Starting with Superman: Earth One, which is now on its third volume, DC have established a modern, alternate universe in which the origins of its flagship characters are being retold. Continuity in comics is a difficult beast to behold so some fans understandably abhor the idea of another retelling of their favourite superhero’s story, others revel in the idea, sometimes the least confusing thing to do is simply start again. The world has changed a lot since these characters were conceived so it is only fitting that they assume new roles and reflect new ideas, whilst reaffirming their fundamental values for a contemporary audience.
So far we have seen Superman, Batman and the Teen Titans receive the Earth One treatment to mixed reviews. Superman: Earth One is cinematic and breaths some life into the Clark Kent character and although Vol.1 is a shaky start with an instantly forgettable villain, Straczynski’s run does improve by the volume; firmly finding its feet by Vol.3. Geoff Johns has never been afraid to push boundaries in his stories, he has also taken on the burden of fixing the mess made that is Batman v Superman by co-writing the upcoming solo Batman film with Ben Affleck. So, it is safe to say that Geoff Johns is a brave man. Brave as he may be, there is one task that I imagine all comic book writers avoid and that is rewriting the origin story of Batman. In Batman: Earth One, Vol.1, Johns makes the wise choice of leaving the core tale unchanged and adds new peripheral elements such as a rougher around the edges Alfred. Johns’ Batman origin isn’t definitive or exciting but his eye for the characters is clearly keen, creating vast potential for fresh examinations of the extensive range of psychologically interesting characters that inhabit Gotham City. Teen Titans doesn’t have the fanfare of big-leaguers like Superman and Batman but has received positive reviews for it’s progressive and clever overhaul of the source material.
It is a daunting task to reinvent a character that has been around for seventy-five years which explains why the job has been delegated to serious talent like J. Michael Straczynski and Geoff Johns, both have proven themselves on numerous titles but there are arguably no safer hands in comics than those of magician, Grant Morrison. His run on New X-Men revitalised the stale and suffering X-Men title, he could have written Batman as one of the many versions of the multifaceted character but chose to write him as an amalgam of all of them, showing clear and deep knowledge of the characters he writes. Morrison came to fame by spotting unseen potential in existing characters such as Animal Man and the Doom Patrol, propelling them from obscurity into the mainstream. These talents make him the ideal candidate for a new take on any character, this time his talents and those of artist Yanick Paquette (artist on Batman with Morrison and on Swamp Thing with Scott Snyder) have been turned towards Wonder Woman.
The story opens on the Amazon queen, Hippolyta, in chains held by the legendary Hercules, who is attempting to rape her. Hippolyta begs the gods to spare her and although there is no escape from her fate, it leads to a gift, Hippolyta is impregnated with Diana, princess of the Amazons and eventually Wonder Woman. The act also leaves Hercules distracted, to be choked with his own chains whilst the rest of the Amazons slay his army. They swear to ‘cast off the yoke of man’ and retire to a world that bears no mark of men. This scene of the past is grim, dark and dirty which makes turning over to the next two page splash, in contrast, all the more breathtaking.
Three-thousand years later, Paradise Island is bright and alive, strikingly coloured by Nathan Fairbairn. The scene is warm, lush and unburdened by man with indicators of the Amazon way of life everywhere. The ancient Greek architecture style is still prevalent although three-thousand years of scientific advancement have led to planes and other flying transport, culture and fashion are apparent and warriors, lovers and scholars are free to thrive and live peacefully. The seemingly idyllic location is noticeably cramped, though, which possibly reflects Diana’s urge to explore the rest of the world and how confined she feels on the island.
This incarnation of Wonder Woman is young at heart, inquisitive and rebellious. Had any of her peers found the washed up Steve Rogers after his plane crashed on the island, they’d have killed him for being a man. Instead, Diana nurses him and flies him back to mans world (in her plane which epitomises the symbolic nature of the imagery in this book), where for the first time she encounters illness, suffering and inequality. These are the things that turn her towards home, she believes that the Amazons should share their way of life with the world and put an end to their reclusion, that it is their duty to ‘improve the lives of women everywhere’.
The book ends in similar fashion to the other Vol.1s in the Earth One line, with the characters personality and attitudes established and in the final pages, ready to change the world for the better. Wonder Woman: Earth One, Vol.1 is a recommended read, especially for those with a taste for Greek mythology. It does not read as a typical Grant Morrison story because there are certain beats that these books all follow, hopefully his very recognisable stamp will be clearer on the following volumes now that the origin is set.
This is not the feminist revolution incarnate that some people seem to have been expecting. Its treatment of women is progressive and men are justifiably the antagonist. There have been criticisms of ‘fat-shaming’ in regards to the treatment of fat women in mans world by the Amazons, although a race of warrior hunters with no exposure to processed foods would be confused by a morbidly obese person, wouldn’t they?
Similarly to the other Earth One, Vol.1s, this book isn’t going to blow anyone away nor will it go down in history as the origin story for its titular character, on the other hand Wonder Woman’s origins have much less mainstream documentation than Superman’s or Batman’s, so this book will at least fill in some blanks for readers inexperienced with the character. Morrison’s Wonder Woman is playful and fun, making her a joy to read and Paquette’s art and imagery is stunning and clever.