Six months before the Second World War came to an end, William Moulton Marston, the creator of Wonder Woman —both comics and character—declared his intention for the iconic comics. “Frankly,” Marston—who created the lie detection test and was obsessed with bondage—said, “Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world.” It was a telling, if ironic, statement: the Wonder Woman comics, from their birth in 1941, had always been about restoring sociopolitical power to women, yet these early texts were created predominantly by men.
“Wonder Woman was from the start a character founded in scholarship,” Phi Beta Kappa’s—Marston’s beloved fraternity— The Key Reporter declared in 1942, echoing this sentiment. If Wonder Woman has her origins in Paradise Island, the island itself—and its wondrous women alike—owe a debt to Greek epics, feminist utopian novels, and queer literature. When the Amazonian heroine shouts “suffering Sappho!”—perhaps her most emblematic exclamation—this is no coincidence; she was indeed built from the fragmentary poems of Sappho of Lesbos, alongside many other texts.
The Sapphic connection may go deeper still. Sappho’s best-known poem, a fragment beginning “To an army wife, in Sardis,” is broadly about loving whatever one loves, conventional or not. “Some say a cavalry corps,” the poem begins,