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DC Women Kicking Ass

Thoughts, pictures, reviews and other stuff about the women in comics who kick ass.
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Jun 20 '12

Guest Post: The Women Behind Wonder Woman

Someone I was thrilled to have offer to help me out with a guest post while I am on vacation is blogger Tim Hanley. Tim diligently compiles the monthly report on female creators at DC and Marvel for Bleeding Cool. Tim’s post today is a fascinating look at the women behind Wonder Woman. You know, of course, of creators such as Jill Thompson, Mindy Newell, Gail Simone and Nicola Scott but there were other women working on the character many years before that. Tim’s report follows.

In the fall of 1942, the inside cover of Wonder Woman #2 proclaimed: Boys and Girls! Here Are the Men Behind “WONDER WOMAN”. A picture showed William Moulton Marston (Wonder Woman’s creator and writer), H.G. Peter (the artist), Sheldon Mayer (the editor), and M.C. Gaines (the publisher). This all-male cast was typical for the time. While there was an occasional female creator in the Golden Age, they were few and far between. But what this picture didn’t show was that there were actually a lot of women behind the scenes in the early days of Wonder Woman.

Marston, a psychologist and the inventor of the lie-detector test, noticed how quickly comics had become popular with kids, but he didn’t like the violence. He wanted to provide an alternative, a hero motivated by love. When he told his wife Elizabeth, an impressive woman with three college degrees, about his idea, she insisted that this new superhero had to be a woman. Without Elizabeth, we could have ended up with Wonder Man!

Marston had a second lady friend, Olive Byrne (and not on the side either… all three of them lived together in a polyamorous relationship, and Marston had two children with Elizabeth and two with Olive. Seriously.) and she’s regularly credited as the inspiration for Wonder Woman’s bullet deflecting bracelets. Olive was fond of large, metal bracelets, and Marston co-opted the look for his new heroine. Like Elizabeth, Olive was also very well-educated, and it’s undeniable that these two very smart women inspired Wonder Woman in many ways. Here’s a look at the happy Marston family:

Beyond inspiration, there were women who worked on the comic itself as well. One of these women was Grand Slam tennis champion and Associated Press Athlete of the Year (for 1939 AND 1940), AliceMarble. World War Two put a real strain on globe-trotting pro tennis, and Marble was looking to do something different. She was very impressed with this new female superheroine, so she became an associate editor on Wonder Woman. While the position was largely ceremonial, for the first sixteen issues of Wonder Woman she was credited with writing “Wonder Women of History”, a four page comic that profiled a different historic woman each issue. This is the first page of Marble’s Florence Nightingale strip from Wonder Woman #1:

Another female editor, Dorothy Roubicek, worked down in the trenches at All-American comics as an assistant editor on Wonder Woman. She was a true pioneer; Roubicek was the only female assistant editor in the main office, and when she left in 1944 it was years before there was another one. Along with her usual editorial duties, Gaines had Roubicek handle complaints about Wonder Woman from DC’s advisory board. When a board member took issue with the skimpy costume, Roubicek sent Marston some sketches for a less revealing outfit (which he rejected). When several members raised concerns about Marston’s frequent bondage imagery, Roubicek had to come up with ideas for how to confine Wonder Woman in different ways (also rejected). Roubicek served as assistant editor from 1942 to 1944, and you’d have only lasted two years too if you had to deal with an obstinate Marston rejecting all of your ideas out of hand!

SIDENOTE: Decades later, Roubicek returned to DC Comics as Dorothy Woolfolk (her married name). She edited a fantastic run of Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane in the 1970s, and was set to edit Wonder Woman after the mod era ended in 1973. However, she only edited two reprint issues and was replaced by writer/editor Robert Kanigher as Wonder Woman returned to her Amazon roots. Here’s Kanigher’s send-off for her from Wonder Woman #204:

“Dottie Cottonman” is an obvious analogue for Dorothy Woolfolk, so we’re left to wonder whether this murder by sniper was a dark joke or if the two had some issues.

Some sources suggest that Roubicek wrote a few Wonder Woman stories in the 1940s, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. However, there’s another woman who definitely did. Marston’s secretary, Joye Murchison, helped Marston write most of his issues when he became ill with polio and later cancer in the mid-1940s, and she actually scripted several herself. Starting with Wonder Woman #12, Murchison regularly had her own stories in the series until Kanigher took over the book with Wonder Woman #29. She wasn’t credited at the time; in fact, until the mid-1960s every issue of Wonder Woman was credited to “Charles Moulton”, Marston’s pen name, even though he died in 1947. Murchison gets full credit in DC’s Archive editions, though, and is officially the first woman to ever write Wonder Woman!

On the art side, H.G. Peter was the sole credited artist on all of Wonder Woman’s early stories, but it’s well known that he worked with a studio full of artists. There were a few women in the crew that helped Peter with the inking and occasionally some penciling, though the only name we know is Helen Schpens. Also, several issues were lettered by Louise Marston, Marston’s daughter-in-law.

So while the men may have gotten all of the credit for Wonder Woman in the Golden Age, there were a surprising number of women behind the scenes working on every facet of her comic book adventures. From inspiration to editing to writing to art, pretty much every part of the comic had a woman involved at some point. So the next time you see Wonder Woman’s creation credited to just Marston and Peter, remember the army of women who helped make it happen.

For further reading on the women of Wonder Woman, check out Wonder Woman: The Complete History by Les Daniels and Roy Thomas’ foreword in Wonder Woman Archives: Volume 6.

Tim Hanley writes about Wonder Woman on his blog and writes the “Gendercrunching” stats for Bleeding Cool each month. He is working on a book about Wonder Woman.

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