Wonder Woman’s magic lasso is a lariat, a zip line, a whip, and everything else you can craft from an unbreakable, seemingly prehensile, and infinitely extendable rope.
And yes, it also has some pretty huge influence over the human mind, the kind that, if creators aren’t careful, can make the ending of a Wonder Woman story (and, specifically, the ending of Wonder Woman 1984) seem kind of trivial. A deus ex funem, if you will.
But the lasso isn’t just the kind of overpowered item you’d never give the player characters of a D&D game. The lasso is the whole point of Wonder Woman.
[Ed. note: This piece contains spoilers for Wonder Woman 1984.]
Wonder Woman’s creator had some ahead-of-his time ideas
William Moulton Marston is justifiably infamous for not being your typical Golden Age superhero creator. The polyamorous psychologist and inventor saw Wonder Woman stories as an opportunity to voice his view of a more harmonious way for men and women to live together. Core to his philosophy was the concept of “loving submission,” and the idea that only those who have the capacity to willingly submit to a loving authority should ask for the same submission from other people.
His original version of Wonder Woman’s golden magic lasso was a shortcut to loving submission, compelling those within its coils to submit to Diana’s compassionate dominance.
You might wonder what the difference is between compelling someone and forcing them. “How do we know they’re not just being mind controlled?” Well, it’s magic, of course. Wonder Woman stories aren’t about how the lasso logically works, any more than Superman stories are about how he produces enough thrust to fly. It’s simply part of the rules of the fiction: People under the lasso are compelled to choose freely, and that’s not a contradiction.
Marston also helped to invent the polygraph test, and while we now know that it’s not as accurate as he would have hoped, it goes to show another of his personal interests that shaped Wonder Woman stories. A person who submits to Diana’s loving authority naturally also tells her the complete truth when asked.
The Golden Perfect
Modern Wonder Woman writers, including George Peréz, Greg Rucka, and Gail Simone, have expanded on that idea of truth, refining the lasso’s effect to something more like if a Vulcan mind meld came with a decade of therapy, condensed into one moment. It has been depicted as capable of turning the loyal infantry of para-military fundamentalist groups to repentance in minutes.
Some of the best Wonder Woman stories walk the line of offering even the worst monsters a path to redemption, without being tolerant to a fault. Some do this by acknowledging that it’s easier to offer the hand of forgiveness when you’re a nearly indestructible princess from a society of immortal philosopher warriors. Others use specific scene setting, as with 2017’s Wonder Woman. Jenkins and Co. set Diana’s origin in World War I and filmed final scenes in which German troops throw down their arms, just as relieved and sympathetic as our heroes. Those scenes would not have worked in Wonder Woman’s usual historical context of World War II.
And still others stress that Amazonian forgiveness has important limits. In Wonder Woman #25, Simone gave the Amazons an adage: “Don’t kill if you can wound, don’t wound if you can subdue, don’t subdue if you can pacify, and don’t raise your hand at all until you’ve first extended it.”
In perhaps the most memorable Wonder Woman story that isn’t her origin, Diana battled Max Lord, who had found a way to control the minds of others even over great distances. Max promised that he would never stop trying to make Superman murder thousands of people, and that the only way to stop him was to kill him. Diana snapped his neck on live television and shouldered the public recriminations.
He’d made all of this confession while bound by her lasso, establishing the fundamental and incisive truth of what he was saying. It’s a rare case of the golden lasso as a plot device that negates a compassionate choice rather than enabling one — but ultimately it’s still a plot device that allowed the story to maintain Wonder Woman’s empathy-first bonafides.
The lasso is a magical shortcut, the kind of it-does-what-it-says-on-the-tin MacGuffin that is strewn throughout comics but makes its way to modern superhero film much more sparingly. It simplifies Wonder Woman stories, forces her villains to remain sympathetic, and encourages outcomes where extending a hand in friendship always works. It’s not particularly realistic or relatable to everyday life.
But that is, of course, the point. Most classic superhero stories are not about presenting the world as it is, and the fantasy of Wonder Woman is the fantasy that radical empathy can work, even if only because of magical intervention. A fantasy that tells the reader that an extended hand might not always be reciprocated, but should always be tried.
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