Wonder Woman may be a sword-wielding warrior in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but DC Entertainment is soon releasing a very different interpretation of the character — one that "explores some of the more provocative elements of the Wonder Woman myth," according to the book's writer, Grant Morrison.
Wonder Woman: Earth One, the new book by Morrison, artist Yanick Paquette and colorist Nathan Fairbairn (which comes out on April 12), re-imagines Wonder Woman in a way that leans on original creator William Moulton Marston's portrayal of the character, attempting to update Marston's bondage-laden stories and H.G. Peter's sexy "good girl art" for modern audiences.
In this latest installment of the Earth One series that reinterprets DC characters for graphic novel readers, Morrison has scrapped the recent interpretation of Diana as a warrior woman who falls for Steve Trevor. Instead, Morrison focuses on Diana as a princess who's bored with her life with lesbian Amazons, tired of living on an island that has separated itself from the rest of the world.
Along with Diana, Paquette and Morrison also worked to update Steve Trevor as a stronger, more complex character, adding diversity by portraying him as a black man while also minimizing the sexual attraction between he and Wonder Woman.
Newsarama talked with Morrison to find out more about the writer's approach to Diana, why he and Paquette purposely made the Amazons look like supermodels, and what other surprises readers can expect from Wonder Woman: Earth One.
Newsarama: Grant, I know you mentioned having done a lot of research as you tried to approach Wonder Woman in a different way. When you first started putting this together, what was the main approach you wanted to take?
Grant Morrison: The first thing I did was, I kind of wanted to get away from the warrior woman first thing, because that didn't seem to fit with the original character, as I came into it. Everyone had taken that for granted for a long time. And I'm not saying that's a bad portrayal; I'm just saying that old characters like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman have had a lot of incarnations and a lot of ways of working out a character, but I noticed that this particular aspect of the character had become quite prominent.
And I thought, I'd like to do something different, because there's no point in doing the character if you don't have something different to say.
So I went back to the original Marston stories and I was just blown away by the weird atmosphere, in the sense of an alternative culture and alternative sexuality that I think embodied the whole character, everything about the strips — you know, and all that ridiculous bondage stuff that was going on in almost every panel. It seemed like a very different feel than the current version of Wonder Woman, at least for me, anyway.
You know, Diana doesn't carry a sword and shield in the original. She's got bracelets that can deflect any projectile. And she has the lasso that can make people obey her commands. So she's a kind of unbeatable person to fight, because she's also super-strong and fast and durable and the rest of it.
It just seemed going back to that original version yielded a lot more material that I felt was more interesting in a modern context.
Nrama: Yet you're telling a new origin story of Wonder Woman that varies from the original. Were you trying to modernize it? Why alter it?
Morrison: I went to the original Wonder Woman origin, and it's basically that Steve Trevor crashes on the island and Wonder Woman falls in love with him, and then she goes off to fight World War II hand-in-hand with her love. And her mother kind of waves her off.
And I felt that, while that story was fine in World War II, we're not in a global conflict in the same way right now. So that aspect of the origin didn't work.
And then it occurred to me that maybe it would be more interesting and more dramatic and dynamic if Diana wants to run away from the island for reasons of her own — because she seems bored, because she's been around for many, may centuries.
Now, suddenly, she's much more interesting if there's tension between her and her mother. And there's more potential drama among the characters.
And out of that just came the new origin, where it's more of a princess story where she's trying to escape from an overbearing mother who's trying to protect her too much. And that just gave us a slightly different dynamic.
It just grew out of rationalizing, what would it actually be like to live with the same group of women for 3,000 years on the same island? And what kind of culture would emerge from that? And how would they treat each other? And how weird and ritualistic might it become after such a long, long time?
Out of solving these problems came this slightly different approach to the origin, although it definitely retained some of the familiar elements.
Nrama: It's a very different island than the more prominent modern interpretation of Wonder Woman's homeland. Does this tie more with the original portrayal of her home island?
Morrison: Yeah, and I think in subsequent portrayals, the Amazons have been shown as being trapped in Greek culture, operating at this weird pre-industrial level. But to me, them having technology makes much more sense. You know, 3,000 women on an island who've made the decision to have this absolute separatist approach from men wouldn't just sit there looking at seashells. They'd build a culture.
So I had to come up with what culture was built and what kind of machines and technology they used. They've got their own propulsion systems and their own materials. They have philosophy, they have music, they have art. And they also have physical fitness and war. But that's only part of what, to me, would be a much greater culture.
The way you see the Amazons and the way you see Diana — Diana alone can hold off a platoon of soldiers. The men in men's world have no chance against these women.
So we kind of wanted to present them more in that way, that there was technology, there was culture. They weren't just trapped in some barbaric warrior stage.
Nrama: I think the technology isn't the only thing that makes it feel modern. You mentioned before that she's bored and wants to get away from her mom. I think that's a very modern idea — I feel like that's all over social media, that teens are bored and want to see the world. I know she's a lot older than a "teen," but relatively speaking, she's at that stage somewhat, isn't she? Did you think that would be relatable to modern audiences?
Morrison: Yeah, yeah. That's what I hope, that people can relate to it. Again, I wasn't sure that the idea that she just instantly falls in love with the first man she sees was as modern, you know? In this story, she actually sees Steve Trevor as a way to escape from the prison that she feels like she's in. And she actually uses him, you know? She uses Steve more than she falls in love with him. But she uses him in a way that saves his life.
So again, yeah, I wanted to make her motivations a little more interesting than just, hey, some guy shows up and she instantly changes her entire life. And I felt that was more modern and would make it more relatable to young women of today.
Nrama: Let's talk about the art. People might be familiar with Yanick's work, but there's a real sexuality about the approach — it's not only part of the story, but it's apparent in the art as well. Was that something you and Yanick discussed?
Morrison: Definitely. Again, looking back at the early stuff and how Harry Peter, the artist on Wonder Woman, was doing this beautiful, fluid, good-girl art. He was the originator of the term, in comics, of "good girl art."
So we wanted to take that head on. They looked at Hollywood film stars of the 1940s, and we thought, let's take that and acknowledge how they wanted the Amazons to be presented as very glamorous women. They don't look like warriors. And we thought, what if the Amazons decided that's the way they wanted to look? That's the cultural look?
We updated that and made them all look like supermodels, because we thought that's the kind of modern version of the Harry Peter glamor girl. They're a lot more athletic looking. They're very tall and slim, and because they're much more powerful than humans, they don't need to put on muscles to lift big weights, you know? Which is why Diana can lift up a tank without enormous muscles.
We just decided to present them as this absolutely idealized body type, in the same way that Marston and Peter presented them.
And then by contrast, when Diana gets to man's world and she meets women, they're all different shapes and sizes and ethnicities. And there's very much a contrast between them and this kind of genetically perfect, gazelle-like Amazonian physique. That was definitely something we wanted to confront and have in the book, and make a statement a bit, without being heavy-handed.
Nrama: Another surprising thing is that Steve Trevor is a black man. I assume that was a conscious decision, also to reflect the diversity of the outside world?
Morrison: Yeah, definitely on the diversity. We just wanted more representation in the book generally.
But in terms of Steve, it's also — again, there are a lot of characters who play opposite Diana, and we wanted Steve to be very physically opposite to her. Originally, Steve Trevor played the kind of feminine role in the Wonder Woman stories. He always seemed kind of boring next to Wonder Woman and all the girls in the stories. And I find it really hard to believe she would have any interest in this man at all beyond the scientific. So I found it much more interesting to have a man who seems potentially much stronger than that original slightly milk-softish Steve Trevor from the original. So I just updated him and made him a much stronger looking dude.
You see him as he's coming up out of the water, when Diana first sees him, and the parachute silks resemble the shell — we were kind of saying, yeah, this guy's in the feminine role, but think again. This isn't the Steve Trevor you're familiar with.
And he's a much more ambiguous figure in the book. You know, she's not a love interest, necessarily. And you don't even know if his intentions are absolutely honorable in the book. So we wanted to make him much more of a complex character that Diana could play off of, rather than the banal figure I felt Trevor was originally.
Nrama: I think most people know who Wonder Woman is, but is there anything you wanted to let readers know about this version?
Morrison: I think what's good about it is that it's a complete story. It tells a whole origin story for Wonder Woman. And what makes it interesting is that it explores some of the more provocative elements of the Wonder Woman myth and tries to rethink that stuff in a modern context — and hopefully the same things that you would find in an adventure story about a princess escaping from boredom.