By Andrew A. Smith
Tribune Content Agency
It’s a good time to be Wonder Woman.
On the heels of Gal Gadot’s impressive turn as the Amazing Amazon in Batman v Superman comes one of the most unusual WW stories ever. Wonder Woman: Earth One Volume 1 ($22.99, DC Comics) is a re-imagining of Princess Diana’s origin that lifts liberally from all that’s come before – especially the eccentric ideas of her creator, William Moulton Marston.
As some may know, Marston was an ultra-feminist in the 1920s and ‘30s who believed women should rule the world – and that men would be improved by “submission to loving authority,” which included bondage. One must assume Marston practiced what he preached at home, where he lived with two women in a family unit, and had two children by each.
Professionally, Marston was a psychologist, whose background included work on the development of a measurement device for systolic blood pressure, part of the research that led to the lie detector. All of these interests – BDSM, female superiority, lie detection, “submission to loving authority” – went into Marston’s “Wonder Woman” pitch to All-American Comics in 1940. But so did Marston’s idea of a fairy-tale princess who conquered war with love, a self-confident role model for young girls. The editors were uneasy with some of Marston’s ideas, but they liked the idea of a powerful female superhero to silence complaints about their absence – and thus was Wonder Woman born.
In the comics, her origin was pretty strange, too. Wonder Woman came from an island of immortal warrior women, who had retreated there 3,000 years ago after being betrayed and enslaved by Hercules and his men (as part of his ninth labor, as we all remember from Bullfinch’s Mythology). There they passed the centuries wrestling, training with swords on giant kangaroos, tying each other up in “loving submission,” while presumably, to quote Monty Python, “dressing, undressing, knitting exciting underwear …”
Wonder Woman herself was named for the goddess Diana, referred to as the “moon goddess, mistress of the chase,” although Diana is the Roman name for Artemis, goddess of the hunt. It’s obvious they were avoiding the huntress aspect, but it’s a mystery why these Greek women used the Roman name instead of the Greek one. And she wasn’t born – no men, remember? – but instead was a clay statue, formed by childless Queen Hippolyta and brought to life by Aphrodite. As it turned out, she possessed “the beauty of Aphrodite, the wisdom of Athena, the strength of Hercules and the speed of Mercury.” She got her Lasso of Truth and Invisible Plane from Mom, but her “Bracelets of Submission” – worn by all the Amazons (and Marston’s mistress) – were reminders of enslavement to Hercules, never to be removed, lest the Amazons slip up and start trusting men again.
Over the years that origin has been tinkered with, sometimes substantially. For example, a 1959 rewrite dispensed with the clay-statue idea, with Diana born in a conventional manner (her presumed father, Prince Theno, was “killed in the wars” or “lost at sea” along with all the other Amazonian men) and her divine gifts from Aphrodite, Athena, Hercules and Mercury were codified. All the backstory about the Amazons being betrayed (and presumably raped) by Hercules and his men, about the Amazons being a warrior culture (and presumably lesbian), about the bracelets of submission (and presumably BDSM) – in fact, all the murky, sexual stuff introduced by Marston – was dropped.
In 1987 the Amazing Amazon’s origin underwent another major re-write. Written and drawn by George Perez, this version brought back the clay-statue origin and emphasized the Greco-Roman gods and culture. But this time the gods who blessed Diana were mostly female, and Hercules was (finally) kicked out of the club. Aphrodite, Athena and Mercury remained, but were joined by Demeter (strength), Artemis (hunter skills, unity with animals) and Hestia (sisterhood with fire, ability to discern truth).
Then Brian Azzarello, esteemed writer of crime fiction, provided the most recent re-write. In 2011, Azzarello “revealed” that the clay-statue bit was always a cover story for Diana’s real parentage as the illegitimate daughter of Zeus! As a demigod, she is equal to Hercules and her powers are inborn. This version also played up the Greco-Roman gods, but played them as an in-bred, sociopathic crime family.
And now comes Wonder Woman Earth One, a graphic novel set in a parallel world. That nomenclature, “Earth One,” is a nod to … oh, you’ve been watching TV’s The Flash? Then I don’t have to explain the multiverse any more? Thank Hera!
The “Earth One” series has so far given us alternate versions of Superman, Batman and the Teen Titans. But Wonder Woman Earth One is by far the most divergent -- and well done. Which is no surprise, as it’s written by the legendary Grant Morrison (Multiversity, Final Crisis) and drawn by Yanick Paquette (Swamp Thing, Batman Inc.), two of the industry’s finest.
Morrison may be a respected writer, but he is also a comics geek of unquestioned credentials, who somehow managed to mix in virtually all of Wonder Woman’s various origins while still writing a fascinating, layered and coherent story. Here are the particulars (SPOILERS!):
* He reached back to 1940 for Moulton’s clay-statue origin – but added the Azzarello angle of it being a fairy tale meant to protect Diana from knowing her parentage. In this case, her father is the abominable Hercules, whose seed was extracted artificially and added to one of Hippolyta’s eggs. Diana was meant to be Hippolyta’s weapon against/revenge on men, but the queen’s heart softened over time.
* In the myths, Hippolyta is betrayed, raped and killed by Hercules (sometimes Theseus), but here the Lion of Olympus doesn't make it out alive, as the queen of the Amazons strangles him to death with her own chains! That's why the artificial insemination was required.
* Morrison also puts Moulton’s unusual sexual philosophy front and center. I can’t count the times Diana mentions “submission to loving authority,” once when confidently handing a dog collar to a black man. (He is, of course, appalled.) And Morrison walks the walk, as the plot turns on “submission to loving authority” more than once. “To bow before a loving authority is to show strength,” Diana explains. “On Amazonia we pledge our bond with collar, bracelet and chains.”
* Morrison doesn’t dance around the Amazons’ sexuality, as writers have for decades. As an all-female society separated from men for three millennia they are all, duh, lesbians. And the island of Amazonia – also “Paradise Island” and “New Athens” – has enough naughty games, bondage and role play to satisfy the fevered imagination of an adolescent boy. Hey, why not?
* While Wonder Woman has a female lover on Paradise Island, she is likely bisexual – she sure is interested in Steve Trevor! But there is no question that her best friend Beth (“Etta” in other versions) Candy is. Candy loves the idea of Amazonia: “So let me get this straight: You’re from a paradise island of science fiction lesbians? With a side order of bondage?” She’s part of the Beta Lambda sorority of Holliday College, sidekicks who are another nod to the Moulton run.
* The Amazons surely aren’t perfect, nor politically correct. They attempt to body shame Beth Candy – who is plus size – as “deformed, shrunken, bloated.” Candy, who is proud of her curves, has an unprintable response.
* Wonder Woman's romantic partner on Paradise Island is named Mala, whom she betrays to save Steve Trevor. And by taking Trevor to “man’s world,” she is breaking her mother’s commandments. “There can be only one explanation for this madness," Hippolyta laments. "A man.”
Morrison incorporates all this “madness” into a story that, despite the déjà vu, is genuinely surprising. I won’t reveal all the spoilers, but by the end of Wonder Woman Earth One you have a plausible character with a distinctive personality, believable motivations and an impressive power set. That’s not always been the case with Wonder Woman.
None of which would matter if not for Paquette’s excellent art to sell it all. Naturally he’s good at drawing women – a virtual requirement for this book – but he’s good at everything else, too, unleashing a clear, slick style that makes for a very attractive and consistent world. It should also be noted that Paquette renders the architecture on Amazonia and the invisible plane with, ah, very feminine qualities.
So that’s our new, alternate Wonder Woman. Meanwhile, “our” Wonder Woman has three monthly comic book series: Wonder Woman, Superman/Wonder Woman and a new one called Legend of Wonder Woman, which uses the clay-statue origin and focuses on the Amazing Amazon’s coming of age. Then there’s the Wonder Woman solo movie coming in 2017. Which is a lot of Wonder Woman!
So, yeah, it’s a very good time to be Wonder Woman. It’s an even better time to be a Wonder Woman fan.
Reach Captain Comics by email (firstname.lastname@example.org), the Internet (captaincomics.ning.com), Facebook (Captain Comics Round Table) or Twitter (@CaptainComics).
Thanks for helping make sense of this book Cap. I've never been much of a WW reader so I wasn't getting some of the stuff Morrison was doing. Second read will probably be a little more satisfying now.
BTW: I know it was just a subliminal typo but you cited Morrison as writing Infinite Crisis rather than Final Crisis.
Whoops! Fixed, and thanks!
“…it’s a mystery why these Greek women used the Roman name instead of the Greek one.”
Because “Diana” is a more believable name for her alter ego than “Artemis” would have been, I’m guessing.
“As it turned out, she possessed ‘the beauty of Aphrodite, the wisdom of Athena, the strength of Hercules and the speed of Mercury.’”
…and she shouted “AAHM!” to access her power (or am I thinking of someone else?).
“Aphrodite, Athena and Mercury remained, but were joined by Demeter (strength), Artemis (hunter skills, unity with animals) and Hestia (sisterhood with fire, ability to discern truth).”
“In 2011, Azzarello “revealed” that the clay-statue bit was always a cover story for Diana’s real parentage as the illegitimate daughter of Zeus!”
So that’s where that came from. Didn’t know that.
On a related note, did you see the “DC Previews” focusing on the “Rebirth” event? Speaking for myself, I’m not any more enthusiastic about Rebirth than I was about the “New 52.” I kind of miss reading DC comics, but I have no interest at all in the New 52. Maybe I’ll start reading the “Earth One” stuff. I haven’t tried any of that at all yet.
I've been enjoying the Batman and Superman Earth One books. Based upon Cap's review I'm going to get the Wonder Woman Earth One book.
I'm sure the Teen Titans one is good, but I have never been a TT reader so I wouldn't think I would enjoy it much.
Can I have a side of steak fres with my science fiction lesbians, instead?i
As usual, the Baron puts everything into perspective.
I actually haven't been enjoying the other Earth One books. I didn't think Superman Earth One was different enough, basically the one we know, except that based on his behavior -- trying out of for the Metropolis football team, for example, and showing his powers as Clark Kent all the time -- he should have no secret ID at all. Batman is a bit better, although the difference is that this Bruce Wayne is no genius -- just a regular guy who has to be taught how to fight (by his butler, ex-SAS and the best part), but definitely NOT the world's greatest detective. And Teen Titans was so awful I don't even want to think about it.
I'm not even all that thrilled about Morrison's use of the Moulton origin, which is really a problem for many audiences (lesbians who hate men, BDSM). But I do give him credit for making Moulton's subtext the actual text. That makes it, as my wife said, "a real hoot."
For example, one thing I only alluded to in my column because it was too naughty for print* is that the architecture on Amazonia isn't phallic spires but instead, mammary-shaped domes -- and the invisible plane is, no kidding, a giant flying vagina with the cockpit located where the clitoris would be. The distaff version of "little man in the boat," I suppose.
* Not that it mattered. For the first time in 24 years, the syndicate kicked this one back as being too naughty for print. They asked for a rewrite, but I didn't think I could do so in the short time frame available and still honestly address Morrison's story points. So Captain Comics Round Table is the only place to see this column!
“Maybe I’ll start reading the “Earth One” stuff.”
“I actually haven't been enjoying the other Earth One books.”
Well maybe I won’t, then. I’ll tell you what would make me really happy: if DC would start reprinting as much of their 1960s and 1970s material as Marvel has done.
(I’m just going to ignore the use of the words “vagina” and “cockpit” so close in the same sentence. You’re welcome.)
Being a comic book it's just a matter of time before dead Hercules gets better.
Great article! My knowledge of WW has always been sketchy and you filled in the gaps nicely!
Thanks, Mr. S! That sort of response makes it all worthwhile.