Comic book superfans who go to catch Professor Marston & The Wonder Women might find themselves disappointed by a lack of spandex. Instead of superheroes, the film focuses on the true-life story of the man and two women behind Wonder Woman's creation. A sensual period drama following the polyamorous long-term relationship between William Moulton Marston, his wife Elizabeth, and their teaching assistant/lover, Olive Byrne, the film shows how their experiments with bondage and role-playing directly influenced the creation of the first female comic hero. That doesn't mean director Angela Robinson completely left out the famous heroine, however, as shown by the awesome Wonder Woman Easter Eggs hidden in Professor Marston.
Knowing a lot of the film's audience would be Wonder Woman fans, Robinson included several subtle nods to the Golden-Era heroine even before Wonder Woman's creation in the film. In an interview with Bustle, Robinson says,
"It starts the first time you see Olive. She’s wearing her silver bracelets, like right off the bat when he first notices her. Some people don’t even notice them until she’s in the toga, and then they’re like, “Oh my god!” And some people notice them right off the bat, so kind of seeding them in."
Robinson wove Wonder Woman imagery and themes throughout the film, including references to the superhero's main form of transportation using a glass plane motif, and visual cues recalling Wonder Woman's home on Paradise Island. These tidbits not only hint at the creation to come, but show how the rich fantasy lives of Professor Marston's characters freed them, allowing the trio to most fully be themselves when they were role playing.
Freedom in the bedroom translated to creativity on the page, with Marston seeking to create a superhero "with all the strength of Superman" yet "tender, submissive, peaceloving as good women are." Unfortunately his intentions were misread by some, including Josette Frank, a children's author who was moved to write a letter to the comics advisory board overseeing Wonder Woman. A longer Smithsonian article on Wonder Woman's origins shows Frank complaining about "sadistic bits showing women chained, tortured, etc.” Robinson's film doesn't shy away from the hero and the trio's kinkier aspects, but she wanted to make sure Wonder Woman's ultimate message of love was reflected in them. In an interview with the L.A. Times, Robinson explained, “I didn’t want to other-ize their experience, I wanted to make it as romantic and accessible as possible."
Generally accessible, yes, but there's definitely a shout-out to Wonder Woman superfans with a deep-cut easter egg that would be missed by all but the most hardcore. Unless you're familiar with the comic, you'd definitely mistake this for just an interesting wardrobe choice. Robinson says,
My favorite Easter egg is Elizabeth wearing the cheetah coat... Maybe they’ll incorporate The Cheetah at some point, but that’s her main nemesis in the early comics. I thought that was really fun.
Every good superhero needs an arch-nemesis, and Moulson created The Cheetah as Wonder Woman's main foe. Suffering from an inferiority complex and split-personality disorder, society girl Priscilla Rich snaps when guest of honor Wonder Woman gets more attention than her at a party. After a failed attempt at murdering Wonder Woman, Priscilla becomes the inner self reflected back at her in a mirror, "the Cheetah — a treacherous, relentless huntress!" Sewing a costume out of a cheetah-skin rug, Rich becomes a thief and turns to a life of crime, eventually joining the least creatively named super-villain squad, Villains, Inc.
The Cheetah is still one of Wonder Woman's main foes in the current comics, and who knows, we might even see her on the big screen in the near future. In the meantime, Robinson's hidden nod should be plenty to satisfy fans.
Additional reporting by Anna Klassen.