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The idea of a superhero comic trying to grapple with gender issues as they relate to comic book culture might be a difficult one to grapple with for some, especially when the comic stars the occasionally problematic Wonder Woman. For Grant Morrison — who already has repurposed both Superman and Batman for his own uses, and is enjoying a critically acclaimed X-Men comic that featured meta-commentary on a post-9/11 America at the beginning of the century — however, that’s the kind of challenge he enjoys.
Morrison explained his thinking behind The Trial of Diana Prince, his upcoming Wonder Woman graphic novel formerly known as Wonder Woman Earth One, during an interview with the Guardian website. The new title, he says, refers not only to the plot of the comic, but also to the way the character is viewed by fandom at large. “She’s always on trial,” he said. “It’s like, why isn’t she good enough, why doesn’t [the comic] sell enough, why isn’t she representative of this or this or this? And so I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to just base the story on an actual trial – have the Amazons put her on trial, and tell the origin story via that.'”
Long-term love interest Steve Trevor will make an appearance in the story. “Steve takes the stand and speaks for men about women – he’s the first man allowed on this island, and he goes, ‘OK, here’s what we think,'” Morrison said. But the book appears to be less about the battle of the sexes than opening up the idea of a female character in a superhero comic beyond the stereotypical norm that, ironically, Wonder Woman personifies.
“I wanted to get in as many relationships between women as possible — there’s Wonder Woman and her teacher, Wonder Woman and her mother, Wonder Woman and the girl she kind of fancies at school,” Morrison said, adding that he’s even bringing back the much maligned sidekick character Etta Candy — now renamed Beth Candy in honor of Morrison’s inspiration for his new take, musician Beth Ditto. “I wanted lots of different female relationships to show that there’s not just one type of woman, and she’s not representative of all women.”
It sounds like potentially heady stuff — although Morrison’s repeated mentions of the bondage-related roots of the character and polyamory of creator William Moulton Marston does tend to suggest a sensationalism that undercuts the well-meaning ambition of the book, slightly — but the writer is hopeful that fans will understand what he and artist Yanick Paquette are trying to do.
“It’s a 120-page book,” he said. “If you read all 120 pages, it’s totally self-contained; it makes sense. So I’m hoping people will respond to it as a complete piece.” The question will be whether the response will go beyond “Hey, Wonder Woman in chains is hot,” and into the realm of “Maybe the continual hyper-sexualization of every female character in these comics that’s over the age of consent is a problematic and reductive trope that ultimately alienates a large percentage of our audience, and we should think about ways to change that.” It’s one thing to retcon Batman’s illegitimate son into continuity; fixing comics’ problem with women might be a little bit harder.
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