So far, DC Comics’ “Earth One” line of graphic novels has been met with a subdued response from critics and fans. J. Michael Straczynski’s updated Superman origin hewed close to the core of the character, but Geoff Johns caught flak for having Alfred shoot and kill the Penguin in the first volume of his Batman. Neither book has received the kind of acclaim one might expect from its superstar creators. But Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette’s vision for Wonder Woman might change the Earth One line’s fortunes with its gorgeous retelling of Princess Diana’s origins. Here’s why.
- The framing device. When we join the action, Diana has been captured by her fellow Amazons and delivered to her mother Hippolyta to stand trial before the Fates. The rest of the story is told in flashbacks, punctuated by testimony. It’s a ploy that catches the reader’s attention from the get-go, and one that allows us to see more of certain characters throughout the book that would otherwise have very little to do. (Not to mention that it allows for some beautiful layouts by Paquette, who uses coils of the Lasso of Truth as panel borders.)
- It’s all kinds of queer. Morrison, never a writer with any devotion to heterosexuality, turns the lesbian subtext we’ve always seen in Wonder Woman into text for one of the first times. Not only does Diana talk about her lover outright, but we see pages and pages worth of sapphic intimacy between Amazons. Plus, Etta Candy is now canonically bisexual! What a world!
- Seriously, it’s the queerest thing DC has ever published. Doubt my word? Take a look at any given panel. Every single one of Paquette’s women look sultry—no matter what mood they’re in: raging, distraught, impish; even his most neutral ladies look down for a shag at the merest suggestion. In any other book, this might come off as queersploitation or misogyny, but in Yanick’s hands (and with the context of Morrison’s script) it feels more like these women are simply owning their sexuality—like you would if you were a lesbian who lived on an idyllic island with hundreds of immortal babes.
- Wait, did I mention Etta Candy is back? If she isn’t your favorite part of Wonder Woman’s supporting cast, you and I are reading comic books very differently. Though Etta was once a fat-girl stereotype who got damseled a lot back in World War II, she comes into her own under Morrison and Paquette’s stewardship. Here, she plays the role of a party-loving sorority girl with a strong interest in the “science fiction bondage lesbian” lifestyle in which Diana was raised. Most importantly, though, she’s given agency over her own body—and still says ridiculous catchphrases like “for the love of chocolate,” which is an oath that really needs to make a comeback.
- The Amazons aren’t perfect, and that’s okay. Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang tried to make the Amazons flawed with their run on Wonder Woman to kick off the New 52, but their solution—to make them serial sexual predators—was, er, horrific. Morrison takes a different approach, and it’s great: he makes the Amazons into radical xenophobes with hearts of gold. Hippolyta and her subjects mean well, but when they display negative character traits like body shaming, it’s easier to see why Diana is the best of them (but also why she loves her sisters anyway).
- Steve Trevor is woke as hell. Of course, he’s a black man in Earth One continuity, so a certain amount of wokeness is implied. But when his hoary line “my Wonder Woman” is met with a stiff “nah buddy, you don’t own me” from Diana, he learns his lesson and stays in his lane for the rest of the book, lending a hand when able in Diana’s trial. Steve’s a great ally!
- It’s warm. Nathan Fairbairn deserves heaps of credit for this. DC has had a tendency to pile shadows onto every cape book they print for years, even when it doesn’t belong (see David Finch’s Wonder Woman). Fairbairn hews in the opposite direction, lovingly coloring each page so every character’s skin looks alive and healthy. That aesthetic makes every other part of this comic a pleasure to behold, something that was missing from the other Earth One tales. Hopefully we’ll get to see more of the same from this team in volume 2.