From her conception, Wonder Woman has been subversive for more than just being the first female Superhero. When William Moulton Marston made her in 1941, he did so with the idea that she would be a hero “who would triumph not with fists or firepower, but with love;” and imbued her with his radically progressive ideas. Marston lived with two wives and practiced bondage and, while he believed that women were by nature submissive, nurturing, and peacekeeping; he also extolled the virtues of men practicing bondage and submission themselves. He believed that any man would willingly submit to an alluring stronger woman, and that a world dominated by women would be a paradise where criminals were rehabilitated and reformed instead of punished. All of this in one way or another made it into Wonder Woman, who came from the Amazonian Paradise Island, and whose weapon of choice was the Lasso of Truth that made anyone tied in bondage by it completely submissive to her will. Wonder Woman wasn’t simply a superhero, she was a matriarch, a dominatrix, and above all else, a lover of humanity.
And while a lot of this was softened over time, especially in those early days; Wonder Woman continues to be a hero defined by her compassion. I think her modern philosophy was best defined by Gail Simone when she wrote Diana as saying, “Don’t kill if you can wound, don’t wound if you can subdue, don’t subdue if you can pacify, and don’t raise your hand at all until you’ve first extended it.” Wonder Woman is a warrior, arguably the most capable in the DC universe; but she’s a lover before a fighter; a hero who values mercy and forgiveness over retribution.
Wonder Woman Earth One delivers all of this in a single condensed story that embraces and distills the entirety of Marston’s superhero.
This book retells Wonder Woman’s origin story, starting with Hippolyta’s founding of Paradise Island after literally casting off her chains; and hitting all the familiar beats of Diana growing up on the Island, finding an injured Steve Trevor, and her first journey into Man’s World. The majority of the story is told through the framing device of Diana’s trial on Paradise Island where she pleads her case for leaving the island and rescuing Steve.
Earth One’s Diana is restless and proud; wanting to explore the wider world, and willing to break all of Paradise Island’s rules in the process of rescuing Steve Trevor; but infinitely gentle and caring – a healer from the beginning. The plot is kicked off, and is driven by Diana’s wanting to heal everyone and everything she comes across. She is by far the strongest character in the story, but doesn’t throw a single punch out of aggression. She is disgusted and disappointed by her first experiences of Man’s world, but instead of meeting Man’s aggression with her own, resolves to do her best to improve it through her Amazonian ideals of loving submission.
The whole story, really, is centered on this idea of submission. A character’s strength is measured by how readily they’re willing to surrender instead of fight. We know Diana is a born hero because when she has the option to use force, she instead chooses mercy.
The supporting cast is great as well. Hippolyta’s contempt for Man’s world is made completely sympathetic by seeing what her life was like under man’s foot, before founding Paradise Island. Earth One’s Etta Candy is amazing. She’s a proud and boisterous sorority girl who defies Diana’s own ideas of femininity. The weak link is probably Steve Trevor, who despite an interesting plot point that takes his reimagining as a black man into consideration, mostly plays a damsel in distress role, passively adjusting to the incredible events surrounding him.
Wonder Woman Earth One is immaculately illustrated and colored. There is almost no empty space in the entire book; in-fact, standard comics tools like rectangular panels and gutters only really appear once Diana reaches Man’s World. Otherwise, this book is all curved lines and non-traditional page layouts.
This is also a very sensual comic. Diana and the other Amazons are all drawn as giant buxom supermodels, and Paradise Island is in a nigh-constant state of bondage orgy. Bondage is a constant visual theme through the book, from Diana being brought to trial in chains, to the parties on Paradise Island, and even a scene where Diana asks Steve to wear a collar. And yet, the book never feels perverted, or like it’s needlessly sexualizing its characters. The sexuality of Wonder Woman Earth One’s characters is implicit and matter-of-fact. Diana is a statuesque lesbian into bondage and submission, but she’s also independent, and able to lift a bus over her head.
Wonder Woman Earth One somehow manages to take all these seemingly disparate elements and turn them into an amazing, empowering whole. There are tons of other comics that place their female characters in revealing costumes and compromising positions, and tells us it’s ok because they’re strong. Earth One actually shows how Diana derives strength through submission. The book gives her a personal and sexual agency that defies standard notions of power through aggression and might-makes-right in order to tell a story that links directly back to William Moulton Marston’s vision: that a better world comes through loving submission to empowered women.