One of the myriad side effects of the decidedly masculine bent of superheroics is the prevalence of father/son narratives.
It’s the Dark Knight’s deceased father who consistently urges his son to get back up. It’s Spider-Man’s deceased father figure that keeps him responsible. It’s Daredevil’s boxing dad that gives him the heart of a fighter. It’s Iron Man’s late, withholding father that helps him make his circle chest plate into a triangle chest plate. Hell, the Man of Steel has two dads because one just isn’t enough.
Even beyond superheroics, a pillar of Star Wars is a father’s relationship to his son. Game of Thrones is filled to the brim with the political and emotional intricacies of dads and their boys. The emotional backbone of The Walking Dead is a father’s drive to protect his son.
“I just want to make you proud!”
“I’m disappointed in you because I’m disappointed in myself!”
There are a myriad of praises to heap upon Wonder Woman: Earth One, the new graphic novel by writer Grant Morrison and artist Yanick Paquette that reimagines the origins of DC Comics’ alpha heroine. It boasts lavish, sprawling art and intelligent, ambitious writing. But beyond being a thoughtful piece of fiction, Wonder Woman: Earth One is noteworthy because it gives exorbitant amounts of thought to telling a mother/daughter story in a genre steeped in fathers and sons. And wouldn’t you know it, mother/daughter relationships pack the same emotionally nuanced punch as their masculine counterparts – without having been driven into the dirt by thousands of years of consistent retellings across every medium available.
Where the traditional paternal narrative seems to be a tug and pull between affection and toughness the maternal narrative presented in Wonder Woman: Earth One is one between protection and independence. What better setting for such a conflict than the feminist utopia Themiscyra, the island of the Amazons, isolated from the world of man?
Wonder Woman: Earth One is decorated with the alternative sexuality that secretly defined the character. There are chains and straps and ropes and lots of talk of submission, but those are just bells and whistles. At its core it presents a compelling story about a mother who wants to protect her daughter from the dangers she herself experienced and a daughter who wants to be free to experience the world, however dangerous it might be, on her own terms.
It’s telling that even in a decidedly feminine narrative masculinity remains a constant presence as a consistent force of potential danger for mothers to shield their daughters from and for daughters to brave in spite of their mothers. But rather than be beaten down by patriarchy, here Wonder Woman is a symbol of hope, a beacon to a new, different way of doing things. Wonder Woman has justification to be bitter, angry or even militant, but this isn’t a protagonist who dwells on the problem, this is a protagonist who offers a solution. An alternative.
Where Batman brings meaning to struggles in an often cruel world and Superman offers us a paragon to aspire to, perhaps Wonder Woman, more than anything else, is representative of alternatives.
Her very conception was as an alternative to the masculinity of superhero comics. Her origins are steeped in alternative sexuality. Her methods, defensive bracelets and a compelling lasso, are a distinct alternative to the offensive capabilities of Batarangs and super-strength.
She doesn’t soar through the skies for truth, justice and the American way. She doesn’t prowl the shadows as vengeance in the night. She stands resolute in a problematic world and insists that there is another way, there is an alternative, if only we submit to it.
In that same tradition the Diana Prince of Wonder Woman: Earth One offers an alternative, both to the isolationist feminist utopia of her mother and the endlessly problematic patriarchy of Man’s World.
When I first started reading comics I’d scroll through Top 10 lists to find the definitive stories behind characters of which I’d had only a cinematic, if any, awareness. Batman has Year One, Dark Knight Returns and The Long Halloween. Superman has For All Seasons, Red Son and Birthright. But Wonder Woman doesn’t really have the same catalogue of titles in her bibliography, those go-to essentials for a new Wonder Woman fan aren’t nearly as readily apparent. Luckily, between Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s recent work with the character and now Morrison and Paquette’s excellent contribution with Earth One, that’s beginning to change.