Celebrating the Unpopular Arts
 

Review time! with ‘Wonder Woman: Earth One’ volumes 1-3

“In your satin tights, fighting for your rights”

Wonder Woman: Earth One volume 1 came out in 2016, and I didn’t read it, because I wanted to read the trilogy all at once! It took five years, but I finally can! It’s written by Grant “Chicks are awesome, amirite?” Morrison, drawn by Yanick Paquette, colored by Nathan Fairbairn, and lettered by Todd Klein. Now that’s all All-Star line-up of talent! It’s edited by Eddie Berganza (a bit ironically, I suppose) and Andrew Marino, and it’s published by – hold onto your hats – DC. I know, it’s crazy!

I love that DC does these very nice graphic novels. Marvel used to do more of these, but they’ve largely abandoned the practice in recent years, which is too bad. I suppose since Marvel’s watchword is still “continuity,” they don’t want to put out something that supposedly “fits” into their grand tapestry but which a lot of people won’t read because it’s not presented in 20-page, bite-sized portions. DC has less “continuity,” so they don’t give as much of a fuck about it, and they can easily do a Wonder Woman story that doesn’t “fit” into the current continuity. So while I haven’t gotten the “Earth One” graphic novels except this one simply because I haven’t dug the talent involved, I love the idea and hope DC continues with them.

One of the benefits of doing something like this is making sure the creators have the time to do it. Morrison always seems to be slow, probably because they’re trying to find a perfect word, and they’ve already used “oubliette,” damn it! I don’t know if Paquette is generally slow or not, but with this kind of schedule (360 pages in five years, which would be 18 issues in monthly format, which DC would try to publish in 18 months), he can really go nuts, and he does. This is a staggeringly beautiful book, a magnificent artistic achievement by both Paquette and Fairbairn. It begins with Hercules menacing Hippolyta, and Paquette creates panel borders and insets that appear to be Greek vases, complementing the actual action very well. When Diana is brought before her mother for trial in volume 1, Paquette uses the lasso of truth as panel borders, indicating that all the witnesses are bound by it. When the Nazis attack in volume 2, he uses black panel borders with German eagles sprinkled through them, which contrasts with the golden borders when Hippolyta is speaking. He does this throughout the book, and it’s marvelous. Paquette also does amazing work with Paradise Island, creating a heavenly place bursting with life, accented by magnificent architecture. In volume 3, part of which takes place in the future, he goes even further, creating magical alternate realities, each wonderfully unique. His characters are superb, as well. Diana, naturally, is the focus, and she’s gorgeous, but all the Amazons are, and Paquette does a nice job giving them each good visual personalities so they’re not just bland beautiful women. Hippolyta is regal compared to the neophyte Diana is in volume 1, and as Diana comes into her own, Paquette changes the way she looks and carries herself just a bit as she gains confidence. Paula von Gunther, the Nazi superwoman who leads the attack on the island in volume 2, is another important character that Paquette draws wonderfully – she is powerful and brittle when she is under Hitler’s sway, and then slowly softens into an Amazon warrior as the books move along. Paquette’s Beth “Etta” Candy, a sorority sister who befriends Diana, is a gorgeous zaftig fireball, with amazing curls and a terrific sense of style. The action sequences are amazing, naturally, as Paquette has complete command over the page, moving our eyes effortlessly over double-page spreads and impressive splashes that are busy but never complicated. Fairbairn is on point, as well, infusing Paradise Island with a soft, soothing light that makes it even more heavenly and contrasting it with the darker (but never too dark), brutal nature of “man’s world.” These three volumes are really stunning works of art.

One of the criticisms of Morrison’s work over the years is that it’s “weird for weird’s sake,” which means the God of All Comics doesn’t work on characters as much because they’re too interested in their clever, clever ideas. I don’t subscribe to that, for the most part, because I think Morrison is terrific at developing characters, but that is a criticism. With Wonder Woman: Earth One, it’s unfortunately a bit justified. The early part of volume 1 follows the standard origin of the Amazons and Wonder Woman – Hippolyta’s rape by Hercules, the abandonment of “man’s world” by the Amazons, and Diana finding Steve Trevor on the island after his plane crashes. Morrison tweaks it just slightly, as we begin (after the Hippolyta episode) with Diana on trial for breaking the laws of the island by taking Steve back to the world, but it’s essentially the same. Eventually Diana is allowed to go to “man’s world,” and the Amazons begin transforming society. This, naturally, leads to men trying to stop them, and Ares shows up, of course, and we get fighting. It’s … oddly banal, especially for someone of Morrison’s pedigree. They’ve never shied away from a big ol’ superhero fight, of course, which is part of why they’re so excellent, as they constantly find ways to make big ol’ superhero fights far more interesting, but in this, the fights aren’t all that interesting except at a visual level (see Paquette, Yanick). But it’s never a bad thing to see a bunch of people bashing things, so it’s not horrible, just not as interesting as some of Morrison’s big slugfests in the past have been.

On another level, the book is far too Manichean, and it suffers because of it. Diana is too perfect, as are the other Amazons, and Morrison’s disdain for “man’s world” is powerful, to the extent that this becomes far too preachy and not terribly suspenseful. Diana and the Amazons are perfect, men are only good when they see how obvious this is, and most men suck. My objection is not with this idea (it’s not the greatest idea, but whatever) but the fact that because this is established so early, there’s no tension in the story whatsoever. When Dr. Psycho tries to seduce Diana, we know it won’t work because Diana is too perfect. When Ares attacks Paradise Island, we know it won’t work because the Amazons are too perfect. Yes, in superhero stories we always know the hero is going to win (probably, I should add, as sometimes he or she doesn’t, but ultimately, they triumph), but that’s not my objection. My objection is that there’s no tension because there’s not even a hint that Diana could possibly lose. It also makes the Amazon characters kind of boring, because they’re never wrong. Of course Paula isn’t a real Nazi, just one brainwashed by evil men, but at least she has a bit of an arc to go through. Beth Candy isn’t an Amazon, so she’s also kind of interesting (a bit grating, as Morrison is definitely working from a Golden Age template and not the Pérez-written reboot), as she’s not perfect either. But the men are uniformly horrible, except for Steve, who is a bit of an enigma anyway. Morrison seems to think that men’s worries about their place in this new world the Amazons want are ridiculous, but when we see what the Amazons want, it’s kind of understandable, not just for men, but for women who don’t think simply submitting to authority is the best idea. Like most comic book writers, Morrison thinks a left-wing dictatorship is the best kind of government, where enlightened people (in this case, women, but in most cases it’s super-people in general, of which the Amazons are a subset) tell all us mouth-breathers what to do and we should just thank them for it. It’s an ideal that gets us the paradise of the future, sure, but it’s both ridiculous and kind of insulting. The antagonists in this book are just dull, because they’re so obviously wrong that it’s not worth worrying about them. This imbalance – completely wrong antagonists versus angelic, perfect protagonists – drains the book of any animating spark. It’s clever, because it’s Morrison, and it’s written in their disjointed style, so it’s not boring to read, but when you sit and read it all at once and start thinking about it, you lose some of the dopamine rush you get from enjoying the wackiness of Morrison and the stunning art of Paquette and Fairbairn.

Whenever Morrison writes something a bit sub-par, I get depressed because I know what they’re capable of. This is a decent comic, but it simply doesn’t soar like their best work. It’s an interesting attempt at confronting the problems of men running things and what women might do with it, but it feels wrong-headed in its conclusions, as Morrison seems to think that all women are perfect and all men suck. The simplicity of it makes it far less effective than it could be, and it’s too bad. It’s absolutely gorgeous to look at, though, which mitigates the problems of the story quite a lot. Comics is such a visual medium that Paquette’s amazing work does a lot to paper over the flaws in the story. I’m not sure if DC is planning on releasing a nice big hardcover/trade of all three volumes, but that would be a nice thing to do. Until then, you can check out the link below (which shows the price for the digital version, but you can get the hard copy at the link too), if you’re at all interested!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

5 Comments

  1. jccalhoun

    I mostly agree. I got the first one through the library and found it kind of dull. I got the second one from the library and ended up mostly skimming it. The story isn’t compelling. There are hints of Morrison weirdness with the inclusion of Marston’s bondage ideas but it is almost incidental.

    The art is very nice but I found the layouts were sometimes confusing and sometimes just fancy for their own sake without adding to the story.

    I think I’ve read the first volume of all the Earth-1 books and Green Lantern is my favorite (I was kind of disappointed with book 2) and Superman being the second best (again, the second book was kind of disappointing). I ranged from thinking the rest were meh (Wonder Woman) to terrible (Teen Titans) I’m not a Johns fan so I rank his Batman lower than Wonder Woman.

  2. I really enjoyed Morrison’s take on Etta (Legend of Wonder Woman did fun stuff with her too). But the Amazons fat-shaming her was a sour note.
    As I’ve long thought Dr. Psycho a perfect villain for the incel age, I was surprised V2 didn’t work better for me, but it didn’t. The book felt more an installment that was going to pay off in V3, and that doesn’t work so well with graphic novels.
    We’ve also had way too many retellings of her origin since 2010. Bombshells. Legend of Wonder Woman. Earth One. The godawful Azzarello reboot. Greg Rucka taking five issues to retell the Perez origin.
    I agree that DC’s willingness to do out of continuity stuff is a plus. Batman ’66, Wonder Woman ’77, Superhero Girls, Earth One, and so on.

  3. Call Me Carlos the Dwarf

    This is the first I’ve heard about Grant Morrison being non-binary…but I’m not all that surprised, having read quite a bit of his work!

    That said…felt no need to keep reading after the first of these, and I like Grant.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.