Thursday, April 13, 2017

DC Comics and "Wonder Woman: Earth One", part 1

            I have recently been finishing out a degree, this has involved me taking an undergraduate course at my alma mater.  Often, as the drive to the school is pretty long, I will meander around the campus and into the library to kill some time before driving back home.  While there I was drawn to a hardcover collection of a comic series I knew of but had not yet read, “Wonder Woman: Earth One”.  It was kind of bad, and that is super disappointing.
            This thing went super long discussing the background to all of this that I didn’t even get into talking about the book until I had written 1800 words, so I decided to split this in two, and it is an unclean cut mostly done so that each part is easier on the reader.  Hopefully this is entertaining/informative.

Some Backstory: For Which I Cannot Cite Anything
            At the turn of the millennium, nearly 20 years ago now… I feel old… nearly 20 years ago Marvel comics created the “Ultimate” line of comics.  It was a fresh modern take on their classic characters to make things more accessible to new readers.  Spiderman was back in high school, the X-Men were late teens and early twenties, and everything had a more cynical tone informed by the decades of superhero comics that had preceded them to draw on some of the strongest elements and stories but writing them with an eye toward being more long form, taking 6 issues to tell a story rather than the traditional 1 or 2.

This is promo art from the "Ultimatum" event that was written by Jeph Loeb.
This is the event that started the slow death of the whole universe.
            The Ultimate line was a huge success and after a little over 15 years the line grew into its own massive continuity, and was nearly murdered by bad writing at several points (I have mostly forgiven Jeph Loeb for his part in it).  I have a real soft spot for all the Ultimate line, I felt that having a universe that was freer to explore new ideas with old story ideas led to some creative stuff.  The dialogue was punchy, the action was exciting, and the fresh takes worked.  Marvel, the House of Ideas, had proven they could be the House of Fresh Spins.

            DC smelled money.

Creative Crisis: “Let’s just blow the whole thing up”
            Typically, when DC thinks that their universe needs a fresh take they just blow up the whole universe and call “REDO!”  Most famously this was done with “Crisis on Infinite Earths”, a bloated mess of a book that existed to fulfill a mandate but is so unfocused and loaded down with cameos, minutia, and bombast I consider it nearly unreadable by modern standards.

This headache inducing image could be considered an adequate summation of the event.
            20 years after that universe explosion DC did it again with Final Crisis (kind of, the reboot was delayed till another event called “Flashpoint”).  “Final Crisis” was written by a literal wizard, Grant Morrison.  Remember that name, he will come back.
            Unfortunately, DC screwed the pooch on the whole thing and we ended up with the “New 52” which I consider a creative wasteland.  This “New 52” took previously interesting ideas and striped them down so far that they just didn’t work, and paradoxically it kept both too much and too little of the old continuity to be a fresh start.
            DC had previously been the book of legacies.  That the universe had a long history that is respected and revered.  In DC, there had been Flashes, Green Lanterns, and Hawkmen all the way back to WWII.  There was appeal to seeing those classic characters and concepts juxtaposed by Robin, Superboy, and Wonder Girl.  The contrast of young and old heroes showed how the idea of heroism had evolved over the decades and that old costumes could be looked at as cheesy and fun, but also as the source/inspiration of the modern stuff.
            In the “New 52” almost all of this legacy had washed away.  DC had forgotten what their fans (and people in general) wanted from them, a sense of longevity.  Superman is classic.  Batman is classic.  Wonder Woman is classic.  DC should have stuck to their original plan, which was to go classic.
This is a video about the death of the "New 52" made by Linkara. 
He is a well known comic reviewer.

The All-Star Line: “Please, stop letting Frank Miller do stuff”
            Before “Final Crisis” there was the All-Star Line, non-canon stories of the biggest characters in DC’s stable, written by the best/notorious writer’s in DC’s offices, drawn by the best artists in their art-jails (I assume all artists are kept chained or caged since the Image incident of the 90’s).  These were “All-Star” titles.  The line had one success and was then immediately killed by abject stupidity.
            The first book out of the gate was “All-Star Superman” which is in my all-time top 5 for comics.  It is a 12-issue series drawn by Frank Quitely written by Grant Morrison (Hey, there is that name again, he will show up again though, so keep looking out).  It is an absolute classic.
            Superman engages in his last heroic deeds for the ages, battling time eating monsters, answering the unanswerable question, and defeating the Tyrant Sun.  It is written in a style that showcases everything that is strange, fantastical, and sweet about Superman and by the end it drew a tear from my eye and the thought, “You did it Superman, you saved everybody.”

This image does a lot to sum up the tone of the work.
            This triumph of storytelling was followed up by “All-Star Batman and Robin” which is an unmitigated piece of shit.  Confusing, over written, misogynistic, dumb, repetitive, dumb, mean spirited, vile garbage.  It was written by Frank Miller, a man who produced some classic Batman stories in the brief window of sanity he experienced in the 80’s and has been riding that success ever since.
            Frank has subsequently written “Holy Terror”, a racist fan fiction piece that was considered such hot garbage that DC wouldn’t let the damn thing star Batman as Frank had originally intended and had to sand the identifying signifiers off of it.   “Holy Terror” could be considered the worst thing Frank ever wrote, but the thing is, “Holy Terror” is complete, “All-Star Batman and Robin” has yet to be finished, and if it is ever finished I will apologize to Frank Miller for thinking that he couldn’t bring himself the last muscle clench to force the final issues out of his ass.

Did I mention the misogyny?
            DC had plans for All-Star Supergirl, All-Star Batgirl, and All-Star Wonder Woman.  NOPE!  The whole line was shit canned as a failed experiment… Till kind of recently.

Welcome to Earth One: “Let’s give this a shot, nothing else is working”
            When it came to the attention of DC that the “New 52” was not really working, probably about the time they had canceled 52 titles (all had been replaced to keep the line 52 titles deep)  DC started flailing.  Killing as many books as you had launched with (I think) prompted them to do something kind of desperate.  They were going to do an All-Star product line and just call it something else.
            Welcome to “Earth One,” a series of stories written by prominent writers with gifted artists focusing on the most popular of properties.  They were set to do a very Ultimate-ish rendition of the DC line-up.
            Superman now has 3 volumes down written by JMS, creator of “Babylon 5” and writer in nearly every medium at this point.  I like his stuff.  He gave Superman a fresh new villain, a perspective on the world only Superman could have (when you can do anything what do you choose to do), and reintroduced the crystal look of Krypton in such a way that I actually liked the visual (usually I don’t, preferring the Kirby inspired Zeerust designs of Bruce Timm in the 90’s).
            Batman got a run by Geoff Johns, who I think of as our universe’s version of the DC character Chronos because he keeps undoing and re-writing continuity to suit his own fanboy vision of the DC universe.  All that aside, Geoff’s Batman book was a great fresh take on the character, with fun mythology construction, a new villain, and a dark take on Alfred of all people.
            The Teen Titans got Jeff Lemire, a writer I had never heard of, and judging by this book I don’t think I would like any of his stuff.  I didn’t care for the art either which is odd because Terry Dodson does good work.  The story was kind of shit.  The world felt claustrophobic as all hell.  The characters got their abilities from a single source rather than the diverse plethora of origin stories they had before (writing tip, that I covered with my multi-part discussion of the Justice League so long ago, when you make a team you want each character to bring in something new from their own little corner of the world, when everyone has the same origin it makes the world smaller and harder to expand on).
            And then came Wonder Woman.  They gave her to Grant Morrison (There he is again)…

Next Time
            I will review the actual “Wonder Woman: Earth One” comic instead of just giving context for why it exists.

            There will also be more context.

To say one thing, they stayed true to all the bondage subtext.

            If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, +1, share on Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.

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