Friday, 6 May 2016

Wonder Woman: Earth One, Volume 1 Review (Grant Morrison, Yanick Paquette)

I’ve been looking forward to this book since I first heard about it at least a couple of years ago now - Grant Morrison reuniting with his Seven Soldiers/Batman Inc. artist Yanick Paquette for a Wonder Woman original graphic novel? Score! Was it worth the wait? Absolutely – it was positively Wonder-ful! 

Paradise Island lies hidden away, a utopian all-female society of immortally youthful Amazons led by their Queen Hippolyta. But her daughter Diana is restless – 3000 years is a long time to spend isolated in one place! When American pilot Steve Trevor washes ashore after his plane crashes, Diana sees her opportunity to leave and see the outside world - but what will she make of the lands of men? 

Wonder Woman: Earth One, Volume 1 is an origin story but, unlike the Superman and Batman Earth Ones, this one is very close to the character’s original version. Morrison faithfully revisits Wonder Woman’s creator William Moulton Marston and his artist H. G. Peter’s take on the character, touching on the many aspects that make up her bizarre origins. Her mother is a goddess, Greek mythology is real, she has a magic lasso that forces you to tell the truth, she has an Invisible Jet, there’s a healing purple ray and she has a full-figured human bestie called Etta Candy (renamed in this book as Beth Candy). 

That said, like changing Etta’s name to Beth, Morrison has made some small changes in his retelling to modernise the origin for contemporary readers. To be more diverse, his Steve Trevor is black and he’s also more rugged than the original white foppish Steve Trevor who was always being saved by Wonder Woman. Steve’s also not a love interest – Diana uses him as a means to get away from Paradise Island and see the world rather than fall over herself chasing after his affections. In fact there’s no real chemistry between the two as Morrison’s Diana is matter-of-factly gay. 

I liked that Morrison stuck so closely to the source material because this is a Wonder Woman who’s all but disappeared nowadays. If you saw Batman v Superman (commiserations if you did) and were asked to describe Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman without saying that she’s “someone who enjoys a fight”, you’d be stumped as to what her character was because there wasn’t one. Yet that’s the modern Wonder Woman: jumping into battle at the drop of a hat, sword and shield at the ready, eager to kill. 

Morrison’s Wonder Woman goes back to Marston’s vision of a pacifist who had no sword or shield but used bracelets to deflect projectiles and believed love - through submissiveness - to be a better way to resolve conflict. Except for a playful joust (on kangaroos!) on Paradise Island, Diana doesn’t fight anyone, instead using shows of strength and other rituals from her culture to keep violence at bay throughout. It makes for more creative scenes rather than falling back on having her punch/stab people who get in her way. 

I also liked how Paradise Island is clearly influenced by Greek culture but the women have also moved past it and developed technology. It feels like it’s evolved into a real society rather than remained an antiquated barbaric one focused only on warfare which is just boring and unimaginative. 

And though Diana’s 3000 years old, she’s written like a teenage girl: energetic and curious, eager to engage with and see the world - a rebellious princess some part of which younger readers will find relatable. She’s guileless but clever - escaping her overbearing mother and Paradise Island’s guardians to make it to America with Steve - kind but can handle herself, proud of her culture but also critical of it, which leads her to try to change it into a more progressive, open society, and she has a sophisticated personal philosophy. In other words she’s a strong female character - yes, physically, though the label’s emphasis is always meant to be on the “character” part, and she certainly has that. She appears in chains on the cover but she’s free in her heart and mind. (The chains thing also goes back to the original comic where only chains/rope could take away her powers which led to the symbolism of breaking those chains - emancipating her from the men who tied her up - whenever she inevitably freed herself.)

Knowing a little about Marston’s personal life goes a long way to understanding the creation of Wonder Woman, including her kinkier side. Marston was a proto-feminist who believed women should rule the world and also believed love and submission were intertwined. He also invented the lie detector. Put the two together and it’s easy to see where the lasso of truth came from! Marston also had a wife and mistress both of whom lived with him (he fathered children with the two women and, after his death, both women continued living together). The likeness of Marston’s mistress - Olivia Byrne - also informed the original character design. 

The early Wonder Woman strips are very racy and subversive which is surprising given that they were published in the 1940s! Bondage played a big part in those comics and that’s why, given that Morrison is slavishly (heh) adhering to those comics, that theme is replicated here. I don’t think Morrison intends it to be skeevy though but rather as an extension of Marston’s love/pacifist approach to the character. Also if you throw in the fact that this is an extremely closed society who’ve only known Sapphic pleasures for 3000 years then some of the stuff they get up to is bound to be a bit weird!

My favourite part of the book is the reason why it’s taken so long for it to be released: Yanick Paquette’s fucking gorgeous artwork. The opening scene sets up the creation of Paradise Island as Hippolyta takes on Hercules with Paquette framing the pages with classic Greek shards. Later when Medusa appears, parts of the pages have patches of weird latticed-stone as if the book itself is turning to stone after Medusa’s gaze has passed across it. 

I loved the ridiculously stunning design of Paradise Island and that the Invisible Jet’s new look is lady parts as a plane! And basically casting Rebel Wilson as Beth Candy was genius - if the character appears in the Wonder Woman movie (and she probably won’t because she’s too fun and fun is outlawed in DC movies!), that’s exactly the actor to play her. The book has page after page of remarkably detailed artwork with beautiful colours from Nathan Fairbairn - even if you don’t take to Morrison’s Wonder Woman, the art is among the best this character’s ever had. 

I think Morrison did a terrific job of gathering all the strange aspects of Wonder Woman’s origin and putting it together into a coherent book for modern readers to familiarise themselves with. The more provocative parts might overshadow the nuance though and lead people to reject it entirely which would be a shame as this is a really good Wonder Woman book (and there aren’t many of those!). But I can understand some of the critiques - in making all the pieces of her origin hang together as one long introduction to the character, Morrison hasn’t written the most engaging story. A second volume has been announced though and Morrison/Paquette are aiming for a trilogy so hopefully now that the table-setting has been done, there could be some more interesting stories to follow in future volumes. 

I’ve mentioned the original comics a lot but really anyone, particularly those who’ve never read a Wonder Woman comic before, could pick this one up which is good as that’s a goal of these Earth One books; it’s very accessible, the references are just there for the fans to spot. But because so much of this is Golden Age Wonder Woman, it comes down to whether you’re willing to embrace the weirdness of the classic origin of the character, or whether you prefer the raging warrior she’s become today. For me, I really liked it - Morrison has done for Wonder Woman what he did for Batman and Superman in reaching back to their beginnings and used that material to craft a fresh, clever comic for modern audiences; couple that with Paquette and Fairbairn’s artwork and you’ve got something special. 

Diana’s never had a Year One or All-Star of her own but this Earth One book comes close to giving her a very good and complete version of her origins for readers new and old.

Wonder Woman: Earth One, Volume 1

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