Years after it was initially announced, Grant Morrison, Yanick Paquette, and Nathan Fairbarn’s Wonder Woman Earth One graphic novel is in the wild. It is an origin story for the iconic superhero beginning with her mother’s battle and victory against the violent, lustful rapist Hercules, which led to the Amazons deciding to leave the corruption of “man’s world” and establish Paradise Island. Morrison uses a framing narrative of a trial to flesh out Diana’s personality and background as we get to see her rebel against her mother’s orders and fight in the annual Amazon games as well as meet Steve Trevor (who is African American in this version) and journey to man’s world. The comic is steeped in the Golden Age (Lots of bondage elements are present from the cover onwards.) Wonder Woman stories of William Moulton Marston and the whole idea of loving submission while also riffing on Greek mythology and ancient Greek culture as well as classic science fiction. These influences shine through in Paquette’s artwork as he often uses the lasso of truth as a panel boundary along with juxtaposing actual scenes with the story
The plot of Wonder Woman Earth One is fairly easy to follow with smooth, visual transitions from Paquette and switches in color palettes from Nathan Fairbarn, who gives each setting its own mood from the brutal reds of the battle between the Greeks and Amazon to the blazing light of Paradise Island and the sterility of the hospital that Diana takes Steve Trevor to. The thematic throughline is a little more difficult to follow with lots of instant controversy worthy moments, like Diana putting a bondage collar on Steve Trevor, Diana wearing the lion pelt of the man who tried to rape her mother, the characterization of the Amazons as body shamers, and Wonder Woman’s actual birth. But, by the end of the story, it seems like Morrison is arguing that utopias must be founded on trust and cooperation and not isolation and dominance. Men shouldn’t be dominant, women shouldn’t, but everyone should be equal, which is the vibe I got from the closing pages of Wonder Woman Earth One where Wonder Woman zooms through in her invisible jet through a crowd of both men and women with Etta Candy (who arguably steals the show with her humanity, humor, and body positivity) and Steve Trevor behind her. This equality is also shown earlier when Wonder Woman recalibrates the purple healing ray to not just work on women, but on men as well as she changes Steve Trevor back to flesh and blood from stone.
Going back to its Golden Age roots, Wonder Woman Earth One looks at how to correctly do BDSM through the idea of “loving submission” and through the thin pretext of a courtroom drama. Each act of being bound with ropes, chains, or the lasso of truth involves consent. Wonder Woman isn’t captured by the Amazons, but decides based on her own free will, to stand trial for bringing a man and hope to change Paradise Island’s static ways through her testimony. This is the complete opposite of the opening scene where Hercules is raping Hippolyta and yelling misogynist things at her. For example, Diana has a girlfriend named Mala, who is a great warrior of New Sparta, and every year Diana submits to her wearing the Hercules costume as a reminder of when the Amazons defeated the Greeks. It’s a consensual sub/dom relationship as public ritual, but starts to sour when Mala and Diana clash over her wanting to help out Steve Trevor, who has washed onto Paradise Island when his in basically a retelling of his Golden Age origin. (The Bermuda Triangle is even involved.) BDSM relationships are centered around consent and trust, which is why the gaslighting and manipulation driven Fifty Shades of Grey is so terrible, and Wonder Woman provides a nice counterpoint to it while showing that Wonder Woman still has some issues, like when she wants to put a collar on Steve Trevor. Luckily, Etta helps her snap out of it.
Etta Candy is the heart and soul of Wonder Woman Earth One while being the audience POV character and the comic relief. Paquette makes her a plus sized woman, who is saved by Wonder Woman when her sorority’s bus tips over on the trip to Florida. She gets the best lines of the comic, like her witty one sentence description of Wonder Woman’s homeland as “a Paradise Island of science fiction lesbians with a side of bondage” followed by a martini glass toast and throws a lot of shade on the patriarchy while being a superhero for body positivity. Etta is also unabashedly bisexual saying that her first crush was a girl and the next one was a girl and speaks her mind no matter what even telling off Hippolyta for her narrow view of what women should look like and how they should act. Etta also champions Wonder Woman as a hero and gives her the classic “bathing suit” costume as kind of a friendly initiation ritual for the sorority as the outfit is Diana’s usual get-up, but done in the style of a majorette in a college marching band. It’s a nice splash of fun in Wonder Woman’s life driven by ritual and duty and also helps her connect with humanity. Also, major props to Grant Morrison for not engaging in cliched sorority shaming and portraying Etta and her friends as a true, close knit group of friends and sisters.
Towards the end of the graphic novel, Hippolyta reveals Wonder Woman’s true birth and parentage as Morrison and Paquette meld Greek mythology (and wag their finger at the New 52 origin of her being the product of Zeus raping Hippolyta) with Wonder Woman’s classic origin of being formed out of clay in her new origin. Wonder Woman’s new origin is that she is the product of Hippolyta’s egg and Hercules’ sperm through some alchemic process or ancient version of genetic engineering that isn’t shown on panel to be the strongest Amazon warrior and Hippolyta’s weapon against man’s world. This is why she wears Hercules’ Nemean lion headdress during the festival of Diana, and why her mother doesn’t want her participating in the athletic games with the other Amazon. Sadly, she’s seen as more of a weapon than a human being, but early on, she bucks this trend by being a skilled healer and not just a fighter. She is skilled with the purple healing ray used by the Amazons and as soon as she gets to man’s world, Wonder Woman heals women on their deathbeds at a hospital showing her compassion even as she cringes at the war and death of the world around her. Morrison doesn’t just pull a Geoff Johns in Justice League and have Wonder Woman show her being a fish out of water by not knowing what ice cream is, but having her be physically repulsed by man’s world. The smell alone probably almost made her pass out. She also doesn’t immediately understand English, but picks it up because she is an empathetic listener.
Colorist Nathan Fairbarn captures her sense experience through his color palette that goes from smooth and refined for Paradise Island to rough dark greys and reds for when she first sees Steve Trevor exploding out of her plane and extending to her run-ins with the military. Artist Yanick Paquette turns in some truly magical layouts and uses the rich and varied backstory of Wonder Woman to just draw some flat-out cool things, like kangaroo jousting, flying cars, and the vagina shaped invisible jet, which is at the center of most of Wonder Woman Earth One‘s setpieces. He also adds an extra level of creepiness when Hippolyta summons Medusa to track down with snake skin panel borders. On the other hand, the panel boundaries of golden lassoes, stars, and Wonder Woman’s logo permeate the more important scenes of the graphic novel building up to her wearing her classic costume.
Like most of Grant Morrison’s comics, Wonder Woman Earth One is a layered narrative that explores the character and icon of Wonder Woman, what she meant in the 1940s and what she meant today. Morrison and Paquette give Diana a real humanity and arc as a character as she goes from loathing man’s world to deciding to help women everywhere and turning her back on her heritage. They let her be a woman first and then a superhero towards the very end, which is refreshing and why this comic is worth a read for Wonder Woman newbies (Like me.) and experts.