Marston was capitalizing on one of his time’s many similarities to our own: His was an age that, too, was anxious about the future of truth. In America, in the decades between the world wars, propaganda had revealed itself to be a powerful weapon. (Walter Lippmann, the era’s expert on strategically employed information both in war and in other settings, published Public Opinion in 1922.) At the same time, as broad Progressive reforms swept the country, the American police further professionalized, emphasizing data and science in their work both tracking and solving crimes. Wonder Woman’s lasso was a golden embodiment of all that: It promised that, if we could just find the right tools, the truth would reveal itself, compulsorily.
Her lasso made its debut in the sixth issue of Sensation Comics, the DC series that ran between 1942 and 1952. The device came with a detailed backstory: The weapon, the issue explained, came from the chain links of the magic girdle worn by Queen Hippolyta. Once Diana was given the gift, she was visited by the goddesses Aphrodite and Athena, who imbued the hand-me-down with its truth-demanding capabilities. Wielding the lasso, then, Wonder Woman was a warrior who was also an investigator. “Like the equally mythic lie detector upon which it was modeled,” Bunn argues in The Truth Machine, “the lasso was intended to be one of Wonder Woman’s principal weapons against the forces of crime and injustice.”
In many ways, the mythic lie detector was also an allegory—for feminine charm, for the kind of soft power women can have, he thought, over men. The lasso was, after all, imbued with its mystical properties by the goddesses both of wisdom and of love. And it derived, in more practical settings, not only from Marston’s obsession with truth-telling, but also from his interest in related themes—among them power, submission, and bondage. Wonder Woman, Comic Book Resource’s Brian Cronin notes, “ended up tied up in chains so many times in the early years of the series that National Comics had to tell Marston to stop chaining her up so much.” (“They were not,” he adds, “objecting to her being tied up so much as the redundancy of him using chains all the time.”)
Despite all that, though, Marston was a feminist: He believed that a world that gave women more power—politically and otherwise—would be more peaceful, more empathetic, more worthy. Marston partly patterned Wonder Woman, Lepore suggests, after his student Olive Byrne, whom he taught at Tufts and with whom he fell in love; Marston, his wife Elizabeth Holloway, and Byrne lived together, a family ahead of its time, with their multiple children. Byrne was also the niece of Margaret Sanger; in 1916, Sanger and her sister, Ethel Byrne—Olive’s mother—had opened the United States’s first birth-control clinic.