The second volume of Wonder Woman: Earth One sees the significant talent behind it mostly treading water in the middle installment of a planned trilogy.
After a World War II flashback that sees the Baroness Paula von Gunther lead a failed Nazi attack on the Amazons’ home island, the action shifts to Diana in the present day, a newly minted multi-media celebrity. She attracts a devoted following by preaching peace and female empowerment, even as her secret reports to her mother suggest a more militant Amazon agenda. Factions in the U.S. military come to fear Diana and turn to Maxwell Lord and Dr. Psycho to undermine her. After a disastrous public meltdown, a personal tragedy sends Diana home, as the world teeters on the brink of war with the Amazons.
Writer Grant Morrison is one of the most celebrated writers in the comic book medium and he brings his patented fascination with incorporating all the far-flung, often contradictory, bits of a character’s long history to his treatment of Wonder Woman. Elements like female empowerment and non-traditional gender and sexual identities are certainly timely, but often don’t feel handled in an especially elegant way, as though they were mere items on a checklist to be included in a progressive reimagining of Wonder Woman. More interesting is Morrison’s take on typical fanboy tropes, examining various “If Wonder Woman is/then why” arguments.
Morrison’s greatest triumph is characterization, especially his handling of Diana. She’s allowed to be complex and imperfect, not the “virgin saint” icon she’s often been painted as. With layers, nuance and suggestions that she’s far less naïve then assumed, Morrison makes Diana a strong central character with agency. His take on Dr. Psycho as a contemporary purveyor of toxic masculinity is both timely and a sensible use of the villain’s long history. Other characters don’t make as much of an impact, but the Diana/Dr. Psycho interplay is strong enough to hold a reader’s interest. Volume 2 plays like a series of connected vignettes, ending on a cliffhanger that promises to wrap up all the themes Morrison has been working thus far. That may make the complete trilogy more impactful, but can’t help but make this outing feel like a typical “middle chapter,” with the big finish promising more fireworks than are supplied here.
The best reason to take in Volume 2 is the art team of Yanick Paquette and Nathan Fairbairn, who craft a kaleidoscopic visual feast for the reader. The duo make the proceedings bright and big, smartly working in various references to the visual iconography from the character’s long history. Paquette’s design work is beyond stunning here; in addition to the imaginative take on Amazonian tech and architecture, he’s carefully crafted the look of each page, using a fluid approach to panel and page construction that eschews the typical box format with lovingly rendered panels that promote a real flow to the action, where even the panel borders are rendered with care and thoughtfulness to promote overall visual impact. Paquette’s Diana remains strong and confident, entirely expressive and brimming with power, but also suffused with regrets, longing and even playfulness. He nails her shifting moods and concocts some truly inspired costuming riffs that incorporate decades of the character’s visual presentation. Fairbairn wraps it all in bright, warm colors that make even the darker sections stand out crisply and cleanly. At its best, the work calls to mind the legendary Trina Robbins, which is no small amount of praise for Paquette and Fairbairn.
One really needs to have read Volume 1 before diving into Volume 2, and even then, be prepared for the lengthy wait for the next installment. This isn’t a complete reading experience on its own, but as the middle part of a trilogy, it manages the pitfalls inherent in such a set-up well enough to be worth a reader’s time.