The Bound to Blog posts are coming very infrequently these days…and it’s in large part because these issues from late in the Marston/Peter run are, frankly, kind of depressing. Though there were signs of life in 23, it’s been clear since 22 that neither Marston nor Peter is bringing their A-game to these comics. Marston, in fact, was on his death bed at this point — he actually died before the July 1947 cover date here, but since issues were forward-dated, it’s possible he was still alive to see this cover.
Not a bad one as these things go; we’ve got the girl-on-girl bondage in the best Marston/Peter tradition. And I like WW’s glance out at the reader, as if to say, “Chill out! I’ve got this!”
After that though, things go rapidly to hell…or to school, which is much worse. The first story just can’t conceivably have been written by Marston. It’s all about boy’s cheating on exams…which is all wrong. In Marston, boys don’t cheat on exams. And why? Because Marston doesn’t give a crap about boys. If he’s going to have someone cheat on an exam, it’s going to be a girl. In a girl’s school. Where the punishment for cheating on exams is being forced to dress like a kitten and drink milk with your hands tied behind your head. While being paddled. With amazon kangaroos.
Here’s a random boring page.
Bland guys standing around confronting each other with banal moral dilemmas — that’s not Marston. Not even Marston on his death bed. I just won’t believe it.
I have to acknowledge its Peter of course — but he seems pretty uninterested as well. I do kind of like the weird perspective in the last panel, where the boy (“Ezy Wey,” because he always takes the…oh never mind) looks like he’s about the size of the other guy’s head…but really. Slim pickings.
Eventually WW does get tied up, because that’s what Marston would do, and whoever’s writing the thing is clearly trying. But while she’s tied up with her own rope, the bad guy compels her to…record advertisements for his test preparation company.
I mean…recording advertisements? What the hell is that? That’s not a fetish. Nobody’s saying, oooh, yes, now I’m going to have WW do product endorsements! Ooh, that’s hot…and also feminist!” Reading this is like watching a satyr possessed by a bank executive.
And of course, when bank executives write stories, the hero saves the heroine.
“This time Steve the whole credit goes to you.” Gag me with a product endorsement.
The next story is maybe a little better. It features the Mask, an evil villainess who puts kinky gags on her victims with cyanide tablets inside them, so if they take off the gags without her key they die. Then they have to do what she says until she takes their cyanide bondage gags off.
Marston could have thought of that. Plus, dig those Peter shadows. The Mask’s is particularly great; it looks like some sort of weird bulbous flower.
There are a couple of lovely moments in the story too. Here for instance:
Even in her thoughts Etta goes “woo woo”.
And this is convincingly perverse; the girls all tied up on one end of the room, watching the man in the middle forced to kneel over the food until he gets so hungry he tears off his gag and kills himself. Peter does a nice job with the tile wall, too; the repeating pattern emphasizes the weird perspective — everybody looks the wrong size, and the space is too flat, with WW’s blobby shadow splattering inkily against the wall. It feels like an S&M fever dream, elaborately staged and manipulated. I like this from the same page too:
Nice knee to the back, Mask.
The plot’s mildly interesting as well; a rich millionaire torments his wife and keeps a disgruntled female daredevil on the payroll for publicity. Everybody thinks the Mask is the daredevil, but it turns out to be the wife who’s brain has snapped due to mistreatment. So…kind of maybe a feminist parable? Sort of?
None of it really has much life though. In a good Marston script, the man is evil and controlling…and then he learns to submit to the woman and everything is fine. Here, the woman only gets to be a dominatrix when she’s evil. When her crime is revealed, she goes back to being submissive, and is taken off to the hospital. WW says that her husband now loves her….but it sure seems like he loves her because she’s been redomesticated — because he recognizes her real (mental) weakness, rather than because he’s impressed by her strength. In other words, there’s bondage, and there’s some sort of gesture at feminism (maybe), but they never sync up the way they should. Instead of the usual accelerating Marston/Peter tower of preposterous obsession and obsessive preposterousness, you end up with a largely ennervated hodgepodge of domestic melodrama, adventure serial, and somewhat incongruous kink.
Just when I was getting ready to despair, the last story shows some of the old pizzazz. It almost certainly was written by Marston. Who else would have Hippolyta saving the ancient Aztecs and thwarting Cortes?
If you had any doubt, check out that bottom right panel, where Hippolyta gives the Aztec king a piggie-back ride. The king’s power is cemented by being infantilized by super-mommy. (Someone needs to send this page to R. Crumb.)
The details here are just much more idiosyncratic and vivid as well. For instance, this is great:
Etta’s “I’m even too hot to eat candy” is priceless…but the final payoff is great too. Diana’s not hot — because she’s Wonder Woman! Nothing fazes her, she’s always fresh and lovely — and Marston loves her for it.
And what a lovely and bizarre Harry Peter drawing that is. Instead of the curtain suggesting the nakedness behind it, something like the opposite happens. It’s such a surfacy drawing, with the little circles for the bubbles and the stylized silhouette, that it almost denies that there’s anything beyond it; the flat shadow is eroticized for itself, rather than for the flesh it supposedly metonymizes. I mentioned WW’s relation to doll tales; this is another instance where artificiality is eroticized; the viewer sees and possesses the drawing, which is all there is to possess. The representation of nudity is erotic not because it’s nudity but because it’s a representation; men and women are encouraged to play with objectification for its own sake, enjoying the teasing flattening of bodies.
The plot is no great shakes; WW has to help the heir to the Aztec treasure recover it, or some such. But Marston’s love of the character gives life to even his less inspired ideas. As the above picture indicates, Peter, too, is more energized; his pages become more daring and unified, whether through use of color:
or through curving shapes and motion lines:
This is probably the central thematic page of the story, though:
There are three women in each panel, and they are arranged and rearranged in attitudes of worship, subservience, and affection, suggesting both mother-daughter and mistress-servant relationships. WW sits at the feet of Azta (Queen of the Modern Aztecs); then Azta kneels to Hippolyta; then all three sit togther on the couch, loving equals…except that Azta’s hands are still clasped in rapture, or in worship. It’s pretty tame as Marston goes, but I don’t think there’s any doubt that there’s an erotic frisson in women commanding, submitting, and loving each other. Women talking to each other (about something other than men!) — what more could Marston want? A world of Bechdel moments is (one of) his ideal erotic idylls.
So we’ve got four more to go after this. As I’ve said before, 28 is fantastic, and definitely by Marston. 25, 26, and 27 though…I have concerns.