We are less than a week away from the release of the Wonder Woman film where we will discover if Warner Brothers will finally manage to salvage the mess that is their DC Extended Universe as well as making a female superhero work in her own solo film. From what we have seen so far, the film looks very promising. The action looks creative and fun. Gal Gadot looks great it in the outfit. It takes place in a setting that is underutilized in Hollywood and has a very strong supporting cast, filled of actors who are always fun to watch. But, if I am being perfectly honest, at this point all I’m hoping for is that it turns out better then what I decided to look at this week for Comic Book Spotlight.
Released in 2016, Wonder Woman: Earth One is the latest book from DC’s Earth One lineup. Much like Marvel’s Ultimate line and DC’s All-Star series, the Earth One line is one that takes place in a contemporary universe that is completely detached from the rest of DC’s continuity. Its main mission is to put together origin stories for its headlining superheroes and showcase who the heroes are and what they’re about, allowing new readers a means of jumping into the medium who might be otherwise intimidated by the decades of story continuity in play with the main series. It’s a concept that I think many of us will agree is a great idea and a far better option than the hard-reset that comic companies tend to employ. It’s just a shame that the story that they decided to tell for Wonder Woman turned out to be a massive hotbed of controversy and amounts to little more than a hundred page, boring slog.
Written by the great Grant Morrison with artwork by Yanick Paquette, the story is a retelling of Wonder Woman’s origin story or, more specifically, how it was she came to leave Themyscira and enter the world of men. In this telling, the Amazon’s are having their annual celebration of freeing themselves from the slavery of Hercules and the world of men when Steve Trever’s plane crashes on the island. He, of course, is saved by Wonder Woman who takes him home, learns about the world of men and returns home to convince her people that she should go back and try to fix what she perceives to be a very flawed world. And that’s about it. It’s quite literally those five things stretched out over a hundred-page book that feels three times as long. It’s never especially interesting outside of exploring concepts and ideas that are provocative enough to garner controversy from most comic traditionalists but are so sloppily executed that it’s guaranteed to piss off anyone who would otherwise appreciate it.
To properly talk about these things, however, we need to go into Wonder Woman’s creation origins, the morals and ethics of her creator and what not has always been implicit with her character but, up until now, had never been explicit. You see, the character was created in 1941, primarily by writer William Moulton Marston who himself was rather…. shall we say progressive with his sexual politics. He was engaged in an extended, live in relationship with a former student and his wife during his lifetime and all three were reportedly bondage enthusiasts and supposedly based the character off these two. And when one looks at the character in her earliest form this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Many of the early issues featured characters, usually female, tied up in some ridiculous way that was anything but threatening and often featured the Amazons interacting in ways that suggested more…intimacy then would otherwise be allowed in a comic from the 1940s.
As the years went on and other creators took over the character the degree to which this has been made explicit has waxed and waned over the decades but the initial concepts more or less stood the test of time. In more recent years, however, more and more people have interpreted this as something a bit more…. shall we say provocative then would ever have otherwise been allowed as anything but subtext before the turn of the century. Mainly that Themyscira is an island that is completely populated by women who are lesbians with a fondness for bondage. And what Morrison and Paquette decided to do is take the subtextual ideas and made them straight up text in the worst ways possible.
The first thing that the book makes extremely prominent is this once subtextual idea and in this writer’s opinion there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, if I wore a hat I would tip it to Morrison for having the guts to take this idea that was always implicit and making it the status quo for the Earth One world. It’s something that is all but guaranteed to piss off the overly conservative comic book fan who wants time to be locked in the mid-80s for all eternity and I am all for poking that particular bear. The problem, sadly, is the execution. The thing is that the women in this book are clearly gay but they aren’t exactly what you would call realistic. I know how odd that may read considering that this is a comic based around mythical beings but bear with me. The women on display in this book are basically the porn star fantasy kind of lesbians. They’re the kind who can’t stop saying how awesome they are, constantly pose in provocative ways, can’t keep their hands off each other, probably play with each other all day behind closed doors and have otherwise no human characteristics beyond the fact that they are gay and ridiculously hot. In fact, the first half or so of the book has the overall feel of a softcore porno that cuts away right before the action gets started. In other words, it’s a 13-year-old boy’s idea of what lesbians are and completely and utterly juvenile.
Then we have the Amazons themselves who almost come off as a parody of feminists. You see a feminist, by definition, is a person who supports feminism which itself only means the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of sexes. The problem is that many people, particularly misogynistic men, tend to associate feminism with crazy women who actually think that men are the root of all evils and that a guy is automatically a monster simply for having a penis. How does this relate to the Amazons? Well, when you look at their society in this book it’s almost as if Grant Morrison just looked at a bunch of feminist triggered memes and just decided to build their entire perception of men based on that. They literally kill every man on site without any hesitation, constantly go on about how perfect they are, how superior they are to men and how evil and vile they are and how perfect the Amazon society is because of the absence of the Y chromosome. It would be hilarious if it wasn’t clearly meant to be taken seriously.
Then Wonder Woman herself leaves the island and things get SO much worse. You see up until this point Wonder Woman didn’t really have much of a personality. She showed some dissatisfaction with her status on the island but was, for the most part, interchangeable with the rest of the island’s inhabitants. She then gets off the island, interacts with men and shows herself to be little better than her hilarious fem-Nazi sisters. The character is one who is meant to be known for her compassion as well as her battle prowess but what little we see of the former seems a bit off. For example, she doesn’t seem to want to help Steve Trevor for any reason outside of curiosity; as one might help a lab rat before subjecting it to further experimentation. The moment she meets him she literally grabs his crotch to see if he has anything down there and seemingly uses him as an excuse to get off the island and check out the world of men. This is partly due to the artwork as her facial expressions always have her in what looks like a dull, half asleep stare. Because of this, whenever she seemingly shows any form of compassion we don’t buy it because her expressions never convey any form of kindness.
Then we have her actual interactions with men and the whole thing shifts into accidental parody territory again. Aside from Steve Trevor, every single male character comes off as some radical feminist’s idea as to what men are. All their jaws drop to the ground whenever they see Wonder Woman and all turn out to be uber, macho, authoritarian douchebags who actually justify the Amazons’ hatred of men. Upon further contact with these guys, Wonder Woman herself is very condescending and clearly thinks that they are little more than bugs when compared to her. In fact, later in the book she gets into contact with a few generals and actually demands that they submit to her rule so that she can begin to fix this broken world under women’s, (specifically her), leadership and bares little in common with the character that we have come to know and love in the comics.
It probably goes without saying that the rest of the characters aren’t written much better. Steve Trevor never amounts to being much more than a plot point who suddenly just decides at the end that he has Diana’s and the Amazons’ backs against the US government even though they were trying to kill him just a few days earlier. Queen Hippolyta is pretty much what you would expect. She’s the authoritarian figure who fully embodies the feminist parody traits mentioned earlier that the book so desperately tries to get us to take seriously. None of the other Amazons get much of a personality and the less said about Beth and her pointless sorority sisters the better.
The artwork itself is very pretty to look at but like the writing it often overly sexualizes the characters and slips into unintentional parody territory. For example, I don’t think that I have ever seen a comic that has so many ropes and chains in it. It seems like every other page someone is getting tied up or chained up in a way that is clearly restrictive but not uncomfortable. The problem is that when you see these people tied up, you don’t see someone who is restrained against their will. You just see a character who is about to have a very kinky experience. To make it even worse just about every female character looks like she is posing for a porn poster or something as was mentioned earlier. They constantly bend in suggestive angles, stand in poses that no one would ever stand in and…well there really isn’t a polite way to say this. Most of the female characters, especially the Amazon ones, always have facial expressions that suggests they’re about to get started in a porno or are about to have cum shot in their face. Yea. No polite way to say that. The cover of the book perfectly sets the entire tone of the artwork and tells you everything that you need to know about it. It’s very pretty, Wonder Woman looks hot but is beyond overly sexualized with so many ropes and chains included in the image that even Marston would probably say that it was a bit much.
What really puts the final nail in the coffin though is that, when all is said and done, the book is just boring. For as overly sexualized as the Amazons are they’re never really sexualized enough to where it actually becomes titillating or something to look at if you’re searching for wanking material. Additionally the whole thing about the island being populated entirely by gay women is only ever really brought up once and Morrison doesn’t seem to have anything to say about it. Nothing about the nature of that society nor the fact that it took a creative team seventy-five years to actually acknowledge the subtext of the character and her people and has nothing to say about our society that, even now, has very active groups that discourage and demonize this sexual orientation. It’s just a background detail that feels very poorly used.
Additionally, even though it is well established how powerful the Amazons are they never really do anything. They don’t fight each other in any way, shape or form. Wonder Woman never takes on the military or any monsters or even does anything that would remotely be considered heroic. She just kind of talks to other characters and does a few things that drive the plot along but none of them are particularly interesting. There is no real antagonist to be had and the closest thing we ever get resembling a conflict is a battle of wills between Diana and her mother. But even this doesn’t amount to anything more than the two just kind of talking about the already dull plot. As a result, despite all the truly idiotic things written here, the book just ends up as a dull slog where nothing seems to happen, none of the characters ever become interesting and what little that does happen is completely nonsensical.
The best and dumbest example of this comes when Diana visits a modern hospital, sees a few guys with guns and decides that this is all she needs to see to be convinced of the evils of Man’s World. Man’s World is clearly a pit of horrible, monstrous creatures that is full of injustices and evils according to Wonder Woman and the best example that they could think of to portray this was…women dying peacefully of old age in hospitals. Yea. You might think that I’m making that up but I’m not. The thing that convinces Wonder Woman that Man’s World is evil is the fact that women die in hospitals. Apparently that is the greatest sin of our world and is what convinces Wonder Woman that it needs her help in saving. Never mind the fact that hundreds of millions of people are homeless and starving. Never mind the fact that millions of people kill each other over rocks, oil, and religion. Never mind that there are genocides constantly occurring all around the world. Never mind that the rich are constantly profiting from the hard work, pain and suffering of the poor. NOPE! The biggest sin of man is taking a dying old lady off life support! Truly a bit of suffering worthy of an immortal demigod’s attention!
In the end, Wonder Woman: Earth One is a book that almost feels as if it was tailor made to piss everyone off. Misogynists are going to hate it because the Amazons are lesbians who actually hate men and for the buffoonish way the book portrays males. Feminists are going to hate it because of the overly sexualized nature of the characters. Actual lesbians are going to hate it for portraying people of their sexual orientation as being little more than porn stars to be gawked at. Wonder Woman fans are going to hate it because of how cold and indifferent she appears and acts. And of course, its biggest sin is that somehow, despite all of these offensive things the book is just boring and never manages to be compelling in its own right. It has undoubtedly been one of the worst comics that I have ever read and without a doubt the worst thing that I have ever read for Comic Book Spotlight by a WIDE margin. If you’ve never read a Wonder Woman comic this is absolutely NOT where you want to start. Never touch this book. Never spend money on this book. Never waste your time reading this book. And if you have a copy given to you toss it in a fireplace and burn it. It’s not even worth the paper it is printed on.
Trey Griffeth is the Head Writer of The Nerd Hub's Comic Book Spotlight section as well as a contributing writer to Video Game Spotlight. In addition to his work with The Nerd Hub, he is also a Staff Writer for Heroic Hollywood.