Grant Morrison is a difficult writer to review as an admirer of his work. It's not a refusal to recognize faults or failings in his titles (I had no interest in reading more 'Klaus' after its first issue), but rather a respect for his particular exhaustively multi-layered take on the craft that makes drawing quick judgements on works that don't immediately grab me feel premature and reductive. Giving artists I respect the space to fully elaborate their ideas has served me more than not in the past (cheers to Warren Ellis's very slow starting 'Injection') and I'm not in the camp of believing that art has to tug you by the balls or the heartstrings to be worthy of inspection. That said, when I hold Morrison's presumable attempt at a definitive Wonder Woman story in my hands and notice the cover artwork is dated from two years ago, it leaves me feeling a bit deflated, imagining how long a continuation of this controversially loaded and equally tame Wonder Woman origin will take to develop into something greater. I can credit some of this initial response to both the hype Morrison himself poured into the book, ages ago the last time DC seemed to be it, and Morrison's history with superhero revision itself. Morrison's Batman, Superman, and X-Men are some of the greatest, or in the very least most challenging, takes on those heroes in this era, cutting to the core of what the character is in a way that feels both alien and somehow true to spirit. Wonder Woman, while elevated as an icon, has rarely been understood in comics, too weird to live and too rare to die. Her origins as a pre-counter-culture bisexual pacifist BDSM Uber-womenschen seemed a perfect fit for the writer who dug Jimmy Olsen's 1950's brushes with transvestitism into the 2000's and who deemed Batman a psychotropic superhero; the potential seemed endless. In the end, my expectations got the best of me, as what we have is a fairly straightforward origin that comes off surprisingly staid when it comes to both its more bizarre elements and the immediately relevant feminism.
The story's framing device is a trial in which Queen Hippolyta, ruler of the Amazon utopia of Paradise Island, accuses her daughter Diana of breaking ancient tradition and traveling to the outside land of men. We then partake in Diana's origin story, which plays out like a Disney Princess fantasy, only really missing an 'I Want' song to pull it all together. When Prince Eric—I mean Steve Trevor—washes up on their man-free shores, Diana is drawn out into the mysterious outside world to discover what lies beyond her blemish free utopia.
I can't imagine the feminist themes used here will be very popular with most audiences. The Amazon's are portrayed as blind, if not entirely unjustified, misandrists and the world of men is portrayed as a bland sickly land of mansplainers with little to recommend saving it. We also get a barely modernized Etta Candy who tries to inject the book with some human-centric girl power and body positivity, but in a way that came off wincingly tone-deaf compared to what modern comics have to offer now. I could hear the disgruntled keystrokes from the blogosphere of both sides of the gender politics divide from the opening few pages, but beyond the notorious weight of the author's name, frankly the feminism here comes off too weak to really get that upset about. For the first time in ages (some might say ever) feminism in comics is a publicly discussed, passionately flourishing, and hotly competitive field, which makes it harder to tell a story like this without saying anything particularly new. I'd be curious to see what feminist scholar's reactions are to this title, but seeing as the book had a review embargo on it and I hadn't heard hide-or-hair promotion for it since last year, I'm wondering if the title may just fly under the radar.
Yanick Paquette's artwork is what you'd imagine a glossy Earth One Wonder Woman book would look like, not as memorable as his solid work on Morrison's 'Batman Incorporated'. The paneling is a bit distracting at times, especially when using themed panel borders in the shape of ropes and chains, something I've been noticing a lot in modern comics (see 'Fight Club 2' for the most egregious example), and combined with Morrison's arch language and variable pacing, makes the rather straightforward story a slow read as you pick your way over the uneven terrain. Part of me wished Morrison had gone with a less conventional artist to match his language a bit more, but I suspect it may just as much be me wishing the story had been equally less conventional.
Look, I've been very dismal this whole review, but I should say it's not a terrible comic. There are some intriguing beats, especially an eyebrow raiser where Diana tries to define her relationship to this new incarnation to Steve Trevor, but were it not for my extension of trust to Morrison as an author, I probably wouldn't have invested the money I paid for this book (I declined a review copy as I had been pre-ordered for months) or would hold out hope for future installments in the series. It's clear Morrison put thought into his interpretation of Diana and his ambition to realign her to her original pacifist origins keeps me intrigued, but who knows how long it will take to follow this story up, or if DC will continue investing in the Earth One line as they scramble and scrape for sales (“You want to call the imprint what? Young Animal? Oh, who gives a shit, just please don't lose too much money, we're already auctioning off office equipment...”). I am cautiously optimistic that all of this was set up for something more interesting down the road, I'm just not sure why we needed that many pages and a hardcover format to set up so little.
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Wonder Woman: Earth One Vol. 1 Writer: Grant Morrison Artist: Yanick Paquette Publisher: DC Comics Price: $22.99 Release Date: 4/6/16 Format: Hardcover OGN; Print/Digital
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