Wonder Woman graphic novel: Grant Morrison takes on the feminist icon

June 26, 2013 | 2:25 p.m.
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Wonder Woman graces the cover of Ms. magazine's first issue in 1972. (Ms. magazine)

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Ms. magazine brought Wonder Woman back for its 40th anniversary issue. (Ms. magazine)

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Soon after her All Star Comics debut, Wonder Woman was featured in Sensation Comics No. 1 in 1942. (DC Comics)

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Wonder Woman in Sensation Comics No. 46. In this 1945 storyline, the baddies give Wonder Woman's boyfriend Steve Trevor special powers to be stronger than her, hoping he'll force her to marry and become a meek housewife. In the end, Wonder Woman sticks to her guns and Steve happily submits to being the weaker of the two. (DC Comics)

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In this 1957 Wonder Woman No. 90, the Amazon princess has to babysit an elephant, a whale and a dinosaur in order to raise $1 million for charity. (DC Comics)

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In 1959, Wonder Woman's origin story was revamped. Issue No. 105 reveals that the Queen of the Amazons formed Diana from clay, and that her superpowers are gifts from the gods. (DC Comics)

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In the late 1960s, Wonder Woman gave up her powers, started a mod boutique and worked with her mentor I Ching to learn martial arts. Here, she is shown in the August 1970 issue Wonder Woman No. 189. Her powers weren't restored until 1973, partly at the urging of Gloria Steinem. (DC Comics)

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Cathy Lee Crosby played Wonder Woman in a 1974 TV movie "Wonder Woman." In the film, the heroine has no superpowers, but rather is a world-traveling spy, inspired by the I Ching era of the comics. (Warner Bros.)

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Wonder Woman teamed up with other DC superheroes in "Super Friends," a television series that ran from 1973 to 1977. (Warner Bros.)

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Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman in "The New Adventures of Wonder Woman," which ran from 1975 to 1979. (CBS / Los Angeles Times archives)

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Wonder Woman was rebooted once more in 1987. Above is George Perez's Wonder Woman No. 1. cover. (DC Comics)

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Wonder Woman was a key player in the animated TV series "Justice League" and "Justice League Unlimited," which ran from 2001 to 2006. (Warner Bros.)

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Wonder Woman was again rebooted in 2006. Gail Simone took over writing duties for the comic beginning with issue No. 14, and was applauded for her portrayal of the heroine. (DC Comics)

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Wonder Woman got her own animated movie in 2009. Keri Russell voiced Wonder Woman, and Nathan Fillion voiced Steve Trevor. (Warner Bros.)

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In the 2010 animated series "Young Justice," about younger heroes trying to prove themselves worthy of joining the Justice League, Wonder Woman takes on Cassie Sandsmark (Wonder Girl) as her sidekick. (Warner Bros.)

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Adrianne Palicki played the title character in the never-aired TV pilot "Wonder Woman" in 2011. The show, from David E. Kelley, was never picked up -- effectively canceled before it even began. (Justin Lubin / NBC / Warner Bros.)

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Wonder Woman got a makeover when DC relaunched 52 of its most popular titles in 2011. (DC Comics)

Wonder Woman is getting a modern makeover in an upcoming graphic novel by award-winning comic writer Grant Morrison and artist Yanick Paquette. “Wonder Woman: Earth One” reimagines the Amazon warrior’s mythic origin in a modern-day setting. The graphic novel follows J. Michael Straczynski’s “Superman: Earth One” and Geoff Johns’ “Batman: Earth One.”

For Morrison, who is nearing the end of his successful run with “Batman Incorporated” (issue No. 13 is due out July 24), writing a Wonder Woman book represented a chance to round out the trinity. Morrison has already written extensive Superman and Batman stories, but Wonder Woman has always been a periphery character in his work. Paquette (“Ultimate X-Men,” “Swamp Thing”) drew a handful of “Wonder Woman” books in the late 1990s.

Comic writer Grant Morrison. (DC)

Comic writer Grant Morrison. (DC)

The 120-page “Wonder Woman: Earth One” comes at a time when the lasso-wielding heroine appears to be on the brink of a popularity resurgence. The CW is developing a Wonder Woman television show, and many fans are pushing for a big-screen feature based on the Amazon.

Hero Complex chatted with Morrison about the character’s origins, previous Wonder Woman iterations, and his plans for the superheroine in “Wonder Woman: Earth One.”

HC: A Wonder Woman graphic novel is a hefty project. Why a graphic novel as opposed to a comic series?

GM: Basically, Dan DiDio came to me and said, “Would you like to do this Wonder Woman graphic novel?” It was never intended to be a six-issue series or any kind of limited series. It was a completely different format. I liked the idea of being able to write something that was like a novel, and also to tell a different version of the Wonder Woman story.

HC: So she was a character you wanted to tackle?

GM: Kind of. I’d done it before in “Justice League,” but she’s always been a kind of presence. And there’s something about the character that really annoyed me, to be honest, because I couldn’t quite get a hook on her. I felt like there were a lot of really strange contradictions in there…. And because it was a challenge to most people. If you read about filmmakers talking about Wonder Woman, it’s always, “Oh, we can’t make a Wonder Woman film because people wouldn’t buy into this, this, this or this.” So it seemed that it was a challenging character. And because I’d done Superman and Batman, I really wanted to do the DC trinity of major characters. So I kind of came to it ‘round the back door, but finally realized, “Yeah, I really want to do something with this and see if I can make it work in a way that I’d like to see it working.”

HC: How did you begin? Did you go back and read the original comics?

Soon after her All Star Comics debut, Wonder Woman was featured in Sensation Comics No. 1 in 1942. (DC Comics)

Wonder Woman in 1942’s “Sensation Comics” No. 1. (DC)

GM: I started with the first principles, which is what I usually do, and go back to the original creators’ intentions. I read up on the old William Moulton Marston [pen name Charles Moulton] stuff, with Harry Peter, the artist. And I also read up particularly on Marston’s domestic arrangements, which were the biggest influence on Wonder Woman, because he was a very progressive psychologist of the 1930s, and his wife was also a renowned psychologist, but they both shared a lover called Olive Byrne, who was the model for Wonder Woman. So they were in this very boho, free-love kind of experience, long before the ’60s and long after Rousseau and the romantics. He’s a very interesting character, and Wonder Woman was created as an opposition to what he saw as the bloodcurdling masculinity of the comics. He wanted to basically teach young men that submission to the loving authority of a clever and kind woman would be the best way to live, and it would end wars, and it would end the strife of men. So it’s a heady mix. He’s a smart guy, a smart woman at his side, with a younger smart woman with them. They were all together for the creation of this amazing character, so I felt that really, it wasn’t about superheroes at all. The whole essence of Wonder Woman is about a psychologist trying to teach us all a lesson. And although I don’t necessarily agree with Marston’s particular view on the world, or Marston’s particular kinks, I wanted to do something that at least lived up to those ideals.

HC: So it’s not about superheroes?

GM: It’s not a comic about superheroes punching each other. It’s about the sexes and how we feel about one another, and what a society of women cut off from the rest of the world for 3,000 years might look like, and what kind of sexuality, what kind of philosophy, what kind of science would that have developed, and how would that impact our world if it actually suddenly became apparent that these women existed. So for me, that was always the original Wonder Woman story, but when you hear it retold, there’s a lot of potential in there to talk about the way we live today and the way the sexes view one another, especially in an age when pornography has become so ubiquitous, to go back to this sort of strange eroticism that Martson had. I think it is a really interesting way to talk about the issues we have in the world today.

PHOTOS: Which superheroine deserves her own movie?

HC: Wonder Woman was one of the few superheroes created as a mainstream model for girls, not just a male audience. Are you hoping to attract a broader female audience with your retelling?

GM: Absolutely. We’ll see what happens. It all depends, I guess. It has a lot to do with marketing and the kinds of interviews that we do. But yeah, I was speaking the other day, and I said, “This is a book for mothers and their daughters,” so hopefully that will stand. But I think it’s better for teenage girls. I think younger girls, it may be too strong for them. But certainly teenage girls and their mothers.

HC: Wonder Woman is also one of a handful of heroes who uses diplomacy as much as strength. Did that factor into your take?

GM: What I’m trying to do here, and what I’ve done with Superman and Batman, is just try to embody the character on the page. All of the characters and the different things the characters meant to different generations, I wanted to get them all into this portrayal, so that these aspects are important. Also, Wonder Woman is the goddess of truth, so what does that mean? That was a big thing in the ’90s. So we’re going to bring that in — what happens to someone who’s the defender of truth when the truth is the thing that can actually destroy them? … We’re also going to deal with the notion of Wonder Woman having a costume, which I think is almost ridiculous. So we’re playing with that a little bit and doing something different from that, which surprisingly nobody has ever done. We’re going to do something with how she looks, which is quite different.

Superman and Batman have both seen several big-screen incarnations. Isn't it time that the third member of DC's power trio got her own movie? Wonder Woman (A.K.A. Diana Prince) possesses super speed, strength, stamina and reflexes. The Amazon warrior woman can deflect bullets with her bracelets and discern the truth with her lasso. She can even fly. Lynda Carter, above, embodied the role for the late-1970s TV series "The New Adventures of Wonder Woman," but the Amazon deserves a chance at the big screen. (CBS / Los Angeles Times archives)

Lynda Carter embodied the role for “The New Adventures of Wonder Woman.” (CBS)

HC: Gail Simone and Brian Azzarello have both been lauded for their approach to the character in recent years. What aspects of those portrayals do you want to keep, and what do you want to leave behind?

GM: I didn’t want to be too influenced by those at all. The only influences I really wanted to have was the original Marston stories with Harry Peter, and also the Lynda Carter TV show, which I thought was a really good and workable translation of the Wonder Woman concept for a mass audience. I like it for that reason, and also Lynda Carter just embodied the character so beautifully. But she didn’t really get to do the stuff that the original Wonder Woman got to do. So for me, the idea was putting those two things together. In terms of other people’s versions of it, I really liked Gail Simone’s, and I’m loving what Brian Azzarello’s doing right now, but I didn’t want to be influenced by those, so I didn’t do a lot of reading on recent stuff. I just accepted that the other writers who are contemporary with me have done their own brilliant versions of this, so I wanted to do something a little different.

HC: What does your artist, Yanick Paquette, bring to the table?

GM: Just a brilliant skill for drawing. The first 15 pages are basically a retelling of the Greek myth as filtered through the original Wonder Woman story, where Hercules has enslaved the Amazons, and Hippolyta’s in chains, and basically the Amazons escape and declare that they will establish a paradise island far from the gaze of men. So he’s sent in that entire sequence now, and it’s just this beautiful mural, and he’s done all this amazing decorative stuff with baubles and shattered shards of Greek pottery. And all the scenes are drawn in this flat, graphic style of Greek art, so it really is the most amazing thing. And also what he does is he makes the women very glamorous, which I think is quite important. Wonder Woman, it’s a feminist tract, it really is. It’s a statement. But in the original, the Amazons on Paradise Island were all wearing the most beautiful 1930s makeup, you know eyeliner and bee-sting lips. I think we wanted to keep that aspect. Even after 3,000 years of separation from men, they still wear cosmetics. And there’s something really odd and ritualistic and fetishistic about that that we’ve kept. He captures those aspects of it, which I wanted it to have — the eroticism of Wonder Woman — and he does a brilliant update of Harry Peter’s approach.

A panel from "Wonder Woman: Earth One," by Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette, shows Queen Hippolyta killing Hercules. (DC)

A panel from “Wonder Woman: Earth One,” by Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette, shows Queen Hippolyta killing Hercules. (DC)

HC: Wonder Woman hasn’t found that mainstream interest in recent years that Batman or Superman have. Why do you think that is?

GM: I just think that nobody’s told the great story yet. It seems a shame. She did have mainstream interest back in the original. So again, that’s why I’ve always gone back to it. Wonder Woman was a very high-selling comic back in the 1940s. It was really successful. But the sales diminished as soon as Marston died. So obviously whatever weirdness he brought to it was actually part of the DNA of Wonder Woman. We’re trying to bring some of that back. It’s a different version of it. It’s a modern strain. It’s by a writer that doesn’t necessarily agree with Marston’s philosophies but at least wants to honor the weirdness of what he was trying to do, and the message he was trying to bring to young men.

– Noelene Clark | @NoeleneClark


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14 Responses to Wonder Woman graphic novel: Grant Morrison takes on the feminist icon

  1. rjhemedes says:

    The Marston version of WW was successful mainstream because she possessed sexuality. After that, DC turned her into this frigid ice virgin with almost ZERO sexuality which was off putting to most readers. Its only recently that DC started giving Diana some actual romance in her stories along. Also, the kinkiness that Marston had in the 1930's version of WW would be more easier to accept with today's society.

    • daveprince says:

      My wife's name is Diana Prince. No joke.

    • BeccaBlast says:

      Saying DC turned her that way doesn't really explain what happened. It was greatly affected by culture. WW was adopted as a feminist idol and idols become idealized to the point where WW became like the Virgin Mary comic book lore. Just as Superman has recently become more humanized, it seems efforts are being made to return Wonder Woman's quirks back.

  2. WundieDundie says:

    The only way I favor any type of major Wonder Woman movie is if it stays true to the core roots of how she was created. I'm fine with updates and tweaking but I want the red, white and blue star spangled costume with braclets and lasso. Not this garbage she is wearing today in chokers and arm bands along with black and white boots. As much as all the knuckleheads out there want to change her you might as well not even call her Wonder Woman anymore. I'm not against some change to modernize Diana but enough is enough. Give us the true original Wonder Woman already and quit jerking us around.

  3. Paolo says:

    Is this on sale now or when can I get it?

  4. Colin Mathura-Jeffree says:

    and here with this great novel I think we will have our cinematically genius Wonder Woman Movie!!!!

  5. They gave her a sword, which was a fundamental misunderstanding of her character. The costumes don't matter one bit, that is purely cosmetic. Wonder Woman's weapons were magic bracelets that BLOCKED bullets, as well as a magic lasso that caused her foes to rethink their lives and confess their crimes. Silly? Damn straight. Sexy and unconventional? You bet. If DC is so scared of writing this character true to form, maybe they ought to cancel her book, like Marvel did with Thor back in the 90's when he stopped selling. Wonder Woman rampaging around with a sword, slaughtering men isn't feminism

  6. Selenamead says:

    I do have to say Azzarello being “lauded” isn’t quite the way to put his run. Simone has without a doubt been praised for her take on Wonder Woman while Azzarello has been harshly critiqued by critics and has caused some major fan backlash. The New 52 version of the character hasn’t been extremely popular amongst long time fans. The new costume along with several other controversial changes have pushed readers away. The feminism of Wonder Woman was taken out of Azzarelll’s run. The Greek gods were turned into science fiction “alien” creatures, the Amazons became serial rapists and killers and Wonder Woman’s sacred mythical origins from clay were taken away and replaced with a stereotypical “daughter of Zeus” origin. Azzarello’s run if anything has been one of the most controversial in the character’s history while Simone’s has been praised as one of the Modern Age’s best portrayals of Wonder Woman combining the successful elements of Marston’s original works in the 1940s and George Perez’s reboot in 1987. Azzarello removed almost all of Marston’s original purpose for the character. He also wrote in a cast of mostly male characters who now have overrun Wonder Woman’s comic to the point she’s become a secondary side character. The peaceful ways of the Amazons and Wonder Woman have been removed as well resulting in a Xena-like warrior portrayal. Morrison’s book looks like the relaunch we Wonder Woman fans wish we got in the New 52. The stunning artwork and dedication by the creative team gives hope that this will be one of the best adaptions of the character in years! I personally can’t wait! Wonderful job so far! I know I’ll be one of the first to buy when this book comes out!

    • Jack says:

      Well when it comes to the Amazons that's what they did in the Greek myths, Azzarello was trying to add the dark part of the Greek myths too, everything else I agree with you though.

  7. Adam Stewart says:

    To be fair, Wonder Woman is one of the most mismanaged characters since Martson died. She lost alot of what made her character so engaging and appealing. so far as the costume goes the one piece corst/swimsiut has sex apeal but you could stick her in jeans and a t-shirt with cargo boots on and if her character is portrayed right then the costume dosnt matter.

    I think Grant Morrison has the right idea about bringing the character back to he original format that martson used. I for one cant wait for this Graphic Novel to come out so i can see how he does this.

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