The trailer is out for Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, and you have to go watch it immediately. It may not have Gal Gadot, but the film about Wonder Woman’s creator and his family looks amazing.
Honestly, the story is hard to resist. Comics writer William Moulton Marston had a background in psychology, but tried his hand at everything, from film-writing to inventing the lie detector (well, it’s a bit more complicated than that, but that’s how he liked to put it). But his personal life was especially ripe for the retelling; he was polyamorous, and lived with his wife, Elizabeth Holloway, and another female partner, Olive Byrne, as well as all their children, under one roof. Oh, and Byrne? She just happened to be the niece of Margaret Sanger. Historian Jill Lepore published a full account in 2014 entitled The Secret History of Wonder Woman, so between that book and the Gal Gadot film this year, the time to tell the story of the Marston family onscreen is ripe.
But Marston was unusual for another, less sexy reason- he was one of the few great non-Jewish comic book creators.
It’s old news at this point that the comics industry, comic books as an art form, and the superhero are all the inventions of American Jews, creative, entrepreneurial, and shut out of more established media. Comics were seen as low art, not an industry for someone of a respectable background. And yet, there was Marston, in all his WASP-y, New England, Ivy League glory, making his mark on the industry with the most popular female superhero of all time. So, while it’s exciting to celebrate him (and the women who helped make his legacy), let’s remember what he was: an anomaly.
The new film talks about the idea of secret identity, and how Wonder Woman could be a metaphor for Marston and his partners hiding the nature of their relationships from the world. And this may be true, and would include queer identity (while it was historically ambiguous whether or not Byrne and Holloway were romantically involved with one another, this movie seems to present it as fact). But the secret identity metaphor of comics was predominantly an immigration and assimilation story. Kal-El is Clark Kent, taking on a new American identity, despite his alien background… just like his creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, two Jewish first-generation Americans.
And so, what about a film about Siegel and Shuster? Despite essentially inventing the first modern superhero, they were ultimately cheated out of the rights to Superman! (And you want something with kinky sex like the Marston movie promises? Shuster also drew fetish art. There.)
What about a film about Bill Finger and Bob Kane, the dueling creators of Batman. Why did only Kane get credit? It’s a mystery worthy of the Caped Crusader, and there’s at least a documentary exploring that.
Or what about a film about Jack “The King” Kirby, arguably the single most influential figure to comics ever? Before coming to prominence as a self-taught artist, he was a poor Jewish kid in a rough neighborhood who ran with a street gang!
Or what about a movie about Fredric Wertham, the Jewish psychiatrist who went on a campaign to prove that comics were destructive for our nation’s youth? He’s generally maligned as a villain as cartoonish as those on the comics pages he so detested, but this obscures other parts of his legacy. For example, he also did important work about the damaging psychology of racial segregation that was used as evidence in Brown V. Board of Education. What a nuanced and compelling figure!
The point is, there are a lot of options of fascinating individuals worth commemorating not only for their work, but for the lives that they led, lives that highlight important aspects of the American Jewish experience. Hell, even the film adaptation of Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, about fictional Jewish comics creators, has been languishing in development hell. And as a novel, it’s primed for the big screen.
We’ve had a million and five superhero movies. It’s about time that we put the creators and innovators who gave them to us onscreen as well. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, should be the start, not the stand-in, for the people who taught us to believe that man might fly.