Earth to Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman: Earth OneSome quick thoughts on Wonder Woman: Earth One! Actual talented critics have examined the quality of this work elsewhere. What I want to do is talk about the greater impact this work will have in the marketplace.

I firmly believe releasing Grant Morrison’s and Yanick Paquette’s project as an Earth One book was a misstep on the part of DC Comics. Wonder Woman: Earth One reads like a finely crafted love letter to William Moulton Marston—honoring the writer’s fanciful views on women, matriarchies, and playful submission. But to use this project and this character to pen a love letter to a deceased man’s biased and simplistic (for our time) thoughts regarding women does a great disservice to actual women and girls for whom love letters to their empowerment and competence are few and far between. Works by men exploring and exalting their ideas regarding women are a weekly occurrence. At no point is a woman not presented with man’s thoughts on her body, her mind, and her performance. We are told via female characters written by men; we are told via critiques by men in articles and throughout social media.

In their efforts to create a work that honors William Moulton Marston, Morrison and Paquette have failed to create a work that honors women. And that? Is the last thing a project featuring Wonder Woman should do.

Were Wonder Woman: Earth One simply a one-off vanity project for Morrison and Paquette, a modern recreation of Marston’s work would be irksome but without negative consequence. However, what we currently have is a marketplace where the Wonder Woman brand has been diffused and misused—generally to please a direct market comprised of male readers. Batman can be distilled to one word. Justice. Superman to two. Truth. Mercy. Can the same be said for Wonder Woman? Who is she within the confines of the comics industry? A wide-eyed ingénue stumbling through man’s world? A hardened warrior with a distaste for men—often eliciting a sexual response in those for whom “strong female character” equates to dominatrix? Or is she a simple and pure power fantasy for women and girls?

I can tell you that the latter option is the most lucrative when seeking long-term gains given the rise in female readers. But the comics industry is not interested in the long term. Were that the case, DC Comics would have had a new continuity-free Earth One graphic novel featuring work that was written for and appealed to female audiences first and foremost. It would have also had an ongoing series featuring characterization that meshed neatly with depictions in other media such as film and television. It would have presented an aspirational Themyscira filled with Amazons who represent what women believe to be the best of women—not what men fantasize them to be.

“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.”Grant Morrison

Idealized to whom? To men. To our patriarchal society. The homogeneity found in Paquette’s depictions of the Amazons inadvertently tells women who do not fit that basic hourglass shape that they do not belong in a matriarchal utopia—that the power fantasy being presented is not for them. Instead of one idealized body deemed aesthetically appealing to heterosexual men, the work should have had a variety of female bodies honed to perfection by a multitude of activities. Long, lean swimmers. Stout wrestlers. Petite gymnasts. We live in a world where even Mattel has adjusted its product to appeal to a variety of body types. Surely the Amazons should be at least as malleable as Barbie—especially if DC wants its brand to remain as profitable as Mattel’s.

Wonder Woman: Earth OneBut Paquette’s renditions are not the only cracks in the utopia’s facade. I was amused by Hippolyta’s bitter and vindictive nature, bearing the mark of one who could not conceive of a formerly conquered people simply wanting to be left the hell alone. The queen does not want merely isolation, but revenge—what every individual bolstered by unearned privilege—e.g., man—irrationally fears. Diana’s language is also equally off-putting, though sparingly. She taunts the male soldiers, berating them by calling them…girls? What scion of a queen reigning over a land populated by women would use such an insult? Swapping girls for children and kiss for play would have made the line less dismissive to what should have been the work’s intended audience.

And how does DC woo said intended audience? With this work, I honestly am not sure. But the company can certainly improve upon the situation by hiring women to work on the sequel. Even if DC understandably wishes to rehire Morrison and Paquette to maintain narrative cohesion, replacing Eddie Berganza and Andrew Marino with female editors would allow for a feminine influence to shape the work. That influence is noticeably absent here.


Multiversity–or Elseworlds.

I’d stepped into the DC universe with Grant Morrison’s Multiversity, mistakenly believing the series was DC’s current line-wide event. It is not.

It should be.

DC’s current cross-series saga is Futures End.  I don’t plan to pick up the weekly series nor will I be selecting any of the tie-in books for September. My knowledge of DC comes from movies, television shows, and video games—leaving me ill-equipped to launch head first into a time-travelling yarn. If I know little about the New 52’s past and I am not emotionally invested in its present, why should I care about the quality of its future? I will stick with the Multiversity bookends and select any additional books in the Multiversity series that I find interesting.

Readers like me, who pop in to enjoy the latest Grant Morrison vehicle and pop back out when it has concluded must be frustrating to companies such as DC. Fans loyal to creators become increasingly disloyal to companies and characters. As their favorite artist or writer skips from company to company, readers realize that each company has its own version of whatever trope they may hold dear. I can read about Spider-Man or Static or Ryan Choi. Batgirl or Ms. Marvel. Storm or Starfire or Vixen. The character does not matter. It makes no difference.

What does matter? Two things: the first is the creative team and the second is the concept. That’s it. For companies to corral readers such as myself is a matter of tossing a multitude of projects before the public eye and waiting to see which projects resonate with the largest number of readers. It requires something that DC has drawn back from in the past—a commitment to diversity.

I do not mean racial and religious diversity, nor gender and sexuality. What is required is a variety of tones and of genres, which is in direct conflict with DC’s previous mode of operation—to pattern as many books as possible after its most successful series. But if a reader has one quality book with the character, creative team, and tone she craves, she will have no interest in purchasing fifty-one facsimiles.

This brings us back to my idea of a line-wide Multiversity event. Each existing New 52 series would have a “done in one” story taking place on a different Earth. New titles would debut as one-shots—for example, The Authority: Earth 45. It would give DC one month to safely explore myriad concepts and creative teams from outside the existing talent pool and see what the populace finds appealing. The following month, DC’s editorial staff would analyze sales figures and reader response to identify which books were deemed a success and incorporate the successful creator-concept pairs into existing series.

It is very difficult to launch a new series and correct course when it is evident that readers are not interested. A Multiversity event would greatly reduce the risk involved in experimentation; it would essentially be a stealthy line-wide reboot. Liked what you read? Well, we’ll find a way to give it to you every month! Hated what you read? Well, we’ll never check back in with that Earth again!

Unlike Marvel’s readers, DC’s readers are familiar with and even fond of the notion of a large number of worlds due to the current Multiverse concept and DC’s defunct Elseworlds imprint. An event embedded in the idea would not be foreign or appalling to its audience. And I firmly believe it’s something DC should try.

The fate of the universe is at stake.


Multiversity.

This is for writer David Uzumeri. The rest of you may ignore. You will not—for curiosity gets the best of us—so come on in.

Uzumeri has launched a series of annotations dissecting the work of beloved “comics god” Grant Morrison, examining the freshly released The Multiversity #1 from DC comics. I had planned to skip the series, assuming the work would only be of interest to historians of DC’s lore, but Uzumeri’s annotations have made the work enticing. Of course, the work of Morrison and Reis helps considerably in luring one in.

Upon reading the work it is more than evident that Multiversity is akin to a well-written children’s cartoon, providing entertainment not only for delighted youth, but also slipping in tidbits of information for experienced adults chained to the television, enslaved by the whims of their children. Multiversity is a fun read for kids excited by flashy costumes and earth-shattering confrontations. The work also provides a wealth of references to dated DC comics, delighting older fans of Crises past. But even more exciting than that is that Morrison has deftly inserted critiques of the comics industry in its entirety into the series—and that is extremely attractive to entertainment analysts more thrilled by sales charts and editorial changes than title launches.

And so here we are—me, in particular.

The Multiversity, page 10My interest lies in the title’s villains—the Gentry—introduced on page 8 and seen here on pages 10 and 12. Gentry is a loaded word to give to any antagonist in times when American people of color, black people in particular, have raised concerns about the gentrification of their urban neighborhoods by middle- and upper-class upwardly mobile white people. Children simply see a dastardly group usurping a world that does not belong to them. Those interested in the history of comics and the history of America see something more.

The Gentry is representative of the worst of the comics industry. Lord Broken, a demonic house loaded with eyes and composed of haphazardly stacked stories, can clearly stand for a distorted Marvel, “the House of Ideas.” Note that artist Ivan Reis has chosen for each story to be thinner and less stable than the last, perhaps a nod to Marvel’s continued mining and refining of the work of Stan and Jack, producing weaker results with each incarnation—broken visions. Intellectron, a bat-like figure with one eye, is clearly the worst of DC—a single vision dependent on references to Batman—dark and myopic.

The Multiversity, page 12Note that this warped symbol of a company criticized for its lack of staff diversity—a company wholly dependent on a rich, white businessman, striving to tie all books in service to his—demands that two young black heroes, American and Aboriginal, give up their dreams to become like the Gentry. Instead of bringing their unique dreams—and what is a dream if not a story?—to the table, they are to cast them aside and assimilate in order to belong. For one who has critiqued the comics industry for scrambling to include black characters while shunning black creators, the panel is poignant. The worst of the comics industry wants black images but not black stories. The dearth of black writers today provides evidence of that. The scene is also a nod to the comics industry of yesteryear, which effectively chased out black creators like Orrin Evans and frequently used anti-black caricatures such as Ebony White to draw interest and delight white children with misshapen imps while reinforcing the idea that black people are decidedly different and inferior.

I do not believe the other Gentry members are direct correlations to companies, though Hellmachine could perhaps be a quick nod to a distorted Dark Horse—Hellboy becoming the sole engine that keeps the company afloat. Dame Merciless is no one company but indeed a symbol of the entire industry’s depiction of women—barely cloaked and deformed beyond belief. She is shown as a zombie—a puppet—voiced by the Gentry with none of her own, her life force robbed from her. Note that Nix Uotan appears in a similar zombie-like form once he has succumbed. Perhaps Dame Merciless was once a hale woman who had also given up her dreams, her stories, to be a part of the Gentry—an emblem of a comics industry where women are seen as monstrous aberrations—the “opposite of everything natural”—but not heard.

But all is not lost! This is comics, folks, where the good guys eventually win and there’s an assembly of heroes from “the rainbow of worlds” to battle the Gentry back from whence they came. If the Gentry is the worst of comics, the collection of heroes that have come together is its best. Multiversity is clearly a love ballad or ode created by Morrison and Reis to celebrate the industry. What the team appears to adore is diversity of race, gender, religion, body type, and sexuality; the inclusion of humor and child-like discovery; and the pioneering spirit of independent creators. There is also a deep love for the history of comics and the inspiring tropes created at Marvel and DC that we all hold dear. It is interesting to note that while comics history is represented in the Gentry and in the team of heroes gathered, the best of comics allows for the inclusion of one’s own personal history; the worst of comics demands that what makes you you be stripped away.

The battle of the multiverse will be a battle of multiple realities—multiple verses, multiple visions—fighting against one lone vision that has surrounded itself in facsimiles to provide an illusion of growth or change. And via annotations we can add our own realities as well.

Join in.