I had been looking forward to Wonder Woman Unbound for a couple of weeks before I got my hands on it pretty much for the same reason any fanperson looks forward to anything with Wonder Woman in it; she can be a great character and she's often underutilized and we should be talking about her more. We should have reasons to talk about her more.
But not like this.
This review will apparently be a minority report: most of the rest of the web is taken with this book, and gives it four stars, giving it high marks for revealing information heretofore unrevealed and dealing with the subject matter in a frank and open way, often incorporating some humor. I do not understand why this is: I found this book to be repetitive, ponderous, pedantic, repetitive, easily distracted (something like 30% of the book is about other heroes and villains used in a kind of failed compare-and-contrast), and while it was filled with a raft of research findings and presentations (and charts and diagrams and goddamn graphs), on almost every occasion, the conclusion drawn from the research was wrong, bad, or too simplistic.
The first part of the book, dealing with WW's origins in the mind of William Moulton Marston goes into details about his life that are not, by any stretch, revelations to either comics readers or students of modern psychology. Everything in the book about Marston can be found in this Wikipedia entry, this Comic Book Resources article, and this background piece on the Personality Profile Solutions website. In short: Marston was one of those brilliant people who hover on the edges of quirky weirdness, so in addition to giving the world Wonder Woman, DISC theory, and the polygraph, he also lived in a successful polyamorous relationship with two women, liked to be tied up, and thought women were not equal with men - he thought they were superior. So he's a controversial guy. None of what can be found in this book is new information - this is all out there, and has been. The only "new" argument that Hanley makes (and possibly the last useful thing in the book) is that Wonder Woman cannot simply be viewed (in her early years) as a feminist icon without taking all the bondage (which is proliferate) into account - to Marston, bondage was about trust, and relinquishing control, and he was personally into it, so it's in a high percentage of stories. However, WW always breaks free, breaks her bonds, and saves the day, so - what was your argument again, Tim?
Tim seems not to grasp that fictional characters with any staying power - Sherlock Holmes, Beowulf, Dracula, Wonder Woman, Batman, shit - even the fucking Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - are fodder for re-appropriation and reinterpretation. Was Tinky Winky gay? That big puffy bastard didn't even have genitals, but that didn't stop the Pride movement from having some Tinky after Falwell opened his useless yap. Likewise, WW is (or can be) what her fans want her to be. If you read a Batman story you don't like, no one's forcing you to incorporate that story into your conception of Batman. I, for one, think that the Killing Joke and Arkham Asylum are prettier than they are good, and neither is a good representation of how I think of Batman. The same is true of any character - if you don't think Coppola makes a good Dracula, then skip that one. If Gloria Steinem wants to take Women's Lib as an opportunity to re-create and reinterpret Wonder Woman for a new generation, then as long as DC's in on the game, who the fuck is Tim to tell them they did it wrong? Everyone will have their own mind's-eye Wonder Woman, and most of her modern adult fans think of her as Lynda Carter, a strong woman with a lasso on TV fighting for good.
Lynda Carter is mentioned on exactly seven pages of this book. Seven. Seven in like, 220-something. I actually stopped and said, "That's it?!?" out loud. Luckily, I often read when no one's around.
Hanley spends far more time bitching and complaining about various people's lensed interpretations of Wonder Woman, saving an especially vicious fork for Robert Kanigher, who wrote the title for longer than - I think - anyone, and whose worst actual sins are probably that he didn't take writing comic books very seriously and that he had a terrible temper. While not particularly enlightened, these are not original fuck-ups in the world of comics - and Tim knows this. He's a "comics historian," whatever the hell that means now.
Probably the trolliest part of the book is when Hanley exhorts us to step back collectively and re-examine Dr. Fredric Wertham. Wertham, due to his book, Seduction of the Innocent, and his subsequent testimony before congress about the ills and dangers of comics, is vilified by most modern-day comics readers, as well he should be, because he went over the top. Hanley needles us, reminding us that Wertham also did some good stuff - testified as to the harms of segregation, argued against the solitary confinement of Ethel Rosenberg - and that he had done a lot of research, so he might have had a point or two in Seduction. It doesn't surprise me that Hanley is blind to research bias, and can't see how some points of view - homophobia - might chip away at a person's overall credibility, since he later in the book asserts that some women "chose to be lesbians" during the women's lib movement. Tim, Tim, Timmy, Timothy. No, no. Some women may have chosen to experiment with sex or relationships with other women, but they didn't choose to be lesbians because they woke up one tired of the patriarchy. They may have wished that they could do that, but - well, Tim, maybe you haven't been paying attention over the last 20 years or so. It's also possible that you missed this entirely.
So yeah - at the beginning of this pointless murder of trees, Hanley dedicates it to his parents - my advice would be to let them have it. You have better things to do with your life.