I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know who Wonder Woman was. This is probably because my dad made sure his kids knew Star Wars, Marvel, and DC as well as their ABCs. As far as DC role models go, I loved Lois Lane and Wonder Woman, and it was only recently that I realized I had never actually read any Wonder Woman comics until now. I know! Shame! Dishonor!
So I did some Internet snooping to see what people recommended to Wonder Woman comic noobs, and a repeat recommendation was Wonder Woman: Earth One Vol. 1. This title is written by Grant Morrison and illustrated by Yanick Paquette, and it was sold to me as an imaginative retelling of Diana’s origin story that was still faithful to the spirit of Wonder Woman. Who doesn’t love a good origin story?
Like many feminist lady nerds, I am obsessed with the new Wonder Woman movie, so, naturally, I was making comparisons to that the entire time. Story-wise, we’re looking at a similar catalyst: Diana wants more from her life bound by tradition, which comes to a head just in time for Steven Trevor to crash on Paradise Island (it’s not called Themyscira in this particular comic).
Though the teachings and rituals on Paradise Island are heavily steeped in tradition, there are some progressive details in this comic. First, Steve Trevor is black, and when Diana meets him, she’s surprised because of his sex, not his skin tone. In fact, the only character who talks about race is Steve himself, which I like: let the character who has that experience speak on it. The second progressive detail is that Paradise Island, as an outsider character puts it, is an island of “science fiction lesbians with a side of bondage.”
And here’s where I started having issues.
I know, from reading other articles, that the Wonder Woman comics do have a history of bondage imagery, which makes women “breaking the chains” even more powerful. However, as I was reading this, the male gaze was really apparent. It felt and looked like this is what MEN think of lesbian relationships and culture. After spending so much time celebrating that the Wonder Woman movie was clearly made from a female gaze (no unnecessary cleavage shots), this was a let down for me. I was also uncomfortable with the Amazons, including Diana, criticizing the regular women on their bodies – we get enough pressure on that!
What I can celebrate from this comic is the use of the Gorgon. To track down her daughter, Hippolyta unleashes the Gorgon, aka Medusa, who is a cultural feminist symbol. This reminded me of Helene Cixous’ essay “The Laugh of the Medusa.” Cixous is a feminist writer whose essay advocated for women to claim their identity through their body. To do this, women should free themselves from the standards men have set and express themselves as they naturally would. Diana’s identity revolves around finding strength in love, but her strength also manifests through her powerful body. Her identity, in essence, is strength, which empowers female readers.
Also, the segmenting of the illustrations were well done in this comic. Panels would be separated by clever borders depending on what was happening in the story: hospital scenes were separated by lifelines, while the trial with the Fates scenes were separated by threads. It made it easy to keep track of different storylines and perspectives, and it’s something I hadn’t seen played with before in my (albeit fairly limited) comic reading.
Like Diana stuck on Paradise Island, I just want more than what was given to me, so the hunt continues! I would appreciate any Wonder Woman comic recommendations from our readers!
Image via DC Comics, gifs via Tumblr & Giphy