Psychologist vs. Psychiatrist with Wonder Woman in Between
A psychologist helped build the comics industry and a psychiatrist wrecked it.
Posted Nov 15, 2017
Once upon a time, a psychologist helped build up the comic book industry. In the 1950s, a psychiatrist wrecked it. William Moulton Marston, Ph.D., and Fredric Wertham, M.D., both took an interest in comics. They both saw the powerful ability to influence people. They just reached very different conclusions. Marston saw great potential for doing good things for society; Wertham saw the potential for destroying it.
Psychologist William Moulton Marston, often called incorrectly (though with good reason) the inventor of the lie detector, created Wonder Woman in 1941. The second episode of the AMC series Visionaries: Robert Kirkman's Secret History of Comics, "The Truth about Wonder Woman," looks at the real world history that went on behind the scenes to bring the world its most famous superheroine—frankly, one of the most famous heroes of any kind. Through interviews, the documentary presents an oral history of Marston and the women who inspired him: his wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston and the woman who shared their lives, Olive Byrne. I've written here previously on the "True Story" of Wonder Woman's Marston ménage à trois.
Psychiatrist Fredric Wertham waged a campaign blaming comic books for the post-World War II rise in juvenile delinquency. Publicly his campaign began with a symposium ten months after Marston died in 1947 and culminated in his 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent. After "The Truth about Wonder Woman" aired, AMC posted a three-minute video extra in which I describe and analyze Wertham's fight with Marston's ghost. I understood why this story did not fit into the episode that aired but am very pleased that they still shared it because the history matters.
Above, you can see the three-minute video extra. You can click this link go to the full episode during the three months that it will be available online. It will also air several more times on AMC.
I really have to thank everyone with Skybound and AMC involved in making this series and for inviting me to share my thoughts in this particular episode.