Writer: Grant Morrison / Artist: Yannick Paquette / Colors: Nathan Fairbairn
There’s little dispute that Grant Morrison’s writing talents on DC Comics characters have reached legendary levels. His run on JLA is a benchmark that set the modern standard for approaching team books, and his All-Star Superman universally appears on lists of essential Superman stories. He significantly reshaped the Batman mythos while still working within existing material. The Multiversity was a grand analysis of the very nature of DC Comics, alternate realities, and how readers and creators themselves interact with the nature of comics.
In other words, a reader risks going into a Grant Morrison comic with incredibly high expectations. All-Star Superman is beloved because it drew upon the best aspects of 70 years of Superman and distilled them into a story that exemplified the greatness and yet simplicity of the character. Inevitably, people will expect his Wonder Woman: Earth One to accomplish the same thing. Be warned up front: it doesn’t. Which is not to say that Wonder Woman: Earth One is a bad comic, but it’s also not the cerebral examination of the character in the same sense that All Star Superman was.
It possibly could have been, but it may be that format and purpose added some artificial restrictions on Morrison’s playground. For one, he’s operating within the limits of a 144-page graphic novel, versus the 12 issues and 320 pages of All-Star Superman where he had more creative independence. Second, he’s operating in the Earth One line which, frankly, DC still seems uncertain what to do with. Earth One apparently represents a desire to create a “cinematic” level of stories for the mass market. That’s an ambitious project, but it’s also confusing, as Earth One often seems to be competing with mainline DC itself. Superman Earth One was released not long before the New 52 reboot, so J. Michael Straczynski’s revised origin had to compete with Morrison’s revitalized Action Comics which got all the press in 2011. Similarly, Geoff Johns reinvented the caped crusader in Batman Earth One, but that was released contemporaneously with Scott Snyder’s “Zero Year” which again had the spotlight.
Now with Wonder Woman, the internal competition is happening again. Morrison reintroduces us to the character, but funny enough, Renae DeLiz is doing the same thing in her Legend of Wonder Woman series currently on shelves. Of course, Brian Azzarello’s New 52 Wonder Woman books are still on the shelves, DC just released an omnibus of George Perez’s defining run, and DC/Warner is pushing the character in their new cinematic universe. With the number of Wonder Woman stories out there right now, there remains of question of what purpose Morrison’s origin serves when it’s lost among so many other versions.
In the end, we can only analyze Wonder Woman: Earth One on the merits, realizing that it’s one of many competing Wonder Woman origins for a reader to choose from. To that end, Morrison is certainly successful in crafting a Wonder Woman story that’s familiar and yet new. There aren’t many extreme liberties taken here: she’s still the daughter of a tribe of Greek Amazons who retreated from the world after their conclusion that the world of men is dangerous. She’s also still inspired to leave Themyscria after finding Steve Trevor, an American pilot who crashes, injured, on a world forbidden to males. Bits of both the classics and the weirder parts appear: the “bullets and bracelets” part of her origin gets a nod, and the Amazons even use the wacky “jumpa” kangaroos. All the familiar elements are there, and while it’s not All-Star Superman‘s “four-panel origin,” it’s not supposed to be, either.
What Morrison does well is to cherrypick, blend, and remix familiar elements from Wonder Woman’s various incarnations into something cohesive. This is mostly an updating of the original William Moulton-Marston incarnation, but with hints of Perez’s take, and even shades of Azzarello’s recent version. Marston’s original BDSM is weirdness presented in a manner that’s a little more sensible for a 21st century audience: these Amazons still dress each other up as deer for a faux hunt-and-feast, but it’s less sexualized than Marston’s version and more reflective of an ancient, isolated culture.
What’s interesting is that Morrison takes Marston’s original concept of Amazonian bondage–“loving submission,” as it’s called, and uses it as an opportunity for character study of the Amazons and how Diana fits into it. The Amazons spin their original oppression by men: submission through violence is wrong, but submission through love is empowering and beautiful. That said, what is love worth when submission is not exactly coerced, but expected? Diana is the only Amazon who didn’t voluntarily enter Themyscria, but was born into it. Hence, she has a rebellious streak. She disobeys her mother’s orders, joins in the ritual combat which was forbidden to her as a princess, and dresses in the costume of Hercules, taunting her sisters with the masculinity they shunned. In forging their own destiny, the Amazons have, unknowingly, shackled Diana in their own way.
The contrast grows greater between the woman’s world of Themyscria and the man’s world of the outside. Morrison’s Themyscria is a safe harbor for women, a wonderland of myth, sport, and science. Yet it’s also quite boring. In the outside world, men war, children starve, and women–to the Amazon’s surprise–are either oppressed, or grow too frail, or too fat. The outside is too dangerous, but in some ways, it’s more honest than Themyscria, because it’s unshackled. Morrison’s updated take on Etta Candy exemplifies the contrast between the worlds: they’re disgusted by her pride in her obesity, but she’s also brutally honest enough that she doesn’t need a magic lasso to compel to her to truth.
To that end, Morrison’s Wonder Woman is a bridge between worlds: between women and men; chaos and order; freedom and dominance. Her introduction in Wonder Woman: Earth One presents her as ultimately all super heroes should be: someone to rescue us from our worst by being a model of our best. It’s not a bad start to this character, though in the end, unfortunately, it’s only a start. DC hasn’t yet said if Morrison will be back for a Volume 2, but the ending really does open the door for more stories to be told, and Earth One is very much still in its development phase.
Of course, we’d be remiss in not discussing Yanick Paquette’s artwork. Thus far, he appears to be one of the better artist-to-writer matches in the Earth One series. Paquette knows the source material, and even though he’s reinventing the Wonder Woman mythos here, everything looks as familiar as it does new. He also leaves plenty of room for story while still appropriately using full-page and two-page spreads where appropriate. After all, this is a “cinematic” type of story, so big images to convey the majesty of the story are necessary. Fortunately, they’re done at the right story beats. The only downside is that Paquette’s lighter art means that his Amazons, Diana included, are a little too feminine at times. Nathan Fairbain’s colors adds more distinctive muscle toning to Wonder Woman, but without them, Diana looks a little too soft for someone who can lift cars over her head.
Wonder Woman: Earth One is not a comprehensive origin for the character. Indeed, Morrison’s truncated version only pays lip service to certain elements–like the origins of her costume–in favor of characterization. Readers who want a lengthier, detailed story which stays closer to the World War II roots should look to the ongoing Legend of Wonder Woman for a “fuller” picture of the character. But for those who want a quicker story, as well as a Morrison comic which isn’t as cerebral as his past works, it’s not a bad read and worth a look along with the many other versions of the character.
Rating: Four bullets and bracelets out of five.
Wonder Woman: Earth One will be released April 6, 2016 for $22.99.