Content warnings: This post contains descriptions and images of sexual assault/harassment from the comic that may be triggering or upsetting to readers.
With every reading of Wonder Woman: Earth One, I hate it a little bit more.
Grant Morrison has been working on WW:EO for years.
Seriously, the first book in DC’s Earth One line (Superman: Earth One Volume One) came out in October 2010. In the past almost six years in that same line, there have been three Superman books, two Batman books, and one Teen Titans book. And yet, the least represented version of DC’s Trinity, Wonder Woman, has been pointedly absent from the universe.
Part of it, is because Grant Morrison is apparently a slow writer. He had to get things just right and that takes time. Morrison, like his comic creator peers Alex Ross and Jim Lee, isn’t the best with deadlines.
However, there’s another, more insidious reason to the push back: sexism.
Wonder Woman isn’t seen as a character that can carry a graphic novel, television, or movie because she’s a female hero and because, even though she’s gone toe to toe with gods and monsters, Hollywood and film/television producers weren’t able to see her as a viable moneymaker until recently.
It’s 2016 and this year was the first time that Wonder Woman has shown up in live action on the big screen.
Batman and Superman are each on their second or third film series, but it’s been seventy five years since William Moulton Marston first introduced Diana to comic book readers and this is the first time that we’ve seen a live action portrayal of her character in film.
So yeah, I’m absolutely not surprised that Wonder Woman’s Earth One book would take so long to come out.
We’re looking at an industry that caters to the idea of (male) nerds writing for (male) nerds and a book centered on female character, even one as top tier as Wonder Woman herself, wasn’t likely to be on their priorities and internalized industry misogyny, coupled with Morrison’s slow creative process and busy schedule, wasn’t going to help things at all.
That “for nerds, by nerds” mentality (especially with its focus on this oft pushed perception that these nerds both creating and consuming are all straight men) also explains much of the content present in Wonder Woman: Earth One because for all that it claims to be about feminism and for women, it’s a comic about feminism and a matriarchy framed through a blurry lens of the male gaze.
So then, something that’s for women, that’s for queer people, becomes explicitly not for us.
I could go on for days about the backstory behind this version of Wonder Woman, but then, we’d literally be here for days. Let’s start instead, with what the comic is trying to do and how reinventing the wheel (or in this case, the Amazons), ain’t all what it’s cracked up to be.
In Wonder Woman: Earth One, Morrison aims to revive William Moulton Marston’s original ideals when he first put pen to paper and created the Wonder Woman. However, there’s immediately a problem. Actually, there are several that stem both from Marston’s world in in the 1940s and Morrison’s lived experiences as a man in our contemporary times.
First, even though Marston was relatively progressive for the 1940s – at least as far as women’s rights were concerned –, he’s definitely behind the times in 2016.
Secondly, in his quest to develop Wonder Woman’s identity, he bound her intimately (no pun intended) with this image of bondage, submission, and subjugation that doesn’t make sense to most people and that really doesn’t grow or hold up under the pressures of the 21st century.
For Morrison to go “Marston’s Diana was a doctor, a healer, a scientist. So I went back to those roots and just built it up again,” and then go on to write a comic where Diana basically doesn’t get to be Wonder Woman is to minimize her, to make her unthreatening when compared to the adventures Batman and Superman have had and the power they show in their own Earth One appearances.
She’s an ingénue, an brilliant innocent in the world of man and an outsider in the world of Amazonia and she doesn’t fight. At least, she doesn’t lead armies or dive into battle the way she’s done while penned by Gail Simone or Greg Rucka. And it’s framed in such a strange, almost infantilizing way.
But then, when Morrison goes, “that’s not what William Marston wanted,” in reference to Diana as a literal warrior princess I just—
There’s a reason why certain things from comics’ Golden Age were left in the 1940s.
In his interviews about the book, Morrison talks about going back to what Marston wanted, these “original ideas”, and I think that in indulging his nostalgia (which is weird because it’s not like Morrison would have grown up with the original comics in his sphere of influence – like the late, great feminist and comic historian Lillian Robinson – so what nostalgia is he clinging to and why), he really fails to let go of aspects of Themyscira and the Amazons that didn’t age half as well as Hippolyta did.
Let’s talk about some of the concepts and pieces of canon introduced in Morrison’s well-meaning but misguided homage to William Moulton Marston that just didn’t work.
The problems start in the first pages with the image of the Amazons subjugated by Hercules.
The sexualized violence inflicted on Hippolyta by Hercules (halfway through the trials he underwent after murdering his family) is in full swing, and Yanick Paquette allows the eye to linger on every single shaky movement that Hippolyta takes, the very spit in Hercules’ mouth. Her lush body, barely hidden underneath a white chiton, is pressed up against his at every moment possible.
The Amazons come into existence because of their subjugation, because of their (heavily implied) rape.
Hippolyta, their queen is subject to degrading tasks and is forced down on her knees as he steps on her head, yanks at her throat via a chain and collar he has control of.
Hercules gropes her, on one page sliding his hand underneath her clothes and touching her rear.
This is on the page.
This is Morrison’s canon.
This is, apparently, what Morrison thinks that Marston had in mind when he looked at the sausage fest of male heroes with their girlfriend-sidekicks and decided to create a hero that was clearly based off of his lady loves.
Yes, Hippolyta kills Hercules, but that doesn’t nullify the grossness of how it’s all portrayed.
In a scene obviously taken from Star Wars‘ Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi where Leia strangles Jabba the Hutt with the very chain he uses to bind her, Hippolyta takes the chain attached to her collar and strangles Hercules with it.
Like Leia, Hippolyta does this while scantily clad. She does this after sexual harassment (and, as we later see in her confession to Diana, sexual assault). She does this, after her fellow Amazons are subjugated and abused by Hercules and his men.
Amazon liberation comes after Amazon subjugation. They must suffer before they can be free.
And then, the only way that Amazons can keep from being subjugated again is to distance themselves from “the world of man” because any reintroduction has the potential to end in their continued subjugation.
Following Hercules’ death and Hippolyta freeing her Amazon sisters, they rain death on the soldiers who were active and complicit participants in the violence enacted upon them. It is of course, thanks to Paquette’s Greg Land-esque art style, incredibly sexualized. We zoom in on bare legs and deep cleavage and what I’ve been referring to as “porn faces” splashed throughout the battle scene and following crowd scene.
Then, we get to Themyscira (which isn’t actually called that in this comic, but I refuse to call it anything else). Everyone on this island of wonder women is tall, gorgeous, thin, and queer.
There are no Amazons that are:
At least, not in the text as Morrison lays it out and as Paquette draws it.
In fact, when the Amazons venture to the “world of man” and see actual human women, they’re disgusted by body diversity.
I get that they’re an insular society kept locked away from humanity for millennia, but did Morrison and Paquette really have to develop this paradise as a place where everyone is conventionally attractive and that fosters Amazons that look at body diversity with open disgust.
The Amazons are supposed to be about sisterhood.
Not…whatever this shit is.
(I’m reminded of the book The Courtship of Princess Leia that, while fantastic in some ways, suffered from the fact that when men write matriarchies, they tend to write it as “matriarchy standing in for the PATRIARCHY” and show men and other, apparently undesirable women being oppressed or insulted. That’s what Morrison does here.)
I want to give Morrison and Paquette props for racial diversity here, I do. Because in couple of pages, I saw more female characters of color with dialogue than exist most superhero film and television properties. The same goes for queer characters (as all of the Amazons are queer in that they’re interested in and having sex with people of their gender).
But I think it’s irresponsible as a reader to be like “that’s it, diversity has been won. Morrison can go home now.”
Wonder Woman: Earth One isn’t accessible.
In fact, in its attempt to recreate Marston’s 1940s feminism, it manages to come up against modern feminism and modern feminists.
There’s a very specific womanhood on display in Themyscira and it’s one where the focus falls on skinny (largely white) women who are sexually free and spend a lot of time wearing low cut shirts paired with yoga pants and wrestling with one another under the guise of participating in rituals.
Which brings us to another issue I have:
Amazon society hinges on ritual. It’s a thing. I’m actually okay with that because you really can’t have myth without ritual unless you want it to feel shallow. Because the Amazons are cut off from their origins and their Greekness, they’ve developed new rituals and that’s cool.
But riddle me this: Why is it that for three thousand years, one of their biggest rituals involves invoking the pain and humiliation they experienced at Hercules’ hands and turning it into a sort of game?
Why is it that their current freedom, once again, is linked inextricably with their past subjugation and violence even when it comes to celebrating it?
It feels like even in distancing themselves from “the world of man” they’re connecting themselves to it.
And that’s just one more thing that doesn’t mesh with the narrative.
Honestly, I’m really not sure what Morrison was trying to here. I’ve seen (via a Nerdist interview) him talk about bringing sexy back to Wonder Woman and a bunch of other stuff that definitely misses the mark when it comes to feminism.
I know, I keep talking about feminism and how this ain’t representative of it, but that’s a lie. Actually, mainstream feminism frequently erases or (in the case of fat women) insults anyone that dares to be a woman while trans or fat or disabled.
Morrison’s feminism is many people’s feminism.
It’s not intersectional and it’s mainly a mess.
How can anything that has a joke about Diana collaring (essentially enslaving) a Black Steve Trevor on top of size and sex shaming be anything but messy?
One of the few things I didn’t hate about the book was how Etta – ahem, Elizabeth Candy – is still her fabulous fat self. In fact, she looks lovely in Paquette’s style and she’s explicitly queer (her first crush was a girl, her second was a guy, and her idea of paradise is literally an island of lesbians).
But the narrative doesn’t really do her justice all the time.
One early bit of dialogue? Centers on not just her fatness, but her propensity for eating everything she can get her hands on. (” – I said, what happened to all the food for the Feed the Hungry Mixer, Beth?” “Guess the hungry got hungry, ya buncha harpies!”) And much of her dialogue revolves around her weight.
Which… I’m not feeling. Because what is probably intended as fat acceptance and body positivity then comes up against the Amazons. Etta knows she’s lovely just the way she is and that’s fantastic, but then we have Kala (Diana’s ex who looks a lot like Cassie/Wonder Girl) and Althea (Diana’s teacher) both refer to her as fat in the pejorative sense.
I mean Althea literally says, “This girl is sick – her body mass grotesquely distorted,” before trying to act like the “world of man” is this horrible place where fatness is terrifying. Basically, the message we get from the book is, any woman that isn’t a literal Amazon is trash and has allowed man (or men) to subjugate her.
This book’s “feminism” reads like what someone comes up with after taking a poorly fleshed out intro to gender studies course.
I keep reading it, trying to make sense of the content and how Morrison could’ve gotten Marston’s ideas so damn twisted, but I’m not sure that’s possible.
Rife with in-fighting between women, mean girls, lovingly rendered subjugation of women, constant cleavage so deep you could probably find gold in its depths, endless porn faces a la Greg Land, body shaming, and sex shaming, the world of Wonder Woman: Earth One is sorely lacking any form of wonder.
Where’s the wonder in a world where Diana wasn’t formed out of clay or born as a result of an affair, but was the child of rape kept to become a weapon against man?
In trying to go back to what he believes Marston’s original message was, Morrison proves that he’s woefully out of touch not just with Wonder Woman, but with the very audience she was created to empower.