So it’s been kind of a busy week here on the nerd farm. We’re not entirely sure where all the time went, but one thing’s for sure: it’s definitely gone. Which means we’ve only got time to talk about one book this week. But it’s a doozy…
Wonder Woman: Earth One vol. 2
by Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette
In this second volume of his “Earth One” Wonder Woman reinvention, Grant Morrison continues his 21st-Century update of William Moulton Marston’s original vision for the character. And that doesn’t just mean that he’s embracing the kink at the heart of the concept. He’s also embracing the original strip’s wild, nonsensical creativity, throwing in Golden Age nuggets like the Amazons’ Venusian teleportation device, reformed Nazi Paula von Gunther, and even the goddamn giant kangaroos.
It’s not all fun and games, however. Because this is the difficult middle part of Morrison’s Wonder Woman trilogy, in which our innocent young Amazon princess comes to see how complicated and difficult her self-appointed mission in Man’s World really is. Some find her preaching of the Amazonian gospel radical, while others don’t think she’s militant enough. And, of course, those in power think she’s a threat, the vanguard of an inevitable invasion by a society of super-science dominatrices. Granted, the people making those decisions hang out looking like this…
…so maybe their opinions are suspect.
Diana also learns a lesson about the potential downside to the Amazon philosophy of “submission to loving authority” when she chooses to put her trust in someone who doesn’t deserve it: Dr. Leon Zeiko, secretly known in the online “Pick-Up Artist” community under the handle “Dr. Psycho.”
I love that Morrison tackled this particular Wonder Woman villain. He was a staple of the early Golden Age strip, a misogynistic dwarf who hypnotized women to make them do his bidding. Psycho was hateful, hysterical, and just plain WRONG, an amazingly creepy character whose anti-woman rants always leave me agog when I read the old Marston-penned Wonder Woman stories. I mean, in comparison to Hitler, he probably seemed pretty tame. But it’s still strange to think that stuff was published in a comic written for little girls in the 1940s.
Morrison’s updated version is, in some ways, actually less shocking than Marston’s. He’s much less in-your-face weird, and even presented as a strangely attractive figure.
Why he looks like Nick Cave, I’m not entirely sure. I don’t know that Paquette actually based Zeiko on Cave, but the similarity is too striking not to notice. I do wonder about it, though. Cave isn’t, as far as I’m aware, known for any sort of misogynistic tendencies. But he does possess a savage sort of masculine sex appeal that far outweighs his physical attractiveness. Which may be the point. Of course, there’s also this song, which might tell us more about the inner workings of Leon Zeiko’s mind than he’d care to admit…
At any rate. While this Dr. Psycho’s rants are just as hateful as the original’s, they’re couched in the modern language of the alt-right, and phrases like “losers, cucks and gamma dudes” make it hard to take him entirely seriously. Granted, Psycho is manipulating his online audience every bit as hard as he is Our Heroine. He’s trolling for lulz, as they say, belittling his followers because he knows it will make them love him all the more. And because I’m not sure he knows how to interact with anyone without manipulating them.
And that’s the aspect of this new Dr. Psycho that ultimately makes him more disturbing than the original: he’s more subtle. Morrison based his schtick on techniques popularized in the Pick-Up Artist (or PUA) community, manipulative scripts designed to get women into bed. These people are essentially sexual predators, sad losers and borderline sociopaths with a contempt for women that makes them ripe source material for a Wonder Woman bad guy.
And Dr. Psycho is the King of the PUAs. He examines his foes before attacking, figuring out which buttons to push to get the result he desires. With Diana, he fakes emotional vulnerability while intellectually challenging her philosophies, playing to her assumption of superiority while simultaneously making her doubt herself.
He also has a penchant for using truth to re-enforce his lies. Because some of his critiques of Wonder Woman and her mission are spot-on.
Amazon philosophy works great in a small society of dedicated warrior women, but applying it to the wider world opens it up to people who may not be as dedicated. And because she’s this perfect product of a perfect society, this alien super-princess, she can’t possibly understand the lives that lead people to make the choices they make. Basically, he challenges her right to come here and judge us, when she hasn’t walked a mile in our proverbial shoes.
And he’s not wrong about any of that.
He’s especially not wrong about people who aren’t dedicated to the Amazonian ideal. Because he amply proves that a few pages later, when he convinces Diana that he’s trustworthy enough to be allowed to put her in the Lasso of Truth, and immediately uses it to brainwash her.
That’s the kind of stuff that makes this book an unsettling read, in spite of the fact that it’s pretty breezy for the most part. There’s lots of big, long, splashy scenes that allow artist Yanick Paquette to stretch out and make himself comfortable. I mean, this is a book with a four-page sequence of Wonder Woman hitting a baseball. Later, there’s five pages of her racing a jet. Even the opening flashback sequence of the Nazis invading Amazonia is pithy pop culture fun. So the ugly parts… the confusing, disgusting, philosophically-twisted parts… lurk uneasily behind that facade.
I was more disturbed after reading it than I thought I should be, and it’s only upon going back into it for this review that I really understand why. Zeiko’s correct that “loving submission” isn’t for everybody. I’m more into equality, myself, and find anyone who wants you to submit to be a tiny bit suspect. But his betrayal of Diana’s trust in submission is a terrible thing, a psychic rape that upset me in ways I wasn’t entirely able to process on first reading. And I like it when a book stirs me up in unexpected ways.
It’s not perfect, mind you. The page count makes the pacing a little too frantic in the final pages, as Morrison tries to wrap up everything he’d built earlier, and has to skimp on the details. He’s setting up conflicts and characters for the third and final book, and trying to draw a throughline tying together the Nazis, Zeiko, and a larger message about the transgressions of men in power, and it doesn’t come together as well as it should. It’s all there, but some of it’s in shorthand. Another five or ten pages might have made it more satisfying.
Still, I enjoyed the hell out of this book. It’s fun and upsetting, and comes out at a particularly appropriate cultural moment. But that’s a political can of worms I don’t have time to open right now…