Review: Wonder Woman: Earth One Vol. 3 hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

If the first two volumes of Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette’s Wonder Woman: Earth One were their Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back, then Wonder Woman: Earth One Vol. 3 is distinctly their Return of the Jedi — dramatic, with some suspense, but also with enough levity and cuddliness built in that the sense everything will be all right pervades from the start. Though the third volume does not lack for action pieces, it is more philosophical (and at its mid-point, mythological) than the books that came before it.

In all of this, the authors beg the question, what if you knew — knew — that a higher force always had your best interests at heart (because who among us is more trustworthy than Wonder Woman)? If you did, would you slough off the weight of all that decision-making and submit peacefully to the loving authority of another? (We do this already, in ways — when we go into surgery, when we choose representation in government, when we pray to things unseen.)

The authors acknowledge this is not without controversy, but the factors that mitigate those controversies are slight. In the final tally — though my cynicism searched for some shadow, a terrible wink to let us know it had all gone wrong — Morrison sticks to it, positing a path to peacefulness almost too alien to be believed. All too often, speculative superhero science-fiction is the realm of the dystopia — see Wonder Woman: Dead Earth, Batman: Last Knight on Earth, and DCeased, just for three recent examples. In its concluding volume, Wonder Woman: Earth One Vol. 3 is the all-too-rare utopian comics sci-fi, all the stranger perhaps for how far away we are from its ideal.

[Review contains spoilers]

Again, one seeks within this book a sense of malice, the hint that what seems good is actually evil, that never comes. It is ingrained in our society to believe that phrases like “you will be improved upon” and “prepare to be pacified” come with some nefarious intentions, or at least a threat to self-determination — take “resistance is futile,” for instance. At least as a thought experiment, this third volume asks us to square our devotion to free will with the idea that patriarchal society has indisputably wrought war, violence, pollution, and other horrors. Faced with an advanced force that, the text attests, is benevolent and is peaceful, would not submission be the better way to go?

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

We are not meant to understand this would be easy. Even Diana herself recoils early in the book at seeing her enemy “Dr. Psycho” enslaved and humiliated, zapped with a “pax ray” when he gets out of line. But the baser instincts that she mitigates are the ones we would never have expected from Wonder Woman anyway — that she will not allow the Spartans to eradicate all men, that she will not battle mankind into submission on the shores of “Man’s World.” Instead she simply states her case that the Amazons are the moral and technological superiors, and over time the rest of the world falls in line. Those male figures like Steve Trevor and General Darnell who always sided with Diana seem to come through intact; it is only those who resist loving authority to retain power for themselves — Psycho, or the terrorists of “Operation Hercules” in the end — who seem to suffer.

At the same time, there’s been a recognition throughout the Wonder Woman: Earth One books that the story of Diana herself is one of rejection of, not submission to, authority. The Amazons are not supposed to interact with Man’s World nor leave their island, nor is Diana meant to compete in the Wonder Woman contests, and yet she does. She disobeys her mother Hippolyta to the extent that, in Wonder Woman: Earth One Vol. 1, she’s brought back to Amazonia for trial. And yet if Diana is disobeying her mother, she is obeying fate (and the Fates); she was born of Hippolyta and the seed of Hercules, meant to be a wanderer, restless, ultimately a weapon of war against man. Hippolyta tries to punish her own self for deceit by abdicating her throne, but she is not allowed — Hippolyta, too, must submit to loving authority even when she tries to escape it.

But where Diana cannot be forced to take the Amazonian throne by her mother’s abdication, she must do so after her mother’s death in Wonder Woman: Earth One Vol. 2 — again, a demise for Hippolyta determined by the Fates that she must ultimately succumb to. We find this leaves Diana bereft — “… Frustrated as the princess. Unsettled as the queen. I was never made to fit this role.” — and indeed Morrison’s next point via Diana is a good one, that royal succession, the passing of titles literally from father to son, is a male invention, whereas Amazonia’s queen is “eternal.”

As easily tough to wrap our heads around in the end is Morrison’s solution, in which Diana bears her mother from clay and raises her as her own, to one day take up the Amazonian crown again. Much is made here of the art of love (in contrast, surely, to the art of war) — a suggestion that love is not just something one feels but that one has to sow, that loving authority is something that doesn’t come easily but instead has to be cultivated, like an art. In the same way, Diana’s final act in Earth One is one of creation and renewal, a sculpted daughter-mother that returns the story to equilibrium, a final submission to the order of things.



The hype machine had the first volume of Wonder Woman: Earth One as a “back to roots” psycho-sexual exploration of the Wonder Woman mythos. There’s some of that, sure, but far less loaded than what you’d see on average network television. Instead, with kangas aplenty and no shortage of “hola!”s, over three volumes Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette resurrect Wonder Woman’s classic elements, set them against a modern canvas, and then keep going, all the way to their semi-logical conclusions. Note and reflect on how much trouble the back cover of Wonder Woman: Earth One Vol. 3 has in presenting its own plot — that Diana must bring the disparate Amazons together (which ends up not so difficult) or that she must battle back Max Lord’s ARES armor (again, she barely breaks a sweat). This final volume is an unusual one because actually what happens is peace breaks out and the hero stymies strife in the end. It's almost indescribable; indeed, it seems nigh unimaginable.

[Includes Yanick Paquette sketchbook]


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