Wonder Woman Earth One was easily the most I’ve ever anticipated a Wonder Woman comic. Coming from a writer that is considered by many, myself included, to be the best scribe in the industry, Grant Morrison, and drawn by Yannick Paquette, an artist that he has already had excellent collaborations with, their take on Wonder Woman’s origin story was a book to look forward to. A few months before that book hit the stands, DC Comics began publishing a digital first series about Wonder Woman’s origin, this one written and drawn by Renae de Liz, best known to me for the comic adaptation of the Last Unicorn. That was not a book I had any real attention to picking up. A new Morrison book is a treat worth savoring, but a digital origin by a somewhat unfamiliar writer/artist did not excite me.
Then I saw a few preview pages of the Legend of Wonder Woman. De Liz draws with a clean, clear line. (Aided greatly by colorist/inker/husband Ray Dillon) Her art is detailed without being cluttered and expressive without being too cartoony. It is just a joy to look at. Seeing what the art had to offer was enough to get me to drop a dollar a week on the book. I wouldn’t regret it. I have read a lot of Wonder Woman comics. A few years back I read the entirety of the second volume of her solo title, the one that started with George Perez’s much loved run on the title, over a few months. I have read most of the third and fourth volumes as well. There have been quite a few very good takes on the character during that time, but none of them made Diana herself as interesting a character as the Legend of Wonder Woman does. It takes the recurring elements of the various origins the character has had, keeping the important parts and arranging the other pieces into a modern and appealing take on the character.
The Diana of Legend of Wonder Woman is a wonderful protagonist. That book has managed to free her of the expectations of what Wonder Woman must be and simply tells a story about a character. In the first couple issues, the young Diana is inquisitive and restless. She is very aware of her duties as the Princess of Themyscria, but also chafing against that role. Being born of the island, she is one of the few that sense the corruption that is creeping through the island. She convinces Aclippe, the greatest of the Amazonian warriors, to train her, showing her dedication and resolve. This is a strong character, but not a perfect one. This is best illustrated in her conversation with her mother, when Diana finally realizes that her mother also chafes against the restrictions placed on her by her position, but has enough respect for the laws of her land to work within them, that her mother cares enough about Diana’s happiness that she is willing to allow to go her own way to an extent. It is just great storytelling.
The more I read and became engrossed by the Legend of Wonder Woman, the more my feelings for Wonder Woman Earth One changed from anticipation to something more like dread. Not that I expected the book to be bad, but I was afraid the higher profile of the book would overshadow the excellence of the other work. Grant Morrison’s work rightly gets a lot of people excited, but it seemed unlikely that his take on Wonder Woman would eclipse Legend of Wonder Woman in quality even it if steamrolled it in awareness.
WW Earth One was pretty much everything I expected it to be. Morrison tried to stay true to the earliest of the Wonder Woman stories, including weird almost subliminal sexuality, and Paquette’s art is as lush as always. It sets the story of her origin as a trial and pits her against the other Amazons after she returns from man’s world. It is an interesting and through provoking work that is not entirely successful in its aims.
They are two interesting works to compare and contrast. They both return to the Golden Age origins of the character, but they bring forward different elements. Earth One is very interested in the implied sexuality of Marston’s version. His version of Paradise Island is a slightly twisted sci-fi lesbian utopia, with a healthy dose of bondage. The undertones of the original comics are made explicit in Morrison’s take. That aspect almost overwhelms the rest of the work, even though it does have some things to say about gender, sexuality and even race. Legend of Wonder Woman continues the trend of excising the bondage, instead opting to keep things like Amazons riding giant kangaroos. It is simply a cleaner, clearer take on the material, one that sets up more stories with an all ages bent. It also does a much better job of creating a Diana that is a believable and relatable protagonist.
The books do share the same barebones story. USA pilot Steve Trevor crash lands on Paradise Island and the young Princess Diana wins a challenge to be allowed to be the one to return him to his own land. Elsewhere they differ greatly, but that through line remains consistent. They also both bring back a character that has consistently gotten short shrift in modern comics: Etta Candy. The two takes are only vaguely similar, but both versions of the character are highly entertaining. Etta is a short, stout little ball of energy. He incarnation in Legend is especially charismatic, taking the new to the world Diana under her wing and guiding her through life in America.
As part of DC’s Rebirth initiative, the Wonder Woman book is being taken over by fan favorite writer Greg Rucka. He is going to be doing a Wonder Woman Year One story. I am certain that Rucka will do good work on the book, but I can’t help but feel a little disappointed. I’ve just read the best possible Wonder Woman Year One in Legend of Wonder Woman. I doubt his take will even approach the flawed complexity of Morrison Earth One version. Still, I can’t be too disappointed. There are at least two more Earth One volumes planned and in between starting to write this and finishing it DC has given Legend of Wonder Woman a second volume. I wait with bated breath.
3 thoughts on “The Many Origins of Wonder Woman”
Very interesting take. I myself am most excited about Rucka doing Wonder Woman: Year One, because originally, he was supposed to do the Wonder Woman: Earth One book that was given to Morrison (which was a precipitating factor for Rucka leaving DC for about 7 years). Rucka has indicated that his Year One story will contain many of the ideas for that story that he’s wanted to do with Nicola Scott for a decade. Add to that the incredibly first run on Wonder Woman Rucka produced in the mid-2000s, and I think it’s much more exciting than may first appear.
Not to take away from De Liz’s achievement – it’s incredibly appealing – my only problem is the pacing seemed to drag a bit in the middle, leading me to wait for the trade to read it all in one go.
I’m biased against Morrison’s take because of the Rucka debacle, but even without that, I find his characterizations incredibly cardboard, his dialogue incredibly clunky, and his deliberate in-your-face emphasis really off putting. That’s even without Paquette’s art, which distracts me because I keep thinking it’s by Terry and Rachel Dodson. It’s very lush, yes, but it’s also, except for some of the amazing opening fights where greek-style pottery art is worked in with the more traditional comic action art, it’s really kinda glossily dull. I’m hoping that Nicola Scott will prove her brilliance yet again in Year One (though part of me wishes that Rucka had gone with J. H. Williams III for this story, but since Rucka’s been working with Scott on this story for so long, I don’t begrudge him his choice – and Scott’s be a huge favorite of mine since she did an Angel: Illyria one-shot in 2007, so I’m not really that sad.)
I think I need to reread Rucka’s first run on Wonder Woman. I read it a few years ago, but I remember being very disappointed with it. I like Rucka’s work in general, but his WW left me cold. Maybe it was just that it came with exaggerated recommendations. I was really enjoying the (admittedly uneven) Simone run on Wonder Woman and was repeatedly told to read Rucka’s because it was so much better. So I did, and disagreed. But that was six or so years ago, maybe my opinion has changed.
I can certainly understand disliking Morrison’s WW Earth One; it is far from his best work. I thought it was mostly successful, but it did feel like it was straining at times. It needed events to play out the way it did, but didn’t give the characters enough time to make some of their actions appear natural. Even at that, it is easily the best Earth One book that I’ve read, which may be damning it with faint praise.
As much as I don’t feel the need for another Wonder Woman origin story, I am very on board for Rucka’s upcoming run. Nicola Scott is great, and hopefully I see what everyone else did with Rucka’s first go this time around.
Interesting. I can’t remember why I first read Rucka’s Wonder Woman – probably a combination of being a big fan of Rucka’s writing on Batman and seeing the famous Hiketeia panel of Wonder Woman’s boot on Batman’s head. I’ve read a couple of solid criticisms of Rucka’s Wondy run – it’s unrelentingly tragic (but then, so is almost every single one of Rucka’s books), the balance between superhero and mystical worlds isn’t quite as solid as it could be, and it tends to view Diana externally (that one is deliberate, at least according to the interviews I’ve read with Rucka). But for me, issues 195 to 225 are nearly pure, distilled awesome, and I am overcome everytime I get to Mission’s End.
This is probably the kind of review/recommendation that leaves one with too-high expectations, though. I will say that the unfinished nature of the storyline is a bit frustrating, but I actually kind of like the idea of Wonder Woman facing an uncertain, painful future, but enduring with a smile. But I can see why it would be frustrating.
I should probably say, as a caveat, that I dislike Morrison in general (All-Star Superman is mostly an exception, though I think the middle gets really tedious), and my complaints about his Wonder Woman are pretty much the same complaints I make about his Batman work. I’ve been deeply unimpressed by the whole Earth One project anyway – I really don’t see the point of trying to make an Ultimate Universe for DC when Marvel just acknowledged that other than Ultimate Spider-Man, that experiment didn’t work very well. But Wonder Woman in specific really irked me at the self-consciously “clever” stuff combined with the “culture shock” subtlety that wouldn’t have been out of place in the fun, but shallow animated Wonder Woman film.
I am totally with you in thinking Wonder Woman’s origin is overdone. We have Morrison’s, De Liz’s, Rucka’s, and the upcoming feature film all doing basically the same story (and that’s not even mentioning my fondness for Bryan Q. Miller’s Wonder Woman origin in the Smallville Season 11 comic series).