Wonder Woman Earth One: Vol. 1

It’s been a while since I’ve written about a non-continuity comic, but this standalone story warranted a post all its own.

Wonder Woman Earth One: Vol. 1, written by Grant Morrison and drawn by Yanick Paquette, retells  Diana of Themyscira’s origin, with Morrison’s own unique spin on the tale.  As I started reading this comic, I was a bit torn.  There were images that felt gratuitous and overtly sexual, and I worried that I wouldn’t enjoy this story nearly as much as Morrison’s other works.  As it turns out, my worries were unfounded, and this comic is in fact a wonderful throwback to the Diana of old.

In order to fully appreciate this comic, it helps to have a working knowledge of the original Wonder Woman comics, as written by William Moulton Marston in the 1940’s.  I’ve read a fair number of those comics, as well as an in-depth biography of Wonder Woman’s creator, titled The Secret History of Wonder Woman.  I was lucky enough to have just finished reading it recently, and have fortuitously found that it provided key details regarding Wonder Woman’s author and the mindset he was in when he created this iconic character.

Understanding his motives and personal beliefs is key to understanding the brilliance of Morrison’s comic.

One of the early images in the comic, one which is nearly identical to the one shown on the cover, might cause some controversy with casual readers, as they might say Wonder Woman is gratuitously being shown bound and chained in a sexual manner.

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Obviously, from looking at the style of these bindings, there is a possible sexual inference that can be made.  This is perhaps one of the most commonly misunderstood concepts of the character, and one which requires a bit of background information to truly make sense:

The most important piece of information to keep in mind is that William Moulton Marston was a feminist, and not just a casual one.  He vigilantly believed that women should be treated as equals. He even held the belief that women are in many ways superior to men, and even went so far as to believe that men should submit to woman’s rule.

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He was also very invested in the BDSM lifestyle, both with his wife as well as two other long-term partners (and yes, they all knew about one another).  He had a wife and a live-in lover, both of whom he had children with, and they all lived together in a happy, albeit unconventional, home.

Whether you agree with Marston’s lifestyle choices or not, it’s important to the overall understanding of Princess Diana.

Why, you might ask, am I going off on a tangent about William Moulton Marston’s beliefs in a post about a Grant Morrison comic?  Because Morrison draws extensively from Marston’s original interpretation of the characters, and understanding the original story is key to understanding Morrison’s version.

The key fact to keep in mind is that Marston was extremely progressive for his time, and even for our own time in many regards.  His Wonder Woman comics featured strong female characters, women who could be sexual and powerful.  He did not view sexuality and feminism as competing forces, but rather as two ideologies which could coexist harmoniously.  His comics were not perfect, and a closer dissection would surely reveal moments which fall short of the current feminist belief system.  Still, he was a feminist in a time when many men were not, espousing the benefits of mutual respect between the genders, in both sexual and non-sexual capacities.  These ideals are perpetuated throughout Grant Morrison’s own interpretations of the story.

Take the above image of a bound Diana, for example.  Yes, she is chained in a way that can certainly be interpreted as sexual.  However, note the commentary she makes in this panel: “This was my decision.”

Morrison’s narrative completely subverts the oppressive nature of the image, reminding readers that Diana is in control of her own destiny.  This is a concept that could have been pulled straight from one of Marston’s original stories.  Diana’s submission, and the subsequent imagery of her being bound, is entirely her choice, and so any argument that such images are “anti-feminist” is ridiculous.

The comic continues the references to bondage and subjugation, even acknowledging how absurd some of the bondage-heavy customs of the Amazons might seem to outsiders:

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The concept of “submitting to loving authority” is straight out of Marston’s own beliefs, and its inclusion in this comic both surprised and inspired me.  Morrison is never one to shy away from the odd or taboo, pushing the limits within his stories in any way he sees fit.  This particular inclusion though felt especially poignant.  Bondage and chains are a common trope in Wonder Woman comics, but here it is finally acknowledged that the so-called “submission” is made willingly and as a sign of love and respect.  The imagery of a spiked collar likely creates a very different picture in readers’ minds, but Morrison addresses the concepts Marston believed in without judgement or condemnation.  The ideas of bondage and union, submission and dominance, are touched upon without ever once being condemned as taboo. It’s surprising to see anyone address such topics in the same manner that Marston did, but then again I can think of no one better than Morrison to broach such a sensitive subject.

Whether you want your Wonder Woman comics to have themes of bondage or not, they’ve been there since the very beginning.  Like many authors, William Moulton Marston merely included allusions or overt references to a subject he was fascinated by.  It’s certainly unexpected and perhaps a bit shocking, but nevertheless it is a part of Wonder Woman’s history.  Morrison’s details within this story simply expand on tropes that have been present since the first Wonder Woman comic was published.

Morrison expands the Wonder Woman lore by placing it in a more modern context, not just as far as the time period is concerned but also in the overall characterization.  Lt. Trevor is now a black man, and there are virtually no romantic inclinations between him and Diana.  What’s more, it is explicitly stated that Diana has a lover on her home land, a fellow woman.

While I certainly see the significance in these changes, what I appreciated most was their subtlety.  Trevor’s race is never once brought into the dialogue, and while the mention of Diana’s romantic interest is not the main focus of the story, its inclusion is still a pretty significant commentary on the overall Wonder Woman lore.  After all, the Amazons shunned the world of men, choosing to live in seclusion on Paradise Island.  Where, though, does it say that they became celibate?  Men are not necessarily required for women to have a sex life, and the fact that the comic addresses this inevitable outcome of their seclusion makes their world feel more real.

I can’t write this post without addressing perhaps my favorite aspect of this comic: the triumphant return of the plump and sassy Etta Candy (now given the less antiquated name of Elizabeth, or simply Beth).

It’s no secret that I absolutely adore Marston’s version of Etta Candy, and that subsequent versions have been severely lacking.  Imagine my surprise when one of my favorite characters should reappear, in all of her awesome, unapologetic glory:

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Etta (I’m going to have to get used to calling her Beth) is still a sorority girl from Holliday College, just as Marston intended.  She’s also still unabashedly brazen, and unconcerned with her physique, which is vastly different from Diana’s to say the very least.

Morrison has done this beloved character justice, allowing her to shine in a way that few writers since Marston have.  Etta Beth is a no-nonsense type of girl, unconcerned with ceremony and perfectly willing to stand up and yell at the freaking QUEEN of the Amazons if she thinks she’s wrong.

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There are few non-super characters who would dare act with such audacity, and yet Beth is entirely at ease.  She is standing among a sea of statuesque warriors, yet she doesn’t give a damn.  She defends the woman who saved her life and holds true to her opinions.

Her body positivity has always been one of my favorite aspects of her character, and Morrison once again stays true to Marston’s original vision.

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In a world where far too many young girls strive for the unrealistic ideal of a Wonder Woman form, it’s refreshing (and much needed) to see a character who not only has, but embraces a less than perfect body.  Compared to the Etta Candy of the 80’s, in which she is constantly dieting and never happy with herself, I’m thrilled to see Morrison return the original plucky sidekick to our midst.

This comic was the perfect homage to Marston’s original Wonder Woman, and feels like a story that Marston himself would approve of.  Morrison merges the Diana’s origin with his own unique spin on the character, managing to create a Diana who is both modern and classic.  I was upset to see a host of reviews on GoodReads.com which bashed this comic, specifically a few references to the “Fat Amy rip-off”, a comment clearly made by readers who are unfamiliar with Etta Candy’s history. As disheartening as these comments were, they made me stop and think.  Perhaps this is a story best read if you’re familiar with the origin of Wonder Woman, as well as information on her creator’s beliefs.  Without that knowledge, I can certainly see how negative reviews could crop up.  Knowing what I do about the comic and its creator though, it’s impossible to view Grant Morrison’s work as anything short of wonderful.  He has returned the original Wonder Woman to us, as she was originally intended, with a story that is both fresh and revealing,.  For that, I applaud him.

-Jess

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