Friday, April 14, 2017

DC Comics and "Wonder Woman: Earth One" part 2

            Yesterday, I gave some context as to why I was reading “Wonder Woman: Earth One”.  When and why “Wonder Woman: Earth One” was written, and today I am going to talk about who wrote it, who created Wonder Woman originally, and what I thought of the comic itself.
            If you want to get a broader perspective of what I think about Wonder Woman as a character in the grand scheme of things I wrote about the Justice League a while back and Wonder Woman got her own entry.  I also wrote another thing about her and Batman not too long ago.

This movie is gonna suuuuuuck!

A bit about the writer Grant Morrison: “I like almost everything he does”
            Let me give a brief introduction to Grant Morrison, whom I consider to be one of my favorite authors of graphic novels, and if I saw him branch out into other media (maybe by giving his blessing or taking a direct hand in an adaptation of his own work) then I would call him one of my favorite writers without qualification.
            I have read a lot of Grant’s work and have read a lot about his beliefs. I actually find a certain optimism in it that is deeply appealing.  The ideas of Flex Mentallo for instance, that some parallel universe of superheroes was destroyed by anti-life and the way they saved themselves was by living on as dreams in our universe.  That superheroes are “real” in a sense and our world is guided by their noble ideas via our dreams, and that heroism can shape reality.

Even seen somebody so buff they could bend reality?
            Or the metaphysics/metanarrative of comic books in "Final Crisis".  That the white spaces between comic panels is a sort of liquid time and that to control the white space would grant the villain control of the universe.  That Superman enters that time stream and it allows him to see in dimensions beyond the comic (he sees in 3-D) and reaches out toward the reader, sensing "A presence". The idea is that the act of reading causes time to move for characters in the DC universe and we the audience are gods/souls/animus to those characters.  That the story was told out of order, folding back on itself, because the villain was warping reality, and that warped the order in which the comic was read.
            Or how Arkham Asylum is a metaphor for Batman's broken mind and that the bad guys are all manifestations of his fevered imagination.
            Grant has a lot of dense themes.
            Morrison’s name is what drew me to “Wonder Woman: Earth One”.  I am a big fan of his work and not a fan of Wonder Woman.  Morrison himself has not been a fan of the character in the past, describing her as a strange mish-mash of different elements, which if you don’t know anything about Morrison that statement would be akin to hearing Donald Trump calling Vince McMahon a boisterous egomaniac.  Grant is not wrong in his assessment, but you are wondering what specific element is the tipping point that causes this particular person’s code of ethics to ring with disapproval.

Wonder Woman: “What in Hell was the creator thinking?”
            Wonder Woman is the warrior princes of the mythical island of Themyscira, ruled by her mother the stubborn but noble Queen Hippolyta.  Diana defies her mother’s wishes and joins a competition of strength and winning earns the title of Wonder Woman and takes on the role of ambassador to “Man’s World” and subsequently must use the divine powers granted by the Greek gods, her Amazonian warrior training, and magical technology to bring peace and freedom to the world.

            Wonder Woman was created by a polygamous man named William Moulton Marston who wanted to create for women a strong figure to serve as a counter point to the numerous male heroes that had cropped up in the genre.  He based Wonder Woman’s personality off his first wife, Elizabeth and Wonder Woman’s looks off his second wife, Olive.
            William also decided to throw in other elements of his life, Feminism being chief among them.  Utopian ideals based off of classical ideas of art and beauty.  William was the inventor of the polygraph, so he gave Wonder Woman a magic lasso that compelled people to tell the truth.  And, because he liked his kinks and thought they would help the book sell he threw in a lot of BDSM imagery and gave Wonder Woman the weakness that she had to obey anyone who bound her hands…. Morrison found Wonder Woman to be a collision of strange ideas and decided to explore all of that via Earth One.  It is a shame that the book kind of sucks.

I am not kidding.  If you google "Wonder Woman, Bondage" this kind of thing is everywhere.

Wonder Woman Earth One: “What Worked?”
            Let’s start with some things I liked.  I liked that the Amazonian culture was portrayed as being more complex than in previous iterations.  Too often they are portrayed as overly perfect and that (to me) takes away from their relatability.  Everyone having super powers, access to magical technology, and living in perpetual divine harmony sheltered from Earth and then blaming it all on men seems a bit… stupid.
            Humans are humans and any culture based on a warrior ideal will have drawbacks related to valuing competition and giving them aspects of arrogance.  Idealizing themselves and blaming on men any short comings they can see in our world via their myopic view is a smart way of portraying them as powerful and capable, but still flawed.
            Some might say that takes away from the feminist message of the story and setting, I disagree.  Feminism is about equality, not about women being perfect but for the interference of men.  What is more, the ideas of Feminism in the world/themes of Wonder Woman perhaps does not naturally gel with the feminism of today.  Themyscira (Wonder Woman’s home) is exclusive, based around conflict and domination, and in the context of even the oldest comics happens in reaction to a particularly vile man threatening their way of life.  Hash tag, “not all men” I suppose.
Call me crazy, but the best utopias tend to feel attainable, rather than impossible.
            The art is great, though there were some strange choices with the comic’s layout, frequently having only a few panels on a page and lots of dead space depicting bonds.  I suppose this is symbolic of the framing device of the story (more on that later) but it could have been done without making the pages so empty.  That lack of visuals has the side effect of making the story seem more “talking” rather than “doing” but that is also a side effect of the poor framing device for the story.

            I liked that they turned Steve Trevor into a black guy.  Giving him a racial component as to why he would not tell the government about the presence of the Amazons was a somewhat clever twist.  It also drives home the “not all men” aspect when he explains how his ancestors were exploited.

Wonder Woman Earth One: “What didn’t work for me?”
            The Framing of the story.  Rather than showing us the events of the story as they happen, that Diana (Wonder Woman) rescues Steve from Themyscira and returns him to “Man’s World” and then meets Etta Candy and is forced to return to answer for her violations of Amazonian Law… No, instead we are shown the trial of Wonder Woman and all of the events of the comic are told in flashback while magical truth is compelled from Diana and the witnesses.
            The panels I spoke about being overly spaced out come from this framing, the pages where the character is shown giving testimony show them standing surrounded by bonds of what are presumably truth.  It is a visual metaphor, but one that could have been done better in my mind.

            I dislike the lack of action.  Aside from one chase there isn’t a lot of warriors being warriors in this warrior-woman culture.  Things are dull and talk heavy.  I wouldn’t mind that either, but they tend to talk in an overly formal and declarative fashion (another aspect of Amazon culture which displays their arrogance) and that gets a bit boring to read.  Even the conversational dialogue of Etta Candy is dragged down because she talks near-exclusively about asinine nonsense.
Here is the thing, if the joke is, "I am saying the premise out loud" then there is no joke.  The story is just silly.
            Lastly, this is the origin story of not only Wonder Woman, but the story of her people’s self-imposed exile from Man’s World.  It involves rape and domination of the Amazonians by Hercules, mightiest of all men and his being overthrown by Queen Hippolyta who then left Man’s World forever.  This sets the ground work for a subversion of the traditional Wonder Woman origin story, and this was kind of beaten to the punch.
            Originally Wonder Woman was based on the Pygmalion myth.  Queen Hippolyta wanted a daughter and so she molded a baby from clay and the goddesses blessed the clay doll with life.  This clay child grew to be Wonder Woman.
            In the Justice League cartoon of the early 00’s, Wonder Woman was molded not just by Queen Hippolyta, but by Hades (god of the underworld) as well.  In the now dead “New 52” it was revealed she is actually the birth child of Queen Hippolyta and Zeus, changing the origin again.  On Earth One, Wonder Woman is the birth child of Queen Hippolyta… and the product of rape by Hercules.

            This is treated as a dramatic revelation, and had this comic come out in 1999 it would be.  That would be a big departure from the origin story that had existed for decades, and if it had come out then people would have lost their shit and Grant Morrison would never stop getting hate mail.  But, “Wonder Woman Earth One” didn’t come out in 1999, it came out in 2016.  The origin story has already been subverted multiple times.  So, this is kind of ‘meh’.
            Don’t get me wrong, the ‘meh’ is the revelation, not the rape.  Including that element (which had always been hovering in the background) as an explicit element in what motivated Queen Hippolyta and the Amazonians is a shift.  A bad one.  Maybe.

Again, rape and weird politics related to the idea have always been there.
            Truth is, the influence of elements such as rape in super hero comics can be a tone destroying, overly dark element, especially when it is not the focus of the series.  Making Wonder Woman a child of sexual assault whose mother lied to her about her origin and demonized the other gender because of this transgression (not just Hercules, but men in general) is iffy.  Hash tag, “Not all men”.
            So much so that I am just going to say that I dislike the revelation of rape in the origin.  I do not like how it was done in this story, and it actually feels like an out of character move for Morrison to include it because he has criticized the use of rape elsewhere in the industry.  If this revelation had happened in a Volume 2 or 3 of the series, it might have worked.  Here, the meta-narrative just doesn’t work.

In Conclusion
             I am apparently not alone in my feelings of disappointment.  The amazon (that is to say the website) reviews could boil down to, “Not Morrison’s best” and “A disappointment”.  That being said it is still not as bad as “Teen Titans: Earth One” and is really just another alternate world Wonder Woman, there have been plenty of those so it probably won’t be too ruinous to the character… At least, I thought that it would not hurt the character.
            Later this year a “Wonder Woman” movie is coming out in the DC cinematic universe.  I will ruffle no feathers in saying the trailer looks like shit and I am betting the movie will be awful even if it does make a bunch of money.  All that aside, I am going to make a prediction, Wonder Woman’s origin will involve rape, and the rapist/father will be the main villain of the movie, Ares the god of War.  It is going to suck, be a tonal blemish on the franchise, and it will almost certainly have some inspiration taken from this story as both Steve Trevor and Etta Candy are featured in the trailer.
            Maybe I will be wrong, but I doubt it.  PLACE YOUR BETS!
I hope this is the look they use for Ares.
The newer appearance looks too much like Bor from "Thor the Dark World".
            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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