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Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics, 1941-1948 (Comics Culture) Paperback – December 8, 2014

4.9 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"In this smart and engaging book, Noah Berlatsky reveals how psychology, polyamory, bondage, feminism, and queer identities inspired comic books' most enduring superheroine. A fascinating read for anyone interested in comics, pop culture, or gender politics!"
(Julia Serano Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity)

"Berlatsky can always be counted on to show us new facets of what he examines, in fact, to show that the facets are part of a whole shape heretofore unperceived."
(Carla Speed McNeil writer/artist of Finder)

"Engaging and entertaining."
(Sean Kleefeld FreakSugar)

"Insightful...Berlatsky examines some of the most complex and controversial aspects of Wonder Woman. The analysis is solid, the research is thorough, and the conclusions are valid."
(Publishers Weekly)

"Berlatsky does a dazzling and remarkably accessible reading of the 1940s Wonder Woman comics against some fo the heavyweights of modern feminist theory - Judith Butler, Luce Irigaray, Shulamith Firestone, Julia Kristeva, Susan Brownmiller."
(Women's Review of Books)

"An engaging read from start to finish, and Berlatsky’s love of Golden Age Wonder Woman comics comes through on every page."
(Comics Journal)

"The research is astonishing. The dedication is breathtaking. And the fact that this would actually be usable as a college textbook in either a women’s literature, comic history, or even pop culture class is awesome."
(Comic Booked.com)

"[Berlatsky] reminds us of how Wonder Woman’s non-normative forms of sexuality and womanhood actually challenge sexism. "
(Public Books)

"Noah Berlatsky took a deep dive into the marriage of psychology and artwork that is [William] Marston’s enduring pop culture impact."
(New City Lit.com)

"Berlatsky, the editor of Hooded Utilitarian (a comics and culture site), has written a work filled with deep scholarly insights on the history and politics of Wonder Woman's creator, as well as a larger examination of the histories, lifestyles and personal ethos that gave rise to one of popular culture's most powerful figures."
(Mic.com)

"Berlatsky's accomplished analysis of [Wonder Woman]'s sexuality and narrative themes tell us much about Marston's philosophies."
(Cinema Journal)

"[Berlatsky] combs the verbal and visual texts to show how Marston and Peter conveyed their unique notions of liberation through bondage, submission, and the glorification of lesbian sexuality while simultaneously linking these ideas to feminism and freedom."
(Gay & Lesbian Review)

"Berlatsky does a dazzling and remarkably accessible reading of the 1940s Wonder Woman comics against some of the heavyweights of modern feminist theory—Judith Butler, Luce Irigaray, Shulamith Firestone, Julia Kristeva, Susan Brownmiller."
(Joan Hilty Wellesley Centers for Women, Women's Review of Books)

"Zounds! Who knew the wonders of Wonder Woman's sadomasochistic complexities? If you only know the TV show, get ready for the ropes and lassoes and chains of the 40's comics as examined by Noah Berlatsky. Be sure to buy the e-book to see the original images in glorious color!"
(Linda Williams UC Berkeley)

About the Author

NOAH BERLATSKY is the editor of the comics and culture blog The Hooded Utilitarian. He has written on gender, comics, and culture for many publications, including Slate, Public Books, The Chicago Reader, Reason, The Comics Journal, The Baffler, and The Atlantic.
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Product Details

  • Series: Comics Culture
  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Rutgers University Press (January 2, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0813564182
  • ISBN-13: 978-0813564180
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #536,980 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By Peter R. Sattler on December 12, 2014
Format: Paperback
I first read this book in manuscript while preparing to teach a course on superheroes and was a fan from the first pages. I didn’t realize, however, exactly how much I appreciated Noah Belatsky’s exploration of Wonder Woman until I read Jill Lepore’s recent “secret history” of the character and her creators.

Like Lepore, Berlatsky explores how these early superhero comics are connected to the broader histories of feminism, pacifism, and sexuality. Unlike the longer history, though, Berlatsky does not just reduce Marston and Wonder Woman to expressions of larger historical or cultural discourses. Berlatsky, as a writer and a thinker, is strongly committed to exploring what makes the Marston/Peter “Wonder Woman” comic books unique, idiosyncratic, experimental, and strange – that is, what turns them into expressions of unconventional and truly queer genius.

Berlatsky digs deep into Marston’s playful and playfully odd visions of bondage and freedom, submission and power, feminism and gender and love – linking all his claims to the way that these ideas take shape in particular Wonder Woman stories (and not just in the comics’ cultural or psychological context). He them takes all these ideas and plays with them himself, connecting Marston’s ideas and obsessions to Freud and Lacan, Eve Sedgwick and Judith Butler, Stan Lee and Stephanie Meyer.

As these last names indicate, Berlatsky’s own argument and his use of these other writers and thinkers is playful and suggestive – and sometimes even as funny and weird as the Wonder Woman comics he analyzes. This is not a by-the-numbers application of Theory X to Book Y to get Result Z.
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Format: Paperback
Berlatsky's examination of William Marsden's early Wonder Woman comics, framed by a contemporary understanding of gender studies, is a passionate, well-written exploration of an under-examined time and place. In tackling the subject, Berlatsky upends many conventional assumptions about how people viewed power and sexuality at a time more associated with hetero-normative standards and big band music.

I was reminded at times of Ed Wood's story, and how (in certain ways) open the society of 1940s America was, with the war and then later returning veterans and a sense of moral possibility, culturally and narratively - reflected in the occasional studies of and movies about that time period. Oftentimes the impulse is to conflate WWII and post-WWII with the early 1950s, which was, in many ways, a reaction to that time - there was a sense that America had gone off the rails, and that the communists, who now had nuclear capabilities, were going to overcome us because of what was perceived at the time as moral weakness.

Works like this are important to understanding current stories, and the myths we hold about our grandparents and ourselves. "Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marsten/Peters Comics" is a great place to begin the conversation, or to continue it - especially if you, as a reader, prize intellectually measured analysis, rather than sentimental myth.
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Format: Paperback
Wonder Woman has always had a special place in my heart.  I grew up with the Lynda Carter television series and the comics of that era, but I had no idea her original incarnation was so colorful.  Did you know Hippolyte sculpted baby Diana out of clay, like Pygmalion?  I did not.  And that is just the beginning!  I find some academic studies of popular culture can be a little formulaic, but in this case the author’s respect and affection for the original Wonder Woman comics shine through.  The book should probably be read in conjunction with the Marston-Peter comics, some of which are fortunately available on Amazon.  (BTW, Hippolyte is actually also secretly running Amazon.com--or no, I made that part up.)
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Format: Paperback
Finally, a book that truly treats comics like the complicated, rich art form that it is.

Its focus on William Marston and Harry J Peter's original run of the Wonder Woman comics is a great choice-- these stories were some of the most surreal, wondrous and provocative comics published in the history of the medium.

This book provides a deep reading of several issues of the original Wonder Woman run, with high quality images of the pages. The author enriches his initial analysis by drawing on diverse theories of gender, sexuality, family relations, violence and heroism, which illustrate how deeply this comic considered the role, responsibilities and identity of a female superhero.

Best of all, the author is willing to meet the Wonder Woman creators on their own terms. The original Wonder Woman comics had a lot of daring subject matter, and rather than dismiss or lampoon it, Berlatsky bravely celebrates and honors the creator's gutsy (and raunchy) vision. He doesn't dismiss the sexuality as a symptom of Marston's polygamous marriage (which he does describe in detail,) but as both stemming from the same philosophical initiative. Wonder Woman was explicitly intended to envision a love-filled utopia, and a new kind of leadership, and its fantastic to see the ambitions of the comics and creators highlighted. Few comics from this era were meant to be taken as inspiration for a new world order!

A courageous and entertaining book, especially for true lovers of the comics medium.
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