself…whoa, getting kind of sleepy there….
Ahem. Anyway, this is all pretty much good clean fun…or good fun, anyway. Things get a little dicey, though, when Marston stops fetishizing metaphorical mother/child relationships and starts fetishizing actual children. He moves perilously close to doing the second in the last story of this book. As, for example, here:
The rigid disciplining of children is, in itself, fairly nauseating; add in Marston’s fetishistic investment in submission, and you get something which is — well, vile. I think vile is the right word. He’s basically suggesting torturing children for his sexual pleasure. Of course, he adds in layers of sanctimony in order to deny that that’s what’s going on — it’s actually all for the little kiddies’ good, you see:
The story goes on to suggest that Gerta, Paula’s daughter — the kid who throws the piano — will come to a horrible end because she doesn’t like to sit still for hours at a time just to satisfy Marston’s kinks. Wonder Woman, though, educates her by opportunistically harnassing Gerta’s love for her mother, Paula. This does give Peter a chance to draw a great octopus, with beautifully textured arms and a ludicrous, gigantic cartoony eye, but otherwise the situation can’t be said to be especially pretty.
The problem here is that, in raising children — and for that matter, in general — the ideal of loving submission can actually be even more oppressive than strict obedience to an arbitrary law. The father only cares what you do and how you behave; as long as you don’t break the law, you can think and feel what you wish. Of course, sometimes it’s impossible not to break the law, and, indeed, the point of even having the law is to get people to break it so they can be punished — but, still, the point is, you’re dealing with externals. Whereas, with the kind of mother love that Marston seems to be advocating, it’s about internal acquiescence — using love as a lever to break the will. That’s all well and good between consenting adults, but using it against kids is really not okay — especially since schools really have used this nonsense against kids, and for a long time. Here, for example, are some hints for psychological discipline for ushers at the Jesuit school at Port-Royal in 1615:
“A close watch must be kept on the children, and they must never be left alone anywhere, whether they are in ill or good health… this constant supervision should be exercised gently and with a certain trustfulness calculated to make them think that one loves them, and that it is only to enjoy their company that one is with them. This will make them love their supervision rather than fear it. (Aries, p. 265)”
“…calculated to make them think that one loves them.” Kind of says it all.
Obviously, kids need to be socialized, and the relationship with parents is one important way that that gets to happen. But there’s socialization and socialization; reasonable demands and unresasonable ones. And when you start to demand that a child substitute a state functionary like a teacher for the parent, and then you insist that she acquiesce to all that functionary’s demands with loving submission — well, you get a situation where a kid is labeled as evil because she doesn’t want to sit in one place all day.
So at the beginning of the story, Marston seems able to express the mother-daughter bond with both natural ease and sincerity. In the middle, he obsessively treats that same bond as metaphor and fetishizes its, and at the end he proposes a system of child-rearing which is both queasily sexualized and frankly monstrous. From which we can conclude that Marston was a very odd duck, and that people who love kids shouldn’t necessarily be teachers — or, at the very least, shouldn’t be allowed to craft the utopian school systems of the future.
Thanks to Bert Stabler for alerting me to that quote from the loving Jesuits.