Writer Grant Morrison is one of the true legendary names in modern comics, having written books as varied as New X-Men and The Invisibles. At DC Comics in particular, Morrison has put his unique stamp on almost all of the iconic heroes of the DC pantheon. His graphic novel Arkham Asylum is considered one of the great Batman stories of all time, and his All Star Superman is considered the quintessential Man of Steel story by many fans. The same goes for his run on JLA, which is seen as the definitive take on the Justice League.
But until recently, the character of Wonder Woman had eluded him. Now, though, he’s finally putting his stamp on the Amazing Amazon, in the new original graphic novel Wonder Woman: Earth One. In this new OGN, Morrison, along with artist Yanick Paquette, goes back to the character’s roots in the early ’40s, when she was created by pop psychologist William Moulton Marston, as an antidote to the “bloodcurdling masculinity” of the heroes of the day. We recently got the chance to chat with Morrison, and asked him about his take on Diana Prince.
Nerdist: When William Moulton Marston created Wonder Woman, he brought a lot of specific things to the table — a very specific brand of feminism — and many of those things haven’t been seen again in regards to the character since Marston’s death in the late 1940s. With Wonder Woman: Earth One, you’re bringing back a lot of those original concepts back to the character. What made you decide to go back to Marston?
Grant Morrison: Well, I guess that I felt that the Wonder Woman character had drifted so far from the Marston template, that the original Marston template had now become fashionable again. I’d seen that most recent portrayals of Wonder Woman were a kind of Xena version of Wonder Woman, a kind of warrior-woman, warrior-goddess version of it. And then it struck me that originally, Wonder Woman didn’t really ever carry a sword and shield; she had the bracelets which could deflect any projectile, and she carried a lasso that could make people do what she wanted. And those were the weapons. And once I remembered that, it seemed like that was an area that seemed to have a lot of possibility now, because no one has gone near that original version of Wonder Woman for a really long time.
So I just felt that original version of Wonder Woman was really fertile soil again, to do a version of Wonder Woman that was maybe a little different, and might shed a different light on who Wonder Woman was, and what Wonder Woman represented. So we went back to the Marston stuff, and it’s just a delightful, mad, psychosexual wonderous series of comic books. And I felt that Wonder Woman could use a little of that atmosphere again, and certainly I love that outsider/alternative quality that Marston brought to the character initially.
N: It’s been debated for literally decades, but it seems in this graphic novel you finally make it explicit that Wonder Woman is indeed bisexual. She even has a lover, a fellow Amazon named Mala. She also shows attraction to Steve Trevor. What made you feel it was finally time to officially address this? And did you face any heat for it?
GM:Well, the book isn’t out yet, so who knows how much heat there will be. But honestly, we live in a world where I think one in three young Americans identify as bisexual, and half of all young people in the U.K. identify as bisexual. I mean, this is hardly shocking in this day and age, I would hope that people really don’t make too much of it.
Obviously, it was always implicit in the material, where you had a society of women that lived without men for 3,000 years, and I don’t think they gave up sex when they gave up men. [laughs] But it was always implicit in the material, we just shined a light on it, because I think we live in a world where these things are not considered quite as radical or as frightening as they once were. Hopefully.
N: The version of Paradise Island as designed by artist Yanick Paquette was maybe the most beautiful and intricate version of the island we’ve ever seen before in any comic incarnation. What was the inspiration for this particular version of Amazonia?
GM: The different versions of Paradise Island that we’ve seen over the past few decades have all seemed to be retro-Grecian columns, and a kind of frozen technology — the women haven’t seemed to progress much beyond the spinning wheel. So again, we went back to Marston, and the girls are wearing kind of Buck Rogers things, and they had magical devices, and they had Purple Rays. So I thought, “Let’s have a culture of women who have developed their own technology, and they’ve developed their own communications devices and their own versions of aircraft and their own propulsion systems.” And we decided that the Purple Rays was what [Austrian psychoanalyst] Wilhelm Reich called “Orgone Energy“, so the Amazons have this technology based on this love energy that basically manifests as a either the healing Purple Ray or the deadly Purple Ray, which they also have.
So they built up this technology, and I thought, “Let’s make it a little bit Buck Rogers, a little bit 1930s.” And it’s the idea of what kind of culture would these Amazon women have created when given 3,000 years to develop and try out everything. And they have also have gone into a decadent phase of their culture, where they find themselves in a kind of formalist, ritualistic, repeated version of the past, which is where we pick up with them.
So we wanted to give the Amazons technology for sure. And then Yanick started to design it, and he decided to base it on more natural forms and see what it looks like, so there’s a lot of designs based on shells, and leaves and nature, and there’s a lot more feminine, flowing art deco influence to it. Which again, it gives a sense of the Amazons having their very own culture, and their own design and their own architecture.
N: Maybe the biggest deviation of the classic Marston Wonder Woman mythos is you changed her origin story. In the original, Queen Hippolyta begs the gods for a child, and the Greek goddesses grant her that wish — they transform a clay sculpture in a child. That origin more or less stayed the same until 2011, when the New 52 retconned that story and revealed that Diana was the offspring born of an affair between Hippolyta and Zeus. Now you changed it yet again for this story.
Without asking you to give too much away, can you tell us why you made the changes you did?
[EDITOR’S NOTE: In Morrison’s answer, he does give away the secret behind Diana’s new origin, so if you want to stay away from SPOILERS, skip to the next question.]
GM: It felt the origin needed a twist, and I was torn on it, because the whole “born from clay” origin is something I kind of like — which at first I hated, and then I got into it. I thought “maybe this will be a technological version of that origin.” I hated the magic version of her origin, where she was brought to life by the gods, because I think it takes the agency away from the Amazons.
Then I thought maybe [Diana’s mother] Queen Hippolyta has developed genetic technology, and I thought “maybe this will help me rationalize the clay origin in my head.” At the same time, I wanted more tension and drama in the origin story, because there’s not a lot of tension and drama in the original; Diana just falls in love with Steve Trevor, Hippolyta gives her blessing to leave Paradise Island, and then Diana flies off. I wanted more tension, I wanted it to be reflective of actual human relationships, so that the people reading it will have something to relate to.
So, the idea then was to do a technological version of the origin, but I love the idea that Diana now kind of has a father, and not only does she have a father, but it’s Hercules. I felt Hercules worked because he’s in the original story. Giving her a father that was an actual god, like Brian [Azzarello] did with Zeus, to me that wasn’t the version of the Amazons we were doing. In our version, there’s not much mention of the gods, except in the beginning, when you hear the voice of Aphrodite in Hippolyta’s head. But it might just be Hippolyta’s own inner voice goading her into action to free herself. We don’t go near the Greek gods — we created a civilization of women who don’t believe in gods in the way we understand it. They might believe in archetypal energies that go on throughout time, but they don’t believe in the actual gods.
So Hercules seemed to fit the bill. It seemed very classically comic-booky. It gave her an ambiguity and twist that the previous version didn’t have. But I did feel slightly sad about losing the most feminist part of the origin, where she was created out of nothing. So I tried to merge those two, and that’s the conclusion I came to. Again, I thought it gave the story a nice kick, a nice twist, and it made Diana a little less pure, and a little bit more of a being that can move between the two worlds.
Hippolyta lies to Diana about her origin at first, the book is about truth and lies. Hippolyta will tell Diana “your impetuous nature and your rebellious nature come from your father, this awful man. Don’t give in to that part of your nature.” But that’s the part of her nature that’s taken Diana to the outside world. But really, Hippolyta is shown as being the one who is powerful and decisive, she’s the one who is really the rebellious, unstoppable force of nature that drives Diana. I really wanted all those weird tensions and ambiguities in there, because it makes Diana start to think about who she is, and that gives the character more dynamism.
N: In the original comics, Etta Candy was a bigger girl, and she was Diana’s best friend, kind of her Jimmy Olsen. She’s come and gone over the decades, and even lost most of her weight in recent versions of the character, looking like pretty much every other woman in comics. But in Earth One, you brought back Etta to her original appearance and characterization, although with a more modern twist. What makes you love Etta so much?
GM: I loved the character, because she becomes the voice of reason, the voice of humanity really. She punctures the slight pompousness of the Amazons, and the way they speak. So I think she was necessary. And I love that physically, she’s almost the opposite of Diana, and she’s the first girl that Diana really bonds with. And I hated when they gave the character an eating disorder (back in the ’90s) and made her thin, I felt it was a betrayal of the character’s enthusiasm and her verve and her love of life, because that’s what she had to represent.
I told Yanick look at Beth Ditto, the singer from The Gossip, and there’s a little bit of actress Rebel Wilson in there as well. Those were the modern physical models we thought would suit the character, and updated the character. We wanted a big girl, one who could fight, and laugh and drink. She’s the Falstaff of Wonder Woman really.
N: She has maybe my favorite scene in the whole book, when she’s out drinking with Diana, and says, “So let me get this straight — you come from an paradise island full of sci-fi lesbians with a side of bondage?”
GM: And she says “I’ll drink to that!” [laughs]
N: This story finishes pretty open ended…I have to ask, will there be more of this version of Wonder Woman from you at any point?
GM: I’ve already started it actually, I’m already 25 pages into it. And Yanick is up for drawing again. We are going to do three volumes of this, we’ve got a whole story planned. The first one is really just getting the cards on the table for me, and the second one is really like the Marston stuff; it’s got an amazing opening that’ll probably freak people out. It’s much more like Marston, it really goes back to that original place.
Wonder Woman: Earth One hits comic shops on April 6, 2016.
Images: DC Comics