Comic Review: Wonder Woman: Earth One (2016)

Comics

Wonder Woman Earth One Cover

It’s very convenient that Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette’s long gestating Wonder Woman: Earth One should be released so soon after the character’s debut in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) (read my review here). Many viewers of that film will want to jump into a Wonder Woman comic and test out the source-material. Earth One in many respects is a great jumping on point, but also isn’t. It’s an absolutely fantastic, well-written, beautifully illustrated origin story for Diana Prince; but it’s also veeery different from the Wonder Woman we see in the film, and will see in her future solo film. For new readers who want the classic Wonder Woman, I’d suggest George Pérez’s classic run or Greg Rucka’s newer stuff.

In many interviews, Grant Morrison has talked about how he had gone back to the original Marston issues of Wonder Woman and discovered a very different character; one swamped in the sexual kinks of it’s author, a purpose-built icon of feminism, and a champion for the queer. Whilst Marston’s original creation might not fly in today’s feminist world, Morrison has re-incorporated these elements into the character for his new origin story.

Wonder Woman Earth One 1

Diana’s curiosity gets the better of her.

The result is a graphic novel that celebrates alternative sexuality, the queer, and feminism in the modern world. It’s an undercurrent that informs many of Diana’s interactions with people, from her first hilarious meeting with Steve Trevor (the first male she’s ever seen in a lifetime of thousands of years), to her understanding of consenting submission as an ultimate expression of compassion and care. The book never feels exploitative of it’s subject matter, something that the comics industry of today could easily have done, and it results in a book that manages to capture the essential characteristics of Wonder Woman in the same way that Grant Morrison captured Superman in his epic masterpiece, All Star Superman.

Earth One will especially appeal to readers who are bored by the standard brawling superhero narratives and want something a bit more introspective and thematically resonant with their own lives. I can’t recall a single fist being thrown by Diana. There is very little action in this comic, and some of the best moments in the narrative are seeing how Diana handles situations that male characters such as Superman or Batman would solve with their fists. Diana’s essential characteristic is that she sees the best in people and wants to take care of them, to protect them from harm. She is the definition of compassion, and her views on the modern world are extremely prescient in this day and age.

Wonder Woman Earth One 2

Earth One isn’t without it’s minor flaws. Elizabeth Candy, a minor supporting character who teaches Wonder Woman a few things about the place of women in “man’s world,” isn’t a particularly deep character. She basically serves to teach Diana about the modern world and beyond that doesn’t have much of a relationship with her despite assertions that she and Diana are great friends. Another minor quip is that this volume feels very much like the first act of a three act origin story. That’s nothing to complain about, as Morrison and Paquette have said they’d love to do further volumes, but by the time I finished the book I just wanted the next one. One last criticism is one that I have for the rest of the Earth One books too. I don’t feel this is a very cohesive universe at the moment. None of the books have made any effort to integrate with each other. And whilst there hasn’t been much published just yet, the line started in 2010 and the books have yet to come together. In the upcoming volumes, I would like to see some references to previous events on this world peppered in for the eventual Justice League: Earth One.

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Paquette’s Paradise Island is an absolute marvel to behold.

Paquette’s artwork in this slim volume perfectly captures Morrison’s ideas and plot, with stunning panel layouts and beautifully composed panels. Paquette really is one of the best artists in the business, and his beautiful art is complemented by Nathan Fairbairn’s stunningly rich colours. Wonder Woman: Earth One might already be the best-looking graphic novel of 2016.

Wonder Woman: Earth One is the best of the Earth One books that have published, beating out even the much-loved Batman: Earth One volumes. Morrison handles the limited page count better than the other writers who have published books in the line, and successfully delivers a stunning superhero narrative that is fresh, compelling, utterly different from any other, and full of optimism, positivity, diversity, and celebratory depictions of non-heteronormative sexuality. It’s a must-read for anyone who loves Wonder Woman, the comics form, or has struggled with their own sexuality. Hell, give this to any bigots you might know, and they might change their mind. It’s that good.

9/10.

Film Review: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Film

Batman v Superman Poster

Spoilers below.

After seeing many voices on the internet reviewing, reacting to, and discussing the highly anticipated Batman v Superman, I thought it was about time to put my thoughts down. Batman v Superman is a highly problematic and flawed film in many ways. It packs about five films into 2 hours and 30 minutes, without any stitching of them together. It also does LOTS of groundwork for the DC Extended Universe to prepare for next year’s Justice League Part One. Out of all the chaos, though, a genuinely entertaining film arises, and for the most part I enjoyed it despite the many flaws. It is a weaker film than Man of Steel, but whereas Man of Steel had a cohesive narrative and essentially misunderstood Superman, Batman v Superman has a tighter – if not entirely accurate – grip on what makes it’s lead characters appealing.

Don’t misunderstand me, Zack Snyder still misunderstands Superman on the most basic human level, but he takes much more of a background role compared to Ben Affleck’s Batman. Without a doubt, Ben Affleck is now the definitive Batman. He strikes the perfect balance between Bruce Wayne and Batman, something few of the previous actors have been able to do. This is a Batman ripped straight from the comic-books, even if Snyder still misses the characterisation slightly (his obsession with superheroes killing their enemies is a genuine detriment to this universe). Batman v Superman is an improvement over Man of Steel in this respect – as Superman isn’t in this film too much, I felt much more comfortable with what was happening and with the flow of narrative.

However, Snyder really hasn’t cracked Superman, and that’s a genuine shame, because their confrontation lacks a dramatic weight as these characters are just too similar. It’s a shame, as Henry Cavill is a great choice to play Superman. He just needs better scripts and better direction, and a writer who understands the essential aspects of Superman. Maybe Max Landis? Snyder seems much more interested in the idea of Superman and the political / sociological implications of such a character, than the actual character of Clark Kent himself. This is dissapointing because Superman is easily one of the best characters in superhero comics when written well. Further complicating Snyder’s portrait of Superman in this film is the fact that, yes, he’s interested in these implications of the character, but he NEVER answers these questions of what a world with Superman would look like. Apparently posing these questions semi-intellectually is enough for him. It gives some thoughts to chew on but the lack of a thematic conclusion to what Superman means politically / sociologically would’ve given a deeper picture to a flawed depiction of Superman. Actually, I guess it does thematically conclude – Superman doesn’t mean anything politically / sociologically in a world where Batman exists, because Batman is better. Or something like that.

Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, like Ben Affleck’s Batman, looks really good. She’s not in the film too much, and basically serves as a plot device to complicate Batman’s story arc, and turns up at the end for the inevitable final battle in the third act. She is very much shoe-horned into the film and serves no real purpose narratively, but saying that, Gal Gadot imbues so much personality and character into Wonder Woman. It makes me really excited to see the eventual Wonder Woman film.

Unfortunately, whilst the first 2 hours of this film are exciting and mildly thrilling, it kind of falls apart in the third act. Zack Snyder’s need for a city-destroying third act leads him to shoehorn in the worst of all Superman villains, Doomsday, and have a mess of a final battle that I couldn’t really follow. It of course ends with Superman’ death, the most  (only?) heroic thing he has done in the film. What pissed me off about this ending is I don’t think the DC Universe has earned it yet. Two films in, and we already have the major icon of this universe dying before a seeming resurrection at the end? It felt unearned, and maddeningly denied a future filmmaker from doing justice to a sorta-good 90s comic that is popular for reasons I can’t comprehend. Had Snyder instead focused his energy on creating an interesting Luthor maybe this finale wouldn’t have been necessary. I would’ve much rather had Batman and Superman team up at the end to stop a nefarious plan by Luthor to blacken Superman’s name, but I guess that’s maybe a bit too much to ask.

This review has sounded largely negative so far, but I did actually really enjoy this film. I think after Man of Steel I was largely apathetic to any DC Universe film that hit the cinemas, but the pacing and intensity of the filmmaking kept me intrigued at all times, even if the film didn’t pay up on that intrigue at the end. It’s a frustrating film, like Man of Steel, because it does a lot of great stuff but also gets a lot wrong, filmmaking wise. Batman v Superman could have used another few months of screenwriting time. In my opinion, they should have entirely dropped the third act, cut out Wonder Woman, and made this film solely about setting up the relationship between Batman and Superman, with Luthor as the villain. I think it would have strengthened the film and made it the first great film in this new wave of DC pictures. As it is, though, Batman v Superman is worthy popcorn entertainment, as long as you don’t try to think too hard about what it’s failing to say.

7/10