Grant Morrison tackling a continuity-free reinvention of “Wonder Woman” with frequent and talented artistic collaborator Yanick Paquette: It sounds like can’t-miss proposition. The good news on that front is that “Wonder Woman: Earth One” is a solid read that is ultimately worth its hardcover cover price. The thing here is it’s Paquette’s art that dazzles more than Morrison’s writing here. Morrison’s take on the Amazonian princess does contain a lot of interesting elements though it ultimately comes off as a prologue for future stories than a compelling tale in its own right.
After her defeat of Hercules, Hippolyta — Queen of the Amazons — decided to retreat from Man’s World and establish the all-female utopia of Paradise Island. For three thousand years the women of this realm have existed apart from all men, free to pursue their desires and interests as they see fit. Yet this environment proves stifling to Hippolyta’s daughter Diana. Forged from clay by her mother, Diana possesses abilities greater than her fellow Amazonians. Abilities that she has to keep in check due to the traditions of the Amazon culture and the enclosed nature of their home. All that changes one day when Diana encounters Steve Trevor, an African-American Air Force pilot whose plane has crash-landed on Paradise Island. Seeing that this is her chance to finally escape the chains that bind her to this place and see what Man’s World is really like, Diana works to save Steve and winds up bringing down her mother’s wrath in the process.
Prior to the release of this volume, Morrison talked about how he wanted to re-integrate a number of “Wonder Woman” creator William Moulton Marston’s, um… let’s call them “less commercial” aspects of the character. This would include themes of bondage, the politics of an all-female society, and a lot of same-sex sexual tension. Morrison also mentioned that he read a lot of feminist literature to prepare for writing about an all-female society and tried to incorporate as much as he could into this volume.
The good news is that all of this works and the volume is a better read for it. Don’t go in expecting a love-fest, but this is the only “Wonder Woman” story I’ve read that acknowledges that Diana hails from an island populated entirely by lesbians. Morrison also works bondage into the story in interesting and humorous ways. It’s presented as a way to show strength towards a loving authority, and something to be struggled against regarding someone who is not. That’s how it works on Paradise Island, and Steve Trevor’s reaction when Diana pitches this idea to him back on the mainland is quite priceless.
As for all of the feminist literature Morrison read, well, interpreting its influence is a little more problematic. The writer has certainly presented the female-empowerment aspects of the story quite well. Diana is consistently presented in a heroic light and while the customs of Man’s World stymie her to a certain extent, she’s able to triumph over them without relying on a man to do the heavy lifting. Sure, Steve helps out at her trial and offers some appropriately pointed words about why he’s on her side. The thing is that he’s squarely in a supporting role for Diana’s show here.
What nags about me regarding what Morrison has said regarding the influence of feminist literature while writing this story is that it apparently only went so far. He was clearly able to get the message of it without truly understanding the meaning. Why do I say this? Well, had Morrison been truly enlightened by all of this writing about female empowerment then he would’ve realized that he shouldn’t have taken the assignment to write this story and argued that a female creative team should’ve done it instead. What we wound up with was an acceptable female-empowerment story that never took the final steps to properly deliver its message.
If a female writer had tackled “Wonder Woman: Earth One,” there’s also the chance that it may have turned out to be more involving than what we wound up with here. Again, what we got here was acceptable with some inspired moments. The problem is that it’s all mostly worldbuilding and setup. We’re introduced to Paradise Island, its customs and traditions, Diana’s friends and family, and how she interacts on her first journey to Man’s World. This is all well and good. I was just hoping for more. Billed as “vol. 1” this feels more like a “vol. 0” in that it’s more about establishing the title character’s backstory and worldview before we get to the really interesting stuff. To his credit, Morrison does end this volume on a note that suggests such things are coming. Considering the long wait times between volumes in DC’s other “Earth One” series, don’t expect to see whether or not this promise is fulfilled until around this time in 2018.
The one thing about this volume I can say is worthy of unmitigated praise is Paquette’s art. Full of vibrant detail and fascinating design elements such as the Grecian illustrations that accompany the opening scenes with Hippolyta, he makes the story consistently engaging on a visual level. In Paquette’s hands, Paradise Island lives up to its name in visuals alone and the many full-page shots where Wonder Woman demonstrates her strength — in both physicality and character — will bring a smile to any fan’s face. He also approaches page and panel layout with an artiste’s sensibility. This means that we get to see Diana’s golden lasso used as a panel border on more than one occasion, phallo-centric panel design to mark Steve Trevor’s arrival, and generally unorthodox layouts on most pages. While Paquette is a skilled enough artist to make sure this all flows together on the page, I’d be lying if I said that I got lost more than once trying to follow everything.
These visuals prop up an acceptable story and make me glad that I decided to pick this volume up. More could’ve, and should’ve been done here from a storytelling perspective. At least things end with Morrison keeping the story on the right track. I’ll be back for vol. 2 when it arrives, and expecting it to be a big improvement over what was delivered here. The potential the story has should be delivered upon.