Hidden behind this controversy is one reason for all those chains and ropes, which has to do with the history of the fight for women’s rights. Because Marston kept his true relationship with Olive Byrne a secret, he kept his family’s ties to Margaret Sanger a secret, too. Marston, Byrne and Holloway, and even Harry G. Peter, the artist who drew Wonder Woman, had all been powerfully influenced by the suffrage, feminism and birth control movements. And each of those movements had used chains as a centerpiece of its iconography.
Comic books were more or less invented in 1933 by Maxwell Charles Gaines, a former elementary school principal who went on to found All-American Comics. Superman first bounded over tall buildings in 1938. Batman began lurking in the shadows in 1939. Kids read them by the piles. But at a time when war was ravaging Europe, comic books celebrated violence, even sexual violence. In 1940, the Chicago Daily News called comics a “national disgrace.” “Ten million copies of these sex-horror serials are sold every month,” wrote the newspaper’s literary editor, calling for parents and teachers to ban the comics, “unless we want a coming generation even more ferocious than the present one.”
Storylines The 18th Letter • A League of One • A Piece of You • Amazons Attack! • Beauty and the Beasts • Birds of Paradise • Bitter Rivals • Blood • Bones • The Bronze Doors • The Challenge of Artemis • Challenge of the Gods • Champion • The Circle • The Contest • Counting Coup • Depths • Destiny Calling • Devastation • Devastation Returns • Down to Earth • Ends of the Earth • Expatriate • Flesh • The Game of the Gods • God Complex • Gods and Mortals • Gods of Gotham • Godwar • Guts • Iron • Judgment in Infinity • Land of the Lost • Levels • Love and Murder • Lifelines • Marathon • The Men Who Moved the Earth • A Murder of Crows • Odyssey • The Pandora Virus • Paradise Island Lost • Revenge of the Cheetah • Rise of the Olympian • Sacrifice • Second Genesis • Stoned • Three Hearts • Trinity 98 • The Twelve Labors • War • Warkiller • War-Torn • Who is Donna Troy? • Who is Troia? • Who Is Wonder Woman? • The Witch and the Warrior • Wrath of the Silver Serpent
(For the record, Marston and Olive Byrne’s son, Byrne Marston, who is an 83-year-old retired obstetrician, thinks that when Marston talked about the importance of submission, he meant it only metaphorically. “I never saw anything like that in our house,” he told me. “He didn’t tie the ladies up to the bedpost. He’d never have gotten away with it.”)
In one episode, a newspaper editor named Brown, desperate to discover Wonder Woman’s past, assigns a team of reporters to chase her down; she easily escapes them. Brown, gone half mad, is committed to a hospital. Wonder Woman disguises herself as a nurse and brings him a scroll. “This parchment seems to be the history of that girl you call ‘Wonder Woman’!” she tells him. “A strange, veiled woman left it with me.” Brown leaps out of bed and races back to the city desk, where he cries out, parchment in hand, “Stop the presses! I’ve got the history of Wonder Woman!” But Wonder Woman’s secret history isn’t written on parchment. Instead, it lies buried in boxes and cabinets and drawers, in thousands of documents, housed in libraries, archives and collections spread all over the United States, including the private papers of creator Marston—papers that, before I saw them, had never before been seen by anyone outside of Marston’s family.